Saturday, April 03, 2004


I acknowledge that J. and I are probably exceptionally eccentric and insecure people, and that has actually been a giant plus in the growth of our relationship. That sounds counter-intuitive, I'm sure, but consider this: Only one insecure eccentric throws the balance of the relationship so far askew as to sometimes make it impossible to continue, but two such creatures can speak openly about their flaws and insecurities (most of the time) and not have the sinking feeling that the other person will look at them like they are sprouting antennae. (Forgive me for insulting any extraterrestrial readers.)

Having said that, there are of course the nuances of accepting the other person for who they are, while at the same time getting one's own needs met. It's quite a balancing act, which I suppose most people are well aware of. Since I did not exactly set the romantic world on fire prior to meeting J., some of these relationship lessons are new to me. Okay, a lot of them are. It's been a bittersweet, terrifying and fantastic journey, so filled with "firsts", that it has been hard to remember them all.

But I do well remember the first kiss, the first time he stayed the night, the first time he put his arm around me in public, the first time he called me his girlfriend, the first time I told a man who wasn't a friend or relative that I loved him, the exchange of house keys, the first time we enjoyed a certain intimate act that I had never done before (no, I wasn't a virgin, but that is the end of the explanation!), the first Christmas card addressed to both of us, and on and on. Those are only the first ones that come to mind, and certain not the last ones we will experience, from the looks of things.

A subtle shift has taken place in my relationship with J., one that came on quiet little cat feet, and I didn't notice it. Not until it was pointed out to me by a friend.

When J. and I first started seeing each other, it was almost a chore to get him to make plans. Not that he didn't want to do things together, but it was sometimes like pulling teeth to get him to commit to being at a certain place at a certain time. At very first, I found this frustrating, but I realized that for whatever reason, this was his style, and if I wanted to spend time with him, I would have to approach planning things very cautiously. To that end, I would sometimes wait until events were very close at hand before mentioning them to him, so that he didn't get the deer in the headlights look. It was uncomfortable to watch The Look spread over his face, and see his pupils dilate into pools of fear, which said, "She is talking about something that is months away! She is trying to get me to commit to spending time with her at an event that is months away! Gaaaaaaa!" If it wasn't so trying, it would have been comical in its predictability.

Slowly, and I do mean slowly, it became possible to buy tickets to sporting events and concerts, months in advance, without as much of a panic coming over him. I guess the logical part of his brain said, "Listen, if you want those tickets, you are going to have to get them now. You could always wait until closer to the event to mention them to her. Say, just enough warning so she doesn't plan something that same day, but not too far in advance. Oh, but not now, because she might not be in the picture by the time this thing rolls around, and you don't want to be stuck trying to wiggle out of taking her to this thing if you guys are over, now do you?"

I can see the logic in this, surely, but it was a bit of a drag trying to get Mr. Cryptic to fully explain if the tickets he was babbling about were just some good luck for him, or if he was babbling about the event as a preamble to inviting me to it. What convoluted conversations we used to have!

J: "I, uh, got these tickets to see [fill in the blank]."

Me: (Not sure yet if I am just being informed that he will be busy that night, or if I am being invited to attend.) "Oh wow, that's great!"

J: "Yeah, it's on [fill in date], and the seats are [fill in degree of happiness about seat locations]."

Me: "That sounds really great. I'm happy for you." (Hello, did you notice I said "YOU"? Now's the time to correct me and say "US", if that's where you are going with this, boy.)

J: "Uh, it's a weeknight and it's at this place, blah, blah, blah, I'd have to leave work a little early, blah, blah, blah..."

Me: (Thinking: He's totally missed that hint. Please don't make me have to ASK you. I will feel humiliated if the answer is that you are going with someone else, even if it is only a brother or work buddy. I don't even want to consider that this is a DATE with SOMEONE ELSE that you might be TELLING ME ABOUT.)

J: Blah, blah, event, blah, blah, team/band, blah, blah.

Me: Appropriate yet neutral response. Still waiting for clue as to why he is telling me all this.

J: "Oh yeah! I had to tell you something about [fill in completely changed topic here]."

Days, weeks, maybe months later.

J: "I'm really looking forward to [event]."

Me: Bland reassurance that it will be a fun time.

More small talk about event follows.

J: (Finally, merciful God, a clue.) "Will you be able to get out of work early that night?"

Me: Blank look. "I guess I could. I wasn't sure that I was invited."

J: (Incredulous stare.) "Didn't I tell you that you were when I bought them??"

Me: "Actually, no, you didn't, and I didn't want to assume."

J: "Oh, uh, er." More stammering. "Oh, well, of course you are."

Me: Too exhausted to respond, but thinking that no, indeed, sometimes you go places with other people, so there is no "of course" involved yet here.

Repeat this whole process at least a half dozen times, insert occasional reminders to J. that I don't assume when he is talking about doing something that it means I am invited to them, that he must actually INVITE ME, stir, add cocktail onion. And viola', he finally starts actually saying the words, "I'd like you to go with me, if you are available." Hallelujah, he has seen the light!

I don't think any of this was done out of malice. I think it was just a quirk that he wasn't even aware of himself, and I was trying very hard to be patient and to use positive reinforcement every time he made concrete plans with me, so that eventually, it would seem natural and pleasant to invite me to things. It was a long process. So long, in fact, that I didn't notice when it ended.

A friend, with whom I had confided my frustration and confusion about this bit of miscommunication, recently made a comment that made me realize that shift I referred to before had taken place. I was mentioning an event I was planning, that isn't going to happen until near the end of the year, and she approvingly commented, "Wow, and he agreed to do something so far in advance?"

At first, I was rather taken aback and thought, of course he agreed to do it! Why wouldn't he be able to agree? It's not like it's that far away... uh, oh my GOD, that's right. It wasn't all that long ago that I would have agonized about how to present this event to him. How far in advance is close enough that he won't freak, but far enough that he won't have made plans for that night? How casual of a tone do I have to use so that he doesn't do the knee-jerk bolt from the scene from feeling pressured into saying yes? What are just the right opening words to bring this up? Can I think of a topic that I could segueway from to get to the part about the event... ad naseum. I actually used to go through that whole process each and every time. It was exhausting and crazy-making.

But from her comment, I suddenly realized that now, we plan things together all the time. Some things even far in advance. When we plan to go to places, it is a given that we will go to them together, until we specify that it is a girls' night out, or that he is going with such and such a buddy, or whatever. We invite each other to family gatherings without any fuss or drama whatsoever. And we drop by without calling, or let ourselves into each others' places if the other isn't home at the planned meeting time.

I almost cried when I realized that we had quietly become a "we". I'm part of a couple, not just the girl so-and-so is seeing. I never thought I'd be part of a "we", and it feels comfortable and natural and really, really good. He is worth the wait.

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