When The “Then” Gets In The Way Of The “Now”
I love my life. I do.
Six months ago, I moved to a beautiful city with an active lit scene and started earning my MFA in nonfiction at a university focusing on the arts. I became part of a community that values many of same things that I do — art, intellect, good writing, great coffee. Two weeks ago, my partner and I moved from a studio apartment that we shared with our cat to a two-bedroom in the “seventh hottest hood” in the country. I have a sun porch, a therapist, a loving family and a 4-year-old nephew who loves books. I have a partner who encouraged me to pursue the work that I love, the work that I probably wouldn’t be doing right now if not for him and his support.
So why do I find myself living in the past so often? Why do I sometimes ache for the way things used to be? I’m talking about my relationship with my partner. I think everyone is afraid of becoming the “old married couple” (even if you’re not married): early bedtime (check), homebodies (sometimes check), nonexistent sex life (not yet check, let’s keep it that way okay thanks).
I don’t have that much of a problem with being the old married couple. We may be married, but we’re not totally traditional. Still, sometimes I miss what many tend to miss: the spontaneity, the romance, the thrill you get when your knees touch under the table, being able to lie in bed and learn new things about each other for hours on end.
When I reminisce about these times, my partner gets worried. He worries that I’m living too much in the past, that I will forever spend our Now pining for our Then. He worries that what we have isn’t good enough for me, that he isn’t good enough for me, that I liked him — us — more Then. He tries to remind me of what it was really like. It’s when my depression came back, thanks to, I’m pretty sure, the overflow of emotions I had while we fell in love. It’s when we each lived with our parents. It’s when we didn’t have money, when we weren’t able to walk around in various states of undress whenever we wanted, when we were still trying to figure out exactly who we were — together and apart.
I don’t miss most of those things. I told you, I love my life.
I think what I miss most are the feelings I had then. Not the depression. But the new love — the excitement, the wonderment, the amazement of new love. I felt pulled in so many directions our first year together because I was so simultaneously happy and sad. I guess I don’t miss that part.
Maybe I don’t know what I miss. Maybe I miss the idea of our early, passionate romance, the things will that will never happen again. Like spontaneous middle-of-the-afternoon sex, because now at least one of us has a 9–5 job and things aren’t quite as carefree as they used to be, though money-wise, things were always tight.
It’s the sex. Maybe it’s mostly the sex. We may be way better at it now than we were then, but everything was exciting then, every single touch, kiss, graze. We have to work a little harder for that now. We push our limits to find new things we enjoy. In some ways, we can’t be more perfect for one another.
There are a lot of other feelings wrapped up in exciting sex, though. You learn what it feels like to be desired. You feel the excitement in finally making that other person come. You learn what total intimacy feels like or that you love comfort sex or that during the process of falling in love with someone, your head buzzes, drowning everything else out.
Sex isn’t important to all relationships, and that’s okay. It’s okay, too, if sex and love and intimacy aren’t all tied up together for you, if you can have one or two but not the others. It’s even okay if you just don’t like sex. There are other ways to be intimate.
But for me, in this particular relationship, all of that matters and they are important. They were and they are. I think they always will be.
So what if everything isn’t “magical” anymore?
We have stability now. We have a standing Friday Night Date Night (which may mean a nice dinner out or popcorn and Netflix in). We have new ways of making the sex seem (almost) as exciting as it used to be. We have a joint bank account. We bought a Wii U. We need to buy a couch since we moved from that studio to this two bedroom. We didn’t go on a honeymoon, so every once in a while we talk about where we want to go for our five-year anniversary.
Maybe what I actually want is to not relive all of that, but see it again. In the beginning, hearing “I love you” was the biggest thrill there ever was. I remember how I felt, but I never got to see how I reacted. I want to see his face again on that evening not long after we started going out when I said, “I think I wanna have sex with you.” I want to look at us being fidgety around each other when we started dating and had to keep it a secret until we “saw where it went” because we were in a close-knit theater group and didn’t want everyone to know yet. I will always want to go back to our wedding because it actually was a perfect day with all the right people and all the right music.
Even though I do love where we are right now, I worry about living in the past too much. What is it doing to our present? What will it do to our future?
I’m not sure. But when I find myself longing for those balmy, halcyon days of the past, I look around at what we have now, and I think about how comfortable we are together. Some people are afraid of feeling “too comfortable” because that means their relationship is stale or boring. But really, I think it is exciting to be so much in love with someone who you feel comfortable, safe, secure. It’s thrilling knowing that even if things didn’t work out, I would always still have a friend in him. I know I would, but trying to explain why is a whole different essay.
To my partner: You have to trust me. You have to trust that even though I talk about what it used to be like, I still love us Now. When I say, “Remember that time when…” and you don’t, it’s okay, because all I did at the beginning of our relationship was journal. I wrote everything down, tried to figure everything out. I still do. I still am.
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