My boyfriend and I were sitting on the patio of the best sushi bar in town, a refurbished bungalow with the front yard converted into a rock garden lounge. It was a 2-hour wait for the experience of being served a $10 bite of buttered snow crab sushi by a charismatic waitress named Stephanie. We killed some time by people watching.
Under the heat lamps, there was a group of women with cigarettes tucked between their fingers. They took turns photographing each other against the modern Japanese decor, juggling between them a community stash of iPhones and wine glasses. The wind carried the stench of smoke our way.
“I don’t miss it,” I told my him.
I explained to him how sometimes Girls Nights were quite the opposite when it came to single women. How dinner and drinks were a thinly-veiled guise to dress up and nonchalantly catch the wandering eyes of an intruding male, an ironic tribute to female empowerment that was trailed by the latent expectation of finding someone to put a hard stop to Girls Night, indefinitely or forever.
While some meet-ups are sincere, it’s clear to all girlfriends that there are generally two types of women who show up: those who are there to hang out and those who are there to hunt.
“You were a predator,” he teased.
“And now I don’t even have to look!” I smiled. “Already know I’m having sex tonight.”
He took my hand and led me inside the restaurant. We waited 20 minutes longer at the bar, where a server came around with complimentary appetizers on spoons. It was our first fancy date night in a while. We had to skip the previous week because I has house-ridden with the runs. Romantic, I know. My boyfriend spent the whole weekend delivering me chicken noodle soup and soda crackers, streaming movies with me in bed, and checking my temperature.
At the bottom of my first glass of wine on date night, I felt it again—the overwhelming sense of undeserved luck, gratitude, and fear.
Right in front of me was the person I didn’t expect to find: a singular source of mental, sexual, and emotional compatibility. Even crazier, we were on the same page and timeline of what we wanted out of our companionship: intimacy, meaning, support, and growth. Against all odds and personal reservations about monogamous relationships, I saw someone I could happily, voluntarily, and exclusively spend the rest of my life with.
What the actual fuck?
“You’re not going to cry again, are you?” He laughed and cradled my knees between his hands.
“No,” I said, looking up and out the window.
He leaned in and planted a kiss on my forehead.
“I love you,” I whispered.
Loving him feels like running. It’s kinetic. It’s refreshing. We have momentum.
Despite how energized I feel from from this second wind, this second chance at believing in love, I can’t help but feel every step forward is just bringing me closer to the end. No one can run forever. I fear the moment my body stops to catch a breath, just long enough to clear my mind, come to my senses, and realize my legs have stopped moving.
I’m in the monogamous relationship I didn’t believe existed 6 months ago.
In some ways, I still don’t believe it.
At the time of my involvement with taken men, their relationships had lasted anywhere from 2 years to a decade.
In comparison to my current relationship, the longest relationship I interrupted was 30 times longer.
30 times more good-bye kisses.
30 times more car ride conversations.
30 times more chicken soup deliveries and date nights.
30 times more reassurance in the solidity of the relationship.
I don’t know which realization was more defeating—that infidelity could happen years into a seemingly secure relationship, or that cheaters failed to show the remorse or resistance I expected.
In the movie Nymphomaniac, the protagonist talks about how easy it is to engage a romantic prospect:
“Make eye contact and smile.”
It felt exactly that way, and the ease of it amplified the cruelty. Beyond that, none of my interactions were a drunken, one-off mistake for the cheaters. Rather, the first contact was an open door, where I had their repeated (and proactive) consent afterward, even if nothing physical happened beyond incriminating text exchanges.
I feel sorry that my current boyfriend is up against the pessimism from my history. No matter how faithful and loving he proves himself to be, I haven’t been able to shake what I witnessed in my past life: men professing lust to one woman, and love to another.
It’s unrealistic to think my boyfriend and I are the glowing exception to common relationship pitfalls. What couple doesn’t think they are the special case? This doesn’t devalue the unique memories and time shared, but we don’t get to pick and choose the beautiful moments to build a case for “it could never happen to me.”
In reality, I just don’t know. Nobody ever does.
And the worst part is even if it’s good now, it doesn’t always stay that way.
I was the tip of the iceberg for those men, only a fraction of their romantic lives. Under the water, I believe they had deeper relationships I never had the chance to see, ones where they treated their long-term partners with kindness and intimacy and true compassion. I don’t believe any of them were bad men—they were all good men who did a very hurtful thing.
I watched the latest episode of This is Us, and bawled my eyes out (as usual). No spoilers here, but I will say an ongoing theme in the show is the human conundrum of love and loss. The best scenes show how the privilege of loving someone dearly is often coupled with the pain and fear of losing them.
It feels like I simultaneously hold two conflicting views:
- In one reality, I’m in an amazing monogamous relationship with a new guy in my life.
- In the other reality, I am grounded in how I’ve experienced infidelity from the other side. As beautiful as love can feel and appear when protected by naiveté, it’s not favorable to bet against the forbidden chemistry of two people. I remember exactly how easy it was for a committed partner to stray and go back to what I believe was still a meaningful love. A boomerang, leaving as forcefully as it returned.
I understand people are different. The past doesn’t predict the future, so it isn’t fair to let a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. But after eating so much rotten fruit, I’ve conditioned myself to expect the worm when the juice tastes too sweet.
The most alert prey is one who can think like a predator.
From my experience as another woman, I feel like my relationship is under constant threat, not by any reasonable measure, but by how opportunity and attraction naturally manifests.
It’s in our biology. Granted, we have self-control and the ability to resist temptation—this in no way excuses cheating or implies people are predisposed to infidelity—but it’s reasonable to recognize opportunity is everywhere, even if you don’t pursue it. You can find potential in your cashier, your coworker, and pretty much any stranger you encounter throughout the day.
Make eye contact and smile.
It takes one look, one conversation, and the slightest response. The small signals that brought me excitement as another woman are now the very things that makes me distrust smooth-sailing monogamy. You can call poetic justice served ice cold.
I don’t want to die, but I know my life will end one day.
As depressing as it sounds, I feel the same way about love.
Sometimes, we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s in danger, similar to how a terminal diagnosis sparks a new vigor for life.
Life and love have much in common.
It happens fast.
It ends too soon.
And it always feels a bit unfair.
The untimely end of either shouldn’t take away from how great they can both be. If anything, the uncertainty should give us an urgency to live and love in the moment as much as we can, while we still can.
Next post coming soon…