A Byzantine blueprint of the baffling byways of being intimate

“Gosh, Eric, what a romantic walk around the park. It’s so beautiful with all the stars out and the new-fallen snow. It’s so nice to be able to spend this time together. Thanks for suggesting it.”

“I had a great time, too, Cindy. I love you.”

“Whoa there cowboy. Back up a minute. What did you just say?”

“Err . . . I said I had a great time?”

“Nonono, Eric, after that.”

“Um, that I love you?”

“Now why would you say a thing like that?”

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“It just came out, Cindy. You were talking about romance and stars and stuff, and it just seemed like the right thing to say.”

“Hold on a second. I’m just having a hard time interpreting what sort of message I’m supposed to be getting here. By saying that you ‘love’ me after I was talking about things being romantic, are you trying to insinuate that somehow your commitment to this relationship is greater than my own? Is that what you’re saying Eric? That whereas I’m merely being led astray by a mirage of romantic ideals, your motivation come from some primal, visceral sense of love itself whose purity and integrity I can never truly grasp?”

“No, Cindy, not at all. I was just saying that-“

“I have given so much to this relationship, Eric! Like, remember that time when I had you stay up until 4 a.m. drawing up that emotional flowchart to help you distinguish and prioritize your wants and needs?”

“Yeah, I remember that.”

“Or the time that I made you develop that three-hour pantomime which expressed nonverbally the key factors constituting your appreciation of me as a person who plays a role essential to your own process of formulating trust, acceptance and self-concept definition. Do you remember that?”

“I do.”

“Or the time that I made you quit your rock band so that you would have the time and presence of mind to truly focus on our mutual needs? Do you think that was easy for me to do?”

“No, of course not, Cindy!”

“Good, because it wasn’t. It’s hard work being your romantic partner, Eric, and I just don’t see why I should suddenly be criticized like this!”

“I . . . but I wasn’t criticizing you, Cindy, I was just telling you that I love-“

“I know what you said, Eric, there’s really no need to repeat it. I just want you to know that you’re really putting me on the spot here. I think it’s time to put our relationship on hiatus.”

“But our relationship was just on hiatus for three weeks, Cindy!”

“It was not! Our relationship was on a probationary distancing period! That is totally different from hiatus! Didn’t you even read the revised set of relationship guidelines I emailed you?”

“I’m sorry, Cindy. The attachment was seven megabytes. My PC couldn’t handle it.”

“Man, sometimes I really wonder what it is that’s really important to you, Eric. A hiatus is more serious than a probationary distancing period, but not quite as severe as a trial separation. Essentially during the hiatus we’re not allowed to see each other but you’re required to write me three e-mails a week, no more and no less, of seven hundred words per e-mail, each one exploring a different thing you value in our relationship. At the end of the week I’ll rate your e-mails on a 100-point scale based on criteria of honesty, reflectiveness and personal insight, and if you get sufficient points then we’ll progress the relationship back through the seven stages of intimacy reintroduction. However, if at any point I feel that you’re carrying out any sort of hidden agenda or posing a trust-risk for me, I have the right to re-instigate the hiatus process at stage one. Is that clear, Eric?”

“Crystal clear, Cindy.”

“Good. For our sake, I hope you’re up to this, because for me meeting the goals and desired outcomes of this relationship within the predefined parameters mutually agreed on by the two of us is my absolute number one priority, and I’d hate to see it all fall apart just because of something stupid you said.”

“I would, too, Cindy. This relationship is important to me to because I love . . .”

“You what?”

“Err, I mean, because I value the bond of mutual trust and communication we’ve established together.”

“Oh, Eric, you’re such a wonderful guy. I just wish you weren’t so complicated.”