The text came just as I'd finished my second cocktail of the evening, ensconced in my usual spot at my favorite bar.
It was one of the rare non-Simone weekends when I didn’t have any plans or commitments, mostly by design. My best pals were out of town, I’d been working/playing/planning non-stop for the past several weeks, and I’d made a point of not agreeing to any activities in advance. I figured the fun stuff would happen or it wouldn’t, but either way I’d get some time to decompress.
My couch at home is magical — it’s an upholstered tar baby; the more I fight it, the more stuck I get, until, finally, I surrender to its loving embrace and leave the outside world behind me. I'd worked late into the afternoon on Friday, promptly stepped out of my pants as I'd walked through the door of my house, and spent the evening in pjs, turning down all invitations to leave home. I'd eaten dinner in front of the TV, watching guilty pleasure DVR gems and a good movie before wandering to bed.
But by Saturday night, of course, I had cabin fever. So I toddled over to my corner bar, a brilliant and warm French bistro where the bartenders never have to ask what I’m drinking (Silvertree martini with Lillet Blanc), where the staff and owner always go in for the big hug, and where I can sit by myself for an hour (or two), sipping at a cocktail (or two), and never feel alone.
The text that buzzed on my phone was simple, lacking any punctuation, but that didn’t limit its effect on me:
He put a ring on it
That’s all it said, and all that needed to be said, because it came from the Bombshell (take a moment and read — I’ll wait).
To be clear, I wasn’t devastated or heartbroken, but I was definitely rattled. The Bombshell and I have had a long time to settle into our friendship — if there’s any sort of “could have been” tension, it’s more of a wistful sweetness that we just weren’t right for each other. There’s still plenty of love between us, but it’s not that acute, wrenching one-that-got-away sensation. So I wasn’t upset or disappointed. In fact, I’m happy for her, because she’s been wanting to be married for just about as long as I’ve known her. We probably would have been together longer if she hadn’t been so focused on looking for a future husband.
Instead of asking for the check, I ordered a third martini and drank a silent toast to our past pleasures and her future joys. Then I did what I do best...which is get all inside my head.
Because sometimes I wonder if people are getting on with their lives and leaving me behind.
Not my best guy friends, to be sure, because most of them are still very, very single, and (for the most part) content to enjoy the lives they have.
But with every new “in a relationship” status change, or wedding photo, or new baby announcement that a former flame eagerly posts to Facebook, I can’t help wondering if I’m missing out — if I’ve somehow placed myself in suspended animation, locked in amber, not evolving or committing or moving out of my comfort zone. Did I meet that one right girl and let her go because I wasn’t ready? Or has it been more a matter of timing and chemistry and meant-to-be-ness?
In other words, is it me?
This summer, I was the reluctant plus-1 at a wedding, which meant suiting up, smiling a lot, and turning up the charm meter. When you’re a bridesmaid’s date (more on that story when the time is right), you’re there to represent. I’m not a big fan of weddings — they’re fraught and optimistic and touchingly romantic, but they also have a grim undercurrent. You know...at least for me.
So I sat in the audience, not knowing anything about the betrothed, taking in the gorgeous bridesmaid I was lucky enough to be dating. My mind shifted back and forth between opposing sentiments:
- Ugh. I could never do that again.
- But if I did get married, our wedding would happen this way...
- But, damn, I wouldn’t want to be up there again, in front of everybody like that, lost in the idea of forever while some part of me understood the pitfalls ahead.
- But if I did ask a woman to marry me, I’d do it like this...
It was a steady oscillation between hopeless pragmatism and abject romanticism. I’ll never get married again...but if I did get married....
When my date and I were able to sit down over food the next day and talk about the night before, it was largely positive for both of us. We’d already had a talk about the limitations of our courtship (my doing, my fault, bigger story for another day), so she was quite relieved (but not surprised) at the grace with which I handled comments like, “Your wife is beautiful!” and “This must be your boyfriend?”
The truth was that I liked being her supposed boyfriend, at least for the night. I'd settled into the role easily — smiling, shaking hands, even dancing with her mother. Instead of worrying about the implications or suppositions, I kept my mind and heart firmly in the present moment.
Of course, if I'm going to be honest with myself, it didn't hurt that I didn't know anyone at the reception, and that both my date and I knew that we were not a long-term possibility (as much as we like each other). So I actually wasn't risking anything (except maybe a bit of my soul) in playing the attentive suitor.
Anyway. Being at a wedding, any wedding, is always exquisite torture because my heart vacillates between the joys of being unfettered and the dream of a lasting love. Weddings spark my cynical view that marriage is for suckers while stirring up my chthonic hope that I'll find a girl for whom I'll suspend that dark belief. It's the dream that I'll recognize my doubts and fears as the immature, vestigial defense system I needed in order to keep myself from making the same mistakes again and again. And that, somehow, I'll muster the strength to reject them someday.
I can't imagine getting married again. But I can't imagine not getting married again.
Or, more specifically, I can't work out the process that would result in me, voluntarily and without reservation, expressing the belief that we have the chemistry and components and communication to make a public promise to stay together. Forever.
And I'm really good at envisioning scenarios — in fact, I probably have two or three proposal fantasies floating around in my head at every wedding I attend. I'm great at making the most of any given moment, authentically open-hearted and loving and warm...right up until the long-term implications infiltrate my consciousness and the walls come up.
The women in my life who have been capable of keeping me out of my head, even for a little while, are the ones who've made a lasting impression on my heart.
And, as the Bombshell's text came in, I couldn't help wondering if I'd been missing out on something important — because I shouldn't depend on someone else to make sure that I'm invested and optimistic and committed.
It's a question I explore almost every time I sit on the couch across from my therapist — am I single because I keep messing up, or have I just not met the right woman?
Or is it a little of both, with a sprinkling of bad timing and missed opportunity?
You know what the optimistic part of me says.