Well Being

Romantic Relationships: When You Want Words to Fail

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With relationships come many questions, thus the popularity of Doctor Phil and Cosmopolitan quizzes. When things feel wrong, we go looking outside of ourselves for answers that are right at our fingertips. The one true gauge we have for relationships is free and easy to access: It’s in how we feel. When we sense something unsettling we want to be soothed – stat. We ignore the symptoms and go in search of a cure. We need to listen to our inner voices. They are as loud and demanding as any talk show guest, and much more deserving of our attention.

We women are fortunate in that whenever we need to vent, we have our own talk show to tune into anytime of the day – on the phone or over drinks with our best girlfriend. But here's the thing: Don’t trust anything she says. She’s only going to tell you what you want to hear. Instead, use the airtime to listen to yourself. If it always sounds like you’re compiling evidence to prove in a court of law why this guy is good, he probably isn’t. The opposite (constantly lambasting him for all of his faults) is also true, but I have less experience there. While you’re yakking to a friend about how your guy can’t stop talking about names for your children, or what pure evil it is that he can never find his car keys, listen to yourself. Hear the tone, the urgency, the message. What are they trying to tell you?

I write as someone who had lost all credibility when it comes to relationship reportage, which makes me uniquely qualified to explore the topic. I have propped up unworthy men on conversational stilts; and I have demonized one or two who really weren’t so awful. Leaving out all the parts that made me uncomfortable left everyone (myself included) wondering how it possibly could have gone wrong, when it inevitably did. In every rhetorical gambit, I heard the anxiety that I tried to muzzle with more and more empty words. And I ignored it.

I was the little boy who cried wolf. My friends had heard it before, and before, and before. Even I could hear how ridiculous I sounded: “He’s the one. No he is. No it’s him!” I employed clever arguments to back up each poor choice, and strategic methods for camouflaging everything that was wrong. Finally, even I got fed up with my stories. I reluctantly allowed myself to listen to the underlying quiet desperation. Plain old fear and a lack of faith in myself were manifesting themselves in my poor romantic choices. I couldn’t move forward until I finally paid them some heed.

Now that I’m in a relationship that warrants virtually no explanations, I don't know whether to talk about it or just shut up. When I recently ran into my friend Suzanne and her husband Bob, they asked me what was new and I immediately blurted out: “I’ve got a boyfriend!” I promptly regretted it. Over our fifteen years of friendship, these two have hosted a handful of my exes at their dinner table. They’ve watched them all come, eat, and go. They've witnessed my hurt, and as good friends, they're not interested in seeing it again. I sensed their worry as I began to talk. “I know, I know what you're thinking, but this one is real. He’s not a criminal!” (Okay, I've never dated an actual felon, but I've been mishandled by a ward’s worth of negligent men. Actually, dating someone with an authentic rap sheet would have shown some imagination on my part.)  Then, as soon as I began to build my case to Bob and Suzanne, I dropped it. That was my old insecurity talking. I didn’t need it anymore. I trusted where I was and that was enough.

When a relationship is going well, you won’t feel compelled to say much. And your audience will happily take your word – or lack thereof – for it.

Giulia Melucci is the author of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.

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