Four Rules

I do this mostly because Red asked me to do this. For Christmas she wanted to read about herself. She also wanted a pillow. And there was a third thing I’m having trouble remembering.

So I dedicate what follows to my darling, Red. To Red: My tall ship and my star to steer by. My muse, my rulemaker, my supporter. Merry Christmas.

There are Four Rules for Dating Red.

Early on in my relationship with Red she declared that there are four rules I must follow. These are the dealbreakers. Cross these lines and I’m single. And maybe murdered in my sleep.

Some might think having so many ironclad rules is overly harsh. Not one, not two, not three. Four rules. Hell: God only needed ten rules to cover everything, and Red needs her own four.

But that’s viewing this from the wrong angle. Think of it the other way: Red doesn’t need ten; she can boil down correct behavior to four simple rules. And they’re really quite simple. I need no biblical interpreters or intermediaries to understand their import or what I am commanded to do. Plus I can just ask Red if I have any questions.

And there’s a definite plus side to having a set of rules like this. I know what not to do, and I can even use the rules to make some guesses about what to do. See, Red’s four rules are exhaustive. If Red’s mad at me, and I can’t figure out why, I just have to run through the rules. If I haven’t broken any, I’m good. I’m still in trouble but it’s the forgivable kind. Weapon of choice: Flowers and a movie with singing animals.

You’re curious, right? Without delay, the four rules for dating Red:

#1 – Don’t be an asshole.

#2 – No cheating.

#3 – Call at least every three days.

#4 – No talking to exes.

#1. Don’t Be An Asshole

The reasoning behind this rule is simple: Red doesn’t like assholes. I want Red to like me, so I shouldn’t be an asshole. Simple.

Red, well, she’s a little bit mean. Not a lot bit mean, but at least a little bit. Her mom once told her that she should be nicer to me, and I’m going to remind her of that until my dying day. But I can’t fault her savagery, because–and I remind you that she worked closely with my brother and hangs out with me all the time–she’s surrounded by assholes.

For Red, the onslaught is constant. There’s the “little bitch” in her nursing class making everyone look bad. There’s her step-father being helpful but not helpful enough. There’s me whining about lawyering being hard while she studies for a profession where you have to actually learn stuff. There’s the random jackasses on the road getting in her way. Everywhere she looks there are assholes. So I appreciate that she keeps her defenses up.

I’ve always thought Rule #1 was Red’s response to that onslaught. What’s important here is that I’ve already admitted to being an asshole on occasion–and she still likes me. I believe the rule recognizes that we’re all capable of being jerks to each other, even with the best of intentions. So the rule is a declaration as much as it is a direction: Whatever I’m doing, I promise I’m not trying to be an asshole, is always the underlying idea when we fight.

And if it goes the other way, well, I’ve gone too far. If I find myself about to say something that I know is just to be an asshole, well, I ought to stop. I maintain that we owe that duty to everyone else, and so I especially believe it where Red is involved.

Red is wonderful. Supportive, beautiful, intelligent, creative, clever. I could go on. Domica, five minutes after meeting her, told me Red was the best I’ll ever do. I’m inclined to agree. So I think a rule reminding me to always be kind to her is a good one to have around.

I should mention that Red’s views of asshole universalism square pretty well with my old man’s views on the matter, and so I think that’s one more reason I love her so dearly. There’s been a saying in my family for generations, “These people are driving like they’ve got paper assholes!” My grandpa Morty used to say it, my old man said it, and it was only recently he admitted he had no idea what it meant. But I don’t think you want a paper asshole.

So, er, kerplunk. I’ll be damned if I didn’t find myself starting to shout paper assholes at traffic a few years back; my brother Joe does it too. I can’t say for certain what a paper asshole is, but if you had one I have no doubt you’d drive exactly like those pricks in front of me, by which I mean badly. Our father’s zen, channelled through the sons.

Red, my rage-prone darling, has already adapted the phrase to her own use. She likes to shout, “Don’t be a paper asshole!” when the mood strikes her. I still can’t say what a paper asshole is, but it feels like a pretty heavy burn when she drops it on someone.

She gets me.

#2. No Cheating

This is a simple edict, although I should mention in this day and age of lawyers and bizarre pansexuality and paraphilias that this rule follows the traditional definitions of the words. There’s no weaseling out of this one. No I-was-really-drunks, no dutch rudders, no she-only-gave-me-a-ballcuzzi, nothing.

Red’s exigesis: No futzing. She really doesn’t like being cheated on, so I can appreciate her wanting to make this a separate rule from #1 even if the two are about the same.

I should mention: Red likes to worry. It’s kind of a past-time for her. I encourage her to not worry, but it’s in her genes–she’s pale and therefore prone to suspicion. I’ve tried to convince her that I’m not what women want, but she remains unconvinced.

I think a lot of that comes from a story which needs a proper retelling. My family likes to pass it around at holiday dinners with the bread rolls. Red heard it secondhand from Joe before I ever really knew her, so I’ve never been able to offer a proper defense.

One time a few years back I was in Woodbridge visiting my family, and we decided to go out for dinner. We ended up at a stretch of slightly-better-than-Red-Robin restaurants on Prince William Parkway, and, well, I’d had relations with a server at the first place suggested. I considered not saying anything. There was no guarantee my old fling was working that night, and even if she was we weren’t likely to see her because it was busy, so I might have held my tongue. But she had a bit of a drug problem, and there was an ex-boyfriend involved who I’m not sure was ever really an ex, and this was supposed to be a nice dinner and I didn’t want to cause any trouble, so it made more sense to say something.

“Um. Maybe not there.” My family is pretty quick on the uptake, although I can’t recall if I ever confirmed what they were thinking. As a general rule I try and provide as little of that as possible. I’m sure my family can make some educated guesses at the depths of my character, but I prefer to leave them as guesses. Call that one confirmed sin then. Leave plenty of room on the scorecard for more.

So my Mom looked across the street, and proposed another place. I’d like to take a moment now and note that there were at least half a dozen other options, a solid ten if you include places like Chipotle and Chik-Fil-A. If she’d picked any of those places this story would never be told, because–to the best of my knowledge–I’ve never slept with anyone who worked at a Chipotle or any of the other nine places.

But she had to pick the one she did, and geography matters. See, she didn’t look far for her second choice, and that’s really what did me in. The staff at the first restaurant tended to spend their tips at the bar of the second restaurant, and it was through after-work drinks with the waitress at the first that I met the bartender at the second. It’s not like there was bad blood lingering, but these things never end as smoothly as you want them to, and I have a bad habit of not returning calls, and this was supposed to be a nice dinner, so, yeah.

“Um. Maybe not there either.” I shouldn’t have said anything, but that thought finished second to blurting out. Two confirmed sins. My family, to their credit, took my vetoes in stride, although I seem to recall Joe busting out laughing. The third choice was thankfully free of former relations, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. A delightful dinner was had, and a new page was written in the family history.

So Red hears this story from Joe, who tells a good story but is known to embellish, and she probably develops the same impression as everyone else who hear the story: Dan’s a man whore. But I swear that’s not the case. I have no game.

I appreciate the flip side here. Red likes me a whole bunch, and that’s why she looks at me and sees all the wonderful qualities her rivals might also see. She wouldn’t be all that attracted to me otherwise. And at one point in my life I managed to put together a series of moves that convinced Red to date me, which means I must’ve had some skill at one point or another. So, from Red’s perspective, I must have very impressive game.

Really though: I have no game. I once asked for permission before making out with someone at a party. My best pickup line was once “I like your shoes.” I wore a neon green shirt in middle school. No game.

So Red worries that I will forget about her. But how could I? She’s my person.

#3. Call At Least Every Three Days

This rule is entirely my fault. Turns out Red knew she liked me well before I knew she liked me, and the delay between the two was unacceptable for my impatient love.

Hindsight reveals there were signs, but I didn’t know that at time. We first met (for the third time), we exchanged wisdom, we parted ways, and a few days afterward she texted me saying thanks and offering to buy me a beer. I replied pleasantly but generally. It took me another couple weeks to realize that meant she wanted to go out with me and that I should call her. Again, things I know now.

So I finally call her. And on that next date, somewhere amid the beautiful artwork of the VMFA, she lays down a rule: Call at least every three days, asshole.

That was actually the first of Red’s four rules, which, come to think of it, means a great deal. See, Red and I don’t have an anniversary. We met in December and by February we were definitely dating. I’m not sure where in the meantime the transition occurred. I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen when I threw up in the planting beds behind Red’s apartment after our first date, but that’s the best contender yet for the magic moment.

So, you know, maybe our relationship truly started the moment I agreed to call at least every three days. All the standard pre-relationship questions ran through my head. Is this a good idea? Is she what I’m looking for? Will I be good to her? It’s to Red’s credit that it took only fractions of a second to answer all these questions affirmatively. Sure I’ll call. Because you’re kinda sorta my dream girl.

I told Red I was smitten at least a dozen times before she began to believe it. I believed it as soon as she made demands of me in the VMFA.

Sidenote: Most of my thoughts could double as Lionel Richie lyrics.

#4. No Talking to Exes

I think this rule is largely an extension of the second rule. Red’s reasoning goes like this: There’s no cheating allowed, and most cheating starts with exes, so no talking to exes to start cheating. There’s nuance just below the surface though.

Dating Red is more than just agreeing to rules. There’s a certain philosophy that supports the rules and informs Red’s world view, and if I can’t agree to that too I might as well not bother with the rules at all. At least Red’s philosophy is simple: love me.

Red calls it being her person. As in the person who will help you hide the bodies. As in the person who will make you chicken soup. As in the person who will support you unconditionally while forever keeping your ego in check. Right about the same time I was throwing up behind her apartment, Red was deciding she wanted me to be her person. It wasn’t much later before I wised up and realized I wanted Red to be my person too.

Being someone’s person is an exclusive position–there’s only one spot available. After all, what if you have two persons and they want to kill each other? How could you decide who to back? So to take on anyone as a person necessarily means casting aside all other candidates for the position. And I think that knowledge inspires Rule #4.

See, it’s not just enough to agree to a set of rules. Dating Red demands devotion, and attention, and constant reminders of the things I love about her. To rest content is to miss an opportunity to make her feel more loved. It ain’t easy, but to be Red’s person is totally worth it. I love her beyond my wildest imagination.

So there’s no talking to exes. They’re not my person, and there are good reasons why I’m not with any of them still, so there’s no reason to cling to what once was.

All told, I find this rule the easiest to follow. I’m a simple man. I want to devote myself to Red. I’m not thoughtful or kind enough to devote myself to anyone else also. So I just think about Red. She beats me when I disagree with her, she gets drunk and swears at me, she passes out with cheeseburgers dangling from her mouth, and I love her with all my heart. She’s my tall ship and my star to steer by. She is the one I want to make memories with, to build a life together with, to tackle the world boldly with, so I gladly burn my black book of strumpets and servers.

Four rules and honest devotion means a beautiful romance. It’s just that simple. I love you, Red


Christmas 2013


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