Recently, I've found myself using the term "locking it down" frequently in conversations. It is usually accompanied by a hand movement -- I curl my left hand into a fist, and then slap the top of it with the heel of my open-faced right hand, and smush the two together ferociously. In other instances, this hand movement can also mean "making out with a wall."
But when used with "locking it down," the left hand becomes one of my girl friends, and the right hand becomes the man who is unknowingly suffocating the life out of her.
Here's how it goes: My friend meets a guy. He's a little bit older. She's pretty and smart with a lot going for her. The guy is dazzled. Having been around the block with a number of incompatible matches, the guy knows how to seize an opportunity when he sees one.
He's also a bargain hunter. In his younger years, he didn't want to settle down. So he put minimal effort into relationships. He sat back and acted like the girl was the odd one while she ran in circles around him, putting in overtime work in the emotions department, only to be discarded when she did lose it from being so worn out.
In his secret heart of hearts, he thinks that all women want to get married. He might not admit it to himself, but mass media and tradition assure him that as soon as he makes the decision that he wants to tie the knot, whoever he's with at the time will be completely on board.
By the time he's in his mid-30s, most of his friends are married. Some of them have kids. They are no longer available for bro time. Suddenly, the man is lonely. He wants an ordinary life. He wants things to be easy. "A-ha!" he realizes. "It's time to settle down!"
If he's not with a woman, he searches for one. When he finds one whom he thinks could be a match, he treats her right. He takes her on romantic dates. He buys her presents. He wants her to sleep over every night. He introduces her to his friends and family. "I've never done this for my past girlfriends," he tells her. "They were all a little nutty. But you, my darling, you are just right."
If he's a creepster, the girl is 22 years old, and isn't sure who she is yet, so she is fooled. She's like, "I'll marry you, you treat me like a pet!" And maybe in this scenario, they end up happily ever after.
But the successful male usually wants to find someone he's proud to post about on Facebook. She has to be well educated. She has to have worn some ruts in her chosen career path. She has to be sophisticated. Above all, she must like him for who he is, because he never pretends to be anyone but himself. When all of that that falls into place, he's hooked. He's ready to "lock it down."
The woman, on the other hand, has also been around the block. She's dated some real assholes. She's frequently been told that she's too emotional or demanding. She's learned how to even her temperament so that she no longer expresses anything at all. She's just "perfect."
Because she's been emotionally disappointed so many times, and because the wear of past relationships has made her a little rough around the edges, she's really learned how to fend for herself. At first, the fending was reactionary; "I don't need him!" she cried to her friends after her first heartbreak. "Let's go out and find someone else!"
Then it became a familiar feeling: "I don't need this crap," she proclaimed, a little less teary, after her second major break-up. "I actually kind of miss the self I am when I'm not with someone else," she'd say.
And finally, it becomes an integral part of who she is. Her independence is her own. It is her core. And she knows she can return to it whenever she likes.
So when she starts a relationship with the "lock it down" guy, she's not completely ready to give him everything. But she lets it get serious quickly anyway. Before she knows it, she's going out to couples dinners with all of his friends. They are spending weekends doing cute activities. They're planning trips for the future.
He lavishes her with everything he thinks she needs, and for a while, after so many bad relationships, it feels pretty nice to be treated so well.
But just because the relationships is outwardly great doesn't mean that the guy is right. It doesn't mean that the woman falls in love with him. It doesn't mean that she can accept the fact that he only will have sex with her without the lights on. Or that she likes hanging out with his friends from college. Or that the phrase "I just have a hard time talking about my emotions" is a balm to soothe all of her needs or doubts.
Suddenly, the gloss of a safe (and unsatisfying) relationship starts to wear thin. She finds herself missing her secret self, the one that belongs only to her, the one she's been suppressing because in the past, when she revealed it, she was told that she was "too emotional." The self that hates beer gardens. The self that likes to go see movies starring Ryan Gosling alone. The self who thinks that time shares on Fire Island are the fourth circle of hell. The self who isn't happy and easygoing all of the time.
"Wait a second, what is happening here?" she says to the guy. "You're talking about me moving into your apartment, but you don't know anything about who I really am!"
It's not that the woman doesn't want to share this shadow identity, the one that lurks beneath the surface of her sweetness. It's just that she's been so busy pretending to be perfect that she hasn't revealed herself yet. She's waiting to see if she can trust the guy. She's waiting to see if he's worth all that she has to give up to settle down.
"What secret self?" The man says, confused. "You're not really like this?"
"I am, but I'm also many other things!" The woman proclaims.
"You're batty," he says, with cautious affection.
"Tell me something I haven't heard already," she rolls her eyes.
"I really like you?" he says.
"I miss watching my TV shows without having to wait for someone else to come home from the gym," she blurts out, losing control. "Oh, and your friend Sam's not even a little bit funny!"
"Did you not hear me, I want to marry you!" he counters.
"WHY? You don't even know me!" she screams back.
"You're out of your mind!" he screams, this time with conviction.
"And you're ..." she tries to respond. "You're ... an oblivious man-child?"
"I'm just ready to settle down," he sighs. "You're a girl. Isn't that what you want?"
"I just," she starts to explain. "I just guess that I always expected there'd be more to my life than just this."
And this is where the story ends, because I don't know what happens. Women -- just like men -- want to be in committed relationships. It's just that when we're being accepted as someone we're not completely, it scares us, because we don't want to only be partially ourselves for the rest of our lives.
Maybe it's necessary for us to date the "lock it down" guy to realize that hiding our shadow selves doesn't do either party any good -- the man who buys into the illusion and is thus disappointed, and the woman who is cheating herself to feel safe. A committed relationship doesn't have to be terrifying. If it's honest from the beginning, it can mean true acceptance, and the continuation of an empowered life.
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