Codependent Ever After

  • Barbarella

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale.

-- Hans Christian Andersen

'I'm so tired," David said. "It's like I have no energy." His eyelids drooped and his shoulders fell forward; he had dragged his feet all the way down the hall from our front door to the elevator. We were on our way to the grocery store at 9:30 a.m., hours after we are usually up and about. In my opinion, David had no good reason to be this tired -- we had gone to sleep fairly early the night before and my calendar had indicated our day was free and clear from any daunting activities. The metal doors closed behind us, I hit the "P1" button, and smiled an evil smile at the exhausted man before me. "I know how to wake you up," I said evenly. David looked confused, irritated even, like a hibernating Kodiak bear awakening to a small child poking it with a stick. I jumped at him, haphazardly trying to plant a kiss on his lips and tickle his sides while I pinned him against the wall of the elevator with my body. My spontaneous attack produced the desired results -- David burst out laughing, and a surge of adrenaline gave him enough strength to both defend himself from my groping hands and return my eager kisses between spurts of laughter. By the time the doors opened to the garage, we were both flushed from the brief yet frenzied frolic, and David had an extra spring in his step.

Shortly after we started dating, David told me I reminded him of three things kids know that adults don't:

1. Ice cream tastes better if you mush it up; 2. Bread tastes sweet if you chew it long enough; 3. Farts are funny. At first, I was offended, thinking he meant to tease me for both being younger and acting childish. It was only after I heard this list a few more times that I realized David was not making fun of me, he was reminding himself that life should never be taken too seriously. With this attitude as a backdrop, I never have to worry about feeling stupid or embarrassed around him.

Three nights ago, after turning off the lights and locking the front door, we stood at the bottom of the stairs. "I don't think I can make it up," said David, whose leg muscles were sore from our strenuous workout that morning.

"No worries. I'll carry you," I said.

"What? No, that's silly, you can't carry me."

"Oh, yes I can," I snapped. "Hop on!" Chuckling at my bravado, David decided to prove me wrong and climbed awkwardly onto me, piggyback style. I made it up each of the 16 steps without breaking a sweat; when we reached the top, a reverent David said, "All right. I'm impressed."

David is so much more than a lover or partner -- he is my best friend. From our trip to the gym in the morning to working from home all day to hanging out at night (with any errands in between), we are together 24/7. I have become the very thing I once eschewed -- one half of a couple that is "attached at the hip" -- and I couldn't be happier.

We choose to spend the bulk of our time with each other. But, on those occasions one of us wishes to do something the other doesn't, we are comfortable going our separate ways (at least for a couple of hours). I get a lot of flack from my family for what is, through their eyes, a bad case of "codependence." Even though the term became evil after a series of self-help books took aim at enablers of those with self-destructive behavior, its number one definition is simple and innocuous -- mutual dependence. I pride myself on being independent in many ways, but I see nothing wrong with a rewarding, emotionally symbiotic state of codependence when the results are all positive.

Now that we have had a little time to settle into our new home, David and I have begun to poke our heads out into the world. When we returned home from the grocery store, David said, "Forget about this stuff. Let's get a sandwich from Grab N Go and bring it to Balboa Park." My face lit up with excitement and we headed out. It was a gorgeous day and I felt we had it all to ourselves -- this early on a Wednesday, most of the world was sitting in an office somewhere. David led me through the park to the cement bench behind the Prado, where we sat overlooking the canyon on one side and a fountain in which water trickled from a lion's mouth on the other. In that moment, I felt like a princess in a classic fairy tale sitting outside of my castle with my Prince Charming beside me.

"Why don't we do this more often?" I asked David. Before he had a chance to answer my rhetorical question, I said, "Look! Lizards!" We watched in silence as the two small reptiles sashayed onto a sun-covered spot of concrete. When we next met each other's eyes, I said, "I love this. Here, now, with you and this sandwich, with the smell of flowers in the air and your face in dappled sunlight. This is perfect."

David smiled, revealing his dimples. "It's nice to see you relaxed," he said.

"You relax me. Now let's go look at the koi."

As we made our way toward the pond near the botanical garden, I said, "I'm hardly ever relaxed, am I?"

"Nope," said David.

"If you are always relaxing me, am I, like, always stressing you out?"

"Sometimes. But most of the time you make me laugh. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good trade."

Successful relationships require a modicum of codependence, a way in which each person can rely on the other to fulfill a basic emotional need. Sometimes I worry that my relationship with David is all one-sided -- I feel like I receive so much but have no way to gauge what I am giving.

Last night, David sighed with exasperation when he caught me casting a critical eye at myself. Earlier in the evening, he had turned to me and said, "You're beautiful," to which I muttered, "Thank you, that's nice." He quickly responded with, "No. Thank you ." At the time, I didn't want to be convinced of anything other than what I believed to be true right then -- that I was frumpy and unappealing -- so I retreated to the bedroom, where I promptly went to sleep.

This morning, I awoke to a gentle pressure on my lips. As my eyes adjusted to the early morning sunlight peeking into the bedroom, the dark silhouette above me slowly morphed into a smiling and already dressed David, who bent over the bed to kiss me once more and then whisper, "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty." For a moment, still buried halfway beneath the thick blanket of slumber, I was fixed in the fairy tale. Filled with a rich contentment that comes when one realizes dreams can come true, I smiled and breathed in the knowledge that once I opened my eyes, I would experience in real life what is supposed to come after the ellipsis following the words, "And they lived happily ever after."

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