“I would be willing to marry you, if that was something you needed for this relationship to work.”
“Excuse me? WHAT?”
We were on a date. The first one we had been on in quite some time. I had taken the night off work at my restaurant job because I had a conference presentation scheduled for the next morning. I was nervous. Standing in front of a room of scholars to present one’s own ideas is intimidating to say the least.
We had gone to one of our favorite spots. I didn’t make a reservation because I didn’t think it would be that difficult to get searing for a party of two.
We waited for nearly two hours. The duration of the wait was extended by the weight of the silence that had been building between us. I was nervous for the presentation, but I was also scared of the direction our relationship was heading. I guess, I didn’t know what I wanted or what she wanted or where we even were. I had been trying to bring up the discomfort that had become our existence with each other. She didn’t seem to feel the same kind of discomfort. I felt our connection waning, and I didn’t know how to get it back. I needed something, but I wasn’t sure if she had it to give. I wasn’t sure how to ask for it. I wasn’t sure how to put it into words. I just knew something wasn’t quite right.
After our really long wait, and the tossing around of ideas of where else we might go to satisfy our need for food-“No, I do not want to eat from a hot dog food truck. That does not appeal to me in any kind of way,” I said.
The host took us to our table. I looked at the art hanging on the wall. It was a lonely picture. Blues and yellows. A woman sitting in a chair. It was titled: “These Two Needed to Have a Serious Talk.”
The universe is so fucking cute.
I felt so heavy. So helpless. So empty of any ability to express or make sense of anything I was feeling. I dropped my stuff and went to the bathroom. When I returned, that’s when she said it.
“I would be willing to marry you if that is something you need for this relationship to work.”
I’ll never forget it. The way she presented this marriage proposal as a solution to the weight of our co-existence. This is not the kind of shock I was expecting to come from a marriage proposal.
Her and I held strongly opposed views of marriage. When we first got together at 21 and 22 years old we agreed-marriage was a feeble institution and the consistent political fighting about whether or not gays should have the right to marry turned us both off from the idea that it was something we would ever need in order to feel complete in our relationship. I remember that conversation. We were driving to my parents house.
Deep in the rebellion that defined my late teens and early twenties-i didn’t want labels or constriction. I didn’t want anniversaries or celebrations. I thought gifts were a cop-out. (I actually do still believe gifts are a sort of cop-out) I thought this made me freer. I was wrong. This was fear.
Both of our histories had determined that marriage was a kind of trap, and often not healthy. My parents divorced right around my first birthday. I didn’t want to be like them. My mom and her current husband were both in their third marriage. I didn’t want to be like them. Her parents had been married her whole life. Despite the toxicity of their relationship-they found a way to make it work. Her father stayed in the basement while her mother ruled the upper level. There’s was more of a business partnership than one ruled by loving affection. She didn’t want to be like them. In that moment-we agreed, at least, about who and what we did not want this relationship to become.
As time went on, my views about marriage changed. We argued about it a lot. She would say, “I’m committed to you.” I guess I was supposed to believe that. But I wanted an anniversary. I wanted a day that belonged to the celebration of our love and commitment. I wanted a pretty dress, and to write marriage vows, and to have my picture taken with the love of my life under a willow tree. I wanted to stand in front of a group of the people I care about with the person I care about the most and say-“This is my love. This is my life. This is my promise to always be here with you. No matter what. I choose you.”
We fought about it a lot. And after our separation in 2013-I asked, first, if she would want to get married. More importantly, “What are you going to do about your father when we get married?”
“He can choose to come, or not come. That’s on him.”
I felt a sense of relief, and a measured sense of growth. I felt like we were on the same page again. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
It was almost two years later, and after a whole lot of moving around the topic without settling on a determined structure or arrangement to be made. We piled up excuses about why this isn’t the right time, or when would be the right time, or how we would afford it.
“I would be willing to marry you if that was something you needed for this relationship to work.”
It still stings every time I think about it.
Had she not heard me, ever? Had she not listened to the ways my world view had shifted? Had she not listened to herself when she said that she didn’t want a business-like marriage? Was she just trying to appease me? Did she even WANT this, or to be with me?
“Excuse me? WHAT? This is not how I expected this to go down. I don’t get it. You always said you didn’t want a relationship like your parents. Something that is reduced to an arrangement made out of necessity. That is exactly what you’re asking me here. If that is how you see this, then I don’t want anything to do with it.”
I could see it in her face that she knew she screwed up the words. That I was disappointed. And that she was internalizing this. I don’t know how long she had prepared this offer in her mind or how much she might have thought she just totally blew it. She did totally blow it. And I totally blew up.
I had grown tired of making excuses for her. We still needed to make it through this dinner. We still had a second date night destination to get to. And I still had the looming anxiety of my 8 a.m. scholarly presentation ahead of me.
I was hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. I reacted to her offer in the only way I knew how.
We had been discussing marriage about a year before that. We looked at rings. We talked about the ones I liked and why I liked them. We had it narrowed down to a couple of perfect prospects. I was never going to be the one that proposed marriage to her because I knew it was my view that had changed. I was waiting for her to be ready. I understood that her fear of commitment was real. We even talked about her brother, and how he and his wife were together for 11 years before they got married. We joked that it was part of their make-up. I needed her to come to me. I needed her to make that choice for herself. I thought we were on our way to uncovering that space in her. The place where she could finally feel safe to be gay and to be loved.
Then she got sick. When the steroid that she was put on cost nearly $3000 after her insurance’s contribution- I shelved the whole idea. Sometimes life happens, and we have to adjust. I was totally okay with it. I was okay with all of it. I was not okay with this proposal. It felt like a simultaneous dismissal and invitation. I just couldn’t make sense of it.
We made it through the rest of our date. It was awkward, and the tensions were high. I think she knew that she had hurt me, and I don’t think she had intended that to be the case. I couldn’t find the words to express all of my mounting frustrations.
We went home and went to bed. The next morning she went to work. I went to present my paper. I never heard anything from her. No good luck. Nothing. No support whatsoever. Perhaps my searching for that was selfish. Perhaps not everyone understands the true value of a kind word in challenging times. Perhaps she was too distraught and preoccupied with the weight of the night before. The date that took place, in my mind, specifically because I took the night off work so that I could present this work at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
After I finished-I called her.
“Hey, what’s up?” She said.
“Oh. Nothing. I just finished presenting my paper.”
I was met with silence. I fought back my tears of disappointment, and mounting feelings of shame that she didn’t remember.
I was tired of making excuses for her. I still couldn’t understand that my needs were not being met in the way I needed them to be. I just kept accepting these crumbs. Even if I were able to articulate the way these transactions were hurting me-it didn’t matter. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why I gave so much and received so little in return. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t seem to be important to her. It seemed like I wasn’t on her mind at all. Maybe I was wrong. I just felt so lonely and so invisible. I cried, alone in the bathroom on campus. I just wanted someone to be proud of me. But not just anyone. I needed it to be her.
Friends and family members alike helped me rationalize this intense two days.
“You can’t expect her to be interested in the all the things you’re interested in. Not everything that is important to you will be important to her.”
I thought I understood. She never apologized for forgetting about me. I just kept moving. Trying to forget how much it hurt me.
Eventually I realized that I didn’t need her to be interested in the same things I was interested in. I needed her to be interested in ME.