The term by which you refer to him – The Boyfriend – is so revealing. “Can’t talk now, I’m Skyping The Boyfriend.” Not once have I heard you speak of him by his first name, though you’ve been dating long enough for us to be familiar with it. He is generic, unspecific, merely a placeholder in your life for what you think you need to have. He could go on any teenage girl’s dream list of her life checklist: high school, college, boyfriend, husband, job, family – just fill in the blanks with the names and titles. You don’t love him; you love the idea of what he offers you – the ability to be A Girlfriend. In this way, you both can be the hollow figurines on top of the wedding cake, a real life Ken and Barbie, the formulaic Happy (more on that later) Couple you’d been waiting 18 years to become one half of.
He was a hillbilly with a neck beard, not even in the honors program at your less-than-academic university, and his Facebook page reeked of douchebaggery and shallowness. When you told us proudly of his joy after receiving your “perfect” birthday present, a fancy bottle of Grey Goose, I realized that he was not for you. Your ideal boy would have wanted a collectors’ edition of the Star Trek series or a Batman lunchbox, not some meaningless gift that pertained to no aspect of his personality other than his manifest alcoholism. Though I knew your nerdy tendencies craved a boy fit to volley witty wisecracks, challenge your interpretations of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” critique Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with you – needs that this boy simply could not meet – I figured he’d serve as a set of training wheels for just a bit to build up your confidence until you could move on to someone better for you. However, the weeks turned into months and you got caught in the sugary trap of his “babe”s and “you’re-so-beautiful”s that lacked any nutritional value but sure tasted good to someone who’d never before experienced such honey.
Then came the point that is inevitable in a relationship when one partner is more independent, attractive, and strong – he became jealous. He would ditch you to play pong with the boys, but when you went to a party with your girls, he guilted you about leaving him alone, worried that you were unchaperoned around lustful frat boys, and wouldn’t it just be nicer to stay in so you could give him a blow job instead?
You’d send me periodic messages like, “I just realized I’m dating a jackass again” after fights and joke about starring in the next Google commercial about a girl who feuds with her boyfriend, collapses on her bed in tears, and looks up “How to make Jell-O shots,” though it felt too genuine for me to find funny. You first promised to give the relationship an “expiration date,” saying you would break up with him by September, then you talked about a “communication date” to see how things were going and have a realistic conversation about how you felt, and then meekly said it’s better to not pester him about your problems or the future because things were going okay and why mess things up?
You fought when he casually started to say, “When we’re married…” and you felt trapped because at age 20, what do you know about marriage plans? He offered an ultimatum: either promise you’d marry him or he’d break up with you. You felt too guilty to take the perfect (and reasonable) out, the opportunity to finally end this farce of a relationship that at this point smelled like sour milk, afraid that your hurting him would give him “trust issues” and never allow him to love again. He apologized. You, feeling like you were making him a better person, accepted. You compromised, promising to consider it.
The one-year anniversary of your first “expiration date” has arrived. I haven’t heard from you much recently. Throughout our friendship, you were the one to wipe my tears, tell me it would all be okay, and tell me when I needed to get my act together. When I was the first of our friends to lose my virginity, you were there to drive around the city with me on a Sunday morning looking for an open clinic or pharmacy that would sell an underage girl Plan B after the condom broke. You stayed sober the first time I decided to get drunk, knowing I was probably going to be a mess – and several hours later, you were there to hold back my hair and change the sheets after I threw up in them. I’m at a loss for what to do now that our roles are reversed and you seem to be the one making the mistakes.
My dear, we’ve both grown up. I’m now old enough to buy my own Plan B and am no longer afraid to do it alone. I’ve thrown up enough times to remember to put a hair tie on my wrist before I go out. By this point in our lives, I think we’re also sensible enough to know that the spoiled milk won’t go away if we avoid cleaning out the refrigerator. Expiration dates exist for a reason, and if you get sick, I can’t be there to hold back your hair this time.