Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Reluctant Bride, A Love Story

I never thought I’d get married. I just couldn’t picture it happening. I never had a boyfriend with whom I could imagine spending the rest of my life. Not, like, happily. Growing up, I was never one of those girls who fantasized about the dress or the flowers. Grown, I was not one of those women looking forward to marriage as a pinnacle of achievement in her adult life. Rather, in my late twenties, living in New York City, I was happily single and quite proud of the fact that I had resisted settling for convention. I was only mildly pre-occupied with the idea of encountering a life-partnership. Or, ok, fine – ‘finding a husband’. Whatever.

Then I met Jesse. Well, re-met him. He was a boy I had known 10 years ago in college, had always been attracted to, and had even kissed once. When we met again in the city, the connection was still there. I found his good looks to have been enhanced by the years that had passed; he had gown from a cute boy into a handsome man. He was taller than I remembered…

We started dating but I was sure it was just a fling. He seemed far too cavalier, too slick, too cool, too…well, too fun to be ‘serious-relationship material’. He was an avid watcher of all three seasons of sports, he loved Bryan Adams (with little discernable irony), he played guitar in a band, walked with a swagger and was prone at times to grow and wear (again, with little to no irony) a handle-bar moustache. He wore tight tee- shirts, large sunglasses and belts with studs. He had two earrings in each ear and said things like, “hey mamma.” His favorite pastimes included grilling, beer- swilling, and spinning classic rock albums in the highly collegiate bachelor pad he shared with his kid brother. I would have been un-surprised to find the occasional bag of something illegal in his pocket. I found him sexy and very un- boring. He had a Big Lebowski poster on his wall. This was most definitely a fling.

Slowly, against all odds and my own inner- protestations, he began to prove me wrong. Underneath the slick swagger, a quiet conscientiousness slowly revealed itself. Despite his cool veneer, he was beloved by his big, tight-knit group of friends, many of whom he’d known since grade- school. Among these friends, to the last, he was regarded as someone to be relied upon, trusted and true. He had an extremely committed work ethic and a great job which he loved. He was dependable and cared about the things I cared about: family, friends, good food, music, film, travel, animals, nature, exercise…

He wanted to be a father, start a family. He was very good to his mother and grandparents. He could cook. I began to see that his fun-loving nature, which I had initially viewed as cavalier, was really just genuine joyfulness, a love of life. He didn’t take himself too seriously; he was goofy and not afraid to look stupid (the moustache was only the beginning). I began to enjoy laughing with him.

In addition to all of these winning qualities, (and perhaps most winningly), he was head over heels in love with me. He told me I was pretty all the time. He spoiled me with presents and flowers and fancy dinners. He seemed to immediately see, understand and cherish the ‘real me’. He intuitively knew how to handle me, when to nurture and when to be tough. He was a rare mixture of very affectionate and also self-possessed, independent and vulnerable. He wanted to be with me and didn’t try to hide it or play games.

After about six months of dating, I heard him whispering about getting married.

I got scared. I had fallen in love with him, too, but I wasn’t ready to get married yet!!! I wasn’t even really thinking about it, hardly ever really thinking about it at all! It was too soon! I mean, we were in love, but we still didn’t know each other well enough to be sure that we were perfectly compatible and should be together for the rest of our lives, it was way too soon to be able to know that and, I mean, you know…--eeehh--….Big Lebowski poster!!!!

I started talking about how I thought marriage was a conformist convention. After attending a wedding together, I would go on and on about what a huge waste of money such events were. I avowed that I would never want something like that, I wouldn’t want to do something that everyone else does, the same way everyone else does it. I don’t need a piece of paper to ratify my feelings, blah, blah, blah.

He asked me to move in with him. This was me:

“Oh, wow. So sweet! Ah, such a lovely – I, ahm…but I don’t think we’re really ready for that, do you? I mean, I think it’s important to take our time and…independence…and – yeah, no. Not yet. But someday, though! Yeah!”

He just shook his head and laughed. He said he was ready, that he had no doubts that we were meant for each other. He said he believed that I knew it too but that I was just scared. I thought maybe he was right, maybe not – still too soon to tell.

We continued as we were for almost a year, having fun together, living in the moment…

Then, I found the ring. I wasn’t snooping, really! I was honest and truly just organizing his clothes for him when I found a suspicious looking black bag which seemed as if it might contain a surprise for me. So I opened the bag (ok at this point I was kind of snooping, I’ll admit) and inside it was a VERY suspicious little box that definitely looked like it was maybe for me and so I (full on snooping now) opened the box and OH MY GOD – there was a diamond engagement ring inside it. I was in complete shock.

So I put it on my finger and stared at it. The shock did not subside. I stared some more. Then I heard Jesse coming upstairs and scrambled frantically to put the ring back in the box and the box back in the bag and the bag back in the sock drawer where I had found it when I was not snooping and tried to assemble my features into a look that was not one of complete shock. It was very hard.

“What’s wrong, honey?” He asked me, “You look freaked out.”

“Oh no, nothing! It’s nothing! I’m fine! What? Nothing!”

For the next two weeks, I spent most of every minute we were together wondering when it was going to happen – the big moment. What would it be like? What would he say? What would I say?? I didn’t know. I was unprepared for the big moment. I had no idea what I wanted. I still thought it was probably too soon to get married…wasn’t even sure I ever really wanted to get married…but I didn’t want to not be with this person with whom I was ever more in love. I was scared. But I didn’t run away. I didn’t try to avoid the moment or stop it from happening. I was in love with him. I wanted to be with him. I went through those weeks in a daze.

When it finally happened, I could tell ‘the moment’ was upon me from the very beginning of the day. He was not himself. He was nervous, I could feel it. He was being careful about the most mundane details of our day, he was being extra gentle with me, kept me in his sight at all times, avoided my eyes . He suggested (trying to be casual) that we shop for a picnic dinner for that night. He bought champagne and put on a button down shirt.

The moment was upon me and I was still unprepared. I could tell he was going through stress about the moment himself, and I wished I could make it easier for him. But I had to pretend oblivion, I wasn’t supposed to know it was coming, I wasn’t supposed to have found the ring by accident while not snooping in his drawers!

When he pulled the ring out of his pocket and held it out before him, I continued to try to act like I had no idea it existed. It was a surreal moment. He didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. We both just stared at the offering, the symbol of promise, and the culprit of my recent dazed state. Time hung still and fluid like the held breath in which all moments of consequence are suspended…

I broke the silence.

“I thought you didn’t believe in diamonds…”

(This was true, he had proclaimed as much months ago in a communal fit of conformity-bashing.)

He became galvanized into speech:

 “This ring”, he said, “is a symbol of my commitment to make things that are important to you, important to me.”

(Yes, despite all of my loud protestations against the conventions of marriage, I retained a hardy regard for the hardest of minerals. A suspiciously self-serving, selective-value system, I know!)

He was waiting from a response from me…my head was spinning; I tried to think of what to say. This was it, this was the moment, and what should I say?? My brain was stalled out, it had nothing to give.

In coming up empty in the brain, I realized that I had been living in my head throughout this entire relationship; and that, in doing so, I had hovered just above the region wherein lay the benefactor and beneficiary of what was at the crux of all relationships. This was a moment my brain could not help me with. This was a moment I could only feel my way through. I dropped my awareness deeper, about a foot below my head, into my chest, where my heart was patiently waiting its turn to weigh in.

My heart was not confused or scared. It carried no mitigation, held no qualifiers. With only pure open acceptance, my heart was whispering yes. It told me that I’d been afraid to acknowledge let alone embrace that this was what I wanted because of, ironically, how deeply I valued and desired it. Jesse knew this, had known it all along.

As I gazed across the picnic blanket at his loving, waiting, hopeful face, I was suddenly filled with gratitude for the chance I had been given; the chance to learn about myself and grow with this person who wanted to do the same with me. To continue the evolution which had been ushered in without my knowledge, quietly, despite and in spite of my fears, and at a level deeper than thought.

I put the ring on my finger. I have never taken it off.

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