12 Relationship Poltergeists (and How to Get Them the Hell Out of Your House)
The toothbrush is obvious—you get it out of there as soon as an ex first becomes an ex. But what about the indestructible spider plant you grew from his clippings, or the packet of curry you bought together for that recipe you never ended up trying? Or that box of ironic-but-not-completely Christmas ornaments he picked up from the Goodwill that you can't quite explain your inability to eBay away? While we all have the right to indulge in moments of wistfulness for the past (which memory so often sugar-coats), just remember, there's a reason why you two never ended up making that curry. So to speak.
The I-Can't-Believe-He-Said-That Thing He Said
So once—once—your spouse said, in a moment of madness, "Yes, yes I suppose your butt is, uh, slightly larger than Gisele's. But so what? I like it." Or else he happened to mention, late at night, after being severely overserved: "My friends all wanted me to marry her." You'd be forgiven for reading into it—well, if he said it once does that mean it's just been there in his mind waiting to bubble up to the surface?!—but if it's truly only come up once, consider this a moment of demonic possession, the voice not his own—and don't give it power it doesn't really deserve.
The Running Toilet of Eternal Despair
Every long-term relationship has that mysterious hinge, when the "How could he ever annoy me?" of new love turns into the "What about him isn't annoying?" of familiarity. So while you may think that some never-done household chore—the loose banister knob that comes off in your hand every time you go upstairs, the forever-running toilet your guests think is a babbling-brook sound machine—is the one thing keeping your household from peaceful equilibrium, consider that it might just be the receptacle of all your life frustrations. There's an easy solution: a handyman. If that's not possible, resolve to treat your partner with the patience and politeness you would a handyman you wanted to keep in your employ.
Ghosts in the Google
Internet-search histories are the new journals: You don't look at someone else's, and if you do (unless you've uncovered some illegal nefarious scheme), you are not allowed to be upset by what you've found. Relevant search terms: None / of / your / beeswax.
Next: The holiday spirit that prevents everyone from getting into the holiday spirit
The old argument about where you are going to spend the holidays is a sneaky one. It appears to be a simple matter of logistics, but in truth, this yearly conversation is, like any talks regarding wedding planning, baby naming or date-night movie selection, secretly symbolic. How can he say he wants to skip your family's traditional Fourth of July picnic because it's inconveniently scheduled on, you know, Fourth of July? (Subtext: WHY DOES HE HATE YOUR MOTHER?) Or conversely, how could you have suggested that you didn't want to referee his family's annual political debate over Christmas ham? (Subtext: WHY DO YOU HATE HIS MOTHER?) Do both of yourselves a favor and try to stop obsessing about why he won't just be a sport and eat Aunt Agatha's marshmallow-fluff salad. His feelings about your extended family are not his feelings for you. After all, he has chosen to be with you—not Aunt Agatha.
The Talking Box in the Bedroom
If the voice you hear most often in bed is Piers Morgan's, it's time to reconsider the placement of your television. You don't need ghosts and static for that particular box to fry a couple.
The Ill-Fated "Cowgirl Surprise"
It was a dark and stormy night. You shared a bottle of wine and an article suggesting wild-sex advice, which you giggled over...and then decided to try. And [ominous thunder clap!] it didn't work out so well. You wisely never tried it again, though you still recoil at the memory. But nothing can kill a sex life like lingering embarrassment, especially if it puts a damper on any further adventurousness. Can you laugh about it? No? Huh. Can you remind yourself that you lived through it, you're still together and that at least it will never be that bad ever again? For heaven's sake, try.
Your Younger-You's Disapproving Glare
"I'm never getting married!"
"I'll never drive a minivan!"
"We'll always go out every night—and have sex every day!"
—Selected from The Finest Quotes of Younger You
We all want to stay true to ourselves. Of course we do. But it's okay if the "yourself" you're staying true to has changed. When you were 20, you thought you'd take a bucket-list trip every year and have enlightening conversations about the meaning of life at every dinner (each one of which would be life-changing-ly delicious and exotic). If the 40-year-old you is happy, then don't let 20-year-old hold you hostage. No offense, but 20-year-old you was so...20 years ago.
Next: The shoes you'll never wear again
Whether your relationship began in the previous millennium or last week, it's inevitable: Unless you're vampires (in which case, you probably have a whole other set of issues), you're both older now. Things have been lost: Your ability to wear sexy-lady stilettos without whining about your bone spurs; the bid on the exact-right house that would have been the exact-right backdrop for your exact-right family (not that you're pregnant yet); the I'll-live-forever confidence that fueled your carefree bike rides together (before a car door knocked the wind out of you, as well as your fearlessness). It's okay to look back with gentle longing. But if you're obsessing over the path not taken, take a moment to ask yourself if this backwards glancing is helpful in any way. Chances are, it's not.
The Cobwebs in Your Bank Account
Many of us are haunted by financial secrets. Whether it's a savings account that exists only in imagination, a monster credit-card debt looming from the past or even secret money fantasies (e.g., financial security is your main priority, but you haven't worked up the nerve to admit this to your free-spirited aspiring-artist boyfriend), this is probably the top conversation you're not having but need to. No one wants to talk about money. But not talking about it doesn't make it go away.
The Pickle Fork of Love
Add this to pickle forks, baby-wipes warmers and upside-down mortgages on the "List of Things No One Needs": The thought that he may want to get back together with his ex. They broke up. And now he's with you. The end.
The Perfect Woman
We know, we know, you're almost perfect. You can imagine the perfect you. She's a lot like real you, except just a touch perfecter. She effortlessly balances her stellar career and social life, puts her partner and family first and every night finds time to make an interesting and healthful dinner, spotlessly clean her home, talk to her mother, knit a baby hat for a friend, run three miles, read a novel and, of course, get enough sleep so that she can be that same stellar self in the morning. She would be the perfect partner. And so many of us fall into her wily trap, trying to become her and in the process driving ourselves—and everyone else—crazy. Here's the thing about Perfect Woman: She's boring. She makes everyone feel bad for not being as perfect as she is. And besides, too much self-sacrifice doesn't actually make a woman perfect; in practice, it makes her frantic. Does your partner want to spend eternity with a frantic woman? More importantly, do you? Didn't think so.
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