Saturday, September 27, 2008

What happened to romance?

I admit it, I'm a sucker for a good romance novel. I just love the happy endings. I love how sure the happy couple always is of their love for each other. I love the sappy speeches, the expressions of undying devotion.

But I always wonder, just how much of that is real? I know for some people, it probably is. But not for me. It always is in the beginning, but something happens, and as time goes by, I find myself more alone than when I started. Is it that way for everyone, or am I just not with the right person yet?

I remember when I first met John. I had just broken up with The Jerk. I was on my own for the first time in my life. I had just turned 21, and had just attempted to go out, by myself, for the first time. Let's be honest with each other here, shall we? I have ZERO self-confidence. I mean none. I am terrified of going places alone. Most of the time, I still dread going to the grocery store by myself. Whenever possible, I'll either beg John or Dev to go with me, or even better, to go for me so I don't have to leave the house. And maybe part of the problem is that I am surrounded by such confident people. Both John and his mom can start up 30 minute conversations with anyone they meet. Whenever I try, it comes off as a desperate attempt by a crazy person, and I get a lot of "uh huh, right, OK, whatever you say, I'vegottogonowBYE!" Maybe it's because I was raised by a self-hating, social anxiety-riddled, abusive single parent. There was no balance. I think I certainly prove the theory that social behavior is learned, not inherited, considering I was adopted at birth.

Anyway, I was terrified to go by myself. I tried all night to find ANYone who would go with me. By midnight, I'd given up, and just decided to go alone. (Which is pretty silly, considering in the heart of the Bible Belt, bars close promptly at 2am.) So I went to this bar. It was loud, it was dark, it had good music (as a matter of fact, they were shooting a music video that night, so it was extra crowded). I was hit on by a couple of really drunk guys. I never had a drink, or danced, but I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could do this. So the next week, I went back. I convinced a coworker to go with me. She met a guy earlier in the week, so she brought him along. They were drinking, and dancing, and having a great time. I was sober as could be, feeling really weird because everyone around me was having such a great time and I just wasn't a part of it. And then, out of nowhere, this guy walks past me, and whispers in my ear "Smile, it gets worse." Then he's gone. A few songs later, he walks by again and asks for my name. A few songs after that, while I'm at the bar getting a drink, he asks me to dance. And before he left that night, he asked for my phone number. I gave it, partly because I was intrigued that this guy, who so obviously knew the regulars, had friends that included girls much prettier than me, had stopped to talk to ME of all people. He could have talked to my friend, who at that point was all but stripping on the dance floor. He could have talked to anyone, but he chose me.

I had never been singled out of a crowd like that, and I think it went a little to my head. It was all I could think about for days. I didn't expect anything to come of it, but then, a few days later, I came home from work to a message on my machine from John. I called him back, and we talked until 6am. That night, and every night that week. Pretty much from that moment on, I spent every available moment with him. He was a bouncer at that particular bar, so that amounted to me spending three nights a week there after work, until closing. And then I ended up either going home with him, or he came home with me.

We talked about EVERYTHING. I thought, for once, I had found someone who really KNEW me, who understood me like no one else ever had. And even though he told me things about himself, I don't think I wanted to listen, or believe. He told me that he was a difficult person to be with - stubborn, mule-headed, and raised in a different era. He told me that sex was the single most important factor in his life - that everything he was was tied up in it. He felt similarly to me in some ways - he felt unattractive, unwanted, outcast as a child, but he had found that he had a knack for pleasing women. So therefore, he gauged his entire life from that point on based on sex - if he wasn't getting any, it was because he was no longer attractive, or wanted. It was because he was a failure. I heard all that, but I sure as hell didn't understand it. I also heard him say that he had just come out of a nasty divorce, his second, and that he didn't want to get married again, or even truly settle down, anytime in the near future. I took that as a challenge. I figured that meant I had to change that about him.

Now don't get me wrong, he wasn't all bad. I felt more loved than I ever had in my life. He treated me exceptionally well - he bought me flowers, he rubbed my back when I came home from work, he held my hand when we walked through the grocery store, he pulled me over to sit next to him on the bench seat of his truck because he wanted to feel me as close to him as possible. He danced with me, and only me, every night he worked (which may not sound like much, but the bouncers were supposed to make themselves available, to dance with the lonely girls to help drum up business. He could have been fired for what he did.) He gave me pretty much anything I asked for, whether it be something frivolous and romantic, or boring and practical, or even just his time and attention, which I was desperate for.

And a month into the relationship, I was head over heals in love with him. And I made the mistake of telling him so. I don't know if he truly didn't feel it for me, or if he just wasn't ready to hear it, but he told me that day that he wasn't in love with me, and that he wasn't ready for a serious relationship. That while he would be faithful to me, he wanted it no strings attached, something he could walk away from at any time. He told me that he would call me and let me know if he had the urge to sleep with someone else before he did it, just so I would know and I could decide if I wanted to continue our relationship. And he broke my foolish little heart into thousands of tiny tiny pieces.

I lived with it for a few weeks. I had a "friend" at the time, who turned out to be not so friendly after all, who convinced me that he was doing me wrong (even though he hadn't told me anything he hadn't said at the very beginning - I just hadn't wanted to listen). I let her convince me to go out with her one night, alone, without John. I hadn't done that since that very first time. I was terrified, and I latched onto one of John's friends, a fellow bouncer, and also his boss at his day job. He was off work that night, and was drinking with a few of the other bouncers. My "friend" dumped me almost as soon as she hit the door, and I didn't know what to do with myself. So I proceeded to get shit-faced drunk. And when he offered to drive me home, I said yes. And when he kissed me in the car, I didn't say no. Partly because what John had said about wanting to keep his options open had hurt me so deeply, and I figured if he could play that game, so could I. Partly because I was so unsure of myself that it never occurred to me to say no. So when he got to my house, and followed me in the door, I still didn't say no. I certainly wouldn't call that experience rape, but I sure didn't want it. I cried myself to sleep that night, and woke up with one hell of a hangover to the phone ringing at 0-dawn-hundred. It was John, and I don't know how he knew, but the first words out of his mouth were "So who'd you end up fucking last night?" And when I told him, he told me he never wanted to talk to me again - that I was to burn his number, and forget he ever existed.

And my poor little heart, that had already been broken, disintegrated. I was numb to everything for the next couple of hours. And when the phone rang again, and John said he would talk to me, I jumped at the chance. I went to see him, and I cried, and I begged for forgiveness. I told him how sorry I was, that I hadn't meant it, that I had done it because he said he was going to sleep with other people, that I thought it was what he wanted, that I was drunk and stupid, anything, anything at all he wanted me to say, I would, if he would just love me again. And he told me that I would have to earn his trust. That he wouldn't really want to be around me for a while, and that I would just have to deal with it, ride it out, if I wanted to be with him.

So, I did. I felt him flinch every time I touched him. And so I stopped touching him. I dealt with the absolute silence when I told him I loved him. And so I stopped telling him. I learned to get over the pain when he would dance with other girls. And so I stopped asking him. I waited for the phone to ring every day like it used to, and I accepted that it wouldn't. And so I stopped hoping. I went around in a daze for months. And then The Jerk pulled a stunt that got me arrested. And then I lost my home, and was put in the position where I had to send my daughter to live with my mother for a while, because I was living in my car. And then, when I went to visit my baby for Christmas, on the way home, I totalled John's truck - the truck his son had picked out with him, the truck that meant more to him than any other possession. And then, while I was being treated for the hip injury, I found out I was pregnant. And then, I lost the baby. And I think I lost my mind a little. I know I wanted to die. I know I wanted everything to end, that nothing was worth living for any more. And John came back to me, at least a little. It was never again like it was in the beginning, but I wasn't being actively punished any more.

And I lost two more babies that year, but I dealt with it, moved on. None was as devastating as the first. I think I was just so numb after that that I really didn't care. Then I got pregnant one last time. And 9 months later, my beautiful little boy was born. He was my miracle baby, after all I had been through that year. He was John's too. Pumpkin and John had a connection like I have never seen. I was so jealous, but so proud of it, that I didn't care that John and I were still just drifting along. We had so many things happen over the next two years, I didn't have time to worry about it anyway. Between the job changes and losing our home and vehicles, starting all over again in a crappy trailer with borrowed cars, horrible jobs, and no money, plus the ongoing legal battles with The Jerk, it was so draining, so exhausting, that I didn't care about anything else.

That's when the sex issue really started coming up. I was so stressed, and so tired, that I had no interest in sex, at all. I was fat, awkward still with all the baby weight and the stretch marks. I'd never been particularly pretty, but at last with Princess, my body went back to normal. With Pumpkin, it just got bigger and bigger, even after he was born. I was disgusted with my body, and with myself, for being so weak that I couldn't fight my way through our problems, and just "pick myself back up." The less I wanted sex, the more insecure John got, to the point where he was downright nasty to me if I didn't put out. Sex has been, and still continues to be, a battleground for us.

After Pumpkin died, it go even worse. Something in John died that day too, something none of our other children has ever been able to fix, or even start to fill back in. His health has tumbled downhill, he body has gotten out of shape, and all of his years have suddenly crept up on him. He is feeling his age, and now more than ever, he needs the sex to reaffirm himself that he's still loved, and desired. And now, more than ever, I need to be left alone. I have spent so many years, locking away everything from him, that I can't figure out how to bridge this gulf that stands between us. And until I have an emotional connection, I can't enjoy a physical one.

And even though he'd never admit it, John needs the emotional connection too. But he still, after all these years, distrusts me, or maybe it's just a habit by now, I don't know. But mostly, because he doesn't get laid very often, he prowls the personal ads, and talks to other women online. That's all he does, is talk. I've seen the emails, there's never any cyber sex, or anything even like it. He's never met any of them, but he flirts, and has the lighthearted chat that we used to have way back when. And it hurts me so much, to see him have with other women what he once had with me.

I don't know which part hurts more - the fact that I see basically everything he said and did back then was just a line, designed to get in my pants, or that he can just continue to throw it out there, knowing how desperate I am for that kind of attention from him again. It's funny, back then, I would have given the moon for him to say he loved me. He acted like he did, but it wasn't enough. Now, he says it all the time, with about as much emotion as he uses when he says he loves toast. And I would give the earth for him to just act like he did again.

And so, I read sappy romance novels. And I wonder, what happens 5 years down the road? 10? At what point does happily ever after stop being good enough? Is there even such a thing?

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