Dear Big Daddy,
My girlfriend and I have been together a few years now. It used to be that on Valentine’s Day I could get away with just flowers and dinner. But I think she’s expecting more this year. She wants to move in. I think she’s waiting for me to pop the question. I like things the way they are now. What do I do?
—Happy with the status quo
The pundits are really split on this one. I’m guessing you’re worried about the political fallout if you just cut and run. But you also seem to be against building bases and staying for a hundred years. Agree to do that and she’s liable to start pushing for a higher body count — as in the kind of little loud stinky bodies that grow up to be teenagers who wreck your car. Here’s hoping you covered your boots when they were, you know, on the ground.
This status quo is also not an option. The insurgency is growing. She’s probably demanding a key to your Green Zone, if she doesn’t have one already. Your hideous-but-comfy couch has been targeted for assassination. She’s got a network of fanatical underground cells watching your every move and planting IRQs (improvised relationship questions) in your path. Meanwhile, you’re relying on the advice of a group of guy-friends who talk up their counter-relationship skills, but are likely either stuck in their own increasingly sexless quagmires or never got beyond reading Maxim in the bathroom in the first place.
In other words, you’re dealing with the same set of conundrums that phallocentric occupying powers (boyfriends) have faced throughout history. You’ve gained access to the oil, but you don’t want to go through the difficult process of nation-building. Meanwhile, her hand is reaching to turn off the spigot.
In case you think I’m beating this metaphor like a dead horse (or an endless, pointless war), let me point out that the liberal and conservative stances on Iraq actually correspond pretty well to attitudes on relationships. Conservatives think it’s our duty to stay. Never mind that both partners are miserable, Iraq keeps dropping hints that it need some time alone to get its head on straight, or that we’re like, totally cheating on Afghanistan. We got into this, so we’re going to make it work.
Liberals, on the other hand, will note that we’ve tried counseling, and all our friends think we’re terrible for each other. They’ll say they got peer-pressured into it in the first place (I’m looking at you, Hillary). So we had a fling a few years before and cut it off in a not-so-classy way. Healthy relationships aren’t built on guilt. It’s time to see other countries.
But back to your problem. The Capitol is not only a hard place to get a date — it’s even more fraught with peril once you have a steady. It’s especially bad for those staffers who think they may want to run for office in the near future. Reputations built over years can be badly damaged in a single drunken night at a fundraiser.
And it doesn’t even have to be your drunken night. A few hurt feelings plus a few cosmopolitans, and a current or former squeeze can torpedo you better than a million-dollar IE with the word “against” and your name in the title. The voters won’t know or care, but the people who can help you get in the front of those voters might be put off by that opp research vending machine loudly cursing your name while she tries to drink it out of her mind. Especially when she starts telling everyone at the basement bar at Chops a long, incoherent story that never happened involving you, a rave, Craigslist and a 14-year-old girl with learning disabilities.
These days, “family values” are invoked in every campaign from dogcatcher to Pimp of the Year. Are you planning on running for anything? If so, it’ll help to have a better half posing by your side. And that means eventually you’ll have to tell yourself those six romantic little words that end with “or get off the pot.”
On the other hand, if what you really want is to string this girl along until you can find a new quo to status, a more reasonable long-term career goal might be to tuck yourself away as a senior committee consultant and become the world’s leading expert on collateral rehypothecation or urinal hydrodynamics. Because those dudes are playas.