Just as a style editor is supposed to be well dressed and a beauty editor is supposed to have nice skin, as a relationships editor, I’m supposed to have the answers when it comes to love. Right?
But despite the research and interviewing I’ve done on the subject, I’m unable to shake a lingering paranoia that I’ll end up living the cliché of the relationships editor who can’t hold down a man.
Now’s probably a good time to mention that I’m kind of a control freak. I don’t like surprises. Which is inconvenient because life, and matters of the heart, tend to never go as planned. Since I have yet to find a working crystal ball, I spend a lot of time analyzing (worrying about) what could go wrong.
So when I got the opportunity to chat with renowned dating coach Lauren Frances (A-listers Kate Walsh and Mark Ruffalo are among her fans), I jumped at the chance for some one-on-one assistance (and perhaps a much-needed pep talk).
I met Lauren at her Beverly Hills-adjacent bungalow, and she led me into her living room, which smelled faintly of Indian curry and incense. With her dark hair swept up halfway and black wrap dress showcasing her curves, she’s both elegant and ageless. And wonderfully easy to talk to. After she swiftly brought me a glass of water and curled up in an oversize chair, I switched on my tape reorder, and we began an excited discussion of relationship philosophy.
Given that I’m in my late twenties and have been with my boyfriend, Greg, almost two years, and Lauren typically works with single women in their thirties and forties, I wasn’t her usual client. But because of my proactive (obsessive?) approach to relationships, I was immediately attracted to her attitude: She encourages her clients to discover a “vision of love” for their lives, advising them to only go after men who will help them achieve it. (“If you want to get married and create a family within the next year, then everybody you’re dating should be someone on board with your romantic goals,” she says.) She then gives women “love scripts” with which they can perform “romantic negotiation” with potential suitors in order to get what they want.
Lauren encourages women to shake themselves out of what she calls the “sleeping beauty syndrome” and take charge of their love lives. She believes the “current courtship model is really about women being unconscious,” and she sees many women going through the motions of a relationship “hoping that if they’re pretty enough and hot enough in bed, or whatever, the guy will want to marry them.”
When she asked me about my romantic situation, I threw out my original questions and sought her validation on recently moving in with Greg — I wanted to make sure I wasn’t one of those unconscious women who needed waking up.
When Greg and I first discussed the idea of living together, we’d already had the we’re-pretty-sure-we’ll-get-married-one-day talk. Still, I said that I’d always expected to be engaged or married before I moved in with a man (not for religious reasons but to hopefully curb my chances of divorce). Having a commitment solidified with a ring (and a promise) seemed like the “right” thing to do according to the statistics. Greg, having lived with a girlfriend previously, thought it would be best to make sure we were happy cohabitating together first. After a few months of mulling over our impasse, I decided that being engaged might put undo pressure on us, especially if we happened to be completely miserable sharing a home. Plus, not only was I already spending roughly five nights a week at his studio apartment, I wanted to live with him.
I curbed my rumblings of anxiety by researching statistics on cohabitating (even after the decision had been made, the movers scheduled, my full-size bed sold to a college student on Craigslist). After scouring dozens of articles, most of which provided conflicting information, I concluded my investigation in the same fashion I read my horoscope: I found the most legit and positive affirmation — a study claiming that the higher your education levels, the less likely a couple is to divorce — and I decided to go with that, comforted that no matter if we lived together first or not, Greg and my master’s degrees would someday save our marriage. (Trust me, I do know how ridiculous this sounds, but for some reason having research to back up my life choices makes me feel better.)
After I explained my situation to Lauren, she told me that I was doing pretty well: I did my “romantic research” and secured an agreement from Greg about the steps we wanted to take together. However, Lauren said that it sounded like a deadline for engagement —“an expiration date on the exploration phase” of our relationship, as she put it — would make me feel more secure. She thought I should approach Greg about it sooner rather than later, since we’d been living together almost two weeks already, and she gave me the following “love script” to memorize:
“Greg, I am so excited to have taken the next step with you, and I want you to know that I am really passionate about our relationship. I understand why you didn’t want to get engaged before we moved in, and I’m really onboard with giving you this time, but I need you to know that it’s not unending. I think by our second anniversary, in six months, I would really need to know that we were going to the next level.”
Her advice was the perfect response to the “vision of love” I’d presented her. Having a hard deadline as to whether or not I’d be engaged would prevent me from being blindsided. In six months Greg would either propose or say he wasn’t ready, and I could (presumably) move on.
The script remained on my tape recorder (unmemorized) the following night as Greg and I chowed down on gourmet burgers and IPAs at a restaurant around the corner from our place. At some point during our meal, I blurted out “So, I’ve been thinking…” (Not as scary as starting with “we need to talk,” but still somewhat ominous.)
I managed to stammer through a mangled interpretation of Lauren’s “love script,” which included something like: “Since I compromised on moving in with you before marriage, I would like some kind of assurance that we will be getting engaged in six months.”
Being a computer science engineer, Greg is very practical. To him, and perhaps to many other people, having one person (me) set a random closing date by which he should purchase a ring and propose sounded very much like an out-of-the-blue ultimatum. Luckily, his rational way of looking at things also makes him very levelheaded when I emotionally vomit all over him after having a couple of beers.
I explained that women are cautioned (according to all that research I did) not to live with their boyfriends before they’ve proposed marriage, referencing the tired question, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” A phrase that, somehow, Greg had never heard before. In fact, he said that he didn’t see why he would move in with me at all if he didn’t want to marry me someday. Wasn’t that the whole point?
By choosing to live together in the first place, he thought we both intended for our cohabitation stage to have what Lauren called an “expiration date.” But he didn’t feel comfortable setting an arbitrary deadline. Instead, he wanted to check in about the state of our relationship on a regular basis; a conversation about engagement and marriage would then emerge organically from those talks.
Needless to say, my execution of Lauren’s advice did not go as planned. Would I have been happy to hear Greg say “Yes, dear” when I presented him with my skewed version of the script she’d given me? Sure. Instead I sparked a conversation that brought us closer together … and taught me a lesson. Enticed by a neat little six-month time frame, I lost sight of the fact that Greg is my vision of love, not the idea of marriage by itself. As much as I needlessly worry, his attitude toward the state of our relationship has remained confident. In fact, the night before we moved in together I got a little annoyed at him for acting what I interpreted as blasé (relaxed) about the whole thing. Moving in marked the beginning of the rest of our lives together, didn’t it? He assured me that our life together has already begun — cohabitating was just one step we’d take together on that journey.
As scary as it is to trust Greg’s word, I’ll debilitate myself with worry if I don’t. That “sleeping beauty syndrome” Lauren described to me in our session manifested in my brain as an anxious stupor keeping me from being truly present in my relationship and valuing how lucky I am.
It’s been a little over two months since we’ve moved in together, and I’ve grown to appreciate the stage Greg and I are in now. Sappy as it sounds, I’m really enjoying the little things: getting to kiss him goodbye on my way out the door each morning, or reach my foot out to touch his in the middle of the night, or spend rainy days watching movies together — not to mention having a partner in crime when I feel like indulging in a late-night bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. While it’s not all bubbles and sunshine, I’ve gained something that I’d needed much more than a ring on my finger: the comfort of companionship.
– By Natasha Burton