When Love Seems Too Easy to Trust
Recently, Joe and I were watching a “Black Mirror” episode in which technology assigns relationship expiry dates to couples. (It’s “expiry” because they are British.)
Just as I was wondering how that might apply to us, Joe said, “Maybe if you never check the date, you never get one.”
Joe and I are engaged, by the way. But I am plagued by doubt, wondering if this is right. I look at data on failed marriages, wanting to fail-proof my own. I read articles that say criticism and defensiveness will eat away at a relationship, and I worry because I am a rather critical and defensive person. Contempt, I read, is “the kiss of death,” and I worry I have some of that too.
In search of a formula for happiness and certainty, I sift through “Dear Prudence,” “Ask Polly” and “Savage Love.” I examine the marriages of friends and acquaintances. I look at engagement photos, scanning the faces for clues.
我在“亲爱的普鲁登丝”(Dear Prudence)、“问波莉”(Ask Polly)和“萨维奇谈爱情”(Savage Love)里仔细寻找获得幸福和确定性的办法。我研究朋友和熟人的婚姻，检查订婚时的照片，想从脸上找到蛛丝马迹。
“How happy are you?” I wonder. “How certain?” I scour wedding websites for evidence of doubt, but in these polished places I never find it.
I read online accounts of broken engagements, identifying signs and symptoms, my heart pounding the way it does when I wake up with a stiff neck and read the meningitis page on WebMD.
Part of the problem is I met Joe when I was 22, when I believed the romantic comedy of my life (based on “When Harry Met Sally”) hadn’t started yet. More accurately, I was in the flashback phase of that rom-com: Harry and Sally driving from Chicago to New York together.
问题的一部分在于22岁遇到乔时，我以为自己人生的浪漫喜剧（改编自《当哈利遇到莎莉》[When Harry Met Sally]）还没有开始。更准确地说，我那时正处在那部浪漫喜剧的倒叙阶段：哈利和莎莉一起从芝加哥开车去纽约。
For a time, whenever I liked someone, I would try to game out the circumstances that would force us on an extended road trip, which would set the stage for us reuniting at some unimaginable age, like 27. By then my stock would have risen. I would be thinner and more successful, possibly even famous. I would have the necessary collateral to ask for what I wanted.
I envisioned this scenario with several men, not one of whom gave any indication of being a viable long-term prospect. There was the guy who said, “I value our friendship too much” but would begin pawing at me when we were alone; the guy I’d go home drunk with throughout college (but only when it was his idea); and the guy who would come to my apartment late at night to get stoned and lecture me about Radiohead.
These quasi relationships were accompanied by hours of texting or G-chatting that mostly involved me being an attentive sounding board. The challenge of trying to impress thrilled and unnerved me.
I would hungrily read back through our witty exchanges, congratulating myself on points I had scored. Doing so would convince me that, like in a rom-com, I had met the love of my life. Hell, I’d already slept with him! But it wasn’t the right time for us to be romantically involved. We still had at least five years to go before we would reunite. (That I envisioned this fantasy with multiple men seemed like a smarter bet, diversification.)
In movies, if a man is looking only for sex he is a cad. If he wants to talk, he’s interested in something more. It took me years to understand that men can want any combination of sex and conversation while having zero interest in a relationship.
The scant attention I received from these men felt safer than asking for more. Also, it was dramatic: My whole life was a “Will we or won’t we?”
And then I met Joe at a bar. He talked to my friends and me and asked for my phone number. Watching him tipsily jab at his screen, I told him to call my phone to make sure he had typed correctly. He hadn’t, so I typed it in. He texted two days later.
Joe fell into my lap so casually that I thought nothing of it. I considered dating him to be a good use of time while I worked on becoming that more valuable person for someone else.
Joe was 30, I learned. We each suspected an age difference, but this eight-year gulf surprised us. I had grown up on Disney Channel Original Movies and the earliest viral videos. Joe had seen almost every network sitcom — “Cheers,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” you name it. We overlapped on “Friends.” He would say things like, “Did you know ‘Roseanne’ had one of the first same-sex kisses on network television?” I had not.
后来我知道，乔30岁了。我们都料到我们之间存在年龄差距，但相差八岁还是让我们感到吃惊。我是看着迪士尼频道的原创电影以及早期的网络火爆视频长大的。乔几乎看过所有的电视情景喜剧——《干杯酒吧》(Cheers)和《马尔科姆的一家》(Malcolm in the Middle)等。我们都看过《老友记》(Friends)。他会问：“你知道《罗斯安家庭生活》(Roseanne)是最早出现同性亲吻的电视剧吗？”我不知道。
We talked about our favorite movies and I told him the truth, that mine was the 1994 “Little Women” adaptation. I told him how much I loved the Olive Garden and lamented that the Times Square location was too busy and expensive. He told me about his dogs, a Boston terrier (Pez) and a miniature dachshund (Little Buddy).
我们聊起自己最喜欢的电影，我跟他说了实话，我最喜欢的是1994年的《小妇人》(Little Women)改编电影。我跟他说，我多么喜欢橄榄园餐厅(Olive Garden)，感叹时报广场那家店人太多、太贵了。他跟我讲了他的两只狗，一只是波士顿小猎犬（名叫佩兹），另一只是迷你腊肠犬（名叫小巴迪）。
On the phone to my mother during those early weeks, I told her that Joe seemed to like me an unprecedented amount, and this filled me with a surprising dread. “It seems too easy,” I told her.
There was no drama with us. No “Will we or won’t we?” Just a “We are.”
“Let it be easy,” my mother said.
I worried because my text conversation with Joe rarely fell into that rapid-fire rhythm I found so thrilling. But I also wasn’t performing for him.
In July, we went to Vermont on our first vacation together. One evening, after we had done the requisite frolicking in nature, I asked Joe what he wanted for dinner.
He looked at me slyly and said, “How about the Olive Garden?”
I threw my arms around him.
On the drive, I burped in front of him for the first time. I remember it happening in slow motion, including the part where I cried out “No!” right after. When I recovered, Joe told me that the first night he stayed at my apartment, I fell asleep on his chest and drooled all over him.
Joe said “I love you” first. I said it back, then retreated into my own head. In all of my scheming before Joe, I had never conceived of a situation in which I would have the power to break someone’s heart. I had assumed the man would have that power and my life would be a constant charm offensive to stop him from using it. I thought when someone said “I love you” to me, it would be the result of my hard work or even trickery.
“What’s going on in that dome of yours?” Joe asked as we stood on my building’s fire escape. This is truly how he speaks.
“I don’t want to say it,” I said.
“You can say it.”
“I’m freaked out because I can imagine a day that I wind up hurting you,” I said. “Not that I have any plans, but the potential exists, and I can’t imagine it the other way around.” This is truly how I speak.
Joe said: “There’s an episode of ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ where Lois is upset because Hal loves her a little more than she loves him. He tells her it’s O.K. because two people can’t love each other that much. If they did, they’d never leave the house.”
We had one big fight that first year. I was dusting a ceiling fan in his apartment and he got angry that I was doing it in his prized Black Sabbath T-shirt. I stormed out of the apartment and walked to the subway.
“I guess we’re going to break up,” I thought. “It’s not like he’s going to chase me to the F train.” I needed to refill my MetroCard but had only pressed the first button when I felt him tap me on the shoulder.
I’m 27 now, the age I imagined I would be when one of those guys from my past would realize I was the One. In some ways, I am the version of myself I hoped I would be. I am more successful, by virtue of being six years out of college. I’m a little thinner, though I try to think about that less.
I sometimes wonder how I would do on the dating market now, imagining Harry and Sally reunions with those indifferent men from my past. I’m in touch with a few of them and, to be honest, they don’t seem to be pining.
I try to remember that I am worthy of anyone, but mostly that I am worthy of Joe. It’s common for a woman to have that kind of realization at the end of a movie, to discover she was enough all along. But what the movies get wrong is that once the character realizes this, she is transformed forever. In real life, I have to keep reminding myself.