I’ve had someone to cuddle with for 5 years now. I can’t think of anything else I have been committed to for 5 years that doesn’t involve wearing a uniform. There’s nothing more intentional than choosing to be yelled at for peeing on the bathroom floor every single day of your life. It’s been one hell of a ride, with sometimes the emphasis being on the hell. So far I have made enough mistakes to lose her more than once, but for some reason she stuck around and my life is better because of that.
So far, what I have learnt about sharing my life with someone else is not taught in school. Nobody prepares you for it. It’s mostly trial and error. A trail of guesswork that feels a lot like you’re constantly in a 90s action movie trying to decide whether to cut the red or the green wire. If you’re like most people, you’ve cut the wrong wire more times than you are proud to admit.
5 years ago I was terrible at this. Just awful. So I’m going back in time to have a sit-down with who I used to be back then. I want him to know the mistakes he is about to make. I want him to be better at living with them. Owning up to them. Because if he can do that, he has a real shot at being happy. The best shot he has ever had. He’s an arrogant prick, so you’ll forgive me for not mincing my words…
Ernest, everything is your fault. EVERYTHING! If it has happened to you, then no one else will fix it. Start every solution with the assumption that you had a part to play in the problem. Nothing ever came from a vacuum. Your choices led you to who you are and who you’re with. Everything is your fault.
Tomorrow you’ll meet someone special. She’s a good girl. She ‘always’ plays fair and when she farts it smells like mint. Your job is to laugh at all her jokes but you are never, under any circumstances, allowed to laugh at her. She’s a keeper, Ernest. If you don’t want to mess this up, there’s a few habits we have to get rid of because she will walk away if you don’t. So listen up closely. Because nobody will ever be there for you like she will. Nobody will hurt you like she will. Nobody will fight for you like she will.
First of all, stop keeping scores. Keep past mistakes where they belong, in the past. Just because she once had a problem with your sister doesn’t mean you have the right to bring it up when you are upset with her mother. Justifying your current actions with her past mistakes doesn’t make you a ‘rational’ thinker. It makes you a manipulator. It’s using her as a smokescreen to get away with being hurtful. You can’t heal one wound by opening another. Two open wounds is twice the pain, nobody wins. The goal is not to prove who is wrong, it is to make things right. You do that by addressing the issue at hand, here and now.
Ernest, nobody lives in your head. If something is bothering you and you don’t say it out loud, it doesn’t suddenly become your partner’s job to figure it out. Don’t agree to dining at Java if you are upset about her spending habits and then proceed to ruin her dinner by giving passive aggressive hints all night. Your partner is not responsible for how you feel, they are responsible for how they act. She doesn’t prove her love by assuming what you think, she does it by listening when you speak. But it only starts with you speaking.
Don’t threaten to leave if you’re not already out the door. Your relationship isn’t something you dangle as bait anytime you want attention. If you have a problem with her ambition, address that and that alone. Saying “I can’t be with someone who doesn’t have the same drive as me.” isn’t being honest. It’s being hurtful. You don’t need to say it unless you have already left. Otherwise, you are achieving nothing other than bullying her into sharing your values. Blackmail is nothing other than abusive. Not being able to create a safe environment to communicate criticism doesn’t reflect poorly on her, it reflects poorly on you. You don’t have to love everything about the person you are with. It’s up to you, not her, to decide the things you are not willing to put up with.
Listen to me, she is not a piece of you or even your other half. She is a complete and whole other human being that comes equipped with her own identity. She wasn’t ‘born to make you happy’ and she doesn’t ‘complete you’. She doesn’t have to be sad when you’re sad, she doesn’t have to dislike the same people you dislike and she doesn’t have to do everything you do. When she tells you “I need space…” and you react by telling her she is ‘quitting on you’, you’re not fighting for the relationship. You are demanding codependence. Love is not a prison, it’s a sanctuary. A prison is obligatory, a sanctuary is safe. Free.
Like it or not, there was a time in her life when you didn’t exist. In that time, she had someone else to make love to and cuddle with. Her life didn’t begin when she met you and it won’t end when you’re gone. So maybe she spoke to her ex for 30 minutes on the phone. Or maybe there’s a younger guy at her workplace who has a crush on her and makes her laugh every now and then. Maybe she doesn’t even mind the attention. It doesn’t matter. All that fades when you consider the reality that no one can guarantee you that they’ll never hurt you. No one can guarantee you that they will always love you. The day they decide to betray you or to fall in love with someone else, there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.
So if you ever find yourself going through her phone to look for evidence of cheating, know that you have already lost. You have lost because you are in a relationship with someone you don’t trust, and she is in a relationship with someone she can’t trust. She can’t trust you to respect her privacy. Love without trust is a house of cards; it’s near weightless and it collapses at the touch of a finger. Jealousy doesn’t prove you love her, it is nothing more than a helpless man’s weapon of self destruction.
I know it all sounds scary. Maybe you’re even wondering if it’s all worth the fuss. I’m here to tell you that it is. That it is absolutely worth it to spend the next 5 years of your life growing up alongside your hero; there is no other name for someone who continues to show up when you need to be saved from yourself. Someone who loves you both despite and because of you. Someone who appreciates the difference.
So buckle up kid, because this is going to be the ride of your life!
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