In a growing relationship, on the cusp of casual and committed, there are certain steps and signs that things are getting more serious. There’s the first sleepover, and the second, and pretty soon there’s a pattern of consistent visits that has one or both parties packing bags regularly. In between, the various outfits are washed, new ones are packed. Other items, each specific to that one journey, are removed. There’s one thing, however, that remains the same with each trip: The toothbrush.
Then, one day it happens. One person asks the other, “why don’t you leave a toothbrush here?” There’s even a spot that had been made available for it, or the person creates one on the spot. While it may be a simple piece of plastic, or in my case, bamboo, the simple act of having one at your new partner’s home can feel fulfilling, and a sign of a budding commitment. It’s like saying, “I plan to continue to have you here regularly, overnight, so this makes sense.”
I used to have a ‘home’ toothbrush and a ‘travel’ toothbrush, but that was before this whole COVID thing. Since my plans for the year were cancelled, for obvious and safe reasons, I tossed my travel toothbrush away, instead of having it sit in my suitcase for however long. Then, of course, things started to get more serious with the person I had been seeing. I was coming over regularly, and we planned for that to continue.
I smiled after she said that I should keep a toothbrush at her house, and again as she set mine beside hers. It resides in a Red Sox shot glass, on the shelf above the toilet in the upstairs bathroom. This had happened to me before before, and obviously things didn’t work out with those people. Still, it shouldn’t be downplayed, because the intention is clear. It’s an important step, and yet the bar has been forever raised, not that I plan to go anywhere else.
You see, I have a son. While the usual things are important to me in a healthy relationship— communication, affection, respect, and so forth— there was another piece that was non-negotiable. In order for me to have a serious relationship with all of the future steps that I want, someone needed to accept and love my son, too.
I had worried that I’d struggle to find a genuine connection with someone who not only understood that I was a package deal, but someone who wanted to be in my son’s life. Don’t get me wrong, my son is an incredible human being and anyone would be lucky to have him in their life, but it does take connection and patience to choose to love a child.
I had a clear vision in my mind of a growing family, instead of a divided one, when his father and I separated. My ex and I are friends. We plan to have holidays as a family, and attend our son’s extra curricular activities together. Both of us have discussed our wish for future partners to not only understand this, but to truly be part of a family. I wouldn’t settle for less, even if that meant dating casually, or not dating at all.
Not everyone agreed with my vision. I was told that I’d need to date someone who had children of their own, because it was the only way they’d understand. Others said that someone new would want a child with me, though I tried to explain how that worked between lesbians. Still, even with the nay-sayers and the relationships and dates that didn’t work, I held onto that idea. I knew, deep down, that it was possible.
I started to see this vision coming to fruition as my partner spent time with my son. They would laugh, and create, and play together. She made plans for camping, and other fun things that we could do during our quarantine. She has been patient, and loving, and good to us both. It made my heart swell with joy to see them getting along so well.
Still, I wondered if it was safe to get my hopes up, and plan for the future. There had been one other who got to know him, and changed their mind about everything. The whiplash had me treading carefully, even as I struggled to let go of the projection. My fear was pushing for me to wait and see, and not get too excited. I wanted to protect my son, and myself, from getting hurt. By the time I introduced the two of them I was already attached, but I knew that step would only make it harder if something were to go wrong.
That’s not how it went with my partner, though. She didn’t pull away from either of us after our time all together. Instead, she expressed happiness and excitement. After spending a day with him, my partner would start to plan the next. It didn’t take long for me to see that she was being genuine, and that the bond between the two of them was growing.
Then there was a third brush added to the shelf at my partner’s house; child’s brush, for my son. A piece of plastic, and yet, so much more. It says, “I plan to have him here regularly, too.” It happened the first time he spent the night at her house, in the guest room we had set up for him. She ordered it for him, and now it sits on the shelf, beside ours.
Of course, this wasn’t the only sign of commitment, and of our growing family. If it had been, it would feel more like grasping at straws. It was, however, one of the first signs that made me believe it was all real, and that she truly intended to be in our lives long term. When I see it, that small piece of plastic, I feel my fears dissipating. In place of the fear is a growing love for our growing family.