Mom always told me to listen to my gut, so when Chris and I were introduced through eHarmony’s trusted and, as advertised, scientifically validated matchmaking formula, I was immediately convinced of our compatibility, confirmed by the tickle in my stomach. It was, after all, a bit more serious than other dating sites like Tinder.
His first email to me was from an airport lounge: “I can’t wait to speak with you.”
Forty-eight hours later, we had our first voice conversation. Over the phone, he told me about his daughter Camile, who was learning Mandarin. But I misheard "Mandarin" for "mandolin."
Chris corrected me. “The language, Loren. Not the instrument.”
“Okay. Okay. Sorry,” I said trying to shake off embarrassment. “What are you doing on business?”
Chris's work brought him all over the world, but this time he was hoping to make New York City home and was “serious about finding romance.” I loved the sound of his British accent. The deepness of his voice was never-ending, like a cave or a first kiss. He sounded good. He felt good.
In the week he was away on business, we shared emails, texts, and selfies. We shared the titles of books we were reading, scenes from our favorite movies and TV shows.
When Chris returned from his trip to New York, we planned our first date at a posh hotel bar in the Upper East Side. And within 30 minutes of meeting, we were lip-locked, swept away in a hot embrace.
He revealed I’d been the first person he wanted to date seriously since his breakup with Camile’s mother, with whom he had been with for ten years.
“What happened with your ex?” I asked.
Chris stretched his neck. Two pops. “Can we get two more?” Pointing to our empty glasses, Chris called out to the bartender.
“That bad?” I asked.
We continued to see each other after our first date. Chris took me out to obscure French restaurants, concerts at Lincoln Center, private cabarets, and the hottest new gallery openings. After a few months of dating, we took to staying in to enjoy the solitude of our new relationship. We wore matching sweatsuits and sat in deep-seated lazy boys while we drank port wine and ate crumbly Stilton with crackers as we indulged in a marathon of Netflix.
I felt so comfortable around him, just not comfortable enough to poop at his place.
While I’ve always considered myself the kind of girl that didn’t worry about things like farting or pooping around a guy, I’d do almost anything to avoid doing any of these around Chris. I’d poop at home before I took the train. I’d poop at the coffee house by his building. I’d poop at work. I’d poop at the bank. It could be anywhere, but just not around him.
Was this an actual sign from my gut that something wasn’t right? Or was I holding it in because I was holding back? I started to question whether we were as compatible as eHarmony claimed we were. If so, what was my gut trying to tell me?
Feeling let down by eHarmony’s patented matching system, I entered my research question into Google: “What does it mean when you can’t poop at your boyfriend’s apartment?” There were hundreds of results like, “5 Reasons You Definitely Shouldn't Be Afraid Of Pooping At Your Significant Other's House” and “The Perils of Pooping While Dating.”
And then, there it was: "If You Can’t Poop In Front of Your Partner, Is It Even Love?" The article pointed out the importance of being open with your partner about your poop and suggested, “it’s nothing less than a sign of respect, love, and trust.” But did that mean mutually, or that just one of us was untrustworthy, less deserving of respect? How could “the science” of eHarmony be so wrong?
My research questions piled high, but there wasn’t much study out there that connected bathroom habits with relationship success. However, I discovered a 2005 article, “Fecal Matters: Habitus, Embodiments, and Deviance” by Martin S. Weinberg and Colin J. Williams, published in the journal Social Problems. The authors studied the social concerns associated with pooping. Researching 172 university students, they showed how our culture “interprets and organizes fecal events.” But what resonated with me most was the study’s reference to the significant role the body plays in our self-awareness.
In combination with the scientific and less scientific articles on pooping and coupling, it seemed clear that Chris and I might’ve been lacking intimacy, and that my body’s refusal to let go signaled a deep rooted problem for us. But, the question loomed again: What was the underlying cause of such lacking?
One evening, after watching Flight of the Concords and finishing off a whole bottle of port, I asked Chris, again, about his ex.
“At her birthday brunch, she looked at me and said ‘I hope you die.’”
“That’s terrible. Why would she do that?” I asked.
“She hated living in New York. She even told her friends here that I was abusive.”
I paused. “Were you?”
“No!” he yelled. “If anything, she was. She kidnapped our daughter, once.”
“What do you mean she ‘kidnapped’ your daughter? That’s pretty serious, Chris.”
“She said it was the only she could get me to leave her for good.” Chris wouldn’t look me in the eye. He totally evaded the conversation and lifted off from the lazy boy. “Do you want a drink? I want a drink. Let’s get out of here.”
I complied. We got dressed and walked down to the bar around the corner from his apartment. At the bar, we ordered two beers.
“After we and I broke up, I went on a sex binge,” he said. “Girls, guys, anyone. I’ve been binging since I’ve been in New York. On everything and everyone.”
I held in my reaction. Inside, my stomach was churning.
“Not you, though,” he said. “I’m not binging on you.” He gulped down half of his pint. “Can you say something? Come on, let it out.” He turned towards me.
“Is there anything else I should know about you?” I asked.
The following week, Chris and I went overseas on our first trip together. I was terrified because my bout of bowel retention had continued. Even though we had what I thought was our first intimate conversation, I still couldn’t go around him. The truth was that I didn’t feel comfortable with his admission of sex-binging, kidnapping, and an ex wishing his death. Something about this trio of doom didn’t sit well with me, and my stomach was exercising its awareness.
While we were on vacation, Chris introduced me to Brick Lane Beigel, home of the best salt beef bagel, and Camden Market, where we ate fresh oysters. He also introduced me to his best friend, but when I asked if I’d meet his daughter, he was reticent.
“We’ve been dating for six months.”
“I don’t want to introduce her to someone that might not remain in my life long term.”
Fair enough, but considering he told me that he could see himself with me long-term, this had me confused about where our relationship was heading. Perhaps he was holding something in, too. Either way, it was starting to look like our compatibility was based on a series of misunderstandings. My gut had only been confirming this gradual descent.
While Chris was out with Camile, I spent the day meandering through London. A few hours in, I hopped a train at Victoria Station to Brighton to see some old college friends. For the first time since our trip, I went to the bathroom. I went on the train. I went at the pub where I met my friends. I went at their flat. I felt like myself again. Like Tangina said in Poltergeist: This house is clean.
At the heart of my clean house stood Chris. What did eHarmony know about life after the internet, anyway? Our relationship was predicated on patented dimensions of love, not reality. What stood in between our compatibility was the fact that we weren’t compatible (at all). We didn’t communicate. I knew nothing about his ex, about his daughter, or about how he felt about me, and my body saw right through our superficial cohabitation.
When we got back from London, Chris went dark for two weeks, leaving my text messages and emails unanswered. I wound up Googling his name out of boredom and worry. He might’ve been dead or out on a sex binge. His executive profile on LinkedIn came up first. Below that came Tinder, Hinge, and Plenty of Fish. His Hinge profile read: “New in town. Looking for FWB not SO. At Newark Airport Now.”
Now that I had my answer, I went to the bathroom and closed the door. I didn’t hold it in this time. “I don’t think you’re ready for a relationship,” I texted. Three days later he wrote me back: “I think you’re right.”
names have been changed
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Loren Kleinman has published four full-length poetry collections: Flamenco Sketches, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, Breakable Things, and Stay with Me Awhile, and a memoir The Woman with a Million Hearts. Her poetry has appeared in Drunken Boat, The Moth, Columbia Journal, Patterson Literary Review, and more. Her nonfiction has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Times, ROAR, Ploughshares, Open Minds Quarterly, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Seventeen, USA Today, Good Housekeeping, and The Huffington Post. Follow her at www.lorenkleinman.com.