Less is amour
I had a disturbing conversation with this older married woman at a party. She asked my boyfriend how long we've been together (two years). Before he went to get us drinks, he made a crack about how different our apartments are. The moment he was out of earshot, she turned and lectured me that if you don't live together, you don't experience "really hating each other," and that getting through that is "the triumph of true love." I said I didn't see it that way, and that we might never live together. She then snapped that perhaps I'll someday "grow up and have a real relationship!" Well, my boyfriend and I love each other, but don't see moving in together as an automatic next step. By living separately, are we really missing out on some higher level of relationship? — Naive?
The course of true love doesn't always run smooth, but must it really run around the house waving a frying pan and screaming obscenities?
People romanticize living in close proximity to other human beings. The truth is, humans are smelly, annoying and leak a lot. They're often lazy and pick fights over the littlest things. Anybody who's ever been around another human knows this, but for many, being in a grown-up relationship involves understanding human nature but living in total denial of it: expecting your partner to still look longingly at you when you pick dead skin off your toes and collect it in a little dish.
Mrs. Socrates wears her misery like a Girl Scout badge — whichever one they'd give you for spending decades sitting silently across from your supposedly beloved at Denny's. The reality? Maybe she's a little long in the tooth and light in the Botox to compete with the hot young things in bars. Maybe she only feels like somebody as Mrs. Somebody. And, chances are, it never occurred to her that there's an alternative to living like two hens in a pen.
But, there's no going back now, only snarling at happy young women at parties that they, too, might someday experience "the triumph of true love." Which, for her, plays out as: "Never go to bed angry. Stay up and try to commit murder-suicide."
Sure, many couples prefer living together, or, in this economy, prefer it to living separately in their cars. And, if you have kids, it's best if you can say, "Wait till your father gets home" instead of "I'll give your father a call and see what he's doing tonight." If you do end up living together, it helps if you each have a room of your own, where house rules don't apply — providing you don't break any marriage vows or fire laws. Of course, it helps even more if you're both exceedingly easygoing, lobotomized or comatose.
The reality is, you greet a guy way differently when you've had a chance to miss him than when he's always there missing the toilet. Living apart also means you're more likely to act like you're still in the pursuit phase: trying to be witty and interesting and dressing suggestively when he comes over, and not in a way that suggests you're halfway through cleaning out the garage.
As for Mrs. S's notion that you can hate your way to true love, researcher John Gottman found that expressions of contempt are actually the most poisonous to a relationship. In other words, the path to true love might be a bit of a drive: whatever it takes so your boyfriend isn't always in your face, doing whatever it is you'd gnaw off your right hand to have him stop doing — like breathing, chewing and having large pores.
Leave will keep us together
Thanks to your column, I'm a recovering wimp, now asking women out. So, any pointers for first dates? Dinner or drinks? Things to avoid doing or saying? — Girlfriend-Seeking
For best results, sell yourself like soap. When Procter & Gamble wants you to try a new laundry detergent, they mail you a little packet of the stuff; they don't throw a two-gallon jug over your fence and kill your dog. Likewise, the point of the first date is seeing if it makes sense to go on a second date, not letting a girl know how ashamed you were when you wet the bed at sleepaway camp. Too much emotional intimacy right away can feel creepy in retrospect. Or, you run the risk of getting attached first, then finding out how wrong a girl is for you later.
To avoid going into overtime, overspend and overshare, make the first date cheap, local and short. Meet for a drink, for maybe an hour and a half. Have something you have to rush off to afterward. Even if it's just a conference call at your place. With your hamster listening in on the extension.