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You never hear a child say, “This semester I’m taking math, art history, and romantic relationships.” I’ve never been asked once since high school about the battle of 1812, but a course on co-dependency and love addiction might have come in handy when I entered my first relationship.Those of us fortunate enough to come from homes where our parents communicated, and who modeled for us how two partners can have a disagreement without being abusive to one another, might have some basic relationship tools.Part of the problem of any relationship is that eventually the honeymoon period comes to an end. Things are perfect at this stage; mistakes are avoided or ignored, and love can thrive because forgiveness isn’t yet required.When a relationship is new we wear our best outfits, we make sure to arrive on time, we avoid the alienating, controversial topics during dinner, and we make sure not ever to fart, or belch aloud.When the next “I’ve just met someone” call is made, you hear in their voices that the enthusiasm has waned, and without saying so, your friends have now developed a grace period for your lovers (groups of friends, like children, can have separation anxiety too).They congratulate you while refusing to meet or bond with the new boyfriend, waiting to see how long “this one will last.”“I’m lonely,” Darren said. I played with the edge of my napkin, and we sat in the silence for a few moments.If the next man needs to use our relationship to figure out how to be honest, then he can go learn somewhere else.”I thought about my relationship with my partner, the mistakes I’d made even that morning, and the ones I would probably make by the end of the day.Sometimes, when I was in a particularly cynical mood, my long-term relationship of twelve years felt defined by the mistakes — with the occasional reprieve of companionship and sex thrown in.
We were now envisioning the prospect of a future lover.But for far too many of us, in our parents’ marriages we saw a range from bitter indifference to physical and emotional violence.We have a cultural data bank filled with images from films, television, magazines and our families of a woman sitting by the phone waiting for a man to call, of a man breaking down a door in a jealous rage or stalking his girlfriend as she drives home from work, of two women fighting each other over a man, or two men “stepping outside” over a woman, of articles about “how to keep him satisfied” and couples who “can’t stand each other” one minute and then are so enmeshed they call each other every half hour and suddenly “can’t stand to be apart.” We’ve all had the close friend, who is completely present and loving when he is single, but the minute he’s is in a new relationship, he disappears — neglects friends and family, never returns phone calls and is missing in action — until the relationship ends and he needs a shoulder to cry on.During the honeymoon phase, however, we are on our best behavior and we definitely aren’t in touch with any of the psychological pain that usually comes up for us in intimate relationships.Our personal horror stories are locked safely in the crypt where we feel they belong.
It crossed my mind for an instant to introduce Darren to Carlos –why not? But no matter how lonely they were, or how much they felt victimized by the dating scene and a desire to find a real person like themselves, knowing them both, I knew a relationship between them would probably never work.2Part of the reason why relationships, gay or straight, are so difficult, and why the failure to find one is so shame-inducing, is that there is a cultural assumption that we know how to have them.