Welcome to Time of the Month, a Mic essay series that looks at how people who get periods consciously — or subconsciously — mark the passage of time, not by days, but by when they start menstruating. Read the first entry in our series, about menstrual math, here; our second, about the first post-breakup period, here; and our third, about how mistiming it can ruin everything, here.
It was only a few weeks into our honeymoon dating phase that I got my period at the apartment of a guy I’d been seeing, and the anxiety I felt about him seeing the evidence of it in his bathroom trash was intense. Back then, when I was pretending to not hear him fart in the morning while brushing his teeth, I was also determined to have him envision only how sexy I looked in my Gilt-deal La Perla lingerie, and not how my biological make-up might destroy his perfect white 1200-thread count sheets while we slept.
Part of it was the anxiety after I’d once gotten my period in the middle of a one night stand — a guy I sorta knew from work, inspired by a friend’s suggestion to help me get over a devastating break-up. I’d been determined to only sleep with him the one time to boost my confidence and call it a day; my period had other ideas. Not only did it ruin my concerted effort to use casual sex as a buffer for my recent heartbreak but, since I knew the guy, the ensuing embarrassment resulted in a next-day shopping trip to purchase a new set of sheets for him to assuage my mortification.
I politely handed off the T.J. Maxx $14.99 sheets and then proceeded to never sleep or speak with him again.
Then, coming off of a long-term relationship where my boyfriend had been so attuned to my body — knowing when my period would arrive — it was weird to be physically intimate and yet not emotionally intimate with a new person. A situation that would not have fazed me in the slightest with a serious boyfriend became a source of humiliation with someone who (however casually) was still seeing my naked body just the same.
But even years later, it’s been hard to achieve a specific comfort level with my period around a romantic partner.
Months after I gave up on pretending that the guy I’d been seeing thought I was all La Perla and no Playtex, I found myself changing a tampon in his bathroom, waiting for him to get home from work. I began counting the number of lunar cycles and boxes of tampons I’d gone through since our first date — five periods and almost two 18-count boxes — and had another cause to panic. “Were we boyfriend-girlfriend yet?” I wondered. “And if not, how many periods before we were? Was it time for me to pose the question? And why hadn’t he? Were my emotions just running high because I had my period? How many uterine wall linings did I actually need to shed before one of us was going to say ‘I love you’? Didn’t this guy know how many nights he’d had his hands on me when I felt bloated and unattractive as all hell?”
Five intermittent shared weeks of cramps and lower back pain over a few months should be a benchmark for something in a relationship, I figured. Like, instead of celebrating a paper anniversary, it should be cellulose-wood-fluff pulp and I’m just given drawer space for my maxi pads along with the official girlfriend label.
But periods have been cloaked in shame, its associated products taxed as luxury items and people are often discouraged from honestly discussing the havoc it can actually wreak on our bodies. I decided that I’ll be damned if I allow that embarrassment to spill over into my desire to initiate the “what are we to each other” conversation with someone.
And OK, yes I’ve felt it necessary to keep my natural bodily functions out of mind and sight at the beginning of relationships, and I’ve felt the pressure to not address romantic status too soon, but five periods together felt like it was time to put up or shut up. I thought to myself, “Couldn’t the comfort of leaving feminine products around in his apartment coincide with the time to speak up and see where this relationship is headed?”
After all, it had also been four to seven days each month during which I could have potentially caused an embarrassing plumbing incident with that weak-assed New York water pressure and didn’t; four to seven times each month during which I might have (and probably did) yell about something in his presence that didn’t warrant yelling. And for sure he’d found me, at least a few times, in the fetal position on the couch mumbling something about my ovaries betraying me.
I thought back to other relationships and how many periods had transpired during our courtship before I had been able to stop wondering if someone else was bleeding in his bed on the days that I wasn’t. They all varied: Every relationship had a separate period marker. There was no definitive amount of menstrual cycles that dictated when was the right time to move forward, or at least ask to‚ but in this case I had decided five periods was time. I mean, I had even taken to buying a 36-count of Playtex and divvying up the Super Plus and Regulars between my place and his.
So when he finally arrived home that night, I waited for him to get undressed and tiredly climb into bed to snuggle up next to me.
“I need to ask you an important question,” I said and I felt his body tense.
“Ok, go ahead,” he said.
“Do you think we’re ready to take this to the next level? Do you think that it’s time to commit — to an IUD?”