THEME: Sex, Love & Intimacy
by Laura Gene
“This is where I sleep,” confesses Emeli Sandé’s cellist describing her recoupling with an ex-boyfriend and unknowingly inspiring one of Sandé’s songs (“Where I Sleep”). A simple sentence to explain the complexity of compatibility, and a love when it feels “like home”.
However, feeling safe, comfortable and at home with a partner needs not align with that famous Jerry Maguire line: “You complete me.” My 17-year-old self teared up when Jerry pleaded to Dorothy why he changed his mind and decided he needed her after all.
As a full-fledged adult, I know how awful the relationship he pleads for actually is: the “½ plus ½ equals one whole” union of co-dependence and loss of self. One plus one equals two is, well, twice as good. You get to keep the you you worked your whole life to define and grow. But sometimes, even the best of us, even we independent empowered women, get caught up in the “½” truth.
Too often I’ve been the sap who found myself lost in another – completely, and utterly. First, there was the addict. (You already know this wasn’t going to end well.) Ten years my senior, yet I was the one carrying the burden of the practicalities of our relationship, like bills and cooking and cleaning and transportation; all the while working and putting myself through school. I thought he was home, at the time; I had certainly convinced myself of this fallacy. I made him fit. I rearranged my life for him, making any and all necessary accommodations to keep him. When he finally left me, for another (though there were probably a couple others before that one), I was destroyed. Three years I spent to repair the damage and rebuild a semblance of the woman that I wanted to be even if I didn’t know who she was yet. I was the square peg trying to fit into that round hole. It took me another decade to finally figure out that would never work. I was stubborn.
Another round-hole situation was with a really good friend. He should have always stayed just that: a friend. But put a few, or seven, drinks in me and that friend seemed like marriage potential. He would have had no problem taking the leap from friend to lover, with or without sobriety. I, on the other hand, did not find him palatable without an alcoholic beverage. He was fun. He was sweet. He really liked me. We knew each other for years; went to high school and college together. I really did want it to work because he was good to me, thus he should be good for me. I also wanted to (somewhat desperately) be in a relationship, but this time a healthy one, one that my mom and my therapist would approve of. I just couldn’t get past his mannerisms and gestures. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But they were too effeminate and threatening to my tomboy-ish persona. Plus, I didn’t want to be put on a pillar to be adored and granted my every wish. I wanted to be down in the ring, verbally duking it out with my partner over the latest cultural controversy, or who plays Scrabble better. On paper he seemed to fit, but in reality he was an outline of the partner I should want, instead of a partner who excited me.
Then there was the Ginger. I have a special fondness for redheads. After all, my best friend in childhood was a redhead. But red hair and a freckled complexion were not enough to keep us together. He was soft-spoken, aloof and charming; and also young, unemployed and unambitious. I was warned he was a player so we kept things mostly light and fun at the beginning. Though as time passed I saw myself falling into old patterns: always making the effort to be “us”, always going to see him (a 45-minute drive away), picking up the check more than my fair share, always wanting more and not getting it and telling myself that was okay. I stayed in my little bubble of denial as he pushed further away, meanwhile convincing myself that relationships were simply hard work. I didn’t realize that the hard work should be equitable. Having become a hanger-onner, he eventually cut the rope for me and dropped me. One day we were sharing a bed. The next day, and the one after that, and the four after that – we were incommunicado. No call or email or text to let me know he was “over it”. It goes without saying that our ideas of respect, especially for one’s partner, diverged a great deal.
Unfortunately, I eventually found another addict: an alcoholic. I didn’t start out planning to fix him, but I fell into the role rather quickly, as though he were my new pet project: to take care of him and get him sober. Having had previous experience with an addict, I was somewhat aware of the habits and realities of a person suffering from the disease. Having my own laundry list of psychological issues, I understood coping with a disease of the mind requires a great deal of patience and understanding. So I looked past his belligerence, explained away his drunken binges and ignored the anxiety that overwhelmed me every time I went to his house out of fear that I’d find him in yet another drunken stupor, or better yet, passed out. I knew he was struggling, and I cared about him. Going to support group for family and friends of alcoholics was an obvious choice while he was next door running through the 12 Steps. After six months of catering to his needs and taking care of him, he ended it. Whether I was just another Step he was ticking off the list, I’m not sure, but I’m confident that my need for him to need me had a lot to do with it.
Of course, there were other dalliances sprinkled throughout my twenties, like the former swinger (yes, that kind) looking for a future baby mama to settle down with, the piano prodigy with a penchant for bondage, the hockey fanatic who still lived with his parents, the emotionally immature control freak who was already married “but was just helping a friend get her green card”, the debonair artiste with unnecessarily complicated commitment issues, the mustachioed amateur filmmaker and the socially awkward competitive gamer who also still lived with his parents, and so forth. In retrospect, all these guys were clearly bad matches for a multitude of reasons, but staring at the truth, in the moment, I thought they were the one for me. No matter how mismatched we were, I fought and forced us together. I wanted to be whole. I wanted that other half to “complete me”; caught up in the pitiful belief that I was less than without a plus one. But that’s what my 20s were for: to play, to experiment, to learn from. Luckily I didn’t meet my match until I turned 30 so I had well over a decade to figure out who I was, who I wasn’t, and what I wanted in a partner and not just settle.
I worked at the same company for a year before I learned what his name was. He was intimidating. Quiet and confident. And he looked like a baby-faced, body-building punk. His daily uniform included a backwards turned baseball cap, ironic graphic T-shirt and a pair of Bose headphones straddling his neck. Never did I imagine I would date, let alone marry a man six years my junior; but, he was the most mature guy I had ever dated, which was quite surprising considering I had been with guys 10+ years older. Regardless of age, it felt right which didn’t make any sense to me. Then again, love is not supposed to. I fell hard for him, but I fell for him not because I sought something in him that I wanted to find in myself but because of how he treated me and respected me. He didn’t fawn over me or dismiss me. We were different. Each night we fell asleep together I found myself nuzzled into the crook of his arm while it wrapped around my back. It was so easy to fall asleep there, even if I wasn’t tired. I felt at home and at peace with him in my life. I didn’t have to fit into a mold or exhaustively rework me …again. I could just be, and he still wanted to stay. I was okay with that.