A Young Person’s Guide to Romance: Final Chapter
If you are lucky enough to date someone for a long time or even after being married, there are silent enemies lurking in the shadows plotting to destroy the happiness you found. With a plethora of time, mineral-laden water drips in caverns underground to create dazzling formations of stalactites and stalagmites. But it doesn’t take millennia to chip away at the Home of Us, crumbling the mortar away, and weakening it to the point where a weak breeze or disagreement is all it takes to topple to the ground. At the end of the breakup, you are left sitting in a shattered pile of memories, a pool of tears, and wondering what the hell went wrong. If you are really lucky, someone will help you rebuild. Could be the former partner, could be a new one, or you may have to do it alone but you can do it.
While not an all-inclusive list and in no particular order, some of the relationship enemies I have encountered or fostered are: Routine, Apathy, Grudges, and Nitpicking. Routine is normally associated with couples who have been together for years, but without some effort by both parties, this fun-killer can show up in a matter of weeks. I cringe a little whenever I hear of the Regularly Scheduled Date Night of going out to dinner, watching a movie, and maybe having sex. This is somewhat understandable when juggling kids, babysitters, work schedules, and the like but why keep doing the same thing? Instead of going to a restaurant, take a cooking class. Instead of watching a movie, go to a comedy show. Instead of going home for the night, get a hotel. Hell, splurge a little and get the honeymoon suite or something! If the dates all start to look, feel, and end the same then the roots of Routine will creep in and crack the foundation. Lastly, having sex at the same time, in the same position, in the same place, with the same foreplay, etc. has been shown through numerous studies to be one of the main reasons long-term couples just stop doing it altogether. Even sex can be boring.
Apathy normally follows Routine around but it can appear without warning on its own. As an example, if one of the partners has self-esteem issues, lacks natural empathy, or is wracked with doubt about their future together there is a decreasing probability of sparking their interest. Gifts don’t elicit a conventional response, laughter is forced, and (my favorite indicator) kisses don’t feel the same anymore. The old adage about ‘if you don’t love yourself, nobody can love you’ is pretty accurate. It will take a persistent and patient partner to wait it out and support the other until they come back to resemble their former self. I have feebly attempted to explain how the eyes and the kiss are the best barometers of a relationship, but most of you know the difference between a kiss of passion and a kiss of get it over with already. If they aren’t willing to put forth any effort in the kiss, the likelihood that they are just hanging around until they can find the exit is high.
Grudges are weapons of relationship destruction. Every single relationship — friends, family, lovers, co-workers — is composed of good times and bad times. Humans make mistakes and sometimes say or do the wrong thing to those they care about. The problem arises when these errors are pulled out of the proverbial purse and used to pummel an unsuspecting victim. I used to think that my mother was good at sending me on guilt trips until I was sent to guilt vacation land by a significant other. ‘Remember that one time that you’, ‘I really wish you had’, and ‘You never learn’. If you really want to kick someone when they are down, wait until they make a simple mistake and instead of letting them apologize, spend the next eighty-seven minutes listing off at least seventeen unrelated incidents where they failed to meet expectations you didn’t bother to share.
Nitpicking is Grudge’s smaller and more persistent cousin but should not be underestimated. Instead of killing love with grenades of loud arguments, nitpicks can be delivered in a normal voice at any time. Crushing the self-esteem of your partner is a good warm-up to either decades of subservient marriage or walking away leaving them in a pit of low self-esteem. Point out all the things they do ‘wrong’: folding the bath towels in half instead of thirds, count the number of times the toilet paper roll is almost empty or backwards, make up rules for loading the dishwasher, blame a tight shirt on them washing in warm vice cold instead of admitting you gained weight, and my own personal favorite — flip the fuck out about anything found on the kitchen floor. A single stray hair, a spot of dried coffee, a stale bagel crumb, or even a stray cat treat can lead to a droning lecture about kitchen sanitation and some silent treatment.
Contrary to popular opinion, I am not always a cold-hearted cynical bastard of overflowing pessimism and hate. In the little shiny place where I hide my heart, I do have some hope. Hope for those of you who want to love and be loved. Chase that dream, but please find something unique to make your relationship stronger as too many Homes of Us look alike and have the same weaknesses as their neighbors. I have built and destroyed a few Homes but each successive relationship has been stronger and happier than the last. So apparently I can learn from my mistakes and so can you. Forgive them, forgive yourself, and just love each other the best way you know how.