I'm Learning How To Be In A Relationship After a Decade of Not Being In One
So, I've been in a serious relationship for about 3 months now and things are going pretty awesome. More awesome than I'm even allowed to talk about just yet, but trust we're good.
It's been years since I've been in a serious mutually committed (not just me being committed) relationship and by years, I mean 10 years. Yes, my last relationship was 10 years ago and it only lasted 10 months. And in all honesty, I was ready to get out in the first month but he was a crier so I sort of just stuck around for 9 months.
Until the middle of one night, when he decided to wake me up (after I'd just gotten over a long bout with insomnia) because I didn't kiss him good night. I'm not proud of how I reacted but, "Dude. Really?" and then the crying and I think I blacked out. That was it. Also, it was his birthday. I'm a great person.
In the decade since that relationship, I have had situations, incidents, encounters, things where I thought I was in a relationship and the other guy was in Cleveland, run-ins, head on collisions etc. etc. but no relationship.
No, "Hey, have you met my boyfriend, Robin Thicke?" Just "situations."
Learning how to be in a relationship has taken some adjustment, especially since this is transcontinental. Skype isn't an option because electricity is sketch and Wi-Fi can be dial up slow. I mean, I couldn't even watch YouTube videos when I was over there. The phone works, but until I discovered Rebtel, my phone bill looked like a phone number. So we rely on various text apps, like What's App and Viber, with a weekly phone call to tie things together.
The only problem is that though my love speaks flawless British-tinged English, his writing reminds me that English is in fact his second language.
Now don't get me wrong, my grammar sucks. I still have no idea where a semi-colon is supposed to go and I use both commas and parentheses gratuitously; I use them interchangeably as any editor will confirm. So I'm not judging grammar at all. I'm judging sentence structure and diction.
There has been many a time where I've stared at my phone willing the words to rearrange themselves into a pattern that will give me any idea what he's talking about. Is he angry? Is he pleased? Is he in danger? I have no clue.
Add to that the fact that Nigerians tend to speak in parables and things that Jesus may have said if he grew up in Lagos. For instance, the other night, my permanent love binder, sent me a text about how "Most people say sweet things that hold water in a basket (impossible) but your words are sweet and fetch more than water and baskets that hold them." What's that now? My basket did what? Is he finally sexting me?
I actually had to forward it to a Nigerian friend for translation before I could respond with, "Babe, thank you. That is so sweet." Which is my usual response.
When we keep it simple, it's fine -- but anything too involved requires a phone a call. So it's not like we don't communicate. We just acknowledge that a lot can be lost in translation. He has the same problem. I'm a writer so I tend to go on and on and he will respond with, "Darling, I have no idea what you're talking about."
I guess this is just who we are. We are definitely better together than we are apart.
The distance has been more difficult than I anticipated. I'm usually really good at long distance. I like my freedom and space and by the time I start to miss you, I can see you. When you get annoying, well, it's almost time to go anyway. This is different.
I embarrassingly want to be with this guy all the time. But it's not only that, long distance gets in the way when real life situations pop up and you want to physically be with the person you love. My husband-to-be's brother died a year ago tomorrow.
Since March 1, his personality has changed considerably. My usually affable and loving man has become sullen and agitated. He snaps and raises his voice at me often. He's been emotionally unavailable and for someone who from the day I met him has been the most loving and thoughtful and kind person, the switch was abrupt. It scared me.
I didn't understand what happened. I had prepared myself to be emotionally available for him later in the month as the date approached but didn't expect the change so early. I didn't know what to do. I knew what I would do if I was with him. But being thousands of miles away, I could just listen impotently as he raged about this thing at work or that or the cabbie who pissed him off or what have you. I was confused because he never mentioned his brother, just everything else.
I also took it personally. I cried to my aunt that maybe he wanted out of the relationship. I heard from her that she saw him and that he had a dance injury he didn't tell me about.
"She worries too much. I don't want her to worry," he'd told her.
Everything had happened so fast, maybe he'd just realized that it was too soon after the tragedy. I admit that it was selfish to make it about me, comments section.
With all the work I do surrounding mental health awareness, I was embarrassed when during another phone call of doom, I heard very clearly the symptoms of depression. I was quiet on the other end as he talked about how difficult things were and how he tries so hard to do the right thing, but felt like he wasn't doing enough. He talked about "failing" me. And on and on. I couldn't believe that I had missed what now seemed like obvious clues.
When he realized I hadn't been responding as usual, he asked what was wrong. I told him, "Nothing. I just didn't understand before. I do now. That's all. I'm sorry if I've been putting pressure on you or making you feel like you're not doing enough. I've just been worried. "
"I know, you worry too much. I'm OK," he replied.
You can't just tell a Nigerian man that he's depressed. Especially one as extra-crispy Christian as my fiance. So I did the only thing I could think of. I called his mama.
His mom is fantastic and lives in London. I told her what was going on, the first thing she did was reassure me that everything was fine. This is just how he handles hurt and pain. He's been doing it since he was a child. You just have to step back until he realizes how unfair he's being and comes to you.
I asked her about his brother's death and how I should handle that. Should I step away? Mama told me, "No. Call. He won't talk, but call." She had made plans to fly down to Nigeria to be with him. "That boy has been through so much. I'm just glad he's still here."
She told me a lot about him in the two hours we spoke and it made me even more grateful and appreciative of the Tony I fell in love with. With all he'd been through not to mention his physical appearance, he had every opportunity to be one of "those" guys. I know people who are bitter and hateful over less, but he chose the other direction and that's the kid I love.
After we hung up, I texted Tony with a simple "I love you" -- and got an "I love you more" in return. He hadn't told me he loved me since February.
I decided to keep it simple. The weeks and days leading to the anniversary of his brother's death, I kept the conversations light. When he said, "I can't really handle this right now." I let him know my phone was literally on my lap if he needed anything. I got a "thanx" in response and despite my need to dive in and force him to talk to me about his feelings, I just let it alone.
Tomorrow, I'll call and say hello. I know he's going to do the stoic but hollow thing he's so good at. I will try to make sure not to put my shit on his shit. I've told him repeatedly to lean on me while he tries to be strong for his mom. He told me that my shoulders were too thin for him to lean on. Which, rude, but at least he's joking.
I wish I was physically there but in lieu of that, I hope he knows that he's got me. Pretty much forever after December. And as the years go on, we'll get better at supporting each other.
This relationship shit is no joke. Especially, when you're committed to the commitment. There are no bailouts or layoffs; when times get tough, you stay tough until they get better. Look at me, relationship expert after 3 months.