My mom has said many, many times to me that she can only know of my relationships what I tell her.
Whether the conversation, complaining or celebrating is about friends, boyfriends, men I've casually dated, colleagues, clients or anyone else - most of what she bases her opinion on are the words I choose when I talk to her about them.
It's a fair thing to say.
And it is something I've said in turn to my best friends when they've been upset that I am not their partner/husband/boyfriend/lady-friend's biggest champion. I only know what they tell me. When I listen to the sobbing into the phone or spend a long hour weaving through a conflict with one of my girlfriends, it's hard to pull back and see the dynamic, wonderful, loving, forgivable person on the other end of their relationship.
I may think that about the person they are crazy about but can't live with or have to manage the same damn problems with over and over again, I may think to myself, "Hey, this guy really is a gem and they can totally work through this bullshit." And sometimes, I may say that aloud. But when one of my favorite ladies calls again and again with worries and wretchedness of relationship pain, I have to fall back on what I know from my friend. He may be great, but is this worth all the heartache?
And so, and so.
It is with much trepidation that I have admitted that moving in with the Not Boyfriend has not been all Carpenters songs and glitter stickers. It is with much more silence than typing that I have gone over and over where we are and what we are doing and how much we have to wade through before it is all the bliss I want to believe it can be.
I've been scared to put it all on my screen, and yours, because this is my story, right here. And all you may know of the Not Boyfriend arrives in packages of words I put together and leave at your doorstep. All you may understand of our relationship is in a handful of posts written sporadically over the last four years of us finding each other again, falling deeply in love and stepping toward this moment slowly, carefully, strategically.
At the risk of sharing too much of "this is so hard" and "where the fuck is my glitter sticker?!", I want to tell the truth about the vulnerability and frustration and "why in God's name did you put that tiny, baby-sized whisk in THAT drawer?" and silent calm and reassurance and "how did we get so lucky?" that, all bundled up in a crazy mess of emotion and arguments and daily-ness makes up the choice to live together, be together, love bigger than we even realize we can.
I want to be honest about how hard it has been for me to move in with a man. And in particular, this man.
I say that not (only) because he has inate quirks of being far more orderly than I and still far less organized than I, and the earned quirks of years of bachelorhood and the chosen quirks of Buddhist minimalism and seemingly instanteous release of burdensome details. But I also say it because he has the amazing, attractive, awe-striking quirks of being generous of heart, a brilliant mind, incredibly driven, super sessy and a person who can take the tiniest inside jokes and stretch them for years.
All of that good stuff is wound up with the hard times in his life, in relationships lost and feelings hurt and in having to make his own way when he was entirely too young, and all of it together makes him steely strong.
I needed strong.
My mom also reminds me of what her best friend said about meeting the man who became the love of her life: "A strong woman needs a strong man to stand beside her, not in front of her, not behind her." I got that. Or at least I do now.
I'd been calling it "camp counselor syndrome," my tendency to take charge in relationships with men who were attracted to and then despised my strength. Even when I thought I'd really partnered with someone, I realized weeks or months or a divorce later later that I'd been standing in the middle of that relationship with a clipboard, directing both of us, most of the time.
It's what I knew how to do, not vindictive or manipulative. But it was unfulfilling and crazy-exhausting and not very romantic. The more time I spent with myself, the more I understood that I needed to be met. I needed someone to hand over some of that.
Enter the Not Boyfriend.
I don't think he's ever been with someone who meets his strength, either. I could be wrong. I do know that this matched will and determination and carry-on, chin-up-edness is our great strength and also our biggest challenge.
But this story, and what I choose to tell you about the Not Boyfriend is really not (mostly, or maybe much) about him at all. It is about me. It is about placing the clipboard quietly in the trash bin (OK, on the table). It is about need a strong person and not really knowing how to deal with one on a daily basis. It is about learning to breathe, pace myself, shut the hell up, speak up, let it go -- now without the luxury of stomping off to the solace and stubborness of my own apartment.
It is about unwrapping of the dangling remains of bandages from relationships past. Some of those wounds are covered by scar tissue, some are still raw. But being exposed to the air is the only way they will heal.
It is about saying, "This doesn't always feel great. How can we make it better together?" rather than walking (or sprinting or slowly, silently backing) away. It is about admitting, "I love you and I don't love this situation. Yet." with the hope and optimism that time and talking and some magical meditation (yes, that means sex) will make the Yet part get here quicker.
This man, he's the big time. He's got me. And I've got him. I tell you that part in truth. That also means saying what we are doing here in this spacious, beautiful apartment is not ideal. Yet.
Right now, it is momentarily amazing and sometimes, really hard.
I have deep digging to do. And I have therapy and exhaling and bandage unwrapping and soulful conversing and baby-sized whisk moving to do, I know. I have strength to share. I have truths to tell. And glitter stickers to collect. Later. Hopefully, sooner than later.