Just leaving love on the side

So, a young sister and I are deep into woman-talk when she says of her boyfriend: “I believe I would be less crazy about him if things were different with my husband and me, you know.”

And I soundly agreed, because I have long realized that many of the men with whom women find themselves involved are attractive only by comparison.   Taken on their own, or viewed in different surroundings, we would find them not only ordinary, but, in some cases, actually less desirable than the men from whom we’re seeking respite.

The long-distance relationship – and I don’t mean overseas, either – works well because it is precisely that: a relationship from a distance. When you’re stealing love with a feller on a lunch date once a week, you can’t help being impressed that he draws out your chair and seats you first, or that he always opens the car door for you.

You tell yourself that the joker you go home to has no manners, no consideration, no class whatsoever; because, not only does he not see you into the car, if you weren’t as agile as you are, he would drive off before you had the second cheek of your behind firmly planted on the passenger seat.

And when your lunchtime Lothario is always sharply dressed – white shirt dazzling, pants sharply creased, belt matching well-shined shoes – you can’t help but look derisively at the feller at your house, the one whose belt is totally obscured by his hanging belly which, in turn, is blocking his view of his unpolished shoes.

Oh, yes, the grass is always greener over there. But you just try and transplant that grass to over here, and it is then you will discover the manure beneath. It is then you will find out, too, that the fine feller is so fine because he is an obsessive-compulsive character who is impossible to be around for longer than the couple hours you’re already t’iefing with him. The type who, in addition to organizing and cataloguing his outfits according to colour, would want to organize you, as well, so that, in short time, you can’t even remember who you used to be. I’m put in mind, right now, of an exciting new boyfriend who intimated that when he was around, I really ought not to be taking phone calls. And when, in time, we were “in like fish grease,” as my friend Joy used to put it, he actually answered the phone one night and told my bewildered buddy Diane that she was not to call during dinner. You ever hear such liberty?

By the end of our conversation, my friend at the top had concluded that it could be pretty catastrophic for a woman to try and turn a side dish into a main course. Unfortunately, it can happen so easily, because it is only human nature to want more of the thing that brings us such pleasure. What unhappy wife doesn’t want to spend more quality time with her occasional lover, after all? And what happy girlfriend doesn’t aspire to become a happier wife? So, subtly or forthrightly, she advocates, cajoles, or even schemes to move the relationship to the next level, not knowing that that level might actually be lower than the one she is enjoying now and could very well be its undoing.

And don’t think it is only young, untried women who make this mistake, either. I have known sisters who, after a long drought of singlehood, pine for a feller to make their lives less lonely; to have someone with whom to do things and go places; to be with someone who makes them feel “like a natural woman.”

And, then, it happens: They meet a man and it feels good to be coupled again; and so Friday-night dates morph into Saturday stay-overs which turn into lazy Sundays. And it’s still good. But the next thing you know, you hear a car outside your gate one Monday night and you peep out from behind your curtains and discover it’s Him. Involuntarily, you let off a big Chups, followed by, “Ah whay he ah go?”   Because you now have to wipe that layer of expensive Oil of Olay off your face, remove the frilly black silk cap from your head, and say goodbye to a night on your own with OWN or Lifetime Movie Channel. And, Sister, you are not happy. Not you!

It was just the other day that a young woman I know asked her divorced mother if she would consider marrying again. The older woman admitted that she was not averse to remarriage, especially since she knew her daughter would be leaving home sooner rather than later. “But I don’t know where I would put him,” she said, casting her eyes around her spacious house. “And I am not interested in living anywhere else….”

See, here was a woman who, unwittingly, had already established boundaries to any future relationship; because, without knowing it, she was enjoying life as she had it. What she needs, obviously, is a side dish and not a main course, because she is pretty full already, and anything more is going to give her emotional indigestion. She likes her physical space, customized for her alone, and her orderly solitude – like another friend who is fiercely territorial about her garden and doesn’t want any outsiders (apart from the occasional frog) intruding and talking, out of turn, to her lettuce.

In other instances, women wanting to change their relationship circumstances first have to ask themselves if they are ready to have a man intrude into areas as delicate as disciplining their children, for instance; or caring for their aging parents; or handling their financial arrangements. If we were to weigh these things – these people-altering things, no less – we would see, ahead of time, that they might turn out to be relationship breakers, rather than enhancers, and we might be content to sup a little on the side, instead of wanting a four-course meal all at once.

And while I never want to advocate anything to make your uncomfortable, Sisters – and you will do what you want to do, anyway – I have always found wisdom in something my mother used to say: “Eat little and eat long.” I am certain she didn’t mean for me to apply it to such a situation, necessarily, but it’s a good bandage for many a wound. And, really, how much do most of us need to get by? Haven’t we learned anything yet by experience? When we cast our minds back to how we used to feel about our fellers when we were only dating, for instance, compared to where we are now in marriage, doesn’t it occur to us that less is more, in truth, and that it might be good to quit when we’re ahead?

Well, the next time you get greedy over your lunch date and what a dish he is, give yourself a mental shake. And just remember that, once upon a time, that stale food at home was once lobster thermidor to you … before he became just a hollow shell.

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