The other day I was thinking about how I use journaling mostly as a way to think about areas of difficulty in my life.
Today I am going to spend a few paragraphs to instead talk about something that’s going pretty well.
I chose the right partner, thank fucking God.
I have a very typical parents-were-divorced-when-I-was-a-teen backstory. My mom and dad were oil and water, fought all the time over you-name-it. Some amount of abuse that I won’t get into, dad drunk, blah blah. Eventually things came to a head and Mom moved us out of the house one day while Dad was at work. We moved to a town over so he couldn’t initially figure out where we were living because she felt unsafe.
Anyway. When kids see this kind of broken relationship in their parents, they often decide: Marriage isn’t for me.
That’s what my younger sister decided. She’s 42 and declared at 20 that she’s never going to get hitched. So far she’s followed through, and I don’t see that changing. My older brother is even more down on marriage than my sister. (When I told him I was getting married his response was Really? Despite the United States’ draconian and patriarchal laws regarding marriage? Is it important for you to own chattel? I responded: You know Mike, a simple congratulations would have been fine. That’s what normal people say, even if they’re not enthusiastic about the institution.)
I had one long relationship prior to meeting my wife. Met a girl in college senior year, got heavily involved. Then we spent several years apart — I went to San Francisco to join the tech boom there in the early aughts, got a job, established a career — then came back to the East Coast in 2005 and we resumed dating. Before we knew it, we’d bought a house together, right after the financial crash in 2008. And we stayed together until 2016.
And while we were okay together, we also had major issues. We fought — but fighting itself is never the problem, all couples do some amount of arguing. We had mismatched fighting styles. I wanted to just calmly talk about things (I’m a boring engineer and don’t mind discussing areas of conflict and I don’t mind compromising and I like trying to find a solution that makes sense for everyone involved) but she wanted to shout. My shrink friend would say she had lousy emotional regulation. Anyway. As the years passed we fought more and more and eventually stopped sleeping together and that was the end. Two straight years of zero intimacy. I tried my best to be a great partner — I saw her family, supported her at work, did the lion’s share of cooking and cleaning around the house — listened to her complain about work — didn’t pick fights, very little alcohol consumption, kept myself in shape. I paid attention to her, scheduled date nights, tried to make her feel loved. It just .. fizzled anyway. Didn’t work. I could write pages and pages and pages about our relationship, but the point is: I knew we were not going to make it after our first year living together, way back in early 2010. I knew and I held on for another six years anyway, hoping that she’d change, or I’d change, or I don’t know — that things would get better.
She still didn’t want to break up though — I had to finally end it myself. And it was devastating, the end of it — I handled it poorly. I moved to a lousy apartment and started drinking heavily. (Drinking does not solve problems. I knew this and I did it anyway.)
It took me a couple of years to start dating again. But in late 2018 I started creating online profiles and getting on “the apps” and looking. Half a year later, mid-2019, I met my wife Jennie on Bumble. She swiped on me — I had a picture of me playing scrabble against my Dad, she had a picture of her out at a Halloween party dressed as Ripley from Alien that looked adorable. I didn’t mess around, not too much texting, coffee quickly, which turned into dinner unexpectedly, which turned into a long walk down Beacon street in Boston, chatting about nothing, happy and hopeful. We had chemistry — we talked about nerdy things like Star Wars and Ben Affleck’s Batman and what authors we were reading and enjoyed — conversation was easy and I loved looking at her wide open face, dark eyes and slightly-too-big but softly curved nose. I found her to be instantly lovable.
I chased her — I made sure she knew I wanted her. She was the first person I met since I started dating that I really felt a click with and I wanted to make sure she knew it. I took her to dinner and movies and planned dates and followed through. We took our time a little with the physical stuff, but three weeks in and we were sleeping together, completely compatible there. Started spending every weekend together.
Covid hit in 2020 and we started spending even more time together.
A year later, in 2021, I asked her to marry me.
I’m still not exactly sure why I did it. I’ve never been someone who had the goal of getting married. I mean some people – it’s like a checkbox, it’s on their List of Things that Must Be Done — Get Married.
Although we told each other “I love you” all the time, we’d never really brought up the subject of us getting married. Instead we approached the subject obliquely — I remember a conversation we had about her friend Ellie who “had to beg her boyfriend to marry her” and she asked what I thought about that. I said, well — if you have to beg, it probably isn’t going to work out long term. To which Jennie responded It didn’t — Ellie’s husband wound up cheating on her a year later. And I continued: I’m kind of a traditionalist in this area. The dude should probably ask for the chick’s hand. And ideally it’s a big surprise.
So we were kind of discussing it without discussing it. Conversations like this, I took as clear hints that Jennie might want to get married and I did my part to hint that I knew it would be on me to ask her.
In Feb of 2021 I asked, on my knees in her brookline condo, with a ring and everything, right after watching Desk Set, which is an old Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey movie about a librarian getting married to a computer nerd. (Jennie is a librarian and I’m a computer nerd so there you go.) At first she didn’t believe I was asking her to marry her — there was some initial confusion — she was like wait are you imitating a part of the movie, the part where Spencer is proposing? And I was like No, silly, I want you to be my wife — and she just hugged me and sobbed yes and I told her we were going to be so happy together. I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to do it — my rational brain said “You should think about this more carefully before popping the question” but my heart, for once in my fucking life, shouted the loudest — my heart said YOU BETTER DO THIS THING, THIS WOMAN IS WORTH TAKING A CHANCE ON, YOU LOVE HER, YOU’RE 43, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WAITING FOR??”
Here in 2023, two years later, we’ve been living together for over a year and I’m still just as happy with her, with our relationship, as I was when I proposed. I know that we’re a good fit in all the same ways that I knew that I wasn’t a good fit with the ex-partner just a year into living with her. All the things that felt wrong with her feel right with Jennie. When we fight we don’t raise our voices and shout — we just talk about stuff and figure things out. We cuddle all the time — we talk constantly about whatever is on our minds, we don’t bottle things up. We tell each other we love one another every day.
It’s not perfect. There are days when I want to be alone or our moods mismatch, when she wants to show me cute puppy videos but I’m stressing about something at work and I’m curt in declining, or I want to be playful myself but she’s trying to coordinate some kind of elder care for her parents who are really old and have dementia and myriad health issues and are incredibly demanding and resource intensive and so she will kind of shut me down.
But overwhelmingly things are great, our styles mesh well with one another — we both appreciate routine, consistency, stability. But we make sure to include novelty and fun, too — vacations and meals out at new restaurants, treats at a bakery, trips to check out shops in neighboring towns, movies and comic book sellers and book stores. We watch old movies, classics with Mae West and Bogart and Lugosi, read books together, turn on Mystery Science Theater 3000, go to Comic-Con and PAX, sleep late when we can, support each other always. She doesn’t care if I play video games sometimes, or take naps in the middle of the day, or whatever. She doesn’t care if I act like myself. We laugh all the time, every day, telling each other stories about our co-workers or the ridiculous antics of our family members. She loves when I sing horrible 80s and 90s songs around the house, badly parodying Pearl Jam or Def Leppard or Guns n Roses.
I don’t live in fear of arguments — I’m not nervous when she gets home at night the way that I used to be with my ex, always dreading her moods, dreading the next argument, the next shouting match. Jennie is, above all else, a kind person, someone who wants to make me happy, which I really value and adore. Particularly after the experience with my ex, who I often felt was looking for a slave to do things for her (run the household etc) or a status-symbol husband (a good earner, someone who shows well at a party or to family.) She didn’t care as much about the actual quality of our relationship together and she didn’t mind showing me contempt when she was upset. Which was often.
There are still so many unknowns when you ask someone to be your partner forever — so many unanswered questions, so many ways a relationship can turn out wrong.
I’m grateful that so far, it’s turning out completely right.
Love this. (Sadly, you’ve finally left our “relatable” track, but I’m smiling awfully big for you.) Tracey-Hepburn. Well played!