I read a book recently, about long-term relationships. It told me not to get too comfortable.
There are a lot of books about how to keep your marriage hot or how to keep it at all. I read this particular one because it was supposed to be the best and I thought, “Well, sure. Maybe I’ll learn something.” I’m not going to name the book because I don’t want to pick a fight. Anyway, the advice is common enough: Keep an edge in your relationship. Keep your partner guessing. Lust rests on the tipping point of fear. Danger and newness are exciting, familiarity and safety are a little dull.
I agree that trust and desire are engaged in an intricate, ever-changing dance. But one of the best things about being in a committed long-term relationship is that I can trust my partner to want me. And the result isn’t laziness, it’s freedom.
“What felt different?” people ask me, when they ask me about why I chose my husband, Bear. Well, it felt different in this atomic, foundational way. Like opening your eyes and you’re on another planet, with three moons rising, and the purple ocean softly lapping the lavender shore. Also, I felt comfortable farting in front of him. But maybe that goes without saying. I’m never sure if that goes without saying.
Part of the fundamental difference was this enormous, endless, miles-deep trust. That was a big part, actually. I trusted him to love me back. I trusted him to find me funny. I trusted him to think I was beautiful and sexy, just for being me.
That is a lot of trust. Especially in the midst of a world that has informed me over and over again that I am probably not even remotely beautiful and sexy for being me. When I met Bear, I had recently gotten a nose job. It had gone badly, and I looked, as I continue to look, like someone who never got a nose job to begin with. I underwent the surgery because I had come to hate my face. It was the culmination of many years of learning about beauty and self-worth, and suspecting that if only I looked a little different I might feel better about everything. Many, many people struggle with themselves this way. Girls and women, especially, as far as I can tell. If I just lose ten more lbs, we reason constantly. We squint at our reflections, imagining little but critical adjustments. It’s a small, personal, perhaps petty war that is in fact enormously pervasive, tragically distracting, and ultimately revealing of our culture’s misplaced priorities.
The fact is, it’s not easy to feel good about the way you look. Most of us probably don’t assume that we are wildly desirable. I can’t count the number of perfectly lovely friends who have wondered aloud to me when a date doesn’t text if maybe he just didn’t think she was “pretty enough.”
When, I sometimes wonder, are we ever “pretty enough”?
Not yet, said the tiny, persistent voice in the back of my head. I live in a city where models routinely ride the subway with me, and they don’t even appear to be sweating. Bear spends a lot of time traveling for work to places where beautiful women dress up in tall heels and everyone has drinks together by the water, while I chase the baby around at home, wearing what appears to be a neon-green striped tent leftover from my maternity wardrobe, and, improbably, sparkly sandals, because they are there.
And yet, I think that my husband will always think that I am 'hot'.
After all, I always think that he is hot, so it seems to follow.
No, no, says the book. Dress up! Perform! Keep it interesting!
We, as a culture, mix up comfort and boredom sometimes. We overemphasize adventurousness. We are titillated by things that seem sexually scandalous. But learning about your own desire in the context of being consistently desired is an adventure. And more importantly, it’s a luxurious relief.
I felt safe through my pregnancy, when I gained, somehow, fifty lbs, and my midwife said, “Is there anything else you can possibly cut out of your diet?” When I was vomiting everywhere and my feet were swollen sausages and I became morbid and pitiful. I felt safe as I became a mother and I had a bunch of stiches in my vagina and my belly was confused about there suddenly not being a baby in it. Furthermore, I feel safe with everything I can’t predict about our future lives together. And I have always been a neurotic little worrier, too.
But I believe that love should be like this.
On our third date, when we were definitely going to kiss, he said, “I really like your nose.” Even though it looked like the kind of nose that hasn’t had a nose job. Even though it is a big, strong, serious, imposing nose with its own radical ideas about nose-ing. Even though I had put so many of my hopes about beauty on it, and bet so hard that changing it would save me. I was never, as it turns out, going to be saved that way. I had to save myself, through forgiving my face for not being someone else’s perfect, airbrushed, neat and perky face. I had to forgive myself for being born this way. I had to turn my attention elsewhere. It helped a lot, to be loved like he loves me.
And, as it turns out, under everything, I guess I love myself enough to trust someone else to love me forever. I am so thankful that I love myself enough to believe without hesitation that he will find me sexy, lovely, worthwhile.
That confidence, I think, is sexy. It opens up a space for exploration, for running around naked, for uninhibited things. It is the opposite of pretending, of manufacturing rules, of making the other person insecure so that you have a bit more control. It’s fantastic. It might get wild. And, shhh, it might even get a little scandalous…