Digestion of Doubt
by Daria Rae
In July my ex-boyfriend and I ended a two and a half year relationship. Only six of those eighteen months were spent as girlfriend and boyfriend. The remaining two years were spent as though on a see-saw. Begging the other one for things they couldn’t give. Trading places.
From all of that time, I can only remember a handful of conversations we had. There must have been more, but I can’t remember a sixth.
We had interactions. And sex.
Walking into my parent’s house on Long Island one night we found a slug on the stone walkway. We spent ten minutes watching it move, wondering about its habits and stumbling upon its sexual patterns.
Leopard slugs are hermaphrodites. During mating they hang upside down from a long string of mucus and twist around each other.
We never debated. Mostly observed.
I start relationships as an agreeable person. I compromise. I make it seem like I’ll always compromise. Like whatever fights the man I am with and his ex-girlfriend got into exist outside of my vocabulary.
The problem is that I set up a trap for myself from the beginning. Some speech about how the only relationships that work are ones in which one person does not want the opposite of what the other one wants. In retrospect, I formulated this theory on the spot. I need to appear to be the opposite of ex-girlfriends.
On March 4th, my boyfriend and I get into a fight about the Kardashians.
We’ve been talking a lot about politics lately. So much so that the Kardashians become unarguably political. It seems I can’t stop. A conversation about a friend’s new boyfriend turns into a debate about the fault in generalizing women’s dating habits.
I catch myself in long circular discussions that by mid-way through I have lost all sense of where it started. There are always several central and macro tenets: sexism, gender binaries, racism and the polarization of the United States.
We keep debating.
We lay in bed arguing about who is fueling the Kardashian’s popularity, their world domination.
He says, “Young girls.” Females.
I don’t have a feminist response to this. I try to think of a way to counter this, evidence that men are actually responsible for this epidemic.
At 7:30 AM the next morning, I re-notice that he owns a copy of Kim Kardashian’s book Selfish which is comprised of 300 pages of pictures of her. In my head, I rest my point.
My parents have been married for thirty-two years. Around six years ago my father stopped sleeping in their bedroom. At first it was because of his snoring. My mother ingests Ambien nightly but would wake up from a version of his snores that sound like light puffs. She claimed it infiltrated her dreams in a way that made her dream she was bouncing a basketball.
He has not slept in her bedroom since then, despite nose strips and hypnotism.
But this microcosm is an inaccurate depiction. I grew up in a happy household with parents who loved each other and me more.
Despite this, I am irrationally cynical about the prospects of monogamy, marriage, and motherhood.
Typically, six months is a cut off point for romantic relationships and me. Several things can happen. I can look over at whoever it may be sitting next to me and for a moment feel weird about this other person I’ve let into my life.
I can walk into a restaurant to meet friends for dinner and end up falling uncontrollably in love with the woman sitting next to me.
I can think about a half girlfriend from college and begin to contemplate the inevitable boredom that arises within heterosexual relationships.
I start to view it as a lose-lose scenario. Either; you fall in love and one day it will end, or, you trick yourself into thinking you’re in love and six months in you realize you don’t know what that is. There is nowhere to go from there but to quit.
I realize over and over that the most interesting part of relationships is thinking of all the time you existed before.
It’s been six months now and I keep finding tattoos on my boyfriend’s body.
One day during the winter of my junior year of college, my ex-boyfriend, five years older, came to visit me for the first and only time. I lived in a five bedroom condo, identical to the one hundred others encircling mine. He had insisted on coming up despite me having work to do.
I handed him an essay to read. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. I knew he was not going to read it or even pretend to but I still handed it to him.
He read the first page but after half of it he became too annoyed by the many sentences I had underlined, telling me that I had “assigned arbitrary meaning to something I didn’t write.”
In retrospect, I agree with him. I do assign arbitrary meaning to a lot of things to which meanings only complicates.
I get very worried at the idea of not being insatiably horny. It seems like the most obvious sign that maybe you’re tricking yourself. At age twenty-two, sex seems like the only facet of a relationship that can really ruin it. You either cheat on them or you stop wanting to fuck them. And then again, you sort of have to quit. Or you end up at age thirty-two with a husband who works at hedge fund who you just don’t want to fuck.
Most of the time, I yearn to live a life in which I can truly believe things don’t affect me. If I could just for a second believe there is even a remote possibility that I could burrow farther into my privilege. That I could be like the woman I used to work with who had two Ivy league school degrees yet was still so wildly unaware of how unnecessary it was to print 40 page documents to show me a single copy edit that needed to be made.
Instead I obsess over polls, percentages and primaries.
Instead I obsess over the hidden, the political meanings.
In the past months, I have hardened my stance that I will not have kids. This hardening has led to conversations in which a friend keeps telling me I’m going to get pregnant before her- and keep it. What she is implying is that she thinks my ideals are bullshit. That one day I’ll wake up, feel compelled to be a mother and abandon my career goals. I’ll forget the absurdity of maternity laws, or lack thereof. I’ll no longer care about the statistics indicating how much less women with children are paid than women without children.
My friend is implying that one day I will get the baby bug. I guess if it does happen, the logistics won’t be so bad considering my boyfriend lives in Park Slope. It will only be the forfeiting of many aspirations I will have to reconcile.
I wish I could forget the numbers.
Recently, I have deduced that if I am happy, I can easily reverse the sentiment. I think of comfort and losing it. I think of comfort and keeping it. I think of what comes beyond six months of a relationship. I imagine time stretched out in front of me. The patterns, the concessions…living together, living in New York for forever, and matching eyeglass prescriptions. Part of my fear comes from the possibility of its seriousness. The fear comes from the probability that I’m not tricking myself. The fear comes from the reality that I don’t think falling in love is a fast process. Rather it’s slow and layered and then you realize what has happened far too late.
The cynicism comes from knowing it has to end.
Several years ago, I flew from Paris to Dublin to meet a friend of mine who was getting his masters at Trinity for Mathematics. We drove six hours across the country to a peninsula on the south west coast of Ireland. During that drive and trip I realized that despite his brilliance, his charm, and his sociability, I could not muster any desire that I was sure I should feel to sleep with him. The other was that you should be with someone who challenges you. However one interprets that.
The other morning, my ex-boyfriend randomly texted me the name of the company I work at.
It was February. In June he started dating someone else.
In August a friend suggested I start counting the amount of times I looked at his girlfriend’s Instagram in an attempt to dissuade me from torturing myself.
I recall experiencing that awful feeling of counting the days that you have not spoken to someone. Like it is the biggest accomplishment in your life thus far.
In August, in the midst of a five-week sobriety stunt, I asked my ex-boyfriend to meet me. I start off in fake control. I tell him I just have to express the feelings I was feeling, a declaration of vulnerability. But that of all possible reasons, this is not intended to get him back. The meeting ended by him asking me if what I wanted was for him to break up with his girlfriend and we’d be together forever. I said yes. He seemed to consider it for a moment then he got in his car and drove away. An hour later I sent him a 400 word text message, 5 of which were “I want to marry you.” He didn’t respond until two weeks later when he sent me “Happy birthday! 23!” I was turning twenty two.
The day after I sent that 400 word text message, I ran into a friend who walked with me for a few blocks. He said the last time he saw him he ‘had moved on.’
I wrote the text message down as evidence that one day, probably in the near future, I wouldn’t feel any of those feelings that I felt two days before at 12:22 PM.
He never wrote anything down. He never read the things I gave him.
Challenges require debates. Challenge requires interest. Attention.
I catch myself feeling compelled to tell things exactly as I remember them happening to mere strangers. I can’t leave out a detail or I feel like I’m lying. This tendency results in stories they probably didn’t want to hear to begin with tripling in length. I can’t estimate times. “A few weeks ago” has to be converted into two Thursdays ago. I strive for the accuracy of details when they would never know the difference. When the accuracy is irrelevant. I wish I were one of those people who just said, “It didn’t work out.” Didn’t yearn to re-tell the story over and over.
Daria Rae lives and works in New York.