Disrupting Domesticity is a new column recounting the innumerable lessons learned and mistakes made when two young lovers decide to shack up for the first time in their lives. It will publish on alternate Wednesdays on The Butter. You will be able to read all future installments here.
Just as the pilot landed at JFK, I pressed the little airplane on my phone to wake it up. I’m still trying to figure out how healthy it is to love that moment when notifications flood your screen. Being 30,000 feet in the air didn’t stop anyone from wanting or needing me. That has to mean something important, right? If it doesn’t, I’m not sure I want to know.
There were fourteen brand-new lime green texts, and the last was from my partner, Kelly. We’d already discussed that he wouldn’t be home when I returned from Austin, so I assumed he was reminding me. He wrote, “There will be taco salad in the fridge when you get home. Mexican Coke too.” God, I love it when he makes taco salad. The Irish woman I’d been chatting with for the last two hours of my flight leaned toward me and said, “What’s with the grin?” Was I grinning? I hadn’t noticed. Unfortunately, noticing it only made it bigger. I didn’t think I could tell her why I was smiling without it sounding like I was bragging, so I just said, “A sweet text.” I responded to his message, “Marry me?” Then I sat back and waited to be let off the plane.
Before we started cohabitating, three months before he sent this text, I was certain I would be the more nurturing half of this relationship. I have a history of taking care of people. I’m the oldest of four children, and my mother is a single parent. In college, friends and roommates often ended up sleeping over in my bed when they were sad or lonely. I’m known for my hugs. Kelly was raised by the most loving, attentive, and encouraging people you’ve ever met. In college, he had one best friend who he was very obviously close to, and he kept everyone else at arms’ length. Kelly is known for talking with hands while looking at you over the top of his glasses. Clearly, I sound like the more thoughtful partner.
Right before Kelly moved in, while we were home for Christmas, we both caught strep throat. My fever hit first and I was sick for about 36 hours. Kelly used that time to hang out with his dad and buddies, and let his mother care for me. His mother is lovely, but I still thought to myself, this is how it will be, isn’t it? Can I be with someone who can’t take care of me when I’m sick? Just as my fever broke, he laid in bed racked with chills. I went into full nurture mode. For four days, I changed the sheets every 12 hours because he sweated through them. I monitored his temperature, made sure he was taking his medicine on time, and fed him. One particularly terrible night ended with me putting him in the shower, then going back into the guest room to clean his vomit out of the carpet and his mother’s drapes. I wanted a fucking badge.
After that horrid experience, I returned to New York with Kelly in tow. We officially lived together. Part of me was still wringing my hands about how our bout with strep had just gone. It wasn’t enough to put the brakes on the move, but it was cause for concern. At this point in my life, I didn’t need or want another relationship where I would be the primary caregiver. I wanted a partner. If Kelly couldn’t or refused to be that for me, I didn’t know how we’d make it. But something happened after he moved in.
It had been years since college, and despite how he behaved when I was ill, it seemed Kelly had grown up. Like, really grown up. He began cooking dinner for us almost every night, and breakfast for me almost every morning because I kind of never stop working. He made sure our laundry got washed, folded it correctly, and put it away as soon as it was done. I’m not gross, but I’m not the tidiest person in the world, so his constant picking-up made me self-conscious. I raised an eyebrow at him. “When did you get so…clean?”
What I wanted to ask was when did you get so much better at this than me? Some days, he even picked up my favorite ginger beer before I got home, just because he knew it would make me happy. I was shocked, and thrilled, and excited, and…jealous? I couldn’t keep up with his thoughtfulness, and somehow, I’d turned that into a problem. My problem. Is this what it’s like? Will I always feel this unworthy of him?
One morning, after he brought me a cup of tea while I was reading, I grabbed Kelly’s hand and said, “Do you feel loved enough?” He looked at me like it was a trick question. I’m not sure it wasn’t. He shrugged. “Well, yeah. I know you love me.” Being who I am (a neurotic highly-emotional wordsmith), I didn’t find that answer satisfying. “I know you know I love you, but do you feel it?” Kelly narrowed his eyes and sat beside me on the couch. “What’s wrong, Ashley?”
Then it all came out. I told him how he was knocking me on my ass with all this kindness. I felt like I was losing a race, like he was racking up points and I was always getting to the same place half a second too late. He listened patiently before peering at me over the top of his glasses and saying, “Ashley, we’re on the same team. You don’t score points against someone on the same damn team.” He said it with authority, and warmth, and I believed him.
Cut to me getting home from Austin this evening about an hour after he’d left, my phone still buried in the bottom of my purse, and that sweet text still buried behind my subconscious grinning. I put on on a t-shirt and sweats, then skipped toward the kitchen with one thing on my mind: taco salad. I fixed myself a heaping bowl then sat down to enjoy what someone who loved me made because he wants me to be happy. I was careful to clean up after myself, washing my dishes as soon as I was done with them, not leaving cords and papers everywhere. I didn’t have to, but I know he thrives better in a less cluttered environment. That’s what matters. I’m not being thoughtful because I want to be the one who’s “better at it.” I’m doing it because he’s my partner, I want him to be happy, and he’d do it for me.
Basically, I’m on the right fucking team.
Ashley Ford does cool things at the Harnisch Foundation during the day. She's a former staff writer at BuzzFeed.com and a current serious yacht rock enthusiast. She’s also working on writing a book (or two). Born and raised in Indiana, Ford now resides in Brooklyn, where a good Sunday means a long walk in Prospect Park with her boyfriend, Kelly. A GREAT Sunday includes a doughnut.