Dear Ms. Behavior:
My boyfriend Peter and I recently saw a movie about the possible destruction of the entire planet by a comet. A small number of randomly-chosen people might be saved by being taken to an underground shelter.
During the movie, Peter whispered that he wouldn’t dream of going to the shelter if his number was chosen and mine wasn’t. He said he would rather perish with me than be saved without me. I appreciated this romantic sentiment, and it made me feel happy and loved.
The problem is that a few minutes after the movie ended, Peter changed his mind. He said that he hoped that I would go to the shelter without him if it was my only chance to live, and that he might choose to go without me as well. He thought it was the “emotionally healthy” choice. “Why should we both die?” he said.
Meanwhile, most of my friends said that they wouldn’t go without their PETS, never mind their partners. So how am I supposed to feel, knowing that Peter would blithely run off to the shelter while I suffered and died, all alone, at home?
And, does this mean that I love Peter more than he loves me?
Dear Romantic Sucker:
What delightful fun and drama! You get to experience all the emotions of a terrible loss without actually going through one.
You may be a better, more romantic person than Peter. But the question of whether you’d want to survive without each other might mean something different to each of you. To you, giving up your life to stay with your boyfriend is a symbol of devotion. But to be fair, maybe Peter is by nature a practical survivalist type (admittedly rare among gay men). To such people, loving someone is about being alive with them; death is a departure from their commitment.
“What if…” questions can be distorted. Ultimately, you should judge Peter’s level of commitment by how he acts, rather than by posing silly riddles. People sometimes offer definitive answers about what they would do in a crisis, but they’re usually only guessing or saying what they would like to do. (Ms. Behavior’s friend Veronica always swore she’d give her life to protect her partner, Jeanne. But once, when they took a shortcut through a backyard and a Doberman chased them, Veronica instinctively ran into the house and closed the door behind her, leaving Jeanne in the yard with the salivating, teeth-baring dog.)
If Peter loves you less than you love him, you’ll know it over time. You’ll eventually be forced to either accept the role of the person who loves more, or to someday leave Peter, with the hope of finding someone who can’t live if living is without you.
Maybe Peter’s definition of “emotionally healthy” has been influenced by the damaging Anti-Enabler Movement. If so, maybe Peter secretly wants to die with you or even for you but struggles against his feelings because he’s been told they’re wrong. Active enablers are the best partners in the world because they never underestimate your worth, and they always put your pleasure and comfort before their own. Recovering enablers, on the other hand, are annoying. They are taught that concern for other people is dangerous. They feel safest reciting the magical anti-codependency mantra: “ME, ME, ME. It’s all about ME.”
Luring a recovering enabler back to his old ways, however, is as easy as slipping a new non-smoker a Marlboro. In this case, a little concentrated deprogramming followed by temporary withdrawal of your love would quickly remind Peter that he is nothing without you.
A final word of caution: Ms. Behavior suspects that you’re the kind of person who might be tempted to regularly pose terrible, unanswerable dilemmas. So, to save you further trauma, the following is a list of questions never to ask your partner:
—”Do you love me more than you’ve loved anyone else you’ve ever been with?”
— “If I died, how long would it be before you started dating someone else?”
—“Who’s more attractive, me or Ryan Gosling?”
—“If I were in prison for a year, would you be faithful to me?”
—”How about three years?”
—”If you, me, and your mother were in a sinking boat, and there were only two life jackets, who would you give them to?”
© 2012 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.