Relationships are funny. How rosy the first days are, the two of you so tolerant and tender, paragons of patience, masters of communication, generous to a fault. You remember to put the top back on the toothpaste; he remembers to put the toilet seat back down. You don’t even fart in each other’s presence. But then, once you’ve declared undying love and are basking in the belief that he’s also hooked, you let a big one rip right after dinner. In no time at all, the asshole within has emerged -- with a large hemorrhoid.

If you recall, a few columns ago my man and I made a foray down that sweet but unsafe road, skin to skin. Afterward he was quite pleased with himself. He figured he’d finally persuaded me that it was his choice to take the risk and deal with the consequences. But alas, I couldn’t accept that. Proclaiming the wonders of latex while eschewing them in my own bed (or on top of the washer/dryer) went against everything I believed in and made my thought processes just too confused. I’d find myself lecturing about eroticizing safe sex, but every one of my cells would be screaming to tell the audience: “Fuck it! Just do it! I love unprotected sex!”

Up until now, I’ve thought that even fantasizing about not using condoms would ruin the sex I was having because it would spoil me for latex -- like not being able to stop after that first potato chip. But to get to that first chip, you have to buy the bag (talking about how good unprotected sex feels is buying the bag). Will I be able to stop? Will I be tempting you by admitting how much I love potato chips?

So I couldn’t find any middle ground with him -- no “Let’s have unsafe sex once a week or on special occasions like bar mitzvahs and weddings.” I became the sex police, and that became a problem. Whenever we started to have sex, an argument erupted. Sometimes he won, sometimes I did, but we were both miserable.

Unprotected sex was only one of the conflicts gnawing away at our happiness. A friend advised me recently that if you start calling each other soul mates within the first weeks of a relationship, it’s best to get a gun and just end it then and there, because things are bound to get ugly, and they did. I’m sure you are familiar with this phenomenon.

The asshole within usually emerges right when you notice your partner has no time to spend with you, is always tired, pays child support for five and snores loudly. One day you just stop hearing his voice calling your name from the other room; when he finally walks the length of the apartment to find out what you’re doing, you pretend to be sleeping in hopes that he’ll go away. But of course he doesn’t because he now lives with you. You fight about silly things like coffee grounds in the sink and wet towels on the floor, about toilet seats left raised and toothpaste tubes left uncapped. He starts to sound like your mother (in the right light, he even looks like her). And so do you.

This is only my side of the story (that’s the beauty of writing your own column). But I know I have issues, too. As if in a cheesy Michael Keaton movie, I’ve somehow managed to recreate the same bad relationship with yet a different guy: I feel totally, utterly, entirely dissatisfied. The phone-repair guy starts to look really good. Either I get out and celebrate or I dig in and work.

So I’m working. I decided that even if I were HIV negative, I would still be with this guy. The problem is less that he’s annoying than that when I get close to him, I see myself reflected back -- and it isn’t pretty. I see all too clearly my glaring impossible-to-meet expectations: Why isn’t he perfect? Why can’t he read my mind? I see my intolerance for stupidity and foolishness. I see him writhing in pain on the day I returned from a six-week road trip and cruelly told him, “No, honey, I didn’t miss you at all.”

What is it I want? A quiet home with no one burping hello, passing wind and coyly asking, “Is there a duck in the room?” But I also want someone with whom I can share dreams, ride motorcycles and have incredible sex. And as for sex, we’ve reaffirmed our faith in a safer lifestyle. I stay inventive and give lots of blowjobs; he repeats on command, “Latex is good.” When I let go of the little stuff, I see who this man really is underneath the child support and gastrointestinal events. And I like him. Can I make a life with a replica of my less-than-perfect self? I’ll keep you posted.