Grown-up romances take a few grown-up realizations. Columnist Leigh Newman weighs in.
You might have learned this one before, when you were off in college in California and your high-school love was off in college in Maine. Sooner or later, somebody got lonely and fell for a more conveniently located mate.
Long-distance adult romances have similar issues. Yes, you have a job, a car and a condo with a reasonable mortgage. So does he. But sooner or later, one of you is going to have to move if the two of you want things to work. Skype doesn’t let you e-cuddle or e-go-to-the-movies (where you find out that you both crack up during the supposedly scary scenes). I’m not saying you should pick up and relocate two weeks into the relationship. But then again, two years can be too late. All of us fear being the ding-dong who gave up her whole life for some guy. But that guy probably fears the same thing. Nobody talks about it, but love requires bravery -- and the kind of closeness that’s not just in your minds.
I am a big fan of having no expectations. I don’t know exactly how to achieve that goal in all cases. But the less I picture how things should go or might go, the better they do go. I let myself show up and enjoy the experience rather than kill it before it begins with my huge, soul-gobbling, predetermined fantasy life that no real experience can ever rival. This approach also works very well in love. Showing up at restaurant, having zero idea of what the blind-date guy will be like (because you did not Google him, you did not grill your friends, you did not hope he might be a 6-foot-2 veterinarian) allows you the possibility of having an amazing time with the short, hilarious barber who is sitting there waiting for you.
Low expectations are something else entirely. An example: You just want the guy to be straight, funny and not a cheater (the word "just" is always a tip-off). In my experience, these are not low at all. They are simply revised expectations -- after high ones were not met (he was straight, he was funny, and he was a cheater). You created these lower ones to keep from getting burned again. You’re telling yourself to want less than you want, so you might get something instead of nothing. But what happens is… you end up with something that you don’t want. The whole problem, I really, really believe, is the wanting. Going into a date and just letting it be what it is -- and later deciding if you like it (or not) -- allows for the possibility of the delightful unexpected, which is the official lightning rod of love.
There is a certain female stereotype that I often see on television and in movies. The most dismal (though outdated) example is Ally McBeal; the most recent is Hannah in "Girls." Ally and Hannah are beautiful and brilliant and destined for greatness, but they’re full of pesky questions about the men they date. They analyze everyone’s behavior and try to understand why or why not a certain somebody did or didn’t call. In short, their problem is that they “overthink” things.
According to this logic, one can assume that women who “underthink” will have much more success when it comes to love. They won’t ask themselves if their long, rambling rant about gourmet tequila on the first date drove a guy off. They won’t pause and examine why exactly they’re dating their best friend’s ex-husband. They’ll just go with it and end up blissfully happy, because... they’re dumb.
Please believe me: Thinking about both his and your behavior, trying to understand why he does things (for example, inviting you to bowling night) and why you do things (for example, buying him B12 vitamins) is part of loving. It means you’re looking at all the factors to the best of your ability and deciding to participate in the relationships with your heart, body and mind. Nobody says you have to rattle off every idea directly in his ear, but thought is not is the antithesis of romance. Whereas thoughtlessness? Hmm... think about it.
He doesn’t want them with a house. He doesn’t want them with a mouse. He doesn’t want them if you’re thinner or richer or have plumper lips. He doesn't want them if he’s older, had time to think, or had the kitchen redone with stainless-steel sinks. Believe him.
Everybody shows love in different ways. If I am leaving for a long driving trip, my husband will desperately run down the driveway and scream at me “Put on your seatbelt!” He will also hand me big handfuls of paper napkins “just in case.” I understand the seatbelts: He’s worried; he doesn’t want anything to happen to me; he wants me to keep safe. In a perfect world, men would rush after us with easy-to-read signs like bouquets of red roses or huge banners painted with, duh, "I LOVE YOU." We do not live in that world. The person who adores you may stuff carrots in your lunch to protect you from cancer with fresh vegetables or refuse to let you watch "90210" because it hurts your brain.
Love is not a mystery, I believe. Most of us know who loves us. But the expression of that love is often cryptic. Take the paper napkins. I don’t know what those are for. But I suspect they might have something to do with sopping up all the tartar sauce that will spurt out of the Filet-O-Fish that I will purchase at the first McDonald’s on the side of the highway that I spot, which is chain of events that my beloved, fast-food-despising husband and I will never discuss... out of love.