I always assumed that I would spend the perimenopausal years of my life living alone in an unfurnished studio apartment, shouting incorrect Jeopardy! answers at my ancient television set and keeping company with none but a feral cat. I’m not a conventionally attractive person and I have an extremely inconvenient bowel disease, and growing up I was never lulled into the foolish belief that I would ever be anything other than the wisecracking best friend in the movie of someone else’s life. No one encourages people who look like me to grow up believing that an attractive person with decent credit is going to slip a misplaced glass slipper over the hairy bunions and corns on our feet, and honestly that makes life easier. I learned to aim low and take a joke, and I nursed my crushes in silence.
I don’t know that I ever seriously thought about getting married until I hit my 30s and started thinking about the various ways I could accidentally die alone in my apartment. I’m perfectly happy by myself, watching whatever I wanna watch on TV at the volume that most pleases me while wearing a sweatshirt that is not fit for other human eyeballs. But one weekday night, at three in the fucking morning, my carbon-monoxide detector started beeping. I’m not a scientist, so I assumed that meant I was going to die, and I just lay back down and accepted my fate. What am I going to do, learn chemistry in time to save my dumb life? Anyway, it was fine — turns out I just needed to replace the battery — but the next morning when I woke up I thought: If I had slept to death, wouldn’t it be cool if there was someone contractually obligated to take care of my body and browser history?
It’s not that I was opposed to the idea of romance — I breathlessly read a ton of Harlequin books when I was a kid and watched every single rom-com that made it to basic cable — but after a while it just didn’t seem like it would happen for me. I’d never had marriage aggressively marketed to me as a child, especially not by my bitterly divorced mother. In one of my earliest memories, the day my parents split up, she tossed me in the car, drove us to the bank, and transferred all of their joint money into her newly single account. She never looked back.
And not to put it on anybody else — trust me, I’m the worst — but before my current wife, I’d never dated anyone who seemed even remotely interested in committing to me for longer than a basketball season. It’s hard to imagine yourself as a married person when you’ve never gotten to the “Is it okay if I leave some extra shoes at your place?” stage of any relationship. I never fantasized about building a life with anyone because at the time it didn’t seem realistic to imagine someone even wanting to be exclusive.
I met my now-wife a few years ago, when she tweeted at me — I know this is embarrassing, and I am shuddering as I write this — to tell me that she had enjoyed my first book. It wasn’t even a flirty sex tweet, it wasn’t her half-naked body draped over a chair holding the book between her thighs, it was like “hi my mom book group really enjoyed your diarrhea jokes have a nice day!” smiley-face emoji. This was in the old days, when you could safely assume a person was normal and tweet them back a thank-you without feeling like a pervert, so I did. And then she tweeted back to me, and I tweeted at her again, and we ended up circling the “thank you so much, no thank you so much” drain for a few days until I finally suggested we talk on the phone, like in the olden days. Even then, it wasn’t explicitly a fact-finding love expedition. We talked about books and places to buy cool dresses online and the best snacks; you know, friendly shit. It also didn’t seem like a thing, well at least not a thing thing, because we didn’t live in the same state, and if there’s one thing I have learned in all these years of boneheaded dating errors, it’s that it is rarely worth it to travel more than ten miles in any direction for a person you have never met before.
We got to know each other slowly, in a way that felt totally low stakes, until eventually a $19 Amtrak ticket put us in the same city at the same time. There was no real pressure because what, I’m gonna quit my job and break my lease for this person who couldn’t be bothered to approach me with more than 140 characters? I didn’t have to think about commitment, because that word doesn’t really mean anything when you’re living two separate lives in two separate cities. It literally cannot be more casual than a two-and-a-half-hour Amtrak trip separating you from your new girlfriend. Even so, I wasn’t actively looking for anyone else and neither was she, but for me that felt less like a decision I was making and more like a realization that “Hey, it’s nice here, maybe we should keep this going.”
We spend so much time believing that there is a perfect person out there waiting for us and that our life’s primary directive is to tirelessly hunt that person down until finally we catch them and convince them to fall in love with our “quirks.” Cue taking off our glasses to signify the start of a makeover montage, passionately kissing in an airport, and the part where we spend the rest of our lives gazing at them over a farmhouse sink and pristine marble countertops in a clean and sunny Nancy Meyers kitchen. Most couples haven’t come together at the end of a fairy-tale rainbow! I imagine most courtships are like “He went to law school with my brother and we like the same shows and the sex is fine; I guess I’ll die with him” and you know what? THAT’S GREAT.
At the same time, we tend to think of commitment (serious, permanent, capital-C Commitment) as a bogeyman, a clanking set of rusty shackles gaining on you, waiting for you to trip over a raised corner of the pavement so it can lock you up and trap you in its vice grip forever. For me, “committing” felt less like impending doom descending on me to snuff out the flames of desire and more like flopping down in a comfortable chair and being too drowsy to get up from it. Isn’t that sexy?! Okay, I know it isn’t, but when you’re old enough to know that fireworks and intense passion (I am so sorry for these gross words) are actually bad for your sore back and blood pressure, literally nothing sounds better than just staying where you’re at, forever, with a person who says they want to keep sitting there with you.