This will surprise you, I'm sure, but I'm not easy to love or live with. A string of former partners of both genders could testify to this had they all not sworn never to speak my name aloud again.
You'd think someone as consistently rotten at the conduct of relationships would take a vow to remain unattached. But not me. Since I was 20, when I was married, I have only been outside a maybe three years total. I believe they call it "love and relationship addiction" and, like most addictions, it's a very, very bad thing.
Don't get the idea I'm one of those people who has jumped from month-long relationship to month-long relationship. No, not me. I get in there and stay. The shortest committed relationship I've had is three years. You have to pry the wedding ring off my cold, clenched hand.
Even given this pathology to mate for years at a time, I feel I should congratulate myself for reaching a 10-year anniversary with Mr. Johnson on New Year's Day. Actually, I should congratulate Mr. Johnson for only becoming half-mad instead of totally insane. Not to say that I haven't complained bitterly about his failure to conform at every instant to my personal standards of mental health.
"He's crazy," I told my therapist one day for the hundredth time.
"Maybe he is," he replied. "But it's pretty clear he's no crazier than you."
It was one of those moments, like that time years ago I went to a bar after a party and everyone was staring at me. I thought I must look especially hot. Then I went to the bathroom and noticed in the mirror that I'd forgotten to remove the fake bloody ears I'd worn at the party. A good therapist is a mirror.
Really, I think that is the secret to long-term relationships: knowing how absolutely fucked up and flawed you are and remaining aware how remarkable it is that another person loves you anyway. The romantic idealizations about mating may work many years for some people, but for people like me, they come to feel suffocating after just a few years. Historically, I have tortured myself with guilt after that happens, dug deeper into the relationship and finally ended it when I could no longer bear feeling shackled. Usually, I'm sorry to say, I tormented my partners for their behavior when I couldn't manage my own.
By the time I met Mr. Johnson on New Year's Day (in a bar with an especially unsavory rep), I was pretty sick of myself and the whole love business. I had not been in a relationship for a year. OK, I should say I hadn't been in a committed relationship for a year. I had been conducting a year-long affair with a well-known porn actor and writer on the West Coast, where I was traveling regularly for my clinical training. That man, now deceased, was by no means stupid but, you know, his mind didn't devote itself to much besides the articulation of desire. I had said goodbye to him and last saw him dancing naked and badly at a workshop on sex in New York.
Mr. Johnson was from the moment I met him the nicest and smartest person I'd ever met. I am not accustomed to nice people -- I wasn't treated very nicely growing up and I'm not very nice myself -- so I have devoted a lot of words to teasing him about the manipulations of the terminally nice. But the truth is that to a wounded heart like mine, ordinary kindness is a shock and one I can't always handle. I am, sadly, more accustomed to painful love.
I shouldn't go overboard. He is an only child. So his niceness tends to conflict with the only child's expectation of getting his way. It makes life interesting. Probably more than this disorienting kindness, I was attracted to his intelligence. I am cursed with an intellectual disposition -- I can't go anywhere without a book -- and it was quite a shock to me to involve myself with someone who regarded this as an asset instead of a liability or an expression of "elitism."
Of course, that doesn't mean we understand one another's passions. We are both writing doctoral dissertations, or trying to, and Mr. Johnson, an epidemiologist, remarked some time ago that he picked up one of my books and didn't understand a word of it. I assured him that his pages of statistical calculations looked to me like the black board in The Nutty Professor.
We are different in many ways and both independent. He spends nearly every weekend in the mountains. I spent over four months in Spain last year. We waited four years before sharing a home. I am addicted to the gym. He is addicted to looking at the gorgeous flowers he grows. I threaten to leave regularly. He holds the door open. I never make it to the front steps.
"This is the weirdest damn relationship," I always whine.
"We're just doing the best two people like us know how," he always says.
I'm very lucky.
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