I was sitting on the toilet when I decided I wanted my boyfriend to be my boyfriend. I was toilet-Tindering to avoid even one second of being left alone with my thoughts, and as soon as I opened the app, his profile popped up. We’d been hooking up “secretly” for a couple months; none of our friends has admitted to knowing this before we told them, but I’m sure they did. Drunken hookups are a lot of things and discreet is not usually one of them.
But this was the second time in a week I had gone on Tinder only to be confronted by his picture. I was indignant. Was he still dating? Were we dating other people? I suppose we weren’t not dating other people (clearly, since I was browsing Tinder). But, come on! Just ask me to be exclusive, so we can stop this weird little dance.
But apparently men can’t do anything for themselves other than setting up elaborate smart TV/video game console setups, so I sat down with my best friend and practiced what I was going to say to him. This part is highly pathetic and makes me sad for me: We used the voice recorder app and recorded various versions of me asking him to be exclusive and tried to pick the one that made me seem chill but mature but not pathetic. I waited until the next time we were having sex — like a genius — and brought up seeing only each other. He was super down. He was so excited! It was adorable, probably, but I had so much adrenaline coursing through my veins from working up the courage to ask for something from a man that I didn’t notice.
Instead, I wanted to know why he hadn’t asked me. If you’re so into this idea of not seeing other people, why didn’t you propose this? His answer: “I thought you didn’t want to be exclusive.” I went on a weird, medium-length rant about where the hell did he get that idea since we’d never talked about it when he cut me off to explain that the very first time we ever made out I stopped approximately 20 seconds into kissing and said, “Just so you know, I don’t want anything serious.”
Turns out I was too drunk to remember that part. Though, to my credit I do remember most of the rest of the graphic kissing we did in the back of a minivan Uber. (An aside: It’s very hard to make out when you’re in two different captains seats.)
But even though I couldn’t remember it, I knew he wasn’t making it up. I had spent the last four years assuring everyone who would listen that I did not want a serious relationship. I had never imagined my life as half of a couple. I figured I would be a writer who wore all black, drank only wine, and never married, but instead had a pied-à-terre in Italy (if you can even really have pied-à-terre anywhere other than France) and a few dogs or a child via surrogate if I ever got really rich. I never envied old couples, and I certainly wasn’t into home ownership or picket fences. Even so, sometimes — usually when complaining to my mom or writing in my journal — I’d admit that I did want to try to date a guy and see what happened.
Specifically, I wanted to date this guy. He was funny. And genuine. And brilliant. I never had to remind him not to be callous toward people. He had his own apartment and did his dishes right away, and he kept his bed in the center of the room in a bed frame. Plus, the sex was great. It’s very easy to agree to monogamy when you’re getting the best sex of your life.
Time passed, and as I’d always feared, things became boring. Here is the deepest secret everybody is keeping: relationships are boring. You can dress it up and call it stability or contentedness, but in truth, the arc of monogamous relationships is long and bends toward watching The Crown in ratty sweatpants and not even trying to hold in farts that you think won’t be “too bad.”
For a while, I was buoyed by novelty of the boredom. It was a fun new experiment to play house with someone. What a delight it was to pick out an apartment together. And to pick paint colors for the walls. And to have our new apartment broken into and all the paint stolen. So this was adulthood.
I started imagining things I had never had interest in before. House plants, which I had denounced as “useless” and “not a pet” suddenly became irresistible. I repainted a nightstand to go with the décor in our bedroom (a nightstand that I found at a flea market, I might add! I was really doing it). Even marriage and weddings started to hold an appeal I’d never seen before. Don’t get me wrong, it was never difficult to imagine spending $30,000 on a day all about me, but imagining him up there with me, celebrating the two of us seemed not just “fine,” but necessary. Of course this was the trajectory! Of course people got married after a couple years like this! How could 50 years be enough with this guy? How could 70?
And then life got much more real than house plants and overly ambitious DIY projects, because I got restless. I started reading about open relationships, which — in my imagination, at least — would serve as a balm for the chafing that exclusive love causes me. I wasn’t even that excited about the prospect of strange dick; if you’ve had strange dick before you understand that it’s not that magical. No, I thought that the possibility that something could happen would be enough excitement. But I knew he would never go for that. He’d been clear that open relationships were not for him. At that point, I even wondered if I should leave. Was I being an idiot for staying? Was I being cruel? Was there some magic relationship out there where I would never be bored? (The answer to all three is no). But I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t — and am not — there. Perhaps one day I will be. I know I won’t cheat. I think there will come a day when I’m somewhat tempted. I assume the same will happen for him. I hope it does; I hope he still finds other people attractive and exciting.
But, I also hope we both keep practicing monogamy, because that’s really what it is. It’s a practice. It’s a thoughtful exercise rather than a diet you never get to cheat on. I hope I keep reminding myself that I’m never dissatisfied with him, I’m dissatisfied with life. I want new and different. I like wanting; I grow bored of having.
When I look back at my old journals, I find ample evidence that when I was single I was also miserable, and worried, and scared sometimes. And that, despite loving it, I often felt lonely. I don’t always remember single that way, but it’s true. And more than that, I felt restless. I felt that same dissatisfaction I feel now, I just was always sure my next crush was the answer, and now I know that’s not it. The unfortunate pattern of my life is that I tend toward boredom. This does make relationships hard — I think I’m always going to want to run from anything that feels too settled — but some people are worth it.