sometimes touching another person is more than I can bear. -walt whitman, “song of myself”
i’ll admit it: i’m 34 and in the first real, all-growed-up relationship of my life. until a few years ago, i never let anyone get close enough to hurt me. vulnerability was not a color i was willing to wear and for years i thought that that made me pretty bad-ass. i didn’t need a man to take care of me—i could do it just fine by myself, thank you very much.
turns out, what’s actually bad-ass is having the guts to be in a relationship—to show up on a daily basis for someone else and allow them to show up for you. there’s nothing harder or more revealing of self. my friend rightly calls being in a relationship the final frontier: raw and primal and often desolate. so based on my extensive experience, i figured i’d compile a list of things that i’ve learned since moving to the final frontier:
- love is a motherfucking choice. there will be times when you’ll want to punch this person that you love in the face–hard–and then leave. times when the only thing you’ll be able to see is all the work that lies ahead, unfurling in front of you like a roll of garbage bags, and you just won’t be sure that you’re up for it. intimacy is hard and it’s sloppy, and that’s when it’s time to choose: fight or flight.
- humility: part 1—the wood never fits. admitting i’m wrong doesn’t come very naturally to me—especially once i’ve realized that i’m wrong, ironically enough. then i become certain that if i just whack this huge rectangular piece of plywood enough, i’ll get it to fit in a teapot. spoiler alert: the wood never fits. (that’s what she said. oh c’mon you were thinking it too.)
- humility: part 2—right or happy? the only thing harder than admitting you’re wrong and letting it go, is knowing you’re right and letting it go. my best friends often ask me, “dani, do you wanna be right or happy?” right. every time. don’t even have to think about it—i’ll take right. i mean, i’ll take right and happy if that’s an option, but given the choice between the two, my natural instinct is to choose right. so i often find myself having to decide how much anger and hurt is worth being right. and do i want my person to let me off the hook when i’m wrong?
- six of one. you don’t get to decide how your person gets to the answer you want. this one’s a classic of mine and often plays out like this:
me: can you do something for me?
me: but it’s really important to me.
him: ok i’ll be there.
me: well don’t bother now!
not cool, i’m told.
- noses and teeth. real love is always telling your person when they have something coming out of their nose or stuck in their teeth.
- come closer. you have better sex when you’re emotionally connected. i know—i was as shocked as you are, but it’s true. apparently when you trust someone with your feelings, you also tend to trust them with your body. had i known this earlier, i might not have kept myself so closed off.
- missing you. there’s something really nice about giving each other the space to miss one another. it’s a great feeling to see your person actually light up when you walk in the door. relationships need oxygen—don’t suffocate each other.
- stay in your own lane. when you love someone it’s only natural to want to take away their pain. tough shit. you can’t always make it better. no one can be anyone’s savior—ultimately, your person has to figure out how to save herself. the only thing you can do is help him bear the weight of whatever it is he’s going through. you can say, “i’m here” and “can i help?” you can listen and rub her back and make her spinach if she wants some spinach. but you can’t make all the bad things go away, and when you try to do that you both end up feeling smaller.
- shhhh. you don’t have to share every thought that pops into your head. there’s a difference between honesty and idiocy—you should learn where that line is and stay on the right side of it. if you’re anything like me, no one needs total access to your demented mind.
my rsvp would be no, but fuck you for not inviting me. just because there’s a part of you that’s relieved not to have to have to sit through dinner with his weird aunt tracy who won’t stop winking at you, doesn’t mean that you can’t be hurt that he doesn’t want you there. part of feeling loved is feeling needed, and part of that is knowing that he expects you to be accountable to him. the expectation that you’ll step up and be miserable for him means something. i mean, if love isn’t all about being miserable together, then i don’t know what it is.
- do you hear me?? i’m ignoring you! reaching out to tell your person that you’re ignoring him does not count as ignoring him. not that i’ve ever done that. twice.
- action. it’s not always the thought that counts. what you do matters also.
- watch your mouth. what you do matters, but so does what you say. sticks and stones aside, some words hurt like a motherfucker and can’t ever be taken back. and for god’s sake, tell your person how great he is every once in a while.
- fin. this is the best thing you can ever do for your relationship: cultivate a real faith that you’d be ok if you had to be without your person. you’d be heartbroken and lost for a bit, but your world would not end. figure out what it is you have to do in order to believe that truly, and do it.