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Unsolicited Relationship Advice

  I am not an expert in many things, but that lack of status has hardly stopped me from talking about stuff in the past. And while I don’t think I’ll be granted an advice column any time soon, I have happened to observe quite a few things in my time on this planet. From experience and historical distance, I do have a few things to say about the nature of relationship dynamics. Namely, some things people need to avoid if they don’t want to be miserable.

  Unless, of course, you want to be. Then by all means, ignore me!

  Now, it may seem to be trite and a bit useless to say that trust is an important part of any relationship. With each type of acquaintance, there is an acceptably ‘trust’ layer that one gives out. In its most basic form, it looks something like this:

This highly detailed graph took literally minutes to make.

You typically don’t go explaining the results of your colonoscopy to someone you’re sitting next to on a bus (unless you’re a sociopath), just like you’re kind of expected to admit all kinds of weird stuff to your significant other. At the core of the trust issue is why certain relationships have the capacity to damage us more than others.

  Murray from the office takes offence to the fact that you don’t enjoy Rebecca Black’s masterpiece “Friday” ironically and is no longer talking to you? Oh, well. He’s got a creepy mustache anyway. The girlfriend you let in on the fact that you like dressing up like a sheep and shaving yourself while humming “Bah Bah Blacksheep” left you because that kink is, in her words, “Batshit insane”? Well, time to crawl inside of a bottle while watching reruns of Lambchop’s Playalong. You opened up to her more than Murray - she now has intimate knowledge of you and is no longer in a position to remain silent about it. That’s a breech of trust, Sheepboy, and it’s gonna haunt you.

  Really, this is nothing unusual. Except the sheep thing, you weirdo. We get mad at our friends when they abandon us because they’re privy to us at our best and at our most incredibly awful. It’s worse when the situation involves a lover because not only have they seen our ups and downs, they’ve seen us naked.

  So, why am I bringing this up? Well, because the whole ‘trust’ issue is apparently something that people still need an education on. If you want to have a proper adult relationship - you know, one that isn’t the plot of a shitty sitcom - you need to trust the other person. A relationship is, at least at this stage of existence, a partnership with evenly distributed responsibilities and expectations. If you don’t have faith that half the relationship is pulling their own weight, you probably shouldn’t be in that relationship to begin with.

  I’m not saying that you need to have the same job or income or whatever. But I am saying that both people in the relationship need to have an equal understanding of what is expected. Someone has more free time at home? Well, they can do the chores. At the moment, I happen to spend most of my days in front of a computer while my lady is working her ass off. I cook, I clean, and I pull my weight. She trusts me not to be a lazy ass, and I do my best not to disappoint.

  The point is that an adult relationship should be hinged on the fact that the person you’re choosing to spend time with is as dedicated to the whole thing as you are. If one person decides to check out, then you’re babysitting. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to maintain the more active role, but an even balance should be restored as quickly as possible.

  Where was I?

  Oh, right. Trust.

  So, cheating on one’s significant other is a pretty big deal. And it sucks. Hell, just to spread the misery around we invented a new category so more people can complain about their exes. It’s a pretty ubiquitous experience - most of my friends have or have been cheated on. It hurts, and this is certainly not an adultery-apologist argument I’m about to make, though I’m sure some have stopped reading two sentences ago, assuming I am.

  Believe me - that is certainly not the case.

  The point I’m getting at is that a huge portion of us have experience with some level of infidelity. And it can lead to lasting damage in relationships. A victim can become convinced that their relationship is doomed to failure from the very beginning while a perpetrator can either believe they can continue to behave terribly or feel so guilty that their next relationship makes them subservient and miserable. These feelings are natural - if you felt nothing at all, that would be a problem.

  The main issue here is how long one allows this to define future relationships. It makes perfect sense not to trust someone completely while you get to know them. No one really wants to be listed as an emergency contact after just one date. But, if after months or even years, you’re still under the impression that this new person is just waiting to leave you for anyone who looks at them, you probably need a little bit more time alone instead of stressing yourself and your partner out. It’s inhumane to both of you.

  Growing up, my sister was easily the best friend I had. We played through Final Fantasy II and III (or 4 and 6, so the internet won’t kill me) together and, in general, had a lot of awesome times together. Because of this, I happened to be able to relate more to girls than guys. It’s just how it happened. I’m still generally awkward around women, too, but that’s just because I’m a fairly awkward guy. Most dudes also tend to think I’m pretty weird.

  Luckily, Ashlie is fine with the fact that I have quite a few friends with vaginas (fun fact: now this column can’t be brought into the Michigan government!). Notice the adjective I used there? Luckily? I used it because I honestly think a lot of people in their twenties don’t quite enjoy the level of trust I do. In fact, I know a lot of people have to put up with an almost permanent level of suspicion, usually for something they didn’t do.

  Don’t believe me? Well, did you ever hear or say the following:

  “I trust you, I just don’t trust other people.”

  For the six of you who read this column, I’m sure you’re nodding because you’ve been the target of such a statement. Or, perhaps, you’re a little angry because you’ve said it before and meant it. Well, just to show you how silly it is, let’s look at another situation: say you’ve got a five-year-old with a fork in a room with an exposed outlet (because you’re awful at this parenting thing). Even if the kid has yet to even approach the outlet, you should probably take the fork out of their hand, because kids can be a pretty terrible combination of curious and stupid. Now, let’s say your child looks up at you and asks, “Why?”

  What is your response?

  If it’s “It’s not that I don’t trust you, I just don’t trust wall outlets,” congratulations, you are fantastically stupid. Even if you think little Billy (it’s always a Billy) is smart enough to avoid killing himself, you’d take the fork away anyway. Because he’s still a kid and you don’t trust him not to stick the fork in the outlet, goddamn.

  As absurd as I’ve hopefully made it sound, it’s still the ultimate bullshit excuse for not trusting the person you’re seeing/living with/stealing WoW characters from. You see, it makes you feel good because you’re in a totally well-adjusted relationship! And you aren’t worried about your significant other cheating on you, you’re worried about other people doing it! That makes complete sense and you’re starting to eat your shoes because you are fucking insane.

  Let’s take a look at this: if you trust someone, that means that you’re not really worried about them doing something stupid which will hurt you. You can give them your debit card and they’re not going to use it to buy porn (or maybe not too much porn). You leave your computer running and trust them to not set your hard drive on fire. If you’re like a majority of people, you are literally willing to expose your genitalia to them without fear that they’re going to do something horrible to you with a staple gun. You’ve stood in front of them, naked and unflinching. That’s trust.

  You know what’s not trust? Stopping them from going out with friends because you think they’ll be duped into having sex with someone. Getting angry because they have a professional relationship with someone you’re worried they might find attractive. And what’s even worse is trotting out that as the excuse for your behavior, because now you’re lying to their face.

  See, I don’t buy the ‘accidental sex’ theory. Yes, hormones and all that jazz. But really think about it - in the time it takes to find an appropriate location and for the necessary clothes to hit the floor, don’t you think that your partner’s brain should have hit the ‘stop’ button at some point? That’s a really big strike against your whole argument - you have to fundamentally believe that your partner’s super ego is so subservient to their id that they don’t care who they end up in coitus with. In the end, that isn’t trust - what are going to do, say “It’s not that I don’t trust you, I don’t trust your primal instinct to pass on your genetic material to the next generation”? Well... I suppose. But now you sound like you’re a step away from asking for a lobotomy.

  But let’s say I could buy into your whole notion of ‘accidental sex’ here. If someone can be somehow duped into having sex with another person, that’s sexual assault, shithead. Or, at least, it’s borderline assault. And if your pseudo-trust in your partner is as unwavering as you claim it is, then you’re basically under the impression that they are going to be held down and raped. And that’s really fucking serious. Especially considering the fact that you’ve now basically told your partner that, if they’ve been sexually assaulted, you’re going to hold it against them.

  And victim-blaming makes you a pretty terrible person, regardless of who you are.

  This column took a decidedly dark turn, so I will try to wrest this back onto the lighter side. I make no guarantees, though.

  So let’s say, after reading this, you realize you’re not in a relationship with a level of trust that allows you to not have a network of spies working to keep your partner under tabs at all times. Your first step should be to start thinking about why you’re so terrified in this relationship. Have they displayed any tendencies to wander, such as flirting with bartenders or making out with your cousin? This would be external and makes perfect sense. Or, are you just basing this on past experience with other people? If so, then these issues are internal and still make sense - but you’re not going to happy with part two. In either case, you’ll need to confront these issues.

  If it’s an external issue that is preventing you from trusting your significant other, then you need to talk about it. Notice how I didn’t say ‘confront’ here - because you don’t need to be combative. Discuss with them how their behavior makes you feel. Adults who care - the people you want to be in a relationship with - will apologize and work to stop acting in ways that make you feel bad. Assholes - otherwise known as “assholes” - will simply not care. You should take that as an indication to leave - preferably after selling their computer on Craigslist (please don’t do this because I told you to).

  If it’s an internal issue, then you need time to really evaluate what’s going on in your head. And this means time alone. For those who need it spelled out a bit more than usual - you should probably remove yourself from the situation, and yes, this means ‘taking a break’ or flat-out breaking up. Sit down, and have the conversation (or just send them a text message with a frowny-face - don’t pull some passive-bullshit “I’ma treat them mean until they do the deed for me” - trust me, it leads to a lot more problems). If you’re truly dedicated to them, remind them that you’re doing this because it’s not fair to either of you that you’re holding them accountable for another person’s crime. It may take some time, but you’re confident that you’ll come back - but you also don’t expect them to wait for the day it happens.

  It seems pretty drastic, but hear me out: if you’re constantly worried that someone is moments away from cheating, and it’s not them, you’re clearly not happy. And, if not now then soon, you’re going to start making them miserable, too. They may be the light of your life when the two of you are alone, but life is not about spending time with one person - they’re going to meet other people, and they’re going to be of their preferred gender, and they may be shockingly attractive. If you don’t trust them to come home to you not smelling of another’s sweat, every day is going to be an exercise in misery.

  I can’t stress that enough. Popular culture has flooded us with images of happy couples and fantasies about getting married young and owning electric irons and stupid stuff like that. Let me be clear on the subject: THE ONLY THINGS THAT MATTER ARE THAT YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOUR HAPPINESS DOESN’T HURT OTHERS.

  Unless, of course, you’re into S&M and you find someone else who is. Then it’s consensual. Go nuts.

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