The night before the storm he bought a package of reduced fat Oreos, a jar of salsa and a six-pack of beer. We didn't think much of it. I had crammed jeans, a pair of rainboots, underwear and two t-shirts into a tote bag holding my laptop and face wash. It was supposed to be a short stay. What else was I supposed to think? I was a skeptic when it came to weather and it seemed impossible that New York City could be shaken by much of anything.
In many ways, I felt the same about us. We had been dating for a few months and he had classified it as "serious" from the start. He was committed, sincere and overwhelmingly giving with both his time and affection. I was in heaven, but still, I was hesitant to use "serious" to describe much of anything. I had my heart broken during my last romantic venture, and therefore the word felt like the kiss of death. I needed a new perspective on what it meant to describe a relationship this way.
The more I thought about it, the more my mind grew cloudy with expectations. I called a friend and asked her to define serious in this context.
"Think of 'serious' as something that's hard to get out of." She began. "Serious is a state of a relationship that makes ending it too complicated to just walk away from." Her words, out of all the friends and family members I had phoned, stayed with me all the way through the first light flicker of Hurricane Sandy.
"You think we'll lose power?" He asked. I could hear him twisting off the lid of the salsa and popping open a bottle of Magic Hat in the kitchen.
"I'm not sure." I whispered, turning wide-eyed as I flipped to a jumpy television station and read the words "devastation," "imminent" and "the new Katrina." Suddenly, it occurred to me that I might be staying in his apartment far longer than I had anticipated. I wanted to take things as slowly as possible. This, at least temporarily, appeared to no longer be an option.
The storm arrived and we stayed cuddled up in his apartment, surrounded by candles and unpacked cardboard boxes from his recent move. Cabin fever set in, and even though we never lost power, we also never left each other's side. We reveled in the excitement of shared stories and sat heavy with the weight of emotion that filled others. At some point, I lost track of where my emotions ended and his began. There was so much that this kind of seclusion tested: creativity, compatibility, nerves, character and temperament. None of these things, however, came close to what the hurricane would wash away from our relationship: the surface.
The surface is where we retreat to when things start to get too personal. It protects us from getting attached. I felt nourished from the moment I started caring for him, and this became increasingly apparent as we weathered the worst of the storm. Serious replaced surface. In this light, his faults became some of his most attractive qualities, and as mine emerged, he didn't budge. Serious had a shock factor I found to be oddly addicting and delightfully complicated. Serious was gritty, thrilling, committed and most of all, considerate.
Was "serious" easy? It could be, if that's what you wanted. It included a level of accountability, reflection and most important, a responsibility for each other's well-being. After that night, I realized "serious" became something I could depend on. It's easy to say what a relationship is and is not, but after weathering the storm and letting the surface wash away, I felt like we had created some kind of testament as to where we stood. "Serious" had become an understanding, not a question, and the way I was finally ready to describe this relationship.