Modern Love: The Fear of Surrendering Again — Modern Love

March 22nd, 2013

I pay $ 189 a month ($ 2,268 a year) for my Single Girl’s Starter Kit. My Single Girl’s Starter Kit is a storage facility I keep in Brooklyn. I recently moved in with my boyfriend of seven years. Giving up my low-rent apartment in Park Slope is as serious a commitment as I’ve ever made to any human being.

In my starter kit, I have: one single girl’s bed, one set of flannel sheets, one pillow, my grandmother’s afghan, one each of various kitchen utensils, one tool kit, one ladder and one box of love letters from past admirers. Everything I’ll need in case my boyfriend and I ever break up. My Single Girl’s Starter Kit is the opposite of a hope chest.

Friends’ reactions to the starter kit fall into two camps. There are those who praise me for my prudence. “You’re smart,” they say. Then they tell me a story about a girl who was not so smart, who found herself alone in the cold, dark city without the skills and supplies she needed. They concede that the vagaries of romantic love necessitate insurance.

Then there are those who are mildly judgmental or flat-out opposed.

“He’s not the one,” one friend concluded. “If he was, you’d let go of that ladder.”

“It just might be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” another warned.

I was schooled on love by “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” At 5, I knew all the words to “I Got You Babe.” I crooned the lyrics in the bathtub surrounded by my toy boats and Crazy Foam. When I was 15, Sonny and Cher divorced, leaving Chastity in the fray. And nothing was sadder than watching Cher’s wooden performance of their signature song on a late-night talk show years after they broke up.

My boyfriend makes me oatmeal in the mornings. He adds bananas and walnuts and milk, and he brings it to me in bed. He places fresh coffee on the night stand. When I come home from work, he is in the kitchen making supper after having worked all day himself. He greets me with a spoon, asking me to taste his latest concoction. Curry. Chocolate. Anchovies.

We play toss with our cat’s stuffed mouse, and the cat runs between us. I walk past my boyfriend in our living room, and he reaches out to squeeze me appreciatively. He has a belly laugh that makes me want to stay with him for the rest of my life.

And yet…

In the span of 30 years of serial monogamy, dodging in and out of one serious relationship after the next, I have always planned for the end from the beginning. Marveled as people around me married. Watched in awe as they vowed to spend their whole lives together. Regarded them in the same way I regard snake handlers, sword swallowers, beekeepers and Philippe Petit, the man who walked the wire extended between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

My grandfather left my grandmother to run off and join the circus. Seriously. He would drift back into the marriage whenever the circus came to town. She moved seven times to leave him, but always he would find her. She hated him the way a woman hates a man she loves.

Her Single Girl’s Starter Kit was provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. When her furniture was put out on the street, she ran to the church, and they provided her with money to secure another apartment for her and her four daughters. My grandmother knew how to rewire a lamp, secure a bed from bed bugs, fix a leaky toilet and make meals out of flour, potatoes and lard.

When my mother chose a husband, she rejected all the Boston Irish boys at the corner with wanderlust who played the numbers, and chose a soft-spoken Hoosier who was mesmerized by her red hair. When, in the throes of a midlife crisis, he left her for another woman, it was only the sound of the other shoe dropping.

At 50, she had to take up shoveling and wrestle trash barrels, free the bird that was trapped in the cellar, lay traps for mice and make her own cup of tea in the morning. All the things he had done for her. She had to start to do them again.

Julia Anne Miller is a writer in New York City.

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