Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection
I suffer from a debilitating case of perfectionism.
“Is this good?” “Am I good?” “Are you good?” “Can you please confirm that everything between us is currently good?” is basically always humming somewhere in my brain.
No matter how unwifeable I feel, I want to make my marriage as perfect as possible. As a result, I find I am constantly keeping score (of myself and my husband). Sometimes it feels like I’m my own personal “thought police.”
Recently, my husband and I were in bed, kissing and fooling around, when suddenly, I found myself caught in the middle of a porn loop in my head. I felt guilty and bad. It felt the opposite of acting “good.” So I stopped everything to check in with him that I wasn’t a dishonest person who was mentally cheating.
My husband, half-dressed and annoyed, tried to listen patiently.
“What is it? Are we not doing this?” he asked.
“I need to know something,” I asked, looking at him in stricken panic, as if there were a monster in the room with us rather than just an idea. “Is fantasizing cheating?”
I had forgotten the mantra a friend once told me after watching me self-destruct romantically time and again: “You know you don’t have to actually say every single thought that comes into your head, Mandy.”
Sure, I realize it. But what’s the point of having a soulmate-life-partner-best-friend-husband if you can’t constantly torment them with a running pipeline into your never-ending subconscious stream of anxiety?
My husband looked askance.
“No way is fantasizing cheating,” he said. “Wait, should I be worried?”
“No, no, no, it’s not about a real person,” I explained. “It’s just ideas — fantasies, not about real people.”
Then I paused. “Wait. Hold on, do you fantasize about real women?”
“Of course,” he said. “We’re married, Mandy. We’re both going to fantasize about other people, but that doesn’t make it real. You could fantasize about murdering me for all I care, it’s just a fantasy.”
He made a good point. Maybe if I were so unreasonable in my worry about this, I could cut out some of the other dumb questions running through my head that were based on faulty premises.
No. 1: “Would you marry someone else if I died?”
“No,” my husband responded, looking horrified at the thought. “I never even thought I would marry you. I only married you because of who you are. That’s never going to happen again.”
Of course, neither of us would take a vow of celibacy if something happened to the other person, nor would we want that. Asking this question is the equivalent of being at the beach, splashing around in the sun and surf, then stopping to say, “Don’t forget, we’re both going to die someday.”
It’s a buzzkill of the worst degree, and it’s the freakiest sign of control.
No. 2: “Am I pretty?”
From a pure validation standpoint, this is a nightmare question. It’s been answered about a thousand different ways through actions and words, and bringing it up as “casual conversation” is nothing short of ugliness.
It doesn’t need to be asked because it’s a stand-in for the question you really want to ask, which is, “Can you give me some validation? I’m feeling insecure.”
At least that’s honest, and not some sideways entry point into a mental fun house of distorted mirrors and mind games.
No. 3: “Are you ever going to cheat on me?”
What’s a guy going to say to this: “Oh, yeah, probably?” You either know someone to be a cheating risk or you don’t. In my husband’s case, he is an admitted cheater in past relationships (but never after 2004), and his cheating led him to a near-death experience, which caused him to entirely reevaluate the choices he made.
I’ve cheated, too, and I know better than anyone that cheating doesn’t happen as part of some “plan.” You love and you trust each other and you honor that commitment in what you do — or you don’t. We have an “open door” policy on each other’s electronic communications, and I’ve never felt more safe in a relationship. My asking this just creates problems that aren’t there.
No. 4: “Am I the best sex you’ve ever had?”
You know you’ve wondered this even if you’ve never asked it, and in my case, yes, I have asked it.
“This is an insane question,” my husband responds. “Am I the best sex you’ve ever had? Of course you are, and of course I am. But in 1988 when I was in the woods somewhere with a high-school sweetheart was I comparing you back then?”
Fair enough. Besides, I have my own woods story, and I’m not looking to compare notes either.
No. 5: “If I’m the best sex you’ve ever had, who’s the second-best?”
I’ve always loved party games and arbitrary rankings that cause trouble. But trust me: This is an idiotic question for the record books.
“Do you really want me to go through every woman I’ve had sex with and tell you about the pros and cons, seriously?” he asks. “Because I will, if that’s what you want.”
“You just want to know you’re the best, the second best, the third best, and so on.”
“Well, you are. Now will you never ask the question again?”
No. 6: “Do you love me?”
I ask this all the time, like I’m in Memento, constantly reconstructing how I got here and whom I’m with and why he likes me.
“There’s strong evidence that I do,” my husband tells me sarcastically.
“But what about when I’m feeling uncertain,” I said.
“Then tell me that you need to hear, ‘I love you.’ ‘Do you love me?’ is indirect. Unless you are truly actually doubting whether or not I love you, you shouldn’t ask that.”
After I had finished my inquisition, it felt better to be free of imaginary thought crimes.
“I’m with you,” my husband said as we lay with each other. “I’m always with you. And that’s a statement. Not a question.”