When “You and Me” Becomes “We”

For the vast majority of my young adult life, I have been a bit of loner. An introvert at heart, I do not have a huge group of friends, nor do I see my friends as much as I could.  I never really dated in college and hadn’t had a proper boyfriend since high school. I’ve always been pretty independent and satisfied spending time alone.

So, when I first started dating my current boyfriend in my last semester of graduate school, the idea of not being single was somewhat hard to get used to.  I didn’t immediately think about inviting him to family get-togethers or group outings with my friends. I was thrown off when friends and family members asked where he was or what he was up to when I showed up to an event solo. I forged ahead with my own plans for a Halloween costume because the idea of a couple’s costume never even crossed my mind. I didn’t view my boyfriend and myself as a collective unit; I viewed him as a complement to myself.

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, when I stopped thinking of my relationship as “him and me” and started thinking about it as “us.” I suppose it was around Thanksgiving, when we went to each others’ family holiday celebrations. I had never spent a holiday with a significant other before, and it felt weird to be attending each event as a single entity. Although the experience was foreign to me, it was also pleasant. After that point, I resolved myself to the fact that we were truly a collective unit. 

Now, the idea of an existence completely apart from him is frightening to me. I now think of things in terms of us as a couple, rather than myself individually. We talk openly about trips we’d like to take, plans for our second year of dating, and ideas for activities we would like to do this fall. We hint at the possibilities of someday living together, getting married, and having children. And, not only have I opened myself up to the idea of doing a couple’s costume for Halloween, but we’ve actually already discussed potential costumes. 

This transition into the “we” versus “you and me” mentality is scary for an independent and reluctant introvert like myself, but it is also really exciting. It’s the start of a new chapter in my life, and I can’t see where the road takes us.

Mile Markers

Today, two of my friends announced their engagement. Of course, this announcement was not out-of-the-blue; the pair have dated for several years and have lived together for a couple of those years. But, still, this engagement is a milestone they (and everyone around them) have been waiting for. This time last month, my friends’ lives were business as usual, but now they have been whisked away by a whirlwind of elation and wedding planning.

The excitement and happiness I feel for the two of them makes me daydream about my own potential engagement someday. After all, that’s what I’m expected to do. It seems that once an adult relationship reaches a certain point, the countdown to engagement automatically begins, whether the couple acknowledges this or not. Once a relationship crosses this threshold, it ceases to be a relationship for the mere sake of being a relationship. Instead, it becomes a countdown to the engagement milestone. Eventually, those around us will start expecting it, just like I expected my friends’ engagement. At this point, there’s really only two options for how this thing can go: either he’ll “put a ring on it” or the relationship will come crashing down in fiery chaos.

So is this what adulthood really is? Just a series of milestones we live to check off of our lists?

We spend our high school years preparing to get into college. We go to college to enter into a job and begin our careers upon graduation. We land an interview and then land the job. We move out on our own and begin to establish ourselves. We find a partner, move in with them, get engaged to them, and marry them. Shortly after, we have children. This is what society expects out of us before the age of thirty. Our young adult years are a ripe time for important milestones, and our success is measured by which ones we reach, how quickly we reach them, and in what order they occur.

While I certainly want all of these things for myself, I don’t want to sit around just waiting for the next milestone to occur. I want to live my life fully in the in-between. I want to keep pushing myself to do better and be better and enjoy every moment. That way, the milestones won’t be my only crowning achievements but extra-sweet moments in an already sweet life.

That Cupid’s a Sneaky Bastard

I can’t believe Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love, naked baby angels, and chocolate hearts, is almost here again.

In high school, I tried to write a description of love. Inspired by a friend’s composition of a similar nature, I spent several hours trying to capture the feeling…the gooey-eyed stares, the blush-worthy text messages, the rush of that first kiss. The problem was that, no matter how right it sounded originally, nothing I wrote really said anything.

Only recently did I realize that those words seemed empty because I had never actually been in love. What I felt then was not real love, but I can only recognize this because I have now felt what genuine love is like.

So…what is love?

Love is having an ice-cold glass of Mountain Dew poured for you when you come over, even though they only drink Diet Coke. Love is that nervous flutter in your stomach every time you drive to meet them and every time their name appears on your phone, even though you’ve been together for over a year and friends for even longer. Love is acceptance…of quirks and too-soft bodies and the intricate patchwork of each other’s pasts. Love is safety. It is the whisper of a touch, a reassuring squeeze on the knee, and a hug that you wish would never end. Love is feeling at home whenever and wherever you’re with them. It is enjoying spontaneous adventures, planned outings, routine tasks, and quiet moments equally, as long as you’re together. Love is spending an entire week together and still wanting another week, another day, another hour with them. Love is saying the words out loud and truly meaning them, not just in the heat of passion or in the parting of ways, but in the quiet, ordinary moments too. It is trusting each other enough to talk about hopes and fears, past disappointments, spur-of-the-moment whimsies, bodily functions, and everything in between. Love is feeling scared of the possibility of spending the rest of your life with them, but being far more frightened by the possibility of ever losing them.

This is love. Or, at least, this is love as I’ve learned it to be over the past year. I wasn’t looking for love, and neither was he; love snuck up on both of us when we were looking the other way. But, now, our relationship is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I can’t imagine a future without him. I hope I never have to.

So, as we approach Valentine’s Day once again, let’s all celebrate love, even if you’re completely single. Because love is real, love can be true, and love will find you when you least expect it. Trust me.

 

Dating App Denial

The other night, for some ungodly reason, I started thinking about dating apps.

I have to admit, I’ve never used a dating app before. After a few weird encounters with a couple of individuals I met through Plenty of Fish in college, I decided online dating just wasn’t for me. So, when Tinder hit the market and became the new face of dating among my peers, I promptly said no thanks.

One of my dear friends is single and always on the look-out for a relationship. He has pretty much every relevant dating app on his phone, and he checks them consistently. He has “talked to” many different individuals through these apps and met several of them face-to-face (probably even more times than I’m aware of). Some of these people seem perfectly nice, and, for the most part, they are. But, for some reason, his contact with these potential mates never seems to endure beyond a handful of dates. It either simply doesn’t work out, or, as he has found over and over again, a lot of these app users really aren’t looking for anything serious.

Having said that, I do find myself wondering if anyone has truly found love on Tinder. And I mean real, long-term love, not the kind of thing that sorta almost resembles love for a night or two. Are we, as a generation, trying to use dating apps to find something that simply cannot be found through the screens of our smartphones?

I keep thinking about my own relationship and its humble beginnings. We love and trust each other completely because we were good friends before we were in a romantic relationship, and we knew each other as coworkers and classmates before that. We were in each other’s lives for an entire year and a half before we ventured into a relationship.I have never felt this safe and comfortable with anyone in my entire life…but is that only because of how we met? Could I have found this same thing through a dating app? Or would I have been doomed to an endless series of mediocre dates?

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I can only speak from my own experience and my observations of my friends’ love lives (or lack thereof). But I’m interested in knowing if this is possible. Where are those Tinder success stories at? I would love to hear some.

Important Differences

We ran into his ex the other day. They hadn’t seen each other since their bad breakup, nearly two years ago, so I didn’t know what would happen. But, we simply kept walking, and neither of them acknowledged the other’s presence. It was awkward as hell, but definitely could’ve been a lot worse.

I knew him during the last few months of his relationship with her, and I had met her myself while they were still together. After they broke up, I spent several months as the designated friend for him to vent to. When we finally started dating, about a year after his previous relationship had ended, her influence on him and his views of dating became even more apparent.

When we first started dating, he said it would be at least 10 years before he considered marrying someone. He said that he didn’t want to make plans for future things we would do as a couple. He said that he wasn’t really into holding hands, unless it was some sort of special occasion. He would always profusely apologize when he wasn’t able to pay for dinner for us both, and he definitely seemed confused when I didn’t ask him to buy the anklet I picked out for myself on vacation.

In the mere nine months we’ve been dating, there’s been a big change in the list of things he swore he wouldn’t or couldn’t do. While he does still apologize for not being able to take me out on as many fancy dates as he would like, he knows that it doesn’t upset me, and he surprises me with dinners out and little thoughtful gifts from time to time. As for hand holding only on special occasions, such occasions for us can be as “special” as walking across a parking lot. He’s been talking about our first anniversary (which will be in January) since September, and we talk about trips we’d like to take together all of the time. We’re both in agreement that we should probably be together about 3 years before we even start discussing marriage, which has made him much comfortable talking about his someday wedding and future kids. More than once, he has even talked about marriage in terms of US getting married, before he catches himself.

So, what I’ve learned from this is that the best relationships are those in which you can be honest and open about what you do and don’t want, but in a way that is respectful of your partner’s dos and don’ts as well.  He willingly holds my hand in parking lots because I don’t tell him he has to. He openly talks about marriage because he knows I’m not going to push him into it before we’re both ready. I don’t demand those kinds of things from him, so he gives them to me willingly. And he actually enjoys it.

So, no, I’m not her, and I never will be. Our relationship is not their relationship, and that’s a good thing.

 

The Changing of the Leaves

Within the pages of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” I firmly believe this to be true. At least for the last two falls in a row, I have encountered moments that have altered my life path to various degrees.

Around this time last year, I was attending a series of workshops to prepare for graduate school applications. At the time, I was still convinced that I was applying to MFA programs with an emphasis in fiction.  I wanted to be a prolific novel writer, and, if that failed, work in publishing as a back-up. I didn’t want to be a professor or do research; I just wanted to write. I came into those workshops with these firm convictions.

One of my professors had become a really important mentor to me my senior year of undergrad, and he was the one leading the workshops. After one of the first workshop meetings, he and I were hanging around and chatting. I can’t really remember how it occurred, but we somehow started talking about my newfound passion for writing centers. He recommended that I look at a couple of graduate programs with a specific focus in writing center studies…PhD programs in rhetoric and composition. He recommended that I apply to a couple of each type of program, and I told him I would consider it.

I went home that night and did some research on the programs he had mentioned. The programs and their classes sounded awesome! After I looked at those two programs, I googled some more in the area. Every single one sounded interesting and exciting. I was utterly convinced that he was right. I needed to apply to MFA programs in fiction AND a couple of PhD programs in rhet/comp.

The only problem was, when I started to write personal statements for these programs as required by the workshops, I found myself utterly consumed by the statements for the rhet/comp programs. The more I read about programs, looked at courses of study, and thought about the work I would do, the more PhD programs appealed to me. I found myself not struggling to fill the page like with my MFA personal statements; instead, the words and ideas were overflowing. I had many clear-cut reasons for pursuing a PhD in rhet/comp., while I was barely scraping by on genuine reasons why I wanted to get an MFA.

Of course, it wasn’t long after this that I completely surrendered myself to rhetoric and composition. I felt guilty about it, of course. Creative writing had always been my thing, and I felt like I was betraying myself by thinking otherwise. I wasn’t betraying myself though; I was meeting myself for the first time. I could think of plenty of questions I wanted to answer and problems I wanted to solve in the field. I could not only imagine doing research on these topics, but actually enjoying the research and writing about it. And I really, really liked the idea of teaching and studying composition and writing center stuff for the rest of my life. At that point, the transformation was complete.

Around this same time, Halloween brought changes to my personal life. If you happened to be one of the unlucky bastards that read all of the chapters in my “unconventional love story,” you will know that last Halloween marked a crucial point in my relationship with my current boyfriend. We had been coworkers and classmates during my first year of grad school. When he graduated in May, we stayed in contact and ended up becoming good friends over the summer. While family, friends, and strangers alike assumed we were going to start dating, he was adamant that we would not. However, on Halloween, he finally ended up making a move on me that shattered the illusion that we did not have feelings for each other. Even though we wouldn’t actively acknowledge those feelings again until Christmastime, that night was a definite game-changer.

Now, autumn is here again, and I find myself in a similar state of change and renewal.

After having a near panic attack a few days ago over the sudden realization of the time and money immediately required to take the GRE and apply to my full list of PhD programs, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. After some brainstorming, number-crunching, soul-searching, and confiding in my mother, I finally came to a conclusion: kick ass on my application to the only PhD program on my list that doesn’t require the GRE and, assuming I don’t get in, work really, really hard on my materials over the next year. This allows me to save more money, study for and take the GRE over the summer when I have more time, and work on some additional publications in the meantime.

Immediately after making this decision, I felt a certain sense of peace wash over me. I’m going to have great materials for one program that is an excellent fit for me and my research. If I don’t get in, I’ll have another year to prepare my materials and make myself the best possible candidate I can be. It’ll be another year staying here with my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. It’ll be another year to grow up. I can’t lose either way.

So, autumn is and always will be my favorite time of the year, especially October.  I love the weather, the activities, the scents, the food, the clothes, all of it. But, perhaps what I love this most is how it always offers a chance to begin again. Like the changing leaves, in autumn we can detach ourselves from what isn’t working, showing off our brilliant colors as we open the way for something new to grow.

An Unconventional Love Story: Forever and Always?

When we were classmates and coworkers, I never really thought we’d be friends. Once we were good friends, I never really thought we would start dating. And, even once we started dating, I never expected our relationship to be like this.

Just when I think things between us can’t get any better, that we’ve finally reached our maximum potential and our relationship is going to begin to plateau, something comes along and pushes it up to the next level. Every time I start to disintegrate into self-doubt, assuming that the end of us is near, we are drawn even closer together.

The longer we are together, the kinder, more thoughtful, and more affectionate you become. The longer we are together, the easier it becomes to talk about any and all uncomfortable subjects. The longer we are together, the more at ease we are with each other, physically and emotionally. The longer we are together, the more we begin to talk about a long-term future. The longer we are together, the more I begin to believe that such a future could be a reality.

I can’t say what the future holds for us. All I can say is that I am so happy I met you, so happy I became friends with you, so happy for our unconventional, long-time-coming love story. I love you, and I can’t wait to see where life takes us.

An Unconventional Love Story: Part Five

On New Year’s Eve, I expected to see a happy, excited, and affectionate man. I also expected us to share our first kiss at midnight.

I received neither. Instead, I got a pensive and sulky boy, and a hug.

Before my friends joined us, we talked a lot about the past year. We talked about your awful last relationship and the awful way it ended. We talked about how quickly she moved on, and how she’d already been living with someone for several months. We talked about how you still hadn’t found work since graduation, and how disconnected you felt from your time as a grad student. We talked about our broken resolutions before we’d even had a chance to make them.

One of my friends finally showed up, late as usual, and we left to pick up my other friend. All of us went to my favorite brewery, where we curled up by a fireplace and played Cards Against Humanity for hours. You had never met my friends before, and I was worried about how things would go. I had no cause for concern though; it was like you all had known each other for years. In the spirit of broken resolutions, I shivered outside in the cold as you smoked an unfiltered cigarette, the smoke rising into the heavens overhead.

Little did we know that night that we were airing out the bad to make room for the good.

At midnight, we all hugged each other into the new year and headed home. Keeping with my traditions, you slept over at my house with my friends. We all slept on the floor in sleeping bags, you and I falling asleep beside each other. Even though we were in separate sleeping bags and had plenty of distance between us, I had never slept this close to someone I liked before. The sensation was weird and welcome. The next morning, I hugged you goodbye, and that was that.

I thought NYE was going to give me the answers I was looking for, but it only served to give me more questions. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long to learn the truth.

I can no longer remember how many times I saw you between the start of the new year and the start of our relationship. Once? Twice? Five times? All I know is, I came over not long after the holiday, and you invited me up to your room to watch a movie. This was a new feeling, a new experience; the high school part of me felt like I was doing something wrong. Nothing like that happened, of course, but the sensation remained. You asked me if you could put your arm around me, and we laid curled up together on your bed. This continued the next few times we saw each other, until eventually you stopped asking and started doing.

Then, on the 17th of January, a new question…”Can I kiss you?”

I can’t remember ever hearing a better question. What should have been a simple, short, and sweet first kiss between new lovers soon exploded into a different kind of kiss entirely. We were absolutely desperate for each other; I had never experienced anything like that. After that, without even needing discussion, you and I became you-and-I. A couple of days later, we went on a proper first date, and so began the first month of our relationship.  For the first time in my adult life, I could look forward to having a valentine on Valentine’s Day.

Over time, the absolutely unlikely had become the somewhat probable, and the somewhat probable had become the surprisingly likely. Now, finally, the surprisingly likely had become an unbelievable reality.

 

 

An Unconventional Love Story: Part Four

After Halloween night, I tried to find an excuse to see you again as soon as possible. Everything was different now, and I was certain that the next time I saw you, “you and I” would officially become “we.”

I was wrong.

When I next saw you, a mere 36 hours after I had dropped you back off at your car, it was never mentioned or acknowledged. It was like Halloween had never existed. Like nothing had happened between us. Like nothing had changed.

I have to admit that I was hurt. I do not take romantic affection lightly, and I thought this sudden shift was the real deal. But you acted like it had never occurred. I wondered if it meant nothing to you, or if you had only done it because you were horny and drunk, or if you were too drunk to even remember that it had happened in the first place. That rush of feelings I felt, just erased.

Even though you wouldn’t come outright and acknowledge Halloween night, things between us did start to change. We started to go out and do new activities, spending more time together than ever before. When November came around, you not only invited me over for Friendsgiving, but you asked me to come before everyone else. I even helped you to finish cooking and clean up afterward. Not long after that, you invited me back over to play Scrabble and…meet your mom. We were definitely entering a new phase of our friendship as fall gave way to winter.

Oh, sweet December.

A few days before Christmas, we decided to go see Trumbo at the movie theater. We had some time to kill before our showing, though, so we went to Buybacks to browse their CD selection. As we were wandering through the store, you suddenly (finally!) brought up Halloween. You then proceeded to talk about how all of our mutual friends thought we were dating all summer long, so wouldn’t it be funny if we actually started dating? Wouldn’t that be a good joke? That would show them!

Of course, I was dying inside (in a good way) the entire time, but I kept my cool, playing along and matching your tone of jest. I didn’t have the heart to ask if you were really joking or not. Once the conversation wandered off in a new direction, I decided I would just let it go. I wouldn’t mention it again unless you brought it up first.

You weren’t joking though, and it certainly wasn’t long before the issue came up again.

About halfway through the movie that night, you put your arm around me. This time, the action was welcome, expected even, and it did not send me spiraling into a panicked state. We went back to your house afterward to exchange Christmas gifts for a quick minute, but that quick minute turned to hours. We sat in your living room, talking and watching dumb videos, your hand on my knee and my arm linked through yours. It didn’t feel surprising or weird; it simply felt natural.

When I finally mustered up the motivation to leave, you walked me out to my car. We stumbled over our words as we said goodbye and gave Christmas wishes. I blurted out an invitation for you to join my friends and I for New Year’s, and you agreed to it. I couldn’t believe I had invited you, or that you were coming, or that any of this was actually happening.

The stretch of time between our gift exchange and New Year’s Eve was tortuous. Not only was I eager to see you, but I was worried that you were going to entirely change your mind. I knew that a day or so after this had all occurred, you were visiting a friend from your first year of graduate school that you had had a crush on once upon a time. I was worried that you were going to see her and realize that these feelings you thought you had for me were all a mistake. In that whole stretch of time, we only texted on Christmas, further adding to my fear that this had all been one big misunderstanding.

If I could just make it to New Year’s Eve, everything would be alright.

 

An Unconventional Love Story: Part Three

Last Halloween was so significant in the story of us that we often talk about our relationship before we officially started dating in terms of pre-Halloween and post-Halloween. In a lot of ways, that night is really where it all began.

On Halloween, we met up at a mutual friend’s apartment to start off the night. From her place, we all walked to a local gourmet grocery store to buy beer, which we promptly snuck into her place of employment to drink. You drank too much too quickly, of course, and the night was off to a tipsy start as we all loaded into an Uber to head downtown.

Once downtown, our mutual friend quickly disappeared, joining some of her coworkers who had manifested themselves among the crowd, leaving the two of us and one of my best friends to celebrate Halloween on our own. We wandered up and down the bar district, checking out costumes, dodging rain showers, and, of course, seeking out cocktails. Nothing was necessarily out of the ordinary, but, as we stood in line for a bar out in the rain, I started to notice that things were different that night. You kept talking about my costume, and, when we were finally inside the bar, and I asked for a picture with you, you pulled me close to you. Now, even a year later, that picture is still my favorite of the two of us.

We were all too cheap to call another Uber, and you were too drunk to drive home anyway, so I called my mom to pick us up. She dropped my friend off at her own house, and then you came with me back to my place. We decided we would go upstairs to watch a movie, and then you would sleep on the pull-out couch. But, we never went to sleep that night. We agreed to watch Halloweentown, and once it was finished, we promptly began the second one.

Somewhere along the way though, you asked if you could put your arm around me. I squeaked out a “yes,” overwhelmed by the unexpectedness of it. You had spent so much time talking about how we were just friends, but here you were, doing a not-just-friends things. I didn’t know how to handle it, and I never wanted it to end. We stayed up all night until we were sober enough for me to drive you to your car.

We hugged goodbye, and Post-Halloween officially began.