Respect?

by f

This past Tuesday, after a bout of wild monkey sex, W and I lay on his awful mattress, naked and glowing. I don’t remember what we were talking about, or even if we were talking. The AC churned on, making delicious cool whip from the stale air.

Then he turned to me and asked, “Are you happy with me?”

I wish I could’ve seen my own jaw-drop. It felt epic.

Maybe if he had asked if I liked my unicorns well-done or rare — or if I wanted to kidnap baby seals and club them over the head with anvils — or whether I wanted to join a John Edwards fan club, I’d have been less perplexed. Am I happy with him? He’s been the best part of my life for five years. I love him more than I can ever imagine loving anything else. More than I regard myself. Am I happy?

He shook his head and then turned to watch the ceiling. “OK, let me rephrase.”

“Please do.”

“Do you think,” he said, “that I respect you?”

That was a loaded question. My immediate answer was yes, but I wanted to do the question justice, so I thought about it for a little bit.

When W and I first went out, I was eighteen and he was twenty-three. I’m twenty-three now, by the way. Of the five years that I’ve been an adult, I’ve spent less than one year as a single woman. He’d had those five years of precious adulthood, time spent gaining knowledge, experience and friendships at a university far away and in a place I’d never know. Yes, that intimidated me. What did someone with such awesome smarts, I wondered, want to do with me?

I became jealous of his past. Of the people he spoke to on the phone. I saw them as long conversations about a secret shared past, a past I could never understand. I’d slip on my headphones and listen to loud rock music. For some reason, I felt an ache about it that I suppressed, ignored and eventually conquered. Sometimes, in my blackest moods the hurt resurfaces, but it’s never for long.

As a result of feeling this way, I’d go through periods of intense fog where I’d worry that he’d figure it out, once the period of infatuation went away. I didn’t have anything or anybody but him, and he had a whole world behind him and, because of his shining academic path, a robust future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself.

(A sick twist of fate — I still don’t know what I want to do with myself.)

The funny thing is, that feeling went away the longer we were together. The longer we were around each other, the more I realized that he wasn’t perfect. I understood that I knew stuff that he didn’t and probably never would. I savored these perverse boosts to my self esteem. Gradually, I became more confident. Now that I’m at home, I don’t even notice W’s irritating habits, or can even name any. They exist because I felt irritated with him in college, but now that we no longer live together I’m sad to say that I can’t remember. My love for him is rich, mellow and uninterrupted. It exists in a wormhole.

Could I feel it if he didn’t respect me? Probably. But I wouldn’t know what that’d feel like.

“Why bring it up?”

He slipped the blanket underneath his lips (he called it his mu-mu habit) and thought about it for a little while. “My department secretary told me something,” he said.

I waited.

“When she got married,” he said, “her husband expected her to do everything around the house.  She couldn’t do it all — it was overwhelming. She kept thinking that he didn’t respect her, and it made her depressed. Then, when he lost his job and she entered the workforce, she had to take care of the housework and the work. He wouldn’t do anything.”

“Did she talk to him?”

“No, she fainted. Overworked. The doctor had to tell her husband to buck up, and he did.”

Huh.

“Would you tell me if you felt that way?” he asked me. I thought back to that thick, bitter feeling and realized that the answer was not necessarily yes, and that frightened me.

“I’ll try my best,” I said, and that was as close to the truth as I got.

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2 Comments to “Respect?”

  1. Wow… Such a deep question and a deep thought process to answer that on the spot. You gave as good of an answer as you could. I admire you for that. I really can relate to such a situation… My story with my ex of five years just ended 2 weeks ago and I recall our conversations like that bringing up swirling ideas of what respect is and how respect is given to a significant other. Keep writing, I enjoy reading 🙂

    • Thanks for leaving such a wonderful comment. Those conversations are some of the most important things that I remember — and I understand what it’s like to walk around with those memories. I’ll definitely keep writing, and I hope you keep reading. Thanks again!

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