Project stats

Yarn: Cascade 128 Solid, color “Jet.”
Pattern: Smokin’.
Intended recipient: The boyfriend.
Yarn store browser tabs open at time of checkout: 12.
Mid-checkout changes of heart regarding color: 1.
Mid-checkout changes of heart regarding project: 3.
Skeins of yarn bought for self: 1.
“Repeat of the boyfriend curse” freakout level: Detectable, but mild.

“The boyfriend” is a title that’s been applied to four different guys in a row since I started this blog in 2006. I’ve been bitten by the sweater curse three times so far. The first time, the sweater didn’t make it past the design-and-swatch stage (black, ribbed, asymmetrical zip front like a motorcycle jacket) , though that boyfriend did hold still so I could take measurements for it. The second was gone before I finished frogging the wool-blend thrift-store find I was going to rework for him (turtle- or cowl-neck, can’t remember which). I was less enthusiastic about the third boyfriend, and shook him loose before I had to deliver on the argyle vest I’d promised.

The sweater curse, in every case, had less to do with spooking a guy with unexpected commitment than it did with taking on idealistic, demanding projects and realizing partway though that they weren’t worth the work. (And I’m not even talking about the sweaters! Zing!) My relationships have bred a peculiar kind of commitmentphobia in me: phobic, because I don’t want to get all the way into a relationship that is, thanks to my taste in guys, probably doomed … and peculiar, because I’ve spent half my life in relationships anyway.

It’s no surprise I’ve taken on the sweater curse more than once. Drawing little sketches and taking measurements and working out design decisions feels like falling in love: neurons sparking and fizzing, ideas flowing, and feeling sure I can work out intractable problems somewhere down the road where things like row gauge and attachment styles magically fix themselves.

And, of course, convincing myself I’m a “sweater” person.

I’m good at hats. I’m great at hats. I’ve knit a million and even designed a few. You start one, maybe you try out a few techniques, maybe you do it on complete autopilot, and before you know it, you’re done. It doesn’t matter if you’re not into the yarn or style, because the project will be over soon, and you can easily give a hat away anyway since it’ll fit almost anyone. They don’t take a big investment of money, most of them don’t take more than a few hours, and they’re over before you can get bored. A hat is the one-night stand of the knitting world: it’s your entire world for one night, and then it’s over and you can get back to your life.

Sweaters, not so much. I’ve only knit a couple sweaters for myself in the seven or so years I’ve been knitting. The idea that I’d muster enough patience and organization to knit one for a boyfriend is laughable, but it’s a joke I keep trying to tell, one abandoned swatch at a time.

The boyfriend, this The Boyfriend, likes clothes. All of mine have, but this one is especially particular. Grandpa-style cardigans have been catching his eye for a few months when he spots them at stores, but they always seem to be not quite right: he hates tweeds, dull or desaturated colors, heathers, browns, acrylic, bagginess and drop shoulders. I’ve been noticing it but ignoring it, because … well, I like this boyfriend, and I haven’t wanted to take on the sweater curse again.

Because really, it’s not been a sweater curse so much as a relationship curse. I’ve always dived into things without figuring out if I was getting in over my head, and without admitting to myself that it takes more than sheer willpower to make something of value. I wished for someone who’d stick around, someone who was worth sticking around for, and cast on a few times in service of that dream without really thinking about what it meant. I assumed things would work out with those boyfriends someday, just like the sweaters I started would be finished someday, but each sweater ended up as a few four-inch-square swatches and abandoned wads of kinked, frogged yarn, and each of those guys ended up as a cluster of memories, regrets, guilty twinges and absurd emotional tics.

Thing is, though, this feels a little different. There are places in our relationship where I can see him taking the same kind of care I take with swatching and gauge, making subtle and not-so-subtle long-haul adjustments the same way that, three inches into a swatch, I’ll switch up a needle size to see if it gets me the half-stitch per inch I need. We grow in tiny increments, like a sweater grows a row at a time, so quietly that I don’t notice until I hit some kind of transition.

The transition this time was Christmas, heading an hour south to see our families and noticing afterward how casually we said things like “next year”, as we slumped in relief over good bourbon at the dark, smoky, comfortable Ruby Room, the first customers of the night. I’ve said things like “next year” to a boyfriend before, but this felt different. It felt good to float a little bit of — not hope, but faith, that there would be a next year with each other in it.

I’m not saying I’m curseproof these days, or that I’ve gone all in on a stupid gamble — old habits of self-preservation die hard, so I picked a color I like, got a bulky yarn that knits up without a huge time investment and heaved a sigh of relief that we both wear the same size — but it’s nice to relax into knowing there’s time enough to work for a long time for someone I love, who will take the time to carefully hand-wash a sweater.

Because, jaded and practical as I’ve become these days, I still have room for a foolhardy, optimistic act of faith: I skipped the superwash.

He’s getting pure wool.