Dating

By Justin O'Neal

Love. It’s a force to be reckoned with that supposedly knows no bounds. Relationships, however, are a different story. Like it or not, every relationship comes with a laundry list of rules that change and evolve as the courtship progresses. When I was dating around, I would think of it as a prescription to my independence: take as directed and wake up smothered-free and happy. And it goes as follows. Rule number one: Don’t give her your entire weekend. You’re commitment-crazy if she gets both Friday and Saturday nights. I mean seriously, are you ready for weekends of board games and veggie stir-fry? Rule number two: Two days or nights a week, max. Don’t think you can stay away? Think again. What keeps a new relationship going is mystery and what keeps them interested is the attraction of the unattainable. The list keeps on going, the perfect solution for non-clingy, static-free relationships. But what happens when you meet someone you want to break all the rules for?

It happens to the best of us; suddenly you’re spending entire weekends, no, weeks, together and your friends haven’t seen you sans significant other in a month. The “I love yous,” mushy puppy-dog Eskimo kisses and too much PDA are almost more than any adult can stomach. But be warned: you are treading on very dangerous territory otherwise known as The Comfort Zone.

Comfort can be the most endearing and beautiful state of any relationship, summed up by total acceptance and mutual appreciation. It’s where the “love fern” grows and the “wild things” come to play. Being comfortable in your own skin, with all shields down, can be one of the most sexually and emotionally stimulating rides for all parties involved. But of course every good plot must have an antagonist. Relationship comfort may also be defined by its evil twin. For the sake of our story, let’s call this twin “Sheila.”

Sheila plays by her own rules, so watch out and digest appropriately. All bodily functions are fair game, so don’t be surprised if you or your roommate walk into the bathroom to find some unflushed business. Of course, I am alluding to a previous relationship of my own. Long story short, my roommate walked into the disaster zone, when he so fatefully and unrefreshingly realized that Sheila looked the other way when it came to flushing. Accident you say? Probably, but I’d bet my first child that it wouldn’t have happened on our first date.

Long-term relationships tend to walk the fine line between comfort and too comfortable. It is the grey area between allocating a top drawer to that special someone and a hierarchical government takeover of the hallway closet. The difference between couples yoga and a six-day binge of takeout eaten in dirty sweats. What defines which side of that line your relationship falls on?

It’s a matter of self-discipline, mutual respect and good grooming habits. Treat the relationship like a child. You want it to grow by feeding and taking care of it, with an occasional outing to the zoo. If you don’t nourish the relationship, but also set boundaries, your relationship will grow up to be a hungry brat who gets lost in the monkey den. The point is that there is never a safety zone, stopping point, or length of time that defies your ability to stop trying. The moment you think you can pull back a little on your expended effort, you’ve already hit the nuclear switch.

It’s time to throw the rule book out the window. Rules are boring. What matters most is defining and reaffirming what’s most important to both of you…and, of course, always flushing.

And my own 11 month relationship? Simply put, I’ve broken all my own rules for the first time. Comfort is indeed an awesome thing. Just remember to drop Sheila off at daycare.

Justin C. O’Neal, MA, is a 27 year-old psychologist living in the heart of Queens, New York

Originally published February 2009
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