Romance 101: ‘What am I doing?’

The pressures of normalcy in a relationship

| Scene Romance Columnist

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a Contemporary Fiction class in which the discussion focused on a morbid book that featured some pretty messed-up relationships—relationships between the dead and the living, the old and the young, the in-love and the not-in-love. As my classmates respectively made judgmental comments about the characters, my teacher paused the discussion with an incredulous look.

“Do you really mean to say,” he asked the class, “that none of you have ever once been in a relationship where you’ve woken up one morning and thought to yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”

At first, some people raised their hands to disagree, but after they thought for a minute, all lowered their arms. As they ran through their own pasts, I thought of my relationships and my friends’ relationships. There were couples who got more of a kick out of making loud sex noises to wake up their residential advisor than actually having sex. There were couples who had been dating for years and refused to say “I love you,” whereas others had been dating for only a few weeks and were already professing their deepest feelings. And then there are all those couples who just don’t make sense, and their friends are always wondering why they’re together. In each of these pairings, I remembered my friends’ panicked revelations, generally after a discussion with their parents or close friends—“What the hell am I doing?”

From pop culture to seeing random couples on the street, we see and hear about normalcy all the time—what our relationships should be, the proper times and ways to express our feelings, what is acceptable for couples to do and not do with one another. These visions of normalcy make us look at our own relationships and realize just how freaky and strange the people we love are—and that we must be crazy to be dating them.

These doubts can cause some major panic: Some people find themselves thinking, “How can I date someone who spends half an hour a day banging on walls and complaining? That’s so immature. Can I really be with someone like that in the future?” And either “It’s been two months and he hasn’t said ‘I love you,’ so he obviously doesn’t care about me,” or “She said, ‘I love you,’ after two months; I’m getting the hell out of here.” But when this panic sets in, the most important thing to do is ask yourself: Who cares?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care if something isn’t within the usual “guidelines” of relationships. If something is genuinely disturbing to you, then the issue is something you need to address. But if it’s your parents who think your girlfriend is immature, or your friends who say your boyfriend should be saying the L-word at this point, that’s their concern, not yours.

How can you gauge who’s right? By your happiness! If you’re not happy, then the weirdness is a problem. But if you can enjoy letting your freak flag fly with that person, does it really matter if outsiders judge you?

While you consider your answer to that, I’m going to spend a romantic evening with my boyfriend, speaking in Russian accents and watching Muppet YouTube videos—because, despite some of your raised eyebrows, that’s my idea of a perfect evening.

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