This was originally posted at In Our Words. Republished here with permission.
As I start dating, I find myself going through waves of excitement. And suspicion. I don’t know if this is because of my break from dating or if it’s because of my joke of a love life beforehand. Either way, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m constantly looking for “What will go wrong?” This is an annoying paranoia but I can’t help keep my eyes open for the gun in the first act.
The gun in the first act is a literary term that most literally applies to murder mysteries. If a gun is introduced or found in the first act, the rule is that it will be used by the end of the story. Usually it’s significance is obscure at first and only revealed later. Less literally, it can apply to dating when you begin a relationship. You might not know that when they take a call from their mother on the first date that your future lover will have an unhealthy relationship with their mother that ends up ending the relationship. These hints, clues, and signals are the dating guns in the first act. You might not know what they mean yet but when a relationship ends, you’ll wonder “How did I not see this coming?” And yes, I’m fully aware of how pathetic it is that I compare dating to murder.
DISCLAIMER: Do not shoot your boyfriend.
I have two friends who spend a LOT of time dwelling on this concept. And by that I mean they won’t shut up about it. One of them is an old friend of almost a decade who recently got out of a five-year relationship that he would charitably describe as stifling. The other friend is a man I casually dated after he got out of a long-term relationship (aka: I was his rebound). The parallels were interesting to me as they, understandably, were very caught up in it. They would have downward spirals going over every detail of “Where it went wrong,” or the gun in the first act clues that they wished they had seen before. But they couldn’t.
When my friend was being forcibly distanced from his friends and cut off from sex with his boyfriend, he should have seen that he was being manipulated. But it’s hard to see when it’s done over the course of a few years. And the gent that I casually dated, I knew I was a rebound and was very comfortable because it meant taking things slowly. But he was used to spending all his time with a significant other so we ended up inseparably casually dating. It doesn’t take a dating columnist to see how this might not work out. But it’s hard to tell at the start, especially when you’re inside the relationship. Another analogy that only applies to dating when you’re a pessimist: frog in the pot. This applies to how when the water gets progressively hotter, the frog doesn’t notice it’s hot until it’s boiling.
DISCLAIMER: Do not boil your boyfriend.
With both of these instances, you leave the relationship looking for how not to repeat that pattern again. But to look for a gun in the first act is ridiculous and will only leave you crazy and single. If you’re constantly looking for reasons it may not work out, it won’t work out. I’m not just talking about hippy philosophical positive thinking. I mean, the endless “He smokes. He smells. He doesn’t know who She-Hulk is.” list of grievances won’t help compatibility. I’m not saying you should ignore warning signs. Keep your eyes open. But you can’t see the future if you’re looking for faults, all you’re looking at is your own reflection. Your next relationship may not work out, but you won’t know how it ends until the end. If you try and guess before then, the only thing that ruined your relationship is you.
Adam Guerino is a writer in Chicago who works nationally as a stand-up comedian and event producer. He is the creator of OutLoud Chicago, which brings queer entertainment to the mainstream. For more from Adam Guerino, www.adamguerino.com is a great place to start.