How Do I Not Screw Up This Relationship!

Let’s just say the last thing I envision saying to my future children about my 20s is, “Ya know, I should have dated more people and partied just a little harder.” 

I spent a lot of time in my early to mid-20s being single. I hung out with my girlfriends like it was my job, focused like crazy on my career, and generally, was selfish AF. I also did a bang-up job of dating people that were far from being right for me (an ex pro skateboarder turned corn maze owner, a divorced father of four, a Jimmy John’s bicycle delivery man and a gaggle of musicians come to mind). Let’s just say the last thing I envision saying to my future children about my 20s is, “Ya know, I should have dated more people and partied just a little harder.”

But something has changed in me in the past year. I shudder to admit this, as I used to be cool and detached (I promise!),  but I finally feel ready for something more. I want to know someone, deeply, and I want to fall so hard that I may not know how to pick up the pieces at the end.

Does that make you want to vomit a little? Okay good, me too.

Here’s the scariest part: I may have actually found a person worth all of that. The first few months of my new relationship have been nothing short of incredible, and for the first time in a really long while I can’t blame any issues on “he’s not right for me,” because I kind of think he is. So now, the biggest question is, how the hell do I not screw this up?

Every single day I’m afraid that I already am, because I always have in the past. I have an aching feeling that it’s too good to be true, that he’ll figure out I’m not as great as he thinks I am, the “real” (aka “bad”) me will come out and run him off, that he’ll realize I’m inherently bad at relationships, or worse, that I’m unlovable.

With that in mind, I did a pretty cool thing last night; I created a problem from nothing. I don’t mean to brag, but, this is an area in which I excel in relationships. I’m kind of amazing at it.

It went down like this. We were drifting off to sleep when I realized we were about to go to bed without having sex, a first for us, and instead of rationalizing that it was a long day, we were exhausted, and ya know, we’re humans and not rabbits, my mind went straight to “He thinks I’m ugly and terrible in bed and he’s already bored of me and OH GOD we’re doomed.”

Naturally, I said something passive agressive, he sensed something was wrong, and I completely shut down. I turned my back to him. I played the “nothing’s wrong, I’m fine” game and pouted quietly until all of sudden I realized what I was doing, and I felt terrible.

Then, a miracle happened. Instead of quietly wallowing in self-loathing, I opened up, and I talked to him. I told him how in past relationships I’d felt rejected in this way and was nervous it’d happen again. I said out loud all of the crazy things in my head, like how I push people away when they get too close, or shut people out when I feel vulnerable, and finally the big one: I’m frightened that I inevitably will or already have screwed this amazing relationship up.

But guess what? Another amazing thing happened. I didn’t scare him away. In fact, he said he felt the same and that he was terrified of ruining everything too.

I hugged him, giddily, and realized in that moment that we’re in this together, and that THIS is how you communicate with a partner. My Goddess! Why had no one told me this before?! You talk these things through *in* the moment, before you’re already distant, or breaking up, and it’s too late.

I know that we still have a long way to go. I have a great deal to learn about being a partner, and communicating, and some long-term relationship veterans may be thinking “But you’re still in the honeymoon phase! Of course it’s going well!” To which I’d say, “That’s right, suckers! It’s awesome.” Trust me, over the course of writing this I’ve already thought of 10 new and innovative ways to push him away, or convince him to run far, far away from me. But there’s one thing I’ve promised this man, and that I’ve made him promise me: If we’re going to screw this up, let it be over something real, and not from being scared.

I’ve spent so much of my adult life building up walls and protecting my heart, and for what? So that I can feel in control? So that I won’t get hurt? Sadly, the only person I’ve hurt in that process is me. I don’t want to hide behind my own bullshit anymore. I want to fall, hard. I want to love, and allow myself to be loved by this person so deeply that no matter what happens, I’ll be forever changed. And you know what? I’m ready.

How Do I Continue to Not Screw Up this Relationship

I have some bad news; I’m still dangerously close to screwing up my relationship. 

I have some bad news; I’m still dangerously close to screwing up my relationship. You assumed everything would magically get easier as time went on too, right? That once you found the right person, all the bullshit you used to pull in other relationships would also disappear, right? Cool, yeah, me too, me too.

Putting Up Walls

Over the past month, I’ve been performing a fun little song and dance I like to call “putting up the walls.” At first I thought I was doing a bang-up job of hiding this fact, but it turns out I’m not such a good actress. As predicted, I wasted 80k on NYU drama school because my boyfriend can see right through that shit.

At this point I’ve invented fun, inventive ways of pushing him way, like making unwarranted comments on his haircut “mmm…I think they took too much off the top,” or suddenly believing in Astrology, “I’m just saying since you’re a water sign and I’m a fire sign, sometimes you can be a downer, by putting out my fire.” Unsurprisingly, he’s not too fond of these comments and we’ve had to address where the f*** they’re coming from.

My Therapist

Enter my therapist. Let’s call her Elaine, because, let’s be honest, is there a better name for a therapist? I think not. Elaine is the name of a dignified, educated woman in Eileen Fisher, zany glasses, and a penchant for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She is definitely who you want to be your therapist, and I implore each of you to get your own Elaine.

Elaine and I have discovered a few interesting qualities about myself that makes it difficult for me to be in a long-term relationship, the first being, I have control issues. In work, as a director, this serves me very well. In relationships, not so much.

In the beginning, it was adorable! I mean, who doesn’t love a strong, assertive woman? (The answer to that is: many men. Please avoid them.) I remember grocery-shopping with my boyfriend in the first month when I asked his preference on which variety of cheddar to purchase. He let out a gentle chuckle.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Well, it’s just that, you’re only asking me as a formality when we both know you know  exactly which one you want and will buy it regardless of my opinion.”

See: how cute is that?!

A Consent Uprising and My Own Sexual Assault

I think about this word often, because I was raped when I was 15. In fact, that’s how I lost my virginity.

A friend of mine recently posted on his Facebook asking what he should teach his young daughter. Immediately, the word that popped into my head was, “consent.” I think about this word often, because I was raped when I was 15. In fact, that’s how I lost my virginity.

It’s not an accident that I’m writing this on the heels of the Stanford rape case. Like so many others, I’ve been incredibly moved by the sharing of the survivor’s letter, the condemnation of his father’s words “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action,” and by other friends coming forward, waving their hands, and saying “hey, I’m one of those 1 in 5 women who’ve been sexually assaulted, and I don’t want to be silent anymore.” Neither do I.

Here’s my story.

I grew up in a small town in Texas, where our sex “education” was an abstinence-only course called “Your Gift.” We were taught that our virginities were the ultimate gift to our husbands, and if you’ve already given it away, no problem, just wrap it up again!

Two pregnant classmates sat in my row. That year, Texas had the second highest teen birth rate in the nation, and we had the on-campus daycare center to prove it. Point is, kids were having sex in my town, and a lot of it.

At the beginning of sophomore year, I had just turned 15 and was the lead in the school play, Beauty & the Beast. To be more specific, I was the understudy, but I was promoted when the original Belle got (you guessed it!) pregnant.

Every day after rehearsal I sat behind the theatre and watched the soccer guys leave practice before my parents picked me up. I had a massive crush on one of them, and sometimes he would smile at me and say “Hey Carolyn” and pronounce my name incorrectly. He was supposedly some kind of sock model, too, which is crazy that we even had those in Seguin, TX! But I believed it.

At this point, the only boy I’d kissed was the Beast in rehearsals, who was gay and always smelled like hot cheetos. I had braces, hadn’t started my period yet, and generally had a gangly, colt-like figure that didn’t exactly draw all the boys to the yard.

How to Win at Online Dating

Think back to your last three boyfriends. Are they all over 6 feet tall? Make six figures?

Have you ever watched a straight guy on Tinder? Seriously, it’s amazing. If they find a woman even the slightest bit attractive, they swipe right. I’m talkin’, “I wouldn’t say I’m into the Juggalo scene, but, her lips are kinda hot” swipe right kind of action. I don’t want to say their standards are low, but they are more…realistic.

And here’s the kicker. Those guys are doing it right.

Think back to your last three boyfriends. Are they all over 6 feet tall? Make six figures? Smoke less than a gram of weed a week?

My last serious boyfriend was shorter than me, the one before that had a child, and the one before that one was a virgin. I realize most people don’t put their number of sexual partners on their online dating profiles (the answer is 20, always 20), but the point is, NONE of these guys would have passed my self-imposed dating filters, because they are bullshit. I consider each of those relationships successful in their own right, but had I come across any of them online, they wouldn’t have made it past the damn matching stage.

Before you start whining, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have preferences. That would be insane. If you’re religious and need someone who’s also religious, or if you’re creative and know you’ll only jive with someone who gets that, fine, those are reasonable requirements. But dating online shouldn’t be a free pass to be a jerk and impose unreasonable expectations on other people.

For example, I know for a fact that men under 6 feet tall give the best head. Take a poll between your friends and you will see that this is an undeniable truth. And in general, the most “successful” guys I’ve dated turned out to be least generous. Again, I’m not advocating Bumble-ing with 22 year olds living off their parent’s credit cards, but instead of asking yourself, “When does he make VP at the company?” Ask, “Does he pay his rent? Have some sort of savings account? Have goals and aspirations?” Great. He gets a pass.