When I first met my boyfriend, I was still trying to figure out who he was. Not like, the LinkedIn resume version of knowing. I knew he’s French, is close to his sister and loves photography. I knew that he doesn’t care for olives and that his favorite sport to watch is soccer. I mean football, sorry (cue eye-roll). Facts. Facts that he tells me that aren’t in any urgent need for proof. Facts that I accept at face value like when you buy a children’s ice-cream maker and the box tells you confidently, proudly that it comes with batteries.
But what I’m talking about are the things only time will prove true. Things that only time will reveal to be one-off quirks or habit. Things he claims to be true of himself that time and only time will bear witness to.
Within a few months, I learned that when he gets stressed, he runs a nail-bitten hand through his greying hair. I learned that when he starts talking about photography or drones, I could probably spontaneously combust next to him and he wouldn’t notice. But I also learned that when he tells me he misses me, he means it and he’s not one to feign emotion. Which also means I learned that he will always tell me what he thinks even if he knows it could hurt.
An obsessive-compulsive check-lister, I almost plan just so I could check things off. He, I learned with time, is not the same. And unlike my previous boyfriend who cringed at the idea of making plans further out than the next week lest he fails to follow through, this one talks a big game. “Let’s go have a picnic after you get off work tonight!” he says. So I unearth an old bed sheet to serve as our picnic blanket and take it to the car. I plan to meet him at the mall where we will get groceries, cheese, wine, the like. I arrive fifteen minutes earlier than we said we’d meet. He’s fifteen minutes late, per usual. By the time he arrives, he announces, “I’m hungry, let’s just shop and eat in the mall instead.” Disappointment ensues. But in time I will learn that it was not an isolated incident, that he’s great at speaking his mind, sharing what he hopes to do, but not so great at the execution unless tied and tethered and threatened with consequence.
And so you learn these things. Things you don’t find under “Skills” on their CV, nor in your first flirtatious conversation where you thought you covered every topic the world has to offer (how you ended up talking about Tolstoy’s hair you’ll never know). You do not learn them during Week One when you’re both still so infatuated that your worlds revolve around each other and the rest fall into the periphery. You don’t learn them that one time something happens three months in and you find yourself wondering if it’s a big deal or if it’ll happen so often that in ten years you’ll wave it off as that “thing” he does.
When I told my best friend that my boyfriend said “I love you” a week into dating, she warned, “It’s great that he feels that way, but he probably doesn’t know what those words really mean yet.” I brushed her off as a cynic but those words ring true. Because at Week One those words are merely an empty promise. It is when we fight about depression and decisions, when we piss each other off and say things we don’t mean and still choose not to walk away that those words start to mean something. It’s when he tells me he’ll “never” or that he’ll “always” and each time the occasion arises, he doesn’t or he does that those words begin to earn stripes. You learn whether “always” means always or actually more like “only-when-I’m-in-a-good-mood” or whether “never” means never or really just “haven’t-so-far.”
I guess it’s only after you bring it home that you figure out if the ice-cream maker indeed comes with batteries. Does it even work? If it does, does the churner give out after a few spins? And does it really make ice cream or some sort of gooey, cold Play-doh puddle? But perhaps more importantly is the million-dollar question your parents ask whenever they buy you the toy—how often will you play with it? Well, I guess only time will tell if it’ll become your favorite toy, one you cling onto through dozens of garage sales or if it’ll become the next casualty to be stuffed in a closet and replaced in a month. But you won’t know unless you first choose to believe it could, in fact, make ice cream. And we all know ice cream is the key to happiness. That, my friend, is the undeniable truth. #Facts.