When a man professes his love for me - well, OK, his affection at least - I believe him. I don't sit there thinking of all the reasons he would fabricate a professing: to get me into bed, to get me to like him, to get me to give him money. I simply believe that when he says, "I want to sit on the porch holding hands, watching the sunset with you forever," he means it. OK, perhaps not literally. First, there isn't a good view of the sunset from my porch, and second, it would be pretty damn cold in the winter to sit around marvelling at the vermilion sky, especially at 4 in the afternoon, when I'm normally at work. But you get the drift. That statement implies that this relationship has some body, that he wants to explore the possibilities of a metaphoric sit on the porch with me. And, OK, it might be a bit sudden, unexpected or even codependent, but it piques my interest.
And I don't worry about him luring me into bed with romantic words either, because sentient pleasure-seeker that I am, I lure him the first chance I get. And when, after a night of unbridled sex, complete with declarations of admiration for ankles (the sexiest part of the body, in my opinion), dripping candlelight, explorations of the different smells of various skin surfaces, we sit in the cold light of morning unaided by alcohol and looking our age plus five, and he says, "I'll leave my toothbrush here. After all, I'm staying tonight, aren't I? I want to sleep with you as often as I can" - you guessed it - I believe him.
I think, "If he can sit opposite me in dawn's harsh light, looking at my naked face and thrown-on clothes, then he probably does want to build this relationship." And although I'm not quite sure I want to share my space, let alone my toothbrush holder, with anybody, I am flattered. I'm being pulled in.
As we get more and more involved and the weeks float along, buoyed by a raft of three-hour phone calls, poetic e-mails and statements from him like "This is wonderful, this thing between you and me," "In my dark world I can at last feel happiness," not to mention the flattering "I love being with you," "In this light you look like a teenager," I, yes, not only believe him (OK, maybe not the teenager comment), but am past any kind of doubt.
I'm on the upswing in the relationship - a place where plans are made, futures are built, where love becomes a dynamic exploration. With a full complement of two-sided emotional evidence to back me up, I'm convinced we're made for each other. Hell, I've even got the wedding dress picked out (metaphorically, of course).
Unlike Hollywood romance movies, which tend to temporarily brainwash me into thinking happy endings could actually happen, real-life romance usually sucks.
We spend our last day together holding hands, immersed in deep conversation about shared experiences, common goals and the building of dreams. We laugh, cry, hug. He kisses me passionately when he leaves and tells me he'll call tomorrow. And because I have no reason to disbelieve anything he says, especially the stuff about how wonderful I am and how much he cares for me, it takes me three weeks to realize that he's decided that this day is the last day of our relationship.
And, no, not three weeks of winding down or petering out. It ends this day with the words "I love you" cooling on his lips as he drives away.
OK, so a few days later I do get a cursory e-mail that explains, "I need a break.... I can't handle anything more than what we have now" (which, from my point of view, based on his words, is something pretty significant) and an e-mail that says, "I want to talk.... I will call you soon." And, OK, I believe him, so I leave it up to him to get in touch. Which, of course, he never does.
After three weeks, I start to think perhaps it's a mistake to believe him, that maybe this is a case of a man behaving badly. That's when I call and am treated to a weird piece of insanity theatre in the shape of a two-hour conversation in which he yells and screams and calls me names and wishes me dead.
Shaken, taken aback and upset that I've missed my opportunity to slap him upside the head (even metaphorically), I ask myself why I let him get away with this level of bad behaviour?
I'm loath to label this man a liar and a coward. Naive questions circle my head like symbols over a knocked-out cartoon character's.
Maybe I was a man behaving badly in another life and the karma is coming back to get me. This'll teach me to believe my therapist and spend years lowering my own personal barriers to enjoy the complete intimacy of relationships with others!
Should I start believing "guilty until proven innocent"? No, I've come to realize that bad behaviour in real life is a retrospective realization, just like in TV shows and novels. You just don't see it coming until the end.