In honor of my upcoming wedding, I want to do a series of posts about my relationship. I was sitting in the car with my rabbi yesterday, feeling stressed out. We were driving to lunch. I said, “Sometimes the marriage part itself gets buried under the wedding part.” She laughed a little. She said, “I think that’s the way it usually goes.” I said, “But I feel guilty. I want to be thinking about the marriage part a lot. These are the last couple months that I will be unmarried. I want to think about what that means.”
It’s hard to think about what that means, because there are seating charts to go over. And napkins to pick. And all of the other unrelated stuff that’s happening in my life that won’t stop just because I happened to have decided to get married.
So I want to take the time to write about why I’m getting married in the first place. It makes me stop and think. It makes me happy. It briefly distracts me from my endless nervous pacing, up and down the long hall, up and down….Kidding. There are no halls. It’s an apartment.
One more thing. I’ve referred to my fiance throughout this blog as– yeah, that: “My fiance.” Which has been annoying, because I don’t think those words when I think of him. They’re too generic. So from now on, I’m going to refer to him as “Bear.” I actually call him this, in real life. And it’s a lot more fun. So let’s see how that goes.
We met online. The perfect beginning to the greatest love of all time, right? Who doesn’t swoon from the sheer, pure, overwhelming romance of it when you mention meeting someone online?
I had been on the dating site for about a week when Bear wrote to me. I was talking with five or six guys consistently, and it was distracting and fun. I was utterly uninterested in pursuing a serious relationship, but more than ready to be taken out to dinner and told that I was pretty. Bear and I began writing to each other every day. Not because I was going to date him, but because he was funny and witty and never said anything romantic or sexual. In fact, we switched immediately to email, so our interaction was neatly removed from the realm of online dating, and we didn’t allude to the fact that we’d encountered one another there. It was as though we’d e-met on an academic forum. I liked him a lot. I liked him much more than anyone else I was talking to. I started to feel kind of excited whenever I got an email from him. I caught myself hoping he’d write a really long one. When he didn’t write for a whole day, I got anxious and felt hurt.
And then this very muscular and confident man from Nigeria asked me if I wanted to meet him in Union Square for dinner and possibly dancing. I said yes. Around the same time, Bear said, and I quote, “i feel like we should meet in person sooner rather than later. i’m definitely less interesting in person, but i’m not so interesting in text that you won’t get tired of me anyway if we don’t get some variety into our interaction.”
I responded, “it’ll be sort of strange meeting you in person after all this writing. so we should definitely get it over with.”
We agreed to get dinner. He made reservations at this trendy Latin fusion place called Calle Ocho on Columbus between 81st and 82nd. I’d mentioned thinking about going there sometime. He said, of our upcoming in-person meeting, “ so maybe we should plan it. i could do a bow, a handshake, a hug, or whatever. i could bring a flower. i could pick you up in a cab.”
I said, “I definitely want a flower.”
And then it was Tuesday, and I was standing in the entryway to the trendy Latin fusion restaurant that we would later refer fondly to a million times, rifling unseeingly through flashcards of Spanish verb conjugations and trying to decide if leaning against the wall looked sexy or stupid. I didn’t know why I was nervous. It was supposed to be kind of a practice date. I had that Union Square date on Friday, and many more, I was sure, to follow. It was misting outside. The July sky was thick and murky, and my hair was frizzing wildly in the humidity. I was wearing a little black skirt, black high heeled boots (not too high, and not particularly sleek, but with character and not without sex appeal), a thin, silky lavender shirt that I bought for an internship that I had to dress sort of formally for and haven’t worn since, and silver hoop earrings. I had a touch of lipstick, but no other makeup. It wasn’t my best outfit. I had a pimple on my cheek. But I was pretty sure Bear would think I was hot. I was pretty sure I had all of the power in this situation. He was nerdy and un-cute (or so suggested his profile photo) and mild. I was vivacious and fiery and—nervous.
People kept walking by. I wished they would stop it. Every time, I thought it might be him. I was early. It was raining now, and the umbrellas snapped up and obscured everyone’s heads. Which made it so much worse. How would I recognize him fast enough to make sure I looked casual? I forced my eyes back to the flash cards. And then he was standing in the doorway. I knew it was him instantly. He didn’t look anything like the photos. His face was sweet, everything on it understated and gentle. His hair was sticking up a little, and it looked soft, like down. He was big and bashful and holding an enormous sunflower.
He said, “So I’ve been practicing how to stand really awkwardly when we met.”
I said, “Oh yeah? Are you doing it right now?”
He said, “No, it’s like this—“ And he stood awkwardly, putting one foot at an unhappy angle.
“That’s pretty awkward,” I said. “Good job.”
He held out the sunflower and I took it. “Wow. A sunflower.”
“I wanted something really ungainly and big. Something uncomfortable looking.”
“Yeah, it’s going to look funny on the table. I’m really glad you didn’t get me a rose.”
I looked around. We had stepped halfway into the restaurant now. There were pictures of sunflowers everywhere.
“Wait,” I said, “Did you plan this?”
But he was saying to the hostess, “Reservation for two.” And he sounded like someone who’d reserved tables at restaurants before, which for some reason impressed me. I’d maybe reserved a table once. Maybe. I hadn’t been in Manhattan very long, and I was living on bagels from H&H and chocolate croissants from Zabars.
We were led to a table in the back. The place was surprisingly cavernous. There were giant orb lamps bobbing from the ceiling. There was color everywhere. I tried to walk very confidently. The floor was slippery smooth and I concentrated on not sliding. He was supposed to be the awkward one.
We sat down. The waiter appeared with water, smiling slyly back and forth between us. He could see it was a date. It was a date. Bear’s face said it was a date. He looked hesitant and nervous and he was blushing and smiling at me a little. There hadn’t been anything romantic about our extensive email exchange. We hadn’t acted like this was supposed to be a date. Except for the flower. But even the flower was kind of a joke. It was all supposed to be joking and casual and almost ironic. But there was absolutely no irony in his expression.
I was talking a lot, all at once. I remember his face much better than I remember anything I said. He had written down questions to ask me, in a little notebook that he had in his workbag. He made fun of himself for writing them down, and grudgingly showed me the page when I bugged him about it. I’m sure he was articulate, because he always is, and I’m sure he used words I’d never learned how to pronounce in an off-handed manner that made it sound easy and normal. Like the way those Olympic skaters go backwards really, really fast. Or like a concert pianist plays Liszt. That has more to do with sound. But I don’t know that I noticed. I saw him struggle briefly with the straw of his diet coke, fumbling, glancing up to see if I was watching. I saw how he had trouble meeting my eye for very long, but kept looking back down at the table, like he wasn’t entirely sure what his eyes would communicate if he kept them on me. When he turned to the side for a second, I saw how surprisingly boyish and playful his face was in profile, with the mischievous dash of a nose, the full lower lip that might slip naturally into a pout, and the long, feathery eyelashes. His face was strikingly innocent, while his body was burly and broad. The combination was compelling. His eyes sparkled.
I stopped him from eating more than a bite of the compact corn cakes that were placed before us as a mockery of bread. I took it away from him. Diabetics can’t eat carbs. He’d told me he was diabetic in an email. He laughed. “Just a taste! I promise I won’t have more than that.” He said, “My blood sugar’s fine.”
I ate the rest of it.
After we’d eaten, he tried to convince me to have dessert.
“You can’t eat any, and I’m full,” I said.
He said, “I just don’t want you to go, but I’m not very good at this.”
I said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
I tried to split the check with him. He said, “Please don’t interpret this as sexist. I’m not trying to posture. This is because you’re a grad student, and I have a job.” That was true. He paid. We went outside, me clutching the huge sunflower. We waited for the light to change, heading towards Central Park. Standing beside him, I felt off-kilter, as though his body was tugging me closer, maybe by sheer force of his larger mass. It was strange. He was just standing there, looking straight ahead, just being Bear, a man I had met for the first time in person approximately two hours before, and I felt unsteady, as though I might fall against him. My head was twitching towards his shoulder. Attractive, I’m sure.
We walked into Central Park. We were talking about fantasy novels. About magic realism. We were inventing a ridiculous plot about the Revolutionary War with wizards. He wasn’t looking at me. I was trying not to look at him. We were talking about bad movies. He said there was one playing on the Intrepid, the old battleship docked on the Hudson, if I wanted to go see it with him. I said definitely. He said he wanted to show me around the Village, where he lived. I said it was embarrassing how lost I always got there. He walked me to my building. It was midnight. That’s a more romantic word than “twelve.”
We stopped by my door, as all couples stop by the door in movies that involve cute dates. He said, “Would it be alright if I hugged you?”
I guess I nodded or said, “Yeah.”
We hugged. He was big and steady and my mind felt swirly. There was something inexplicably thrilling about him. He wasn’t doing anything too unusual. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Where all the allure was originating from. I thought I might be sustaining the hug inappropriately. I backed up. We were both smiling, sort of stupidly.
“Ok, good night,” I said.
“Ok, good night,” he said. He walked backwards a few steps, still smiling at me. I turned towards the building. I went inside and put the sunflower in a vase. It looked sort of noble there, holding its own, alone.
The next day, and the day after that, I thought about kissing Bear a lot. I mean, I thought about it a lot. I couldn’t imagine kissing him a lot. I wasn’t sure how he’d react. He was gentle and quiet and witty and awkward and— well, he was contradictory. He was more confident than he seemed physically, and more humble than he could be, based on how obviously brilliant he was. He spoke cautiously, but always had something to say. He was clever and funny, but always understated. He had a boyish face and a manly body and a hesitating manner and a high-powered job. He did something at a hedge fund. It wasn’t clear what. It definitely involved a lot of numbers and had the word “trader” in it, and I knew that “hedge fund” meant “Wall Street,” and Wall Street meant high-powered, hard-hitting macho guys who wore expensive designer suits and had no souls. Well, more truthfully, I hadn’t worked out a defined stance on Wall Street guys, because I hadn’t even met any. I just had a vague impression of their general character from Sex and the City, angry political protesters, and remarks made by people in diners. Bear was definitely not wearing an expensive designer suit. His button-down shirt was coming untucked and he was sweating and he looked frazzled, not smooth and suave. I politely asked him about his job, but I didn’t understand his answer, and I didn’t want to look like an idiot, so I just nodded and let the subject shift naturally back to me. Where it remained for a while. Actually, Bear didn’t seem to want to talk about himself very much at all.
On Friday, I went on that date with the muscular Nigerian scientist. He was wearing an expertly coordinated outfit that achieved both distinct, careless masculinity and impeccable taste. He was confident, warm, accomplished, and talkative. He wanted to know everything about me, and he wanted to go everywhere with me. Dinner, a movie, sitting by a fountain, Union Square at night, dancing. He was full of ideas. He knew the whole city. He had a fascinating accent, and when we said goodbye he told me he couldn’t wait to see me again. But it was too late. I couldn’t muster any interest. It was way too late.
(weirdly, this was the image that showed up a lot in the restaurant where we had our first date. source)
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Un-Roast: Today I love the way my face looks when I wake up. I have this sort of floating, bewildered expression, and there’s a sweetness there. I think it should look worse, because it’s lined and heavy from sleeping. But it always strikes me as kinda cute.
P.S. Thanks to Becca, from A Los Angeles Love, for the shout out in this post! Becca, you’re awesome.
P.P.S. Article about small breasts and cool bras that SanD posted in a comment here yesterday. If you didn’t click on the link then, you should now!