10 November 2011

The Golden Rule

Everyone’s heard of the golden rule. On one of my favorite shows, *How I Met Your Mother*, the talented N.P.H. plays a hilarious womanizer, Barney, who develops what he calls “the platinum rule.” Essentially, it forbids dating anyone you won’t be able to get away from when you want to; in this episode, specific examples included a neighbor, a waitress at a favorite watering hole, and a coworker. This year, I broke the platinum rule for the latter.

I’ve been at my current company for four years, and Don (to use his *HIMYM* pseudonym) was hired about two years ago. To be honest, through my first interactions with him, I thought he was kind of a dick. I always force myself to smile and greet everyone happily, whether it’s Monday or I’m hungover or I’m generally hating life; Don makes no pretense of this sort. All of my sunny “Good morning!”s were met with the tiniest of head nods in my direction, and that’s it. So when he showed up at a small happy hour get-together a year after he was hired, I almost fell off my bar stool in shock. And when, a few months later, he started chatting me up at a company party, I was flabbergasted—but also pleasantly surprised. We shared a love of ridiculous viral YouTube videos, listened to the same bands, and had both taken a stab at vegetarianism. Before I knew what was happening, we’d spent a great night in each other’s company—and I wanted more.

And so the courtship began, even though the platinum rule was firmly implanted in the back of my mind. The thing was, I had such a great connection with this guy—I couldn’t let the fact that we worked together ruin that. We’re in different departments, I told myself; I don’t have to see him at work that often anyway. If things don’t work out, it’ll be fine.

Famous last words.

At first we just exchanged inter-office e-mails, and then phone numbers. Our first date was fantastic, and we met each other’s friends and families within weeks. Things were progressing quickly, which made me a little panicky, but I was head over heels, a feeling that overrode most logical hesitation. But when I started feeling the urge to say the L-word, I firmly resisted. We’d only been dating a month; it was way too soon to up the ante like that.

Until Don decided to go all in. I went to his house one night, and he was breathing like he had run a marathon. “I have to tell you something,” he said, wringing his hands. At first, I thought he was going to tell me he’d hooked up with someone else. Au contraire: not only did he drop the L-bomb, but followed with a litany of other declarations—that he thinks about me all the time, that he can’t imagine anyone more right for him than me, and other vomit-inducing sentiments. Only instead of vomiting, I gobbled it right up. Now that he had given my feelings validation by mirroring them, I completely gave in to them. We were in love. (Imagine Will Ferrell screaming this in the boardroom in *Anchorman*.)

Things were so blissful that we started using future tense verbs. One Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on the deck in my mother’s backyard, talking to Don on the phone. He was telling me about visiting his favorite high school teacher, who was battling cancer. The conversation shifted to people in our families who had had the disease; my father and three grandparents all lost their battles with it, as did a few of Don’s kin. “Well,” I said, “I’m pretty sure cancer’s going to get me, too, with my history.” “Yeah,” he responded, “me, too. I just hope we both get sick around the same time so neither of us has to live without the other for too long.” I can’t explain why I didn’t throw my cell to the ground and stomp on it in revulsion. I guess, without fully realizing it, I had accepted that both of us knew that we wanted to be together for good, even though it was a completely irrational feeling to have less than two months into the relationship.

But, as Barney warns us, when you break the platinum rule, there is a moment that things start to turn ugly. That moment came just a week later. I had bought Don tickets to see his favorite band of all time—a band he had never seen live before—but the day of the event, he cancelled because he was too tired. At eight thirty at night. On a Saturday. His favorite band. Although I was upset and disappointed, I tried to view it as an isolated incident and move on.

But it wasn’t isolated. The next few weeks were marked by more flakiness and an increasingly consistent bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. When Don called to cancel our plans for the third time since the concert, I couldn’t let it go. “Listen,” I began, “things used to be really awesome with us, and lately they’ve been pretty shitty. Any chance of us getting back into the groove of awesomeness?”

“I know,” he said. “I’m really sorry. I’ve just been thinking a lot lately. It’s just a weird spot.”

Do I smell a breakup conversation? “Yeah,” I pushed, “I’m not really sure why things changed, but they definitely feel different.”

“I know, I’m really fucked up. I just don’t think I was ready for things to move this quickly.” Was he crying? “I’ve been looking for someone like you for a long time, but I just don’t see myself with you long term.” Yup, those were definitely sobs. “I fell in love with you, and so did my family, and that’s what makes this so hard. I’m really sorry.”

I did a quick recap in my spinning head. So, he professes his love for me, tells me he hopes we kick the bucket simultaneously, and then says he doesn’t see a future with me? All within a matter of weeks? Huh?

I got off the phone as quickly as I could, since there was clearly nothing more to say. The typical breakup recovery period ensued—spending a few days in bed watching 80s movies and reruns of *Lost*, reconfiguring the food pyramid so that the foundation consists of Ketel One and Haagen Dazs, and getting completely sluttified for a night on the town with friends, drunkenly crying in one of the bar’s bathroom stalls, and making out with a guy with a mustache.

Thus ended the most confusing relationship I’ve ever had. The first time I ran into Don at work post-breakup, his eyes suddenly became very itchy. The second time, I must have been wearing clothing that perfectly matched the paint on the wall, serving as camouflage. But the third time, I was upgraded to his standard head nod. Lucky me.

Point of the conversation: If you absolutely must shit where you eat, go right ahead. Just make sure you have a strong olfactory resistance to deal with the shithead for 40 hours a week when things go down the shitter.

- Ess Bee

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