How Do You Know When It's NOT Love? Or Why I'm Perpetually Single

When did you get to the point where you thought, "NOOOOOOPE," and mentally moonwalked out of the room?

Dec 7, 2012 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

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If I were Oprah, I'd call this something cool, like a NUH UH moment. Man, what if I were Oprah you guys?



I love "when did you know" stories.

I'm not perennially single because I'm repulsed by monogamy. On the contrary: I'm fascinated by it. If you're with somebody you want to be with forever, I want all the particulars. It doesn't matter if you're freshly engaged, newly wed, celebrating several anniversaries or cheerfully picking out side-by-side graves for your imminent deaths. I want to know how and where and why and when you went, "This person, right here. These genitals, for life."

Seriously, if you're one of those "When Harry Met Sally"-couch couples in any phase of your relationship, I want to hear about it in excruciating, forensic detail. I'm particularly obsessed with that watershed moment of knowing it was It. You know, the one you tell your grandkids about after one of you kicks it, and before the other one goes shortly after (of a broken heart, or mourning-based hooker-sex coronary).

I am, I guess, sort of a closet romantic. I've just never gotten to that point. You know, the "it" one. On the contrary -- I find myself getting to the point where I think, "NOOOOOOPE," and mentally moonwalk out of the room, in the middle of coitus or a bowl of noodles or a corn maze date. I'm not sure that's healthy or normal!

Whether it's probably not the best thing for me and my ever declining fertility, it may be why I'm close with all of my ex boyfriends. Even the ones I probably shouldn't be! Sue me. My relationships tend to end with a reasonable, measured discussion, less like ripping off a Band-aid than having it fall off in the tub. (I know -- my relationships are gross.)

It's probably a condition of my commitmentphobia and my need to be liked by everybody, but whenever I break up with somebody, we've left each other reasonably early or in good shape. So much so that we could still appear believably on a box of Kashi together with our heads smashed over a bowl of multigrain cereal. They feel good, I feel good, I still follow them on Instagram.

So I feel like I can say what I'm about to without betraying anybody here: I feel like I've always just had a moment when I knew, and I'm wondering if this is a feeling I should start to suppress.

My mom REALLY loved one of my exes, to the point where she often lamented the fact that he was never going to be her son-in-law. Until I finally told her about my "This is not it" moment: when I found out that he hates to read. Like, really and truly hates to read.

He's not stupid, or a philistine, or anything. He's a smart, lovely guy who's into film and music and theater, where I suppose he's had to reads SOME things. (Playbill? Menu? Artist's statement? Nutrition facts? Condom wrapper copy, let's hope? Just not books, I guess.) But for me, the first time he said he read about a book or so a year was when I got the usual, cinematic premonition of doom. Although I guess not reading is an accomplishment in its own right, kind of like not having brushed your teeth in a week. Neither really makes me want to have your tongue in my mouth.

While I loathe the term and the idea of "deal breakers," I wonder if there's not something to them.

As Helen Fielding wrote in "Bridget Jones Diary" (I know, but stay with me), "It's amazing how much time and money can be saved in the world of dating by close attention to detail. A white sock here, a pair of red braces there, a grey slip-on shoe, a swastika, are as often as not all one needs to tell you there's no point writing down phone numbers and forking out for expensive lunches because it's never going to be a runner."

Maybe this is true, and maybe it's an oversimplification. I think, too often, we reduce people to a set of trivia or hobbies or outfit choices. It doesn't help that the current fad in movies is to show that two people are meant to when they can, uh, quote other movies together. It makes it easy to think that the best person for us is somebody with similar taste. As anybody who has ever cared deeply for someone whose browsing choices have royally fucked up their Netflix suggestions knows, this is not always the case.

I do try to do everything magical Christmas perv and garbage glitter genius John Waters tells me to, and as he famously instructed in "This Filthy World," "If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them."

But I'm not a culture cop -- I'm not saying EVERYBODY has to be like me and John Waters*. I don't demand that everybody read for the same reason I don't run around record stores calling things "church" or freaking out when people drink Jim Beam. Your time on earth is yours to do with as you see fit. I know there are incompatibilities in every relationship, and I think the breaking point rarely comes from somebody being more of a foodie or a baseball fan than someone else.

But I've noticed, as I age and date and date and date and date, that there are sometimes just these moments, these coup de foudres of romantic doom. It's easy to ignore a neck tattoo or a weird eating habit. It's not so easy to ignore the things that make you picture an endless infinite recursion of Sundays with someone who will never want to go to a weird warehouse book flea while you troll the shelves for old sex manuals and worm-chewed Charles Grodin memoirs.

I know that's a reductive and quaint idea of monogamy. And yes, reading (and, okay, writing, I guess) is a massive and important part of my life. When I have a book that I love, I will probably foist it upon you and demand that you read it immediately so that we can talk about it for hours over sandwiches. (My other incontrovertible relationship prerequisite. My Diane Lane movie would be called "Must Love Sandwiches.")

But with my ex boyfriend, it was more than the book thing or a vague feeling that after we stopped having hot sex and ran out of funny childhoods stories that we'd have an excess of incompatible leisure time. It was just a feeling. I knew. I knew, to pervert a beloved movie quote, I knew the way you know about a bad melon.

That said, you hear stories of people who stayed together after initially writing one another off as often as you do about heartbroken types beating themselves up for not knowing better. I always think of the backup singers in Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know?" urging her, "Don't trust your feelings." Okay, guys. I won't maybe?

I'm sure my Fahrenheit Four-Fifty-Onesy ex had some similar revelation about me. Like, a moment he realized I was just TOO giving, or my blowjobs are too incredible and distracted him from sniffing magazine cologne samples or whatever it is people do who don't read. (Love you, buddy.)

And as I spend my third or fourth consecutive year of cheerful significant otherlessness, I find myself encouraged not to do this kind of culling, to ignore these feelings and flags and swastikas. But then again, maybe there's something to them.

So I ask you, guys. When did you know it wasn't?

*awesome