It’s 6 a.m., and I awaken to the sound of my boyfriend’s alarm going off on his phone in the living room. It goes on for a solid five minutes. He hasn’t hit snooze because he’s sleeping so soundly. Fortunately for me, he’s sleeping on the couch: he has horrible sleep apnea, and if we had been sleeping in the same bed, he would have woken me up with his uneven snoring (don’t even get me started about the constant sweating, another side effect of the apnea).
I climb out of bed a few minutes later because my own alarm has gone off. We are up early because we have to catch a plane at 8 a.m. He’s sleeping heavily, so I start shaking his foot. He has only been sleeping for three hours. The previous night we had gone to visit friends in San Antonio, and the next morning I got a panicked text message from him telling me that he thinks he’s left his wallet there, and can I make sure it’s where he left it. Yes, the wallet has been found, and I spend a couple hours working out the logistics to get it back. I cannot manage to find a friend who is heading up to Austin, so he spent three hours driving there and back to pick it up.
To say that my man is not a morning person does little to convey the difficulty of waking his ass up. If he had his druthers, he would be up until 3 a.m. every night. When we were living together, I would spend about an hour gently trying to wake him. I would kiss him, shake him, whisper silly questions in his ear….lather, rinse, repeat. I marveled at his ability to fall back to sleep so easily. While he never reached full-on anger when I insisted he get vertical, he frequently resembled a polar bear who had had his winter hibernation interrupted.
This morning, though he doesn’t have an hour for his brain to come online. We are on a tight schedule and need to scramble. In the process of putting his last bits of stuff into his suitcase, he discovers he can’t find the stuff sack for his sleeping bag, and pushes its fluffiness onto an already bulging pile of belongings. When he goes to zip it shut, the zipper breaks. Quickly he retrieves two smaller suitcases and starts stuffing his belongings into them, all the while grumbling under his breath. We finally make it out the front door.
As he is packing, he discovers he’s out of cigarettes. He stops on the porch to grab a half-smoked one in the ashtray, but it’s disappeared (that was my fault). His nicotine-starved brain panics. Since there are no cigarettes at the airport, we stop for some. The minutes are ticking by and I am worried we will miss our flight. I had planned to be on the road at 6:30, and it is now 6:50. Things are not looking good.
We get the car parked, grab the shuttle and run to the baggage check. We may have missed the cut-off for our bags. We have a few minutes to spare, but there is something wrong with his name in the computer. We go in to the counter, get the name thing sorted and surprise – unexpected luggage charge! Boarding passes in hand, we head outside for a final cigarette. As we are rushing to security, suddenly he realizes he needed to pee. (I’ve never understood this about him; my bladder tells me it wants to be emptied long before I’m about to pee my pants.) Security kills another ten minutes; the boyfriend absolutely refuses to go through the microwave scan and has to be manually patted down by a friendly TSA agent every time we fly.
We make it to our gate right as they call our names for the final boarding call. He falls back to sleep as I type this. Of course.
It was an annoying, unnecessarily stressful morning. I do not like to travel this way.
This is how I do like to travel: I’m a morning person, and know how to wake up and hustle out the door, regardless of the ungodly hour. Air travel is one of the most annoying rituals of modern life, but I have come to a place where I accept the adversity, grit my teeth, deal with discomfort, and stoically get through the unpleasantness to put my ass in a small seat so I can go see people, places and things that rock my world. I do my best to be efficient, upbeat and kind (I swear it’s gotten the counter agent to take my luggage after the cutoff period more than once.)
Over the past three years, I’ve learned that we have different ways of dealing with getting to the airport, and usually we end up doing it his way. Because I have been paying attention in therapy, I did my damnedest this morning to let him have his emotions. I didn’t try to cheer him up or tell him to look on the bright side. I lost my temper briefly. All in all, things went much better than our previous trip when he almost passed out due to low blood sugar and I snapped at him because we were running late and didn’t have time to grab him a snack. (That one goes in the Girlfriend Hall of Shame.)
At this point, the average single woman is shaking her head and saying to herself she’d never put up with a dude like this. Not only does her mythical soulmate not smoke or overpack or lose his wallet, but he has been sitting at the gate for at least 15 minutes before they begin boarding. He will hold her hand on the flight and order champagne to celebrate the beginning of the fabulous trip to a romantic destination of her choice (of course he’s picking up the tab). Traveling together will be a joy, a grand adventure, and absolutely perfect…like everything else in their relationship.
Ladies, please, by all means, keep on fantasizing. Because you know what? There’s always something. It might be something small, like he doesn’t know that socks go in the hamper (he may not even be acquainted with the large, rectangular box in the corner of the room), or something large, like you’re a morning person and he’s a night owl. Quite likely it will be both…and dozens more somethings. When two full-grown adults partner, they move through the world in different ways, and this causes all sorts of friction. Even when there are enormous amounts of compatibility, there will always be something.
One of the most bullshit parts of the romantic myth is that you and your soulmate are going to be completely and utterly compatible. It says that your political views, your taste in music, your favorite brand of toilet paper, your favorite album in college – all these things will neatly line up in a symbiotic, sychronistic, cosmic, serendipitous way. Because your soulmate is THE ONE, the peanut butter to your jelly, the alpha to your omega, the perfect person, the guy whose previous relationships were only a dress rehearsal for your amazing, glorious, peaceful union. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?
The good news is that when you fall in love, you get to enjoy that fantasy for about three months. The bad news is that fantasy usually collides with reality, and you find out that your prince charming hates tomatoes, is consistently late for dinner, plays video games late into the night and sees no reason why he shouldn’t continue to do these things, thank you very much. Sometimes, it’s just too much to handle, and you return him before the 100-day money-back-guarantee trial period is over (minus the $50 restocking fee, of course), or you decide to keep him and go about trying to change him and mold him to match the perfect picture in your head. Then, the power struggles begin. And somewhere in universe, a thousand therapists are rubbing their hands gleefully and thinking, “I’m going to make a lot of money off of these two.”
What if your perfect guy was the one who was there not to passively fulfill your every wish and desire, but had shown up to sand down your rough spots where you find it hard to practice compassion, patience, empathy or forgiveness? What if partnership’s primary purpose is self-growth, and love is a by-product of that process? What if you find out that People Magazine isn’t lying, and that partners are people just! like! us! They shop! They are distracted! They make mistakes! What if instead of trying to make your partner change himself, you set the alarm 30 minutes earlier, put snacks in your bag and make sure you have several packs of cigarettes on hand to make the morning go more smoothly, because you are much better at organizing and planning than he is?
In the short term, in the moment, shit like getting on a plane with him drives me nuts, stresses me out, makes me angry and puts a big frown on my face. In the grand scheme of things, though, the positive far outweighs the negative. I know he loves me deeply, is devoted and kind, makes me laugh, and will be there for me when life is beating me to a pulp. Hell, I’ll put up with a lot of nicotine meltdowns (and cigarette butts in his pockets that don’t get discovered until after I do the laundry) to have a steady supply of yummy, orgasmic, heart-connected sex. Not only will I put up with it, I’ll walk to the fucking store to get him cigarettes to keep his annoying ass around because I love him so much, and wouldn’t trade him for the world.
Because he loves my annoying ass, and wants to keep me around too.