Instead of saying "I love you," he told me about a cousin who had expressed an interest in buying his car.
"This is a thing!" I announced ceremoniously about three months into my relationship before we were officially calling it that. Up until then we'd just been "hanging out" -- every day -- and sending "hey you" texts like teenagers.
I'd met his best friend and he'd met mine. We parachuted into each other's routines without 24-hour notice. My mom had even popped into the picture to surprisingly non scare-him-away-screaming results. By this point his stuff was no longer invading space in my bathroom, it had full citizenship. He'd even answered my door once in his "play clothes" and to their credit, my startled friends just keep it moving.
We'd gathered up all the necessary miles for a relationship upgrade. But I still had to say something. If closed mouths don't get fed, then those trying to play it cool just get left out in the cold. I knew that if I was really ready for the grown-up relationship I kept saying I wanted -- mutual respect and admiration, a safe space to be vulnerable, support and most of all commitment -- then I would have to be a grown-up and stop waiting for him to pass me a note that asked "Will you go with me? Yes? No? Maybe?"
We either went together or we didn't. I was the decider because that's what I wanted.
After decades of doing that bullshit "Let's just see what flows naturally" I, like most women with brains, knew that titles actually meant something. Up until then I'd had exactly four boyfriend bullet points on my dating resume in 15 years.
Brook and I dated for approximately one week in 9th grade before my girls convinced me to break up with him for reasons still unknown. In college, I met Ben and we had what can only be described as a two-year-long after-school special of a relationship. Then friends introduced me to William and for the next 18 months I was the unwitting participate in an on-going field experiment to see how completely nutty a man can drive you. After that I tripped into a relationship with someone I should have never been with. Opposites might attract, but they hardly stick.
Point is after all that there were so many more non-relationships that despite being excruciatingly undefined, provided the bulk of the padding in my permanent record. I was a connoisseur of uncommitted men. By the time I met Ike, I'd figured out that what people call you actually does mean something. I wrote a whole book about it actually. I doubt it's a coincidence that I met Ike less than a year later.
Still I wasn't planning to have "the talk" with him. Isn't that some shit? After knowing what I knew. After being inspired to analyze my adult life based on a quote by disgraced moonwalker Lisa Nowak, who described a crazy-making office affair as "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship."
I was still scared that saying what I wanted out loud would somehow "mess things up." How in the world can speaking your truth to the universe mess anything up? I chalk my doubts up to equal parts previous jackass experience and gender brainwashing in general. Conflicting ideologies guarded my tongue.
Eventually it was life that did it. A quiet moment between the two of us that knocked out the words I'd been wanting to say.
You guys, he smelled my finger. Like literally. I'd scratched my nose and gotten a whiff of something off. Immediately I leaned over and stuck my pointer under Ike's nose. "Smell my finger!" And the man didn't hesitant one moment before inhaling deep. Of course, he immediately regretted that decision. My finger was rank. But the fact that he didn't think twice stuck with me.
"This is a thing!" I blurted out. Because it was and we both knew it by then. Me with my stinky finger and him with his singed nose hairs.
But more importantly I knew that it was a thing for me. If he'd answered "Actually, no. It isn't" or some rewound variation of the "titles aren't important" nursery rhyme they teach unavailable Kindergartners then I would have had my own decision to make. I'd would have had to take that perfect moment, file it under "He could've been a contender," and wash my stanking hands of the whole thing.