When people ask me why I’m a good cook, or how I learned to dance, I answer with pride that it’s just part of my family legacy. There are things that you’re so surrounded with that you take them for granted—things like reading books every day, learning to swim, international travel, loud yelling during all house arguments, and politics at dinner time. On the other hand, power tools terrify me, polite conversation baffles me, and I never really understood how healthy relationships worked.
You read that right. I’m the product of a miserable twenty-year marriage. In my immediate surroundings, there were very few couples who I wanted to emulate, because most partnerships seemed stagnant or dysfunctional. The few I admired ended in (untimely) death or divorce. What I’m trying to say is, when I’m hanging out with my three close co-workers on the APW team, all of whom are badass babes in long-term loving marriages, it feels like being surrounded by magical unicorns.
Magical unicorns who are speaking a terrifying language.
Because as much as abuse and addiction and cheating are tragic, heartbreaking things… they are also things I viscerally understand. But I understand NOTHING about going out with someone to dinner and having nothing to say—not because your relationship is in trouble—but because you’re tired, and you actually just want to eat and not do the dishes afterward. Or the trial by fire of raising a child with someone and not hating each other at the same time. Or—even scarier—maintenance sex. The whole fact that it exists, freaks me out. You can tell me what it is, but I still can’t actually imagine it.
Married people like to tell me “There’s good years and bad years” like it’s basic common sense. To put it in context, my longest relationship has been three years. We did not have that problem. So all I can think of is how do I know I can handle the bad years? How will I know good years are coming? My parents had nineteen bad years.
What If I’m not a Magical Unicorn?
But why am I thinking about this all NOW? Because I’ve met someone. She’s so gorgeous I forget to breathe and so generous I can’t tell my friends about our epic courtship or else they’ll think I’m bragging. Nobody else has matched me in touch, in playful adventure, in the path we’re on, in our goddamn love languages, and in my deep love for pork belly and kimchi. For all intents and purposes, you could say I’ve met “the one” (sincere apologies for the hallmark sentiments).
And that’s why I keep looking to the happily married. Because, guys, I really, really want to hold on to her, and all of a sudden I’m having panic attacks about THE REST OF MY LIFE. I’m seeing visions of kids and a home and how she’d laugh when she’s wrinkled and grey and how soon she might die and how much we have to do before that happens and how will I ever live without her. Not dissimilar to some of the same anxieties engaged people seem to face right before the wedding, but I’ve just decided to move up the worry-wart timeline. Every relationship I’ve had so far had crashed and burned, so this time I’m trying to do it right. I’m learning (from the happily married friends) that love can mean ease instead of work, and that partnerships should enhance both people, not diminish our brightness, and that the ideal relationship heals instead of opening wounds. And that’s cool and all, but I still functionally don’t understand HOW it works.
HOW do you know if you’ll still love someone when they’re old and grey? How do you bring yourself to have sex just to “stay connected”? How do you build a life with someone that doesn’t turn toxic? And for those of you who say “you just do” or “you just know”— that sounds familiar. I “just know” how to belly dance, and I bet you don’t.
When single is your comfort zone
But if I’m being honest, it’s not that commitment itself is terrifying; it’s how easy it feels. We were talking about children a few weeks in. On our fourth date we chatted about sexual histories. We’re planning on five months of world travel together, and it’s only been ten weeks since we met. It feels crazy. (Is it crazy?)
So then, when will I be ready? When will I actually feel like I deserve the type of person who will fly anywhere in the world just to see me for a few days? How can I guarantee that I won’t fuck it up because some part of me doesn’t functionally believe that the romance I dream of is actually attainable?
Because coming from a family full of dysfunction means being utterly comfortable on my own. My motto is “I’d rather be single.” I like not having sex unless I’m revved up, and I like not seeing someone unless I really want to. I cherish the wooing, the emails in the inbox, the surprise dates, and the effort to look sharp. I pride myself on my independence, on sleepovers with my friends, on keeping my own schedules, on not asking for permission to do anything in my life. I like being accountable to only me. How do I give that up when I don’t know what’s on the other side?
I’m terrified. Terrified that long term love is… boring. Terrified that all my insecurities (about my body and my ability to love) will get in the way of anything I try to build. Terrified I’ll end up feeling claustrophobic and tied down. Terrified I’ll wake up one day and find out I’ve been cheated on, or she decided she was tired of me and instead of two years in it’ll be ten years in and my whole world will collapse because it’s all so interwoven.
May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor
And that’s the crux of it isn’t it? If you don’t have trust, trust that if you hand your heart to someone it won’t be broken, that you won’t regret it, that there’s an outcome that might be in your favor, then how do you do it? How do you think we’ll beat the odds? It’s bad enough I’m a skeptic at heart but trusting love? It’s going to take a long time and many more examples than just the few APW team members. I mean, four of my friends are recently divorced. And it looks like HELL.
Which means all I’ve got now is today. And today, I’m the gross kind of sick and she’s made me two soups from scratch. I could get used to this kind of love, maybe. Meanwhile, I’m bookmarking some serious breathing exercises for when all of this “falling in love with your forever person” thing gets to be all too much.
So tell me APW, how did you know when you’d met the person you wanted to marry? Am I the only anxious lover, or were you totally freaking out too? And does it get bettER?