My friends, struck with envy, ask me what it’s like to “always have a boyfriend” or how to get one themselves. I’m the wrong person to ask, I tell them, because I’ve been doing it all wrong. For many a masochistic reason, I have felt like it’s a chore to be around most of the men I’ve dated.
A relationship is not necessarily the end of loneliness. It’s much more than a title or a plus one on a wedding invitation; it can also be a suffocating label. I’ve felt profoundly alone in a crowded room. But I’d be damned if I had to finish that charcuterie board alone. Now that I’m in a relationship that works (what a concept!), I have an understanding of why I felt so single and alone while technically “attached.” The reasons are quite simple:
We didn’t share any of the same interests.
Opposites attract! Let your partner teach you something you don’t already know! In my experience, nothing is more isolating than sitting through a hockey game to the melody of a mansplain. True, I should have been vocal enough to say I would rather get stabbed in the eye than sit through a loud sporting event. But now, there is an element of mutual interest in the activities to which my partner and I submit each other. And more often than not, our ideas of what constitutes a good Saturday night align. Really? We can sign up for Netflix and watch it, too?
We worked in different fields.
My job as a writer comprises a solid 80 percent of my identity. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, or going for a walk or reading a book in the off chance a glimmer of inspiration hits. My professional life is not confined to the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., nor does it suffocate in a cubicle. It lives in everything I talk about and everything I do. It’s not enough for a partner to understand that, they have to live it. I didn’t have a clue what my past partners did in finance or law or engineering, and that made me feel isolated from them. As I write this, my current significant other is working on a story for BuzzFeed in his Ninja Turtle pajamas, and I just helped him pick out shoes comfy enough for covering a protest. Now that I can relate to.
We didn’t share a religion.
I belong to an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, and I observe all the high holidays. I’ve had a bad-EDM-loving ex show up late to my family’s Passover Seder because he had to chug a few beers in the middle of the street to ease the idea of sitting around a table singing songs of my ancestors. I dated a Scientologist who offered to pay for my courses because I could afford to be less of a “suppressive person,” as they call it. Now, my partner and I commiserate when we’re starving on Yom Kippur, and we crack jokes about our under-qualified high school Hebrew teachers. When he calls me his bashert, I’m less flattered by the compliment and more relieved we share the same cultural map.
We didn’t eat the same foods.
If you’re going to share a fridge, or cook for each other, or take each other out without having to go through the endless “Well where do you want to go?” conversation, your tastes need to intersect on some level. I’ve dated people whose only source of vegetables came from a teaspoon of ketchup on their fries, so when I ordered a salad, I was relegated to freak healthy hippie territory. All because I don’t want to die of diabetes. Being shamed for my healthy eating habits is rooted in something deeper: I’ve continuously chosen men whom I let marginalize me for being different than them. In my past relationships, food became a tool to unearth our glaring differences, and I blamed myself for sticking to my kale smoothies instead of pandering to them. While my own relationship with food is complicated and frustrating for others to grasp, my current partner, who once pledged allegiance to the white bagel, now brings home whole wheat. “Why?” I ask. “Because I like you,” he says.
I didn’t make them laugh.
Men want to date a funny woman — as long as they’re not too funny, because #MasculinitySoFragile. I don’t buy that. If my off-color humor can elicit a belly-deep roar or even a heartfelt retweet, then we’re in this for the long haul. (Or at least long enough to finish a season of “Breaking Bad” without watching ahead of each other.) There is nothing that makes me feel like I exist in a vacuum quite like crickets after witty banter. I’ve been scolded for being gross. (It was a tasteful period joke, relax.) I’ve been shushed for making puns at a “bad time.” (We’re in line buying fro-yo. Chill, dude.) You don’t have to think I’m Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s love child, but at least smirk at the low-brow GIFs I send to remind me there is an organism with a pulse at the other end of this Internet connection.
We didn’t like the same music.
I often think in song lyrics, so music plays a profound role in how I make memories with someone. For me, the louder the guitar and screaming, the better. Bonus points for words like “Death,” “Bury,” “Black” and “Corpse” in the band name. (I promise, I’m an otherwise very happy person.) I’ve wasted dozens of years of my life accompanying (or chaperoning) man-boys to see DJs while we fist pump like we’re lobbying to derail an antiabortion bill. The night my current boyfriend asked for my phone number, we ran into each other at a metal show at a sweaty dive bar. After crowdsurfing, we had a philosophical conversation about journalism, and I learned we share the same favorite song. I had never felt more at home.