I wait up for M to go to bed. I love that goddamn goodnight message. I wait for it and try to time my showering around it so I don’t miss it. It makes me feel loved, cared for, considered. I think that is what a relationship is. Choosing to care for someone more than you care for anyone else. Going out of your comfort zone for them. Practising selflessness along with balanced self love. Getting to know that person and loving them the way they need to be loved.
I’ve never lived with anyone apart from this gorgeous woman from Shanghai and my sister. Francy Fan was the best housemate I could have asked for. She would ask me weeks in advance if I was okay with her entertaining guests for a dinner party. She padded around silently most of the time and we’d only really cross paths every once in a while when I’d either uncharacteristically prepare dinner early or she’d uncharacteristically decide to cook as opposed eating take out or with friends. The only other time we spent a significant amount of time together was when the hot water stopped functioning during a freak flash flooding period one week in winter. I even missed her when she went back to China for holidays.
I’ve always found the thought of living with a partner really confronting. I grew up thinking that I’d be married to the man I’d eventually end up living with. I now find it absurd how anyone could possibly not live with someone before they have promised to spend THE REST OF THEIR GOD DAMN LIVES WITH. Not only that, but damn it’s nice being lulled into sleep nestled into the nook of a beloved someone’s body that you may or may not want to spend forever with. It’s also nice spreading out like a starfish and not lying awake trying to hold in a fart or having to censor other bodily functions, but hey, there are seven nights in the week.
I remember watching this chick flick in which Dawn French played the role of this hilarious relationship therapist. She said the mark of a relationship gone bad was when a fart began to disgust you as opposed to humour or even unbother you. I asked M to turn on some music one morning as I showered in the open bathroom in our Airbnb in Lisbon. It wasn’t enough to conceal the sound that was causing an ache in my belly. He thought it was hilarious as he made fun of my attempt to hide my ulterior motive behind setting a sunny mood for the day via some sweet tunes. I never thought I’d feel comfortable enough to do all those normal but kind of embarrassing things with someone who wasn’t part of my family.
The day I realised that my parents didn’t actually know each other before they decided to contribute more people to the planet was a really strange day. You mean they actually had to learn to be comfortable in front of each other first and discuss how they were going to pay for things and who was going to wash the dishes as opposed to mow the lawn? That didn’t just happen automatically because they were my parents and they had created this environment in which I felt so loved and safe under their roof which didn’t just magically appear when they decided to get married? I didn’t realised that a relationship took time, communication, fights, compromise, taking one for the team and an extreme amount of patience and negotiation to actually work. Key word is creation. They created this safe little nest on a foundation of love, dedication and commitment to each other and to us.
When I first met M I thought he naturally slept in the middle of the bed but when I told him I need just a touch more space to prevent me from falling out the other side, he surprisingly responded that he in fact usually slept on the side closest to his bureau, and that when I was there he slept in the middle to be closer to me. God damn. I loved that. I also loved when he threaded his legs through mine and took off his glasses before he closed his eyes. I got to see him at his most vulnerable. Stripped back, defenceless, completely immersed in another realm. Sometimes I’d watch him sleep for a little while. It felt like a privilege to be there while he recharged his batteries. Sleep is so vital and if you’re uneasy with someone you don’t sleep well when they’re…around. He’d often say something in his mother tongue or chuckle and I wished I understood what he’d said. Sometimes I’d respond gently just to keep the sleep talking conversation going and he’d babble away in his cute little accent.
It was strange to me that his vocabulary wasn’t natively English, and that I’d never know what that felt like. Words would always have different meanings and origins to him. Not that he particularly liked words. I almost choked when he said that lyrics were the last thing he listened to in a song. Words are quite literally one of my favourite parts of life. I adore crooning to the poetry weaved throughout the symbiosis of an orchestra. I find so much catharsis in slowly gluing one letter to another, lovingly building word after word, and eventually crafting sentence after sentence into paragraphs that flow like honey to tell some kind of story. I love playing with sounds and tone and accents and dialects. I even googled words in his native dialect to tickle his inner child and, for a tiny moment, be able to understand what words were culturally special and unique to him.
We struggled with miscommunication in the early stages of knowing each other because certain words and tonal phrases weren’t equivocally interpreted. We still struggle sometimes but now there is warmth and playfulness in knowing that that those particular words have their own special meaning between the two of us.
We recently spent four nights together in Portugal. I didn’t want to go. I’d paid through the nose for this stupid trip for various reasons and when it had finally came around, I wanted to stay in my ridiculously tiny flat and do nothing. I felt empty. I didn’t have the energy to be patient, to compromise, to perform the whole airport check-in-security rigmarole. I didn’t even have the motivation to be excited about exploring another city. I just didn’t have it in me to push the barriers of my comfort zone.
Sometimes my mind was tired but my body was able. Other times my body was exhausted yet my mind was gung ho. That week in particular, it was both.
When I texted him to tell him that it’d be better for me and for him if I stayed home, I expected a response that was defeatist and accepting. I expected him to start texting all his friends to see who was available to take my place, as I’d feebly suggested. But he didn’t. Instead he proclaimed how timely this trip was because a new environment would be just the ticket to refresh my spirit. I almost fell over. He really cared about me. He really wanted me to come, to feel better and to be in my company even though I was in the worst state to be of decent company to anyone. As if that wasn’t enough, when I persisted in saying I was bloated and hairy and didn’t know what to pack, he even offered to shave my legs so I didn’t have to worry. To the outsider looking in, it may not seem like much. But to me, it was everything. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
It didn’t begin like this. It has been a process of getting to know what each other needs and how each other operates to reach these magical moments of safety, security, intimacy. I remember sending him this cute little naked selfie one night and he said something that took my breath away. “I know every inch of that body.” No one had ever said that to me before. I loved how he knew all these intimate things about me. The fact that I seldom wore underwear. And that I freaked out if I ran out of baby bots. I loved how I knew what his favourite herbs were. What kind of beer he drank. The tiny things that him feel cared for and special.
I’ve always craved a deep intimate connection with someone, but have never stuck around long enough in a relationship to actually give it the time it needed to develop. It was a super squishy warm feeling.
Before it begins to sound like I have this perfect relationship, I absolutely don’t. He drives me up the wall sometimes with his carelessness, harshness, hypocrisy, fear of vulnerability and motherfucking annoying need to always play devil’s advocate. I drive him beyond the brink with my emotional, needy, bigger picture planning, overspending, oversensitive, anxious and insecure bullshit.
But when he calls me, to tell me about his day, or when that good night message pops up with his name attached to it, all the bullshit melts away, and only this divine sense of care is left lingering, gently humming love letters to my soul, confirming how much this person really means to me, and how glad I am that he’s a part of my life.