I have been in some relationships that have lasted a long time, but I am not sure I have ever learned how to be in a long term relationship. There is an aspect of permanence that I have not quite been able to adapt to. I was with my Mr. Big for five years and while we were comfortable together, we always maintained some of the mysteries of dating.
He would pick me up on date night and wait downstairs while I finished getting ready. Then I would emerge from my room so he could admire my cute outfit. We would have a proper date with conversation, dinner, drinks and whatever else came next. In the morning he would get up before me and go downstairs so I could sleep in and he could drink his coffee and wake up. Although we accepted each other completely, each of us preferred to show the other person our best side.
With my boyfriend it is very different. We go to sleep together, wake up together, shower together and then spend the day together. There is a continuous presence which extends longer than a traditional date. There are moments of uncertainty, mood changes, highs and lows throughout an entire day or even a weekend. It is not perfect all of the time. And while part of me knows that is probably a good thing, the other part of me really wants it to be.
Sometimes I think my identity is too closely tied to my relationships. If things are going well, I feel good about myself and if we have a downturn, then I start to have doubts. When something goes wrong, my initial reaction has always been to break up and start over with someone else. In this relationship, I have been working really hard at not doing that. In fact, maybe I have focused too much energy on staying together no matter what. Now I find myself wondering how I will know if it is just a bump in the road, or if it is time to move on.
Friday night we went out in Royal Oak. I put on a super cute dress and we had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. Near the end of dinner, a woman came by and asked how our meal was. She didn't seem like the typical manager who asks every table. She only stopped at ours, which we both thought was strange. "Maybe she likes you," my boyfriend joked.
"Or she likes you," I added. Later she came back and made a special effort to fill my boyfriend's water glass. Then she winked at him and kept on walking. We both agreed that it was probably him she was after.
Later that night we went to the pool hall. I was a little buzzed and was trying to get some flirtatious energy going with my boyfriend. He seemed stiff and uncomfortable. I was using all of my typical moves and asking for his advice on which shot to take, but it just felt awkward. He explained that he has always been really bad at flirting and that it is hard to flirt with me because we are already together.
We went home to bed and the next morning I tried to set aside my thoughts about the waitress and the pool hall. We had the whole day to spend together and I just wanted to enjoy it. But then it happened again.
We were shopping at the Lucky store. I was flipping through t-shirts with him in the men's clearance section and decided to go over to shop on my side of the store. I glanced over not more than 60 seconds later to find him smiling and laughing as the salesgirl handed him a pair of jeans. He caught my eye and motioned for me to come over. I felt completely out of place as they bantered back and forth about how he was going to be her most difficult customer of the day.
My boyfriend appeared to be a completely different person. Confident and witty, smiling and trying on clothes for her. "Who is this person?" I wondered to myself. The night before at the pool hall he was explaining to me how awful he is at flirting. It seemed like he was quickly schooled on that topic by the nose-ringed salesgirl.
I wanted to try on some jeans too, so she begrudgingly turned her attention to me. When I came out of the fitting room to show my jeans to my boyfriend, he was back along the denim wall chatting with the salesgirl again. They both came over and gave their joint seal of approval on my jeans before heading back to their conversation. I paid for my jeans and a new top and we got out of there.
I have always avoided dating really attractive guys because I did not want to deal with the hassle of other woman hitting on them. My boyfriend is skinny and bald with glasses. He is kind of nerdy at first glance. I find him attractive, but it is not like he is the hottest guy in the room. Why were all of these women suddenly hitting on him? I started to wonder if it had more to do with him or with me.
I have read many times about the experience of middle-aged women as compared to men. Once you reach a certain age, they say women become invisible. Both to men and to some younger women who are exerting their feminine power with any man that comes into view.
Somehow I guess I thought it would be different for me. I have always had this lightness around me. I am a fun, flirtatious and happy person. I wear cute dresses and high heeled sandals. I shave my legs every day. The one day I let myself get comfortable in my jeans and t-shirt with minimal make up has to be the day we go to the Lucky store to buy jeans. I wasn't prepared to be in competition for my guy's attention on a lazy Saturday afternoon at the mall.
I guess I could just let go and give in to the gradual process of becoming invisible. But I am only 43 years old. I would hope I have at least a few good years left.
I was tempted to break up with my boyfriend in the car as we drove home. But I have invested five months trying to make this relationship work. And at my age, it is not easy to meet someone that you would even consider having a long term relationship with. I was not about to let a 19 year-old salesgirl at the Lucky store determine the fate of my relationship.
We stopped to pick up some Chinese food for dinner and we laid on the couch watching the Daily Show episodes on my DVR. He fell asleep laying on my stomach and then we went up to bed. That is probably a typical Saturday night for many couples.
This morning my boyfriend went back to his house to get some Sunday chores done. He has probably forgotten all about the waitress and the pool hall, and even the 19 year old nose-ringed salesgirl. Yet here I sit once again re-evaluating the future of our relationship.
I want to be certain of my boyfriend and my feelings for him. But right now I am not certain of anything. I am not sure how to handle being angry or frustrated with someone, and yet remain committed to the relationship. I am not sure if I am in a normal relationship and I should learn to accept it, or if I am not in a normal relationship and I should try to change it.
What I do know is that constantly re-evaluating my relationship is exhausting. And while a good relationship may have its ups and downs, it shouldn't fluctuate on a daily or even hourly basis.
When I think back, the one thing My Mr. Big was really good at was making me feel special. Granted, I was younger back then, but there were still hot waitresses and salesgirls all around us. The difference is that I was in on the joke. He never made me feel like an outsider.
The 19 year old salesgirl isn't the problem. I want to find the right person to spend my remaining years with, the good ones and the bad ones. And I shouldn't be invisible to him.