I walk into the room and whatever is on my boyfriend’s laptop screen fades to grey. He looks at me sheepishly.
“Looking at porn, again?” I ask, laughing.
He shakes his head. “No,” he says. “An email from an old girlfriend. I haven’t spoken to her in years.”
“Carry on,” I say, kissing him on the top of his head. “I don’t mind. You’re allowed to talk to anyone you want.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course,” I say. I hear myself quoting all the relationship advice I’m so quick to hand out to others. “Love isn’t a finite resource. You can love her as well as me.”
I wait for him to reassure me, to say that love is the furthest thing from his mind. There is a pause that seems to go on forever.
“I’m very fond of her,” he says. “Do you want to see her picture?”
The photo shows a slender woman with spiked grey hair. She is thinner than me, prettier than me, younger than me.
I know how this works. Online relationships leave wide chasms for the imagination to fill in the gaps. He will only see her best side, her considered responses, her embellished highlights.
He will never have to put up with her sweaty insomnia, her unprovoked crying, her baggy yoga pants with a hole in the thigh. My mind leaps into a future where my boyfriend decides he prefers her to me.
“I’m going to Skype her in the morning,” he says.
I force myself to smile and nod, hoping he doesn’t notice the fear in my eyes.
Some people say you should have your partner’s password to his computer and his phone. They say someone with nothing to hide will be happy to share everything with you. Other people go as far as saying you shouldn’t have private conversations with members of the opposite sex. Temptation, they insist, is around every corner and you should build high walls to keep your relationship safe.
I don’t agree. I believe in the right to privacy and nothing will change my mind. He doesn’t belong to me and I’m not interested in trying to pretend that he does.
Later that day my boyfriend makes a comment about my messy desk. I take a shower and blow-dry my hair, but he doesn’t even notice. I feel teary and anxious. My logical brain tells me I have nothing to worry about, but my heart starts amplifying the imperfections in our relationship which could easily widen into deep cracks.
When I wake the next morning, the space next to me is empty. I wander upstairs to find my boyfriend in front of the computer.
“She’s too busy to talk,” he says. “Apparently something came up.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Maybe another time?”
My boyfriend gets up from the chair and grabs my hand. “Let’s go back to bed,” he says, “I’ve missed you.”
And as I follow him down the stairs I know everything will be okay.
Because when it comes to love, nothing is guaranteed.
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