HIMMGF 22: Coffee and Conflicts

The title states, H I M M G F 22. Coffee and conflicts.

This started as a Christmas post and ended with existential realizations.  Read all “How I Met My Girlfriend” posts here.

Our second Christmas together unfolded how I imagined in most ways. And it first started like every morning, the mere waking up together—something that started the day with love for 69 consecutive mornings. (Yes, 69, a hilarious coincidence). Mornings with her are something I never took for granted this time. Nose tip to nose tip. A sleepy smile. Eyelids puffy from fresh rest. Two mugs of coffee, but this time enjoyed from the living room couch instead of our bed.

Jas and I had this running joke for the past year referencing when I cried about how she never makes me coffee in the morning. You’re awake too early! She’d say, Just sleep in and I’d make the coffee!

She never did ask for me to make coffee every morning. But I did do it. And last year at her house, I did cry about it once. She gets out of bed faster with a hot drink in her hand. And she gets a hot drink in her hand faster if I make it for her. And if we have somewhere to be, I wasted no time making sure she had a hot drink first thing in the morning so we could be on time to whatever plans we had. Not that we were ever truly late if I didn’t, but my anxiety forces a 20 minute head start to everything, otherwise I interpret it as “running late.”

So quickly, that morning coffee delivery fell to her own habit. To the point where if I didn’t get out of bed, neither did she. Despite the fact that I could wake up 30 minutes before our planned departure time and still be ready to leave, and she definitely needed over an hour. And in the matter of just a few weeks, I took on the responsibility of making sure we arrived at any destination on time. And some days—after a long night of broken sleep due to loud fights from her parents, gates banging in her neighbor’s back garden, cats crying just outside the bedroom door, and any other number of sounds I don’t deal with through most of the year—sounds that Jas can usually sleep through—making coffee every day pissed me off. Until I sobbed about it one morning under other stressors.

I always have to make sure we get out of bed and I never want to, I cried to her. I’m always so tired, Jas, I’m sleeping like shit. I never make it through the night without waking up.

I never asked you to do this, she told me. I don’t expect you to make coffee every morning.

But I still wondered if she would ever get out of bed if I didn’t do it. For the rest of that week, she woke up early to make me coffee in the morning. And then next month, we had the same conversation all over again. The whole conflict went unresolved, and sometimes that’s just how conflicts go, shifted better, efforts replaced by routines, and shifted back again. Some days, it’s never a conflict. Until suddenly, one day, it’s a conflict that had been there for the 30 days beforehand, and only just then–after tallying up all the other stress factors—do you rediscover it.

This year I made Jas coffee every morning apart from a handful of times my mom started brewing the pot for the whole family on a weekend. I never cried about it. It was never an expectation or responsibility. Why? Probably because I slept well every night with stress at an all-time low. When romantic gestures manifested from the mere thought of making her feel wanted and cared for, not out of an obligation or self-imposed responsibility. This realization hit me one morning around Christmas, the sheer excitement that had me stretching my legs into the cold bedroom air just minutes after opening my eyes to start brewing her coffee every morning, contrasted to lying in bed for 40 minutes listening to a cat scratch at the door before dragging myself downstairs and starting a brew, mumbling the entire time.

Something about living at her parents’ house for four months must’ve run me down in ways I hadn’t realized. Not sleeping well had been a huge part of it. All the tight-knit neighborhood sounds clawing through the cracked window, something I had to keep propped open because her mum blasted the radiators to hellish temperatures from 11pm-4am. When I spent two months there in the summer of 2016, heat was never an issue. And neither was the lack of sunlight. But that winter, the sun dipped below the horizon before 4pm. And some days, we slept in enough to miss the first couple hours of sunlight, wrapping up a day with only five hours of sun, if we were even lucky enough for it to peek through the constant overcast. It doesn’t really surprise me that Brits are so depressed.

My family isn’t wealthy, but we’re middle class enough for me to have a spacious bedroom—growing even more spacious once my sister moved out with her boyfriend. My bedroom walls are shared with only a hallway and my own closet. My parents’ bedroom isn’t even on the same floor as mine. I only have to share a bathroom with my brother instead of a whole family. All luxuries I will never again take for granted. They were invisible conveniences that made my life so much either—along with the respect of basic boundaries and courtesies that my parents extended without me realizing—until the conveniences and boundaries disappeared and suffocation emerged. That’s when suddenly, making coffee in the morning was another inconvenience, not a loving gesture. The coffee conflict of that year never resolved because it had nothing to do with coffee.

All this coffee reflection meant something. I knew it. The same way I knew that Jas’ BPD will always have a deep grip on her reality despite the aid of medication, of support groups, of routines and workouts and seven hours of sleep, of breakthroughs and the growing number of times she communicates with clarity and directness and actually asks for what she needs. Environment restricts progress. Stress creates conflict. Instability degrades hard work.

Everything shifted this time. Money has always been a stress factor for both of us, as swapping continents every year strains the budget to the max. But even still, the factor didn’t turn coffee into an obligation. Living was lighter. The days were longer. I respected my parents and they respected me, on most days. I could rely on my friends and family. Maybe that was the most important thing, trusting everyone around me just as much as I trusted her.

Maybe this is all too abstract. I haven’t figured it out yet. Something about those last four months inched us close to a breaking point, where the very real thought of I don’t know if this will work had crossed my mind. Something about this year mended every conflict we’ve ever had. Every single day I thought, I can do this for the rest of my life.  

Around PMS week in December, the weight of responsibilities between work, volunteering, and daily at-home tasks overwhelmed me first thing in the morning. I woke up with palpitations and no pre-planned agenda to direct my day apart from a mental list of volunteer graphics, essays to review, clients to respond to, dogs to attend to, laundry to sort through, a house to tidy. The list would find no end, but just cycle through, adding more tasks, jumbled with no priorities. I cried. Jas held me, stroked my face when my head settled in her lap. She told me to take a shower and relax before we start the day. She sorted the laundry, tidied our room, took the dogs outside and made sure they had water. She asked about my graphic project, she gave me ideas and helped me find some vector images to work with. Last year, neither of us had a strong ability to handle such moments for each other.   

All the moments we’ve ever had together are important—even the bad ones. Even the worst one. But we’re here now, where I’ve never valued Jas and our relationship more, where I’ve never been more appreciated or well taken care of, where we’ve been through some of the most challenging conflicts of our relationship and still managed to find this magic in ourselves. This real balance of building ourselves as a couple and as individuals.

One of my favorite gifts from Jas this year included a box of prints from our digital photos collection, made to replicate Instax film, matching film prints hanging in my bedroom already. The photo box captured so many favorite moments from the previous year—a kiss before the Eiffel Tower, eye-gazing in front of the London Eye, smiling in the paper Christmas hats we unfolded from party crackers. It’s so easy to see my real smile in the photos. Corner to corner, all teeth, barely any lip. So different from the standard line-smile indented in my face when she’s gone. The same one white people wear when they are about to pass a stranger in the hallway and don’t know what to do with their face. With Jas, my teeth almost always gleam in a camera lens. And that’s what I remember the most.

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Read a related post about the worst fight we’ve ever had on Patreon.

Continue to HIMMGF post 23: Friendsgiving.

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