I distinctly recall being nervous. Which was out of character for that time of my life and the circumstances. Walking down Sheffield Avenue, I constantly checked my hair in the reflections of the shops along the way. I remember wondering what such an attractive woman was thinking when she agreed to meet me for a coffee date.
Every date was my last. Well, at least that was the attitude I went in to them with toward the end of that era. I had lost count by that time but as I reached for the door handle, I knew that had to have been somewhere between the 400th and 500th coffee date that year. Zero exaggeration. I just wanted it to be over. The “hey let’s get to know each other but not really get to know each other because we’re both sizing one another up to make sure you’re not a creeper or rapist or degenerate or low-life” talk. I had grown tired of telling the same stories about myself over and over again. Dozens of dates a week. Week after week, month after month. Some I hooked up with. Some I never spoke to again, but most were simply decent people with whom I had little to no compatibility. A nice smile and a hug and a have a good life. So it surprised the shit out of me when the conversation took a turn away from the ordinary.
"So are you married?" She asked bluntly.
"Uh," I laughed, "No. Why would you ask that?"
"Because it turns out most guys I’ve met from dating sites are married."
"Well, I can assure you I am not." I said, "Nor have I ever been. Not even close"
There was a distinct pause and almost accusingly she asked, “So why are you so old and you’ve even come close to being married?”
I got that flustered feeling like I was being attacked but I said, “Well, I guess I just haven’t found the right person.”
She pursed her lips and with just the right amount of sass she said something to the effect of, “Well you’re not getting any younger. Do you think you ever will find the right person?”
From there on, most of the conversation is a blur. I think I gave her canned responses of “well compatibility is tough to find” and “I don’t mind waiting” and “I think the institution of marriage is a ridiculous and outdated tradition” - all of which I still believe. That conversation happened years ago and yet it continues to haunt me.
The truth is, I have had the opportunity to marry people along the way. Brilliant and wonderful women who told me they believed they could live a perfectly happy life with me. But I never went through with it. And sure, while I think marriage is ridiculous, I said, “I suppose I would go through with it for someone I love if it mattered to them.” And that was it. That was when I figured it out.
I simply never felt like I was on a team with someone. My relationships never felt fair. Yes, we had wonderful and comfortable years and I had been happy with those women but I guess I never truly trusted them in a way that they would do for me what I would do for them. Relationships always felt like a transaction. You do this for me because I did this for you. I got you this so you should do the same for me and so on. Whether it was who did the dishes most, who fed the cats the most, who got to watch their shows the most, who was allowed priority of the DVR, who put gas in the car the last time, who got more oral sex, whose turn it was to clean the bathroom - obligations, expectations, assumptions, it all just seemed like a subtile competition.
I once dated a woman who told me she really wanted spaghetti from Buca Di Beppo. That she was feeling sad and depressed and all she wanted was some comfort food. It was 8pm at night and it was just above freezing in a Chicago winter. So I hopped on my bike and rode the three miles to pick up $80 worth of food. Then, with two giant brown paper bags of food, I rode my bike the five miles to her apartment in Humboldt Park. When I got there to surprise her she simply said, “Oh, just put the food on the table.” No thank you. Just an attitude of, well, that’s what Chris does. And the most unattractive trait in anyone is entitlement. All I could think about as I sat on the couch with her that night was, would she ever do something like that for me? And the answer was no. I didn’t need her to fall to her knees in thanks - I simply wanted to feel appreciated, because that is what we all not only want, but need, to maintain a healthy relationship.
After three and a half years, I ended things soon afterward.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, being on the same team isn’t about calling out others for their short-comings, but encouraging them to make the team better. And that was all I ever wanted, but more importantly - that was all THEY ever wanted. Because when you go into a relationship thinking, what do I get out out of this, it’s already doomed. It’s the prevailing attitude of “well I deserve” that builds animosity. And like I’ve said many times before, you don’t deserve respect - you EARN respect. And you earn things by investing time, energy, effort, and you get back trust and respect.
If you’re a shitty and selfish person who refuses to communicate their feelings in a healthy and productive manner - well, then you deserve to be in a rotten and terrible relationship because that is what you have earned.
And if you’re a loving and compassionate person who goes out of their way to make your partner feel loved and appreciated - well, then you deserve to be in a healthy and fulfilling relationship because that is what you have earned.
You get back what you put in. You deserve what you earn.
And that was all I ever wanted. Someone who I didn’t have to tell how to love me because they were already busy doing it… and I was loving them in ways they never thought they deserved.
Because they had earned it.