Up until the second I got married, I was the worst relationship person on planet Earth, which makes me the perfect person to harass you into not making the same mistakes I did. I more or less spent my entire early to mid-20s dating guys who were unavailable, physically, mentally and usually both. Of course, we don’t choose partners by accident. It wasn’t a coincidence that I fell for at least three guys who hailed from places numerous lines of longitude away from where I planned on living and working. I enjoyed the drama and resisted against falling into a mundane relationship. I loved the going away and coming back and opportunities to embrace in a crowded airport. The will-he-or-won’t-he-return thrill of it all and the hanging-by-a-visa-thread existence. And let’s not forget the oceans-may-separate-us-but-nothing-can-truly-divide-us movie BS.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder — to a point. After that, if there’s no true commitment, boredom and resentment kicks in and your eyes can easily go searching for the next unavailable thrill because, well, what’s keeping you from doing so?
When you date someone who is unattainable and not truly available to commit to you, assuming you actually do want a commitment, you spend a lot of time pretending you’re characters in a movie who will figure it out one day. All fine and dandy at 23, when you can waste your days. Not so much when you’re approaching 30 and considering the next chapter in your life. In one long twenty-something relationship that was ultimately going nowhere, I knew I had reached my boiling point when my ex returned to the apartment we shared from work to find me sitting on the couch with a bowl of Chex cereal in front of me.
“I’m not making dinner for us anymore because I’m not your pretend wife. There’s more cereal over there. Help yourself.”
It came as a shock to no one when I packed up my things and moved out one week later. I don’t blame him. I didn’t have a sense of what I wanted and never spoke up. I equated making dinner with nourishing us for a long-distance marathon. In his mind, we just needed to eat to maintain our caloric intake for the day.
I met my now-husband at age 27 and knew within one week of dating that I wanted things to be different this time around. I was starting to think about children. They now factored into the future I wanted to begin constructing, even if that meant gathering wood for the time being. Unlike so many of my exes, and in complete contrast to who I was up until then, he was grounded, secure and perfectly content to exist in one space. He didn’t fidget. He didn’t feel the need to search for himself and wasn’t looking around the room or at his phone when we were together. His willingness to be completely present and emotionally honest terrified me so much, precisely because it’s what I knew I wanted in my life at that point, that I instinctively set out to destroy everything we were building.
And then I had an a-ha moment where it dawned on me that I could be different this time and stop pretending I was cool with whatever because that’s how cool girlfriends, not “nagging wives,” act.
One night, I came right out and blurted, “I want to marry you one day.” It came from my heart, but admittedly, the “one day” was added in because I wanted to be on the receiving end of a proposal and didn’t want to make it sound like I was the one officially doing the asking. The worst that could have happened was him confessing to me that he didn’t feel the same, but at least I’d know where I stood. No, wait, I’m lying — the worst thing that could have happened was him choosing to respond with silence or an infuriating, “Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it” reply. Then I would have had to decide whether I felt comfortable living in nebulous territory when I felt far more confident than he did that I wanted a lasting commitment.
He shared my feelings and intentions, which is one of the reasons we’re now married. But I consider that night’s confession an important turning point in our relationship because, even though I knew we weren’t dating other people, there’s a difference between knowing you’re monogamous that moment and expressing, aloud, your desire to work toward a shared future.
All too often, I hear from friends who are dating someone for a long time say they aren’t sure what’s going on in their relationship. It’s as if the advent of Facebook’s “it’s complicated” status gave everyone free rein to act like it takes so much effort to listen to your gut, decide whether you want to spend time exclusively with one person and just go for it. None of us knows whether a relationship or marriage will stand the test of time, and even the strongest unions can fall apart. But if you aren’t being honest with yourself and your partner about your commitment needs because you fear you’ll drive them away, it sounds like you could be with someone who isn’t actually with you anyway.
You aren’t trying to “trap” a man by admitting you want exclusivity. You aren’t being a “nag” or a “drag” or any of the many other insulting terms we’ve come to associate with women who stand their ground about commitment. Holding in your desires and then allowing them to come out in passive-aggressive ways (for example, by updating your Facebook page 20 times a day with memes and quiz results about how you’ll never get married) is going to do far more damage to a relationship you’re invested in than simply coming clean and being straightforward about where you’d like to see this thing “go.”
The next time you find yourself wondering what’s happening in your relationship, remind yourself that you make up one crucial half of that relationship. If you want something you aren’t getting, well, that’s as important as your partner not wanting the commitment neither of you is getting. Bring up the topic the way you would any other and choose not to choose mystery and drama over a far more amazing reality.