So I’m in the process of writing a book – no, I’m not finished but yes, I have a really awesomely popular author (and her assistant) coaching me through the process which makes writing all the more FUN. Since I’ve always been better at treating than tricking I thought I’d be one with the Halloween spirit and treat you to the first chapter – no high-calorie candy intake or completely skeezy nurse costume required. And really, what’s spookier than complicated relationships? BOO. Oh, and I haven’t yet named two of the key players but for the sake of this, eh, poetic justice, so we’ll call them John and June, respectfully.
It happened exactly two hundred days after I started dating John. I am sure of this fact not because I am one of those girls, or good with numbers, a slight in character that he has deemed endearing. The heart of the matter is that I keep track of the significant little things, like the number of times I hit snooze on my alarm before actually waking up on any given weekday (three); the comically high occurrence of the admittance “I haven’t felt like this in a long time” in any given episode of The Bachelor (always in the double digits); the guys I’ve kissed in my twenty-five years (sixteen-ish). Or, as it is on this lazy night in August, the fact that six days ago I was crying on my back porch as he held my hand, explaining to me that while he cares for me deeply, he cannot completely abandon her. Them. It’s not fair to you, June. You deserve more than I can give you right now, June. This is hard for me too, June. This time one hundred days ago we were kissing without abandon and scheming about how adorable we would be at 50 and 44, respectively. I should have listened to him months ago when he told me we should wait, that the timing wasn’t right just yet.
But that night, the things he said and all the things I was too hurt to say are the farthest from my mind as we are walking back to his car after a lingering dinner of pad Thai from his new favorite place. Summer is starting to wind down but it’s still steamy out, a warmth intensified by the two bottles of hot sake we downed at dinner, only after he convinced me to branch out and try something other than Coors. That’s one of the many things I adore about John – his uncanny ability to convince me I will love what he loves. Truth is I usually do.
“You are fun,” he says as we mosey to the car, in no hurry to go much of anywhere. His honesty always catches me off guard in the best way. I smile and bury my cheek against his broad shoulder as he plants a kiss on the top of my head and says, “Where to now, Chief?”
“Dessert?” I suggest as we turn the corner to find the car. No need to contemplate, we want a pint of ice cream. Ten minutes later we’re strolling through the frozen foods, laughing and carrying on entirely too loud like a real couple as we locate the goods.
“This is nice,” I hear myself say as we stand in line behind an older couple, waiting patiently to check out.
“You’re nice,” he says with a smirk as he takes my hand and then says, “I’ve got an idea for our next adventure.” We take the ice cream and our one spoon and start driving, all the while singing along to J. Roddy. The windows are down and his hand is on my knee – I close my eyes and I’m taken back to the summer, all those nights we stayed out too late and sang “Brave Man’s Death” all the way home. Then, moved by the sake and the weather and a whiff of his cologne, I find myself blurting out, “So. Do you love me?” The second the words leave my mouth I start to feel every muscle in my body tense up as I curse myself for the momentary lapse of discipline. The mood becomes perceptibly heavier, and he must feel it too because he squeezes my hand and looks straight ahead.
“Oh, wow, I don’t know, um that came out way more serious than in my head!” I say, with a strained, high-pitched voice that is typically reserved for forced conversations with my school principal. I feel myself attempting a smile, which I know looks forced, only adding to the awkwardness of the moment. I playfully pull on his arm as I look up at him, bracing myself for his response.
“You are so pretty, do you know that?” he says genuinely but clearly in lieu of saying something else. He looks me in the eyes and then quickly looks away, a behavior only displayed when nervous. “June,” he continues, then pauses for a few beats, staring straight ahead again. “We have so much fun together.”
The sentiment is promising but not at all an answer. My brain frantically starts working on ways to take back what I said, not because I particularly want to but because I fear the rest of the conversation. How do you take back “I love you?” At the same time, this no answer prompts a whole new realm of additional questions. Do you think you could ever love me? Do you somehow love us both? Do you ever see yourself getting married again? I make the decision to take our usual route of topic-avoidance – humor – and ask, “Why not make an honest woman out of me and marry me tonight?” I say the words dramatically with such a playfulness that he gives a big laugh, both of us feeling relief, then seizes the opportunity to also make light of the last twenty seconds.
“How did you know?” He quickly drops to one knee and grabs my hand as he bats his eyes at me, pretending to tear up. “These past few months have been the best of my life, and while I wanted to wait until I had a ring and enough saved to pay your dowry, I couldn’t help myself once I saw how stunning you look tonight.” He kisses my hand and I feel myself blush as I laugh at his faux proposal of dramatic proportions. He pulls me into him as he stands just in front of me. His eyes turn serious as he takes a deep breath and says, “June, you know how I feel about you….”
I feel a but coming on. Sure enough, he finishes with, “But it’s too soon for me to be in a serious relationship, and not completely fair to you, what with me still spending time with them and helping her.”
“You’re right,” I say flatly, trying not to feel defeated. After all, we’ve had this discussion before. “But it’s been over,” I say. “And you’re right, I do know how you feel about me. This is different – you and me, it’s different.”
I make this point from time to time, when needed – he ended that relationship months ago, and from what he expressed to me, wasn’t happy. I reserve this valid point for the times when we’re out with his friends or mine and it somehow comes up. It’s strange, feeling like the culprit in your own relationship – the younger model who swooped in and stole the guy. I have never stolen a taken man, not even for pure sport, unlike some girlfriends of mine. I pride myself on checking the left hand for any sign of holy matrimony, and I listen carefully for important details such as “I have a girlfriend.” Before John I had zero tolerance for any form of shadiness or commitment phobia, both of which are quite the epidemic in my circle. If you seemed to be the least bit unavailable or fickle in your decision making skills I was taking my boots and walking, no running far away. I just couldn’t see the benefit of taking a risk when it came to love, which is slightly hilarious since I have always promoted myself as a hopeless romantic.
The plan was to be married with two adorable kids of my own by thirty-two, so I could not afford to waste time with a man who wasn’t 100% available. I always shook my head in disappointment at girls who got involved with the mysterious type, or even worse, the unavailable one, thinking what’s the point? If you know there can be no future from the get-go, why put your heart into it? I spent most of high school and college dating green bean types instead, a term coined by my best girlfriend. “A green bean is a guy who is ridiculously bland, the one you never crave but he’s there, it’s convenient, and he’s American.” I would date the green beans and then break it off once they started to really care, and then congratulate myself on not settling. The right man would come along. I just needed patience and self-discipline. This is how I approached pretty much everything – my undergraduate years at the University, every crappy internship, years of graduate school, and all of my romantic endeavors. If I made the plans things would fall into place. Aim for the best and don’t settle for anyone who isn’t setting your hair on fire. My reward, I thought, was him.