by Liam Scheff
After a number of laps across the dating pool, you’ve finally done it. You’ve met someone. And this one feels serious.
The way you talk with each other. There’s always so much to say. You stayed up talking for days. You have so much in common. But you’re not clones; you challenge each other. You don’t fight – you listen and seem to solve puzzles in front of each other right in the air. You diffuse bombs before they go off. You raise each other’s level of functioning as human beings.
You think it, you say it. This could be “the one.”
After all of those years of dating, messing around, making out, screwing in the front and back seat of cars, friend’s bedrooms, dorm rooms, other people’s houses, camp bunk beds, hammocks, beach towels and rooftops; those cautious experiments with anal sex, and then, that crushing break-up in Europe…after all the loving you’ve done…what was it all for?
Ah-ha! You realize: you were just preparing yourself for real love. And you’ve done it. Huzzah! Congratulations! Finally, you’re about to start the next phase of your life.
And wow, you don’t want to lose it. No screw ups for you. You’ve learned your lessons. (Do I have to mention that European disaster again?) No! No more mistakes.
Now it’s time to take measures to protect the relationship.
First, you’d better stop hanging out with your good-time friends — the ones you like to be ”bad” with. You know, flirting, drinking, smoking — fooling around. You stop showing up at parties — which, let’s face it, is where you used to go to find some affection and sex. But now that you’re in love, you won’t need any of that!
Now, the tough stuff: you have to curtail all conversations with old boyfriends and girlfriends, and distance yourself from occasional lovers. They’ll understand. You’ve found someone new — you have to forget that you’ve ever been interested in anyone else. Because in the future, there will be just one.
Some friends protest that you’ve grown distant — but that’s just the way it is, because jealousy must be avoided! You don’t want to feed jealousy. You don’t want to lose your new love. So you have to restrict!
Okay. You’ve cut out all the ex- boy and girlfriends. You’re ready to make it legal. You agree with each other to do it — to get the contract signed and trade in two separate lives for one. You know this is the right thing to do, because…everybody says so. It’s ancient! It’s what you do. Anyway, it’s better for taxes, and what? Do you want kids to grow up with unmarried parents!?
You buy the rings, spend the thousands, make promises all around, make friends with his mother, speak with her father, swearing on your life you’re the right kind of person and you take it all seriously. Now you say the words in front of everybody you’ve ever known and…
You’re married! You find the new apartment or rented rooms to make your own. Two of you — whoops! Plus baby makes three. All bound together by blood and expectation, sharing every moment of every day with each other, forever and ever. And your conjoined life begins. And in come the responsibilities of marriage. What, you didn’t think it was all fun and games, did you? This is serious business!
The world’s a tough place, so you have to look out for each other. We don’t have shaman running around the neighborhood, so you are now responsible for each other’s health. Better monitor each other’s diets just a little bit more closely — better schedule each other for check-ups (especially him! He just hates going to the doctor!)
Don’t eat too much or too little, and don’t eat the wrong things! And remember to keep up those shots and government health protocols! And don’t fight with the government about any of it, or they’ll have to intercede on your behalf, and you wouldn’t want that. Yes, better to be safe than sorry and keep each other up-to-date with all your injections and pills, no matter what the internet fear-mongers say.
Now that you’ve cut out your past intimate, affectionate and sexual friends, you have to lean on each other with more intense weight. You start to really learn about what each other thinks on a daily, hourly and even a minute-to minute basis. You’re a sounding board, except when you’re expected to have answers, which is, well…you’re not exactly sure when that is. But sometimes it happens, and you know because you’re yelled at — but just a little bit — to let you know that you’re not being a good psychoanalyst.
Which is precisely what you’ve become: each other’s therapist, confidante and counselor. You used to talk with other friends about these things… but who needs them? You’re married!
Because you lean on each other so much, you worry about each other more and more. If anything happens to your partner, it happens to you, too. So you’d better restrict your movements a little. Or a lot. You have to make sure to be home at night and not stay out too late, and you always have to be accessible on your cell phone. Don’t forget to keep it charged and keep it on!
You can’t really travel because you’re working all the time to pay for the cars, rent, groceries and clothes for the kids; but sometimes you try to take a short weekend away. When you do, you plan it together — something you’ll both enjoy, which is hard, because, well…
You want to do different things sometimes, but you don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings; and it wouldn’t be right to take a trip without each other, because the truth is, you barely see each other anymore. Between work and not getting enough sleep, and meals eaten on the run or at the office, you seem to only collide for a few minutes at 11pm before falling asleep with the computer on. So, there are fewer trips – but when there are, they’d better be with each other. Because, well….
It would be wrong to have fun and leave your partner behind with all that stress. Better to not go anywhere! Or to only go as a family — all of you. Mom, Dad, kids — in a car! That’ll be…great.
You have to work more to advance your career So you can afford the family you’ve created. So you’re pressed up against all of these young alpha-men and women in flashy outfits and nice shoes all day long. Which can have unintended consequences during slightly inebriated moments at office parties.
You’d better work hard to squelch that jealousy monster! You’ll have to stop laughing so noticeably with people you’re attracted to at work — or at the gym, where you go to just blow off steam and get a massage. But don’t get too many massages, even though they really do feel so good! People could take that the wrong way!
For the sake of avoiding any further discussion or argument at home, you’d better just pretend that you’re not attracted to anyone else, ever. Just turn that off and stop thinking about it. Still, you must be good, and perform you duties. Remember, you’ve given your partner a lock and key to your hips and groin, which they have rights to. And sometimes, you have to force yourself to perform sexually — as a matter of duty.
Oh, you’ll get fed up with each other at times — you’re only human! Which will drive you to anxiety. Sometimes you won’t be able to mange the feelings, and you’ll be peevish, neurotic and bitchy. You’ll have to apologize, so you avoid fighting by drifting apart into hobbies because neither of you are permitted to remain interested in other people. Or, you may develop jealousy as a kind of hobby and sport, picking each other apart regularly for signs of infidelity.
Back to the financial — you’ve got to keep things afloat, so you co-sign mortgages, car payments and bills. You’re modern, so you must share all earnings equally, despite major differences in salaries. And you have to take the hit and share the benefits at tax time so you fill out joint forms.
Of course, being in love means trying to share a bed (if he would stop snoring and she wouldn’t kick in her sleep, and why does anybody have to get up so often to pee?), but sometimes you wake up in a special mood, and nine months later, you’ve got another bundle of joy.
Your brood is growing, and you share all the work of raising them. Just the two of you — co-parents, child therapists and guidance counselors. In fact, you will be the two templates on which these tiny people form their entire social, psychological and sexual identities. You’ll probably all need some therapy right about now.
You’re not getting any younger, so you must become each other’s estate managers, write your wills, divide your possessions, and keep up the insurance for your joint possessions.
Remember, you share everything — so you get to inherit each other’s school loan debt, too.
And you are free — quite free — to fight with abandon. So you learn to despise yourself for being frustrated with your perfect relationship. And one day, it’s clear — it’s just not sustainable. You try therapy, counseling and feng shui. But nothing can be done. Teary-eyed and broken, despite your best efforts, you admit to yourself that it’s over. You’ve failed. You take time off, separate, and finally divorce.
You lose most of what you earned, saved and built. The children are scattered, and you feel scandalized, worthless and unloved. But therapy helps (a little). And one day, you feel like you might have it in you to try again.
Cross your fingers, maybe this time it’ll all work out.
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Liam Scheff is author of Official Stories and is working on his new book about relationships (and making them better)