You and I: A Story about Defining the Relationship

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“Oh, no, I’m not saying she isn’t a nut — she is — but I’ve noticed before that sometimes someone like that behaves quite ordinarily with everybody, manages everything, you’d never think she was a nut, but there’s just one person, with that person, she’s out of control. It makes you wonder.”
― Doris Lessing, The Good Terrorist

Today, November 18th, marks our one year anniversary. But, you ask, didn’t you guys start dating August of last year? Didn’t you visit Tom in London at the end of October? Wasn’t he still in London on November 18th and weren’t you still in New York?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But I was disappointed when I left London that first time because Tom had not said anything about our being “official.”

It sounds like high school stuff, but at the time it gnawed at me. The entire weekend in London and Bath we had walked like a couple, talked like a couple. Held hands. We had made out like mad, and by the time I boarded the Heathrow Express, his stubble- a look I preferred – had left a dry patch on my chin.

“It looks like you gave me chin dandruff,” I said.

“Good,” he said, “Hopefully it’ll keep other dudes away.”

Using twisted, defensive female logic, I tucked the comment away to mean that Tom was hoping I was still exploring other options. Maybe he wasn’t ready to take the plunge and hoped that neither was I.

So November 18th might seem like an arbitrary date, but I have confirmation via Gchat that it isn’t. November 18th was one day before I met my old Slavic Lit professor, visiting his parents in New York, for coffee, and two days after I went on a last date with a guy I dated briefly. Not hedging my bets because he was actually pretty cool but, you know, hedging my bets.

I told Tom via Gchat that I was going to have coffee with my professor.

“The one you had a giant crush on?”

“Yeah.”

He wasn’t comfortable with it.

“That’s like me going to get lunch with an ex girlfriend.”

I, alone in my kitchen, had snorted. Because it wasn’t like that at all. And to be worried about the Professor! Of all people! When just two days ago Other Dude had taken me to see Wicked and would, within a weeks’ time, leave on a family vacation to Paris and call me every night before going to bed. This was before I learned that to get a phone call from Tom (one I didn’t have to suggest) meant it was probably a blue moon.

“Can you call me.” I typed.

Less than a minute later we were on the phone.

“You’re overreacting about the professor,” I said, “I don’t have feelings for him anymore. We’re just getting lunch because he’s in town. I have already written to him too, and told him I’m dating someone awesome.”

“Well,” Tom said, relieved, “Obviously.”

“But,” I said, “I think it’s interesting that you’re concerned about me seeing my professor when…”

His voice lowered. “What’s going on.”

I stood up from my small kitchen table and walked to the mirror on my dresser. I scratched my head and stared at my reflection, wondering if I sounded as twisted up as I felt. My face did not seem as worried though, and that calmed me a bit. No matter what, I told myself, things would be all right. There were other fish in the sea. Yada yada yada…but dammit I was going to define this relationship.

“What are we?” I finally asked.

“What are we what?”

“Like…what are we in our relationship? Are we….exclusive?”

Tom was silent for a minute, then said, “Yeah…at least I thought so. I haven’t dated anyone else since I met you.”

“Really?”

He had been casually seeing a girl in London before he came back to New York for the two weeks during which he met me, and after, had gone back and called it off with her.

“I told her I was starting something pretty serious,” he said, “and I haven’t seen anyone else since. I assumed, since I’d flown you out to London and you came and had a good time and since you’re coming again in December, that…well, we were exclusive. I didn’t feel the need to announce it because I thought you felt the same.”

“Oh.”

“Unless…” Tom continued, “You fly to other countries all the time to visit guys you’re just dating.”

“Oh, no,” I said hurriedly, “I don’t do that.”

I wondered if it had been obvious that we were exclusive, but I shook my head. It hadn’t been obvious to me. And I’d heard my fair share of stories of girls burned by men they assumed were their boyfriends because of the men’s boyfriend-ish actions, only to realize they weren’t girlfriends, just girl friends. With benefits.

“Wait,” Tom said, “Are you still seeing other people?”

Now I was silent.

“Um…” I said a beat or two later, “I am.”

“You’re still dating other guys? Even after you came back from London?”

He hadn’t asked, I pointed out, and I had not wanted to assume.

“I didn’t think I had to! I flew you out here! I planned this like whole romantic getaway and we’ve been talking every day!”

I didn’t want to assume, I repeated, and before he could say anything else added, “Tom, the whole point of my bringing this up is that I don’t want to see other people anymore. I just want to see you.”

“Well, good, “he said, “Same here.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, so tell those other guys to fuck off.”

And I did, though not in those words.

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