By Leigh Newman
Photo: Thinkstock1. He teaches you how to fill out your Schedule C without gnashing his teeth...or breaking his computer.
Back in the late '90s, when my then-boyfriend, Lawrence, and I were dating, he considered my tax-preparation methodology upsetting, but almost wondrously so--a kind of Grand Canyon of incompetency. A few years into our marriage, he decided to help. He put the computer in a closet, so as not to break it in rage, as had happened when he tried to teach me to budget. He spoke slowly, but not so slowly that I suspected he was patronizing me. He explained his reasons behind every single action I had to take (I am unable to do anything unless I understand the why), and he provided a lot of potato chips (I am also unable to do anything unless fed, watered and salted). By the end of the night, I had completed a respectable 1099 and gained a sense of being understood, down to my weaknesses (details, forms, numbers, rules and small print). A feeling, which was--and still is--crucial. Because having your partner help you with your strengths so rarely determines the fate of your relationship. It's having your partner's help where you need improvement--if not patience--that proves how far your partner is willing to go with you, which may even be all the way to item 38, line 42, subsection A, B or C.
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2. You text him a lot, but he doesn't text you.
You ping your beloved on the bus ride to work, after your first cup of coffee, as soon as you start up your computer and 23 other seemingly crucial times a day. He, on the other hand, sends you a brief, "What's up?," at 5 p.m. An untrained observer might conclude that he's not that attached--but hold on. A recent study at Brigham Young University found that the less men texted, the higher their levels of romantic satisfaction. One possible reason, the researchers concluded in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, was that when men are happy with their relationship, they tend to talk with their partners more (and thus need fewer reasons to text), whereas when they're unhappy, they text more in order to avoid face-to-face interactions. Women, however, feel more connected the more they text. So go head, message him that picture of the dustball under your desk that looks kind of, almost like Ryan Gosling.
3. He takes you to meet his burrito man.
Should, after several years of romance that may or may not be leading to engagement, your boyfriend request that you meet him at a Tex-Mex takeout joint at 6 p.m., please go. This is what might happen (and, in my case, did happen): You will enter the steamy establishment. Your boyfriend will be there, as will an older, plump gentleman behind the counter. Your boyfriend will say, "Juan, this is Leigh." Then he will say, "Leigh, this is Juan." Juan will nod your way, as your boyfriend and you leave--but do not mistake the import of this slightly confusing, seemingly superficial interaction. Your boyfriend eats here five nights out of seven. Your boyfriend wants you to meet the guy who keeps him alive via astonishing amounts of beans and cheese. Your boyfriend is going to go back the next night and talk about you with Juan--as he will the night after and the night after that. Because you are his girlfriend and he wants the key players in his day-to-day--who are usually not his mother, grandmother or first-grade teacher, all of whom you will meet later--to know. (Replace burrito man with bus driver, veterinarian, lady who lives down the hall or precocious but dorky kid next door, as needed).
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4. You take him to the land of no toilets.
So much of long-term love is risk. Such as, taking him to the land of no toilets, also known as the Sahara desert on the border between Libya and Tunisia (when the one thing he loves is plumbing, first thing in the morning). Or taking him to the land of your funny, crazy, machine-gun-loving cousins (when what he doesn't love are firearms). A trip of such obstacles is too much trouble to take without knowing the outcome beforehand. So, what you're really doing is taking him to a place that is far, far, far outside his comfort zone and showing him that you trust him to behave as if he were right at home--or to fake it sufficiently so that you two can get through the discomfort together.
5. The two of you hold hands during an ad hoc photography lecture.
Most of you have read how holding hands stimulates the release of oxytocin (also known as the love hormone). Such a natural chemical boost is wonderful--and certainly a reason to press palms together at a dinner party while the guy at the head of the table begins to refresh everyone's memory on the history of the photograph, starting with the invention of the process of taking a photo and continuing on to pixels. A little extra affection makes any snoozefest more endurable, after all. But if you find that you're holding hands not just during boring lectures, but also during boring TV shows and boring long drives to visit Aunt Penny, forget your body's biochemical response. The takeaway here is that holding hands is your default position. It's what the two of you do when you're not thinking--or overthinking--but instead are just being together.
Leigh Newman is the deputy editor at Oprah.com and the author of Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown Up World, One Long Journey Home.
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