“What’s wrong, Pete?” I ask.
He’s staring at his phone with a far-away look. Like it’s done something to him. “Just a second,” he says. He gets up, grabs a beer from the fridge. “You want anything?”
“Sure,” I say.
He hands me one of those sissy flavored malt things that I love, opened.
“You’re the best,” I say. “What’s up?”
He sighs. “I’m gonna have to break up with Kathy.”
“Seriously? What gives? I thought you were all NRE googly eyes for her.”
“I am,” Pete says. “But she broke up with her boyfriend.”
“Is she leaning on you a lot or something? Or being mean?”
“No, she seems to be taking it really well. It’s just the long distance factor. Initiated by her, but mutually, mostly,” Pete says.
“No drama then?” I ask.
“Nope,” Pete says.
“Um,” I say, “I don’t want to be rude here. But what does Kathy breaking up with her boyfriend have to do with you?
“I can’t be someone’s only relationship,” Pete says.
“You can’t?” I say. “Why?”
“Because she’s gonna want more from me than I can give. I’ve got Megan, too.”
“Sure,” I say. “But Megan’s busy, too. And pretty good at letting you know what she needs.” In the years that I’ve known Megan (as a friend, dating her myself briefly, and later as a metamour through Seth), I’ve never known her to need a lot of time or attention. Or to suffer in silence. Megan is self-sufficient and direct. The opposite of needy.
“That’s true,” he says.
“So Kathy’s asking for more time?” I ask.
“No, but without her boyfriend in the picture, she will,” Pete says.
“Do you really know that?”
“She’s going to need something to fill that space,” he says.
“Well, one, who says she needs a partner to fill it? She does have friends. And she might be missing time to herself.”
“And two?” Pete asks.
“If she does want or need another partner, she can find one. It’s not like you and this other dude are the only two in the world.”
“I get what you’re saying,” Pete says. “But it’s a rule I made for myself. I’m not going to be someone’s only relationship.”
Pete’s a mess after they break up. I come over more often, bearing video games and snacks.
Pete watches everything Kathy does online, scrutinizing each and every move, trying to discern her mood. The shape of her love life. And Kathy’s hidden feelings or un-feelings for Pete — within minutes, his projections swing from Kathy loving to hating him. Thinking of him constantly to never.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” his wife Megan says to me as Pete moans on the living room couch. Slayed by Kathy’s latest online micro-movement.
I echo the sentiment.
After 3 weeks, Pete gets drunk and finally cracks. Emails her a long apologia. Within an hour, Kathy and Pete are back together. It turns out that Kathy wants no extra time. Never did.
Pete is laughing about it a week later. “I guess she didn’t even spend that much time with the guy, being long distance at all,” he says.
Megan punches him in the arm.
“That’ll learn you,” I say.
Rules Without Context? A Body Without a Pulse
As much as rules comfort us, give us a sense of structure, a sense of control?
Well, they can easily be just as oppressive.
Especially when formed and applied without context.
Part of what is most exciting (and occasionally terrifying) about relationships with others is that we don’t quite know how they’ll play out before we enter them. We can have hopes We can have expectations. But we don’t really know?
They call them relationship dynamics for a reason — they’re in motion.
The context of those dynamics is the living, breathing, acting part of a relationship. It’s the pulse.
If we honor old rules without honoring the present context, the relationship we’re addressing as well as all the others that we have?
Especially when everyone involved agrees that it’s more than appropriate to break or bend them?
Well, we needlessly kill a relationship — steal its pulse — by assuming the rules know better than we do.