Updated: Mar 16, 2021
The point in every relationship: will a couple survive their first fight and first big decision?
A man and a woman rode together in the same car, going to the same place, to see the same friends, but while shifting into fifth gear, he accidentally brushed against her leg, and then jerked his hand away rather than lingering a bit and caressing her exposed skin with the back of his fingers. This change in habit made the woman fear their feelings and desires were traveling on different paths, possibly to different destinations, whereas the man feared the red flash of brake lights meant a traffic jam was ahead.
We’ve reached that point in our relationship, she thought to herself. They had been together for eight months, which was a notable length of time to have held onto the newness of their attraction. But the yank of his hand signaled their relationship had transitioned—her leg getting in the way had become an annoyance instead of an invitation to touch. It was inevitable. All relationships chafed and frayed a bit over time.
But it was damning, or perhaps merely ironic, that they reached the point on the same day that she was going to suggest she move in with him (the notice of her apartment renewal included a jaw dropping increase). Or perhaps it was fitting—it was time the relationship moved on in one form or another. Either they moved on to the next level and lived together or they moved on to dating other people. At least the notice allowed plenty of time to look for a different apartment.
“I guess we’ve reached the point where things don’t seem so perfect anymore,” she said.
“What’s that?” Though he wasn’t sure what her words meant, he instinctively tightened his grip on the steering wheel, as though an angry bee was buzzing around in the car and any quick move could attract a sting. He wished he could roll down the window to let her words fly away. He’d already had a no-win conversation with his boss that afternoon and didn’t want to have another.
She ran her fingers along the hem of her dress, just above where his hand had grazed her. “You know, yesterday when your hand bumped me, you rubbed my leg.”
“Sorry. My mind is on work. Rough week.”
Though she could relate to this given that she worked in an office where everything was always an emergency, at the moment her only concern was his actions. For instance, what did it mean that he’d moved his hand to her thigh without even a glance at her.
“It just seems,” she covered his hand with hers. “Like we’ve reached the point in our relationship where we’re starting to annoy one another. Things that had been sweet before are now starting to sour.”
Finally, he looked at her. She had his attention now. His expression had an underlying hostility to it, something she hadn’t seen from him before, which for a moment surprised her, until she remembered their relationship was different now. “There you go. You just proved my point,” she said with a curtness in her voice to let him know she was right.
His eyes bulged. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Your expression said it all.”
“Give me a break. You’re making this about me, but maybe you’re the one with the problem.”
“So now I have a problem? Let me guess—I’m also crazy just like all your exes.”
“I didn’t say that! Why are you picking a fight with me?” He flicked on the turn signal before easing into the exit lane.
“I’m not.” She pressed her hand into her breastbone. “I’m just commenting that we’re at that point in our relationship where everything isn’t perfect anymore. You picked the fight by pretending everything was fine. Are you still pretending everything’s fine?”
“No. Does that make you happy?”
“No, but I was until your grumpiness rubbed off on me. And now we’re both in a crappy mood, unless, of course, you’re happy?”
His fingers flailed up from the steering wheel. “Nobody’s happy.”
She crossed her arms and looked out the window. “Funny thing is that yesterday I received a notice that my rent is going up. I was sure you’d want me to move in with you. But that was yesterday….”
He finished the unspoken end to her sentence in his head: and today we’ve reached that point in our relationship. Was this supposed to make him want to move in together? She would have to pick the moment of their first fight to bring this up.
He remained silent, so she decided to forget about the mention of her apartment lease. She uncrossed her arms and smoothed her dress. “Maybe we should work on things, say what’s bothering us.”
He took a deep breath. This was a trap, but he had to say something, otherwise she’d get angrier. He’d say something small. “Okay, so yes, I’d like to shift without hitting your leg. That’s not a big deal, right?”
“No, I guess not.” She twisted in the seat so her legs leaned against the door. “It’s my turn now? I don’t like how you rub your forearms against the dinner table. Your muscles grinding against the edge sound really gross.” She scrunched up her nose and looked at him as though he were a muddy dog.
“Alright, how about you let your phone go to voicemail sometimes?”
“Agreed. And can you not clear your throat so much?”
“What are you talking about?”
“This.” She choked out an exaggerated cough, sticking her tongue out like a cat coughing up a hairball.
“I don’t do that.”
“Hmm, maybe you do.”
“Maybe when you come over instead of tossing your jacket and purse on the couch, you could put them away.”
“When I come over? So, does this mean you don’t want to move in together?”
The size of the question took up too much room in his small car. Perhaps her timing was precisely to push him to say he didn’t want to live together. She was manufacturing an out, but he wasn’t going to play along. If she wanted to end things, then she’d have to do it without the drama of a final fight.
“Are you going to say anything?” she asked.
He lifted his chin. “I don’t think this is a good time to talk about moving in together.”
“Fine. We won’t talk about it.”
He was right, she should let it pass and talk about it after dinner. But really were they going to sit with their friends and joke all evening as if they hadn’t stumbled into a new phase of their relationship, whichever it may be? They were but minutes away from the restaurant. Her fingers tapped on the leather seat. 1-2-3-4. 1-2…. “Thing is, I have to find a new place. And I thought we were pretty serious, so what I do says something about us. Either we move forward or we break up.”
“We haven’t even been dating half a year.”
“Still, not that long.”
“I thought we were on the same page. Wanted the same things.” She raised a finger as she listed each shared goal. “Dog. House. Kids. Those things don’t happen on their own.”
“And right now, when we’re fighting, do we want any of those things?”
He regretted the question as soon as it came out. Under the pressure of the moment when they both wanted to hurt the other even if it meant hurting themselves, he’d made the mistake of saying exactly what he was feeling. But merely uttering the words were enough to remind him that his anger would pass. In his memories was the passion of their early romance and from this he could imagine a future where that passion became a love that burned to their dying days. They were on the precipice of throwing it all away and he was uncertain if either of them could stop the momentum.
In an attempt to take the question back, he blurted, “Okay, we’ll decide.”
“Yes, you’re right. We’re at that point. You first.”
“I don’t want to go first.” She waved her hands in front of her. “What if we say what we want in unison? On the count of three say either break-up or move-in.”
They blurted out their answers, speaking over one another, hearing their own and the other person’s words come together in a cacophonous jumble.
“See, I knew you were trying to make this about me, when really it was all about you!” He pointed at her.
She frowned. “No, you said break-up.”
“Are you trying to mess with my head? I said move in!”
“You did? You want to move in together?”
“Yes.” He said with certainty.
Though she noted that he didn’t look at her. However, he was trying to turn left into the restaurant parking lot, so she couldn’t really hold it against him.
“But I guess that doesn’t matter,” he said.
She was confused on what didn’t matter, but then remembered she had indeed said break-up. “I only said that because I thought that was what you wanted.” She played with the hem of her dress as he pulled into a parking spot.
With the car turned off, he turned to her. “What do you want to do?”
“We just had our first fight. Are we really going to do this?” She twisted to face him and her legs brushed against his hand on the stick shift. This time he rubbed the side of her leg.
“I don’t know. Do you think our relationship is strong enough to pass the first fight test?”
“I think so.” And this time she was the one to speak with certainty. “I think we’re at that point where we should move on to the next step.”
“Re-do. Count of three say move-in or break-up,” he said.
And this time their response was harmonious. Move-in.
By Jill Cobb
Jill Cobb has won numerous manuscript awards and the Terry Kay Short Story Contest. She has a short story published in the Blue Mountain Review.
When Jill's not writing, she's goofing around with her husband, son, and crazy mixed-breed dog of half energy and half cunning. Her hobbies include daydreaming about travel, reading from an ever growing mountain of books, and stumbling through exercise classes.