In 2007, I fell in love.
Love is a problematic enough condition to begin with. When you’re a single parent, what was once pleasantly disorienting becomes dizzyingly so. Along the way, there had been dating, a few relationships, but all kept out of the realm of The Knucklehead.*
It was never important to me to get married again. I had my hands full being a dad, and I think the time Knucks and I spent together – the quiet evenings at home, the road trips, all of it – had made me a little selfish of my time with my boy. Life to us was becoming a really good board game; we didn’t really have any interest in adding another player late in the game and having to try to bring them up to speed. No, we’re good here, thanks.
And then I met My Bride.
I’m not a romantic. I’m a realist. I like to think that I’ve developed a discipline of discarding from my life that which does not stand up to reality. I had learned that the idea that there’s one person out there for each of us who’s got all the goods is a canard. You find somebody who’s got maybe 70-80% of the qualities you’re looking for (making sure you hit all the non-negotiable ones), and then love is about dealing with the rest. You don’t search for the “perfect person,” you search for the one that has enough to keep you engaged, and then build a relationship around that. No one has it all. No one.
My Bride had it all. How annoying.
I’ll spare you all the gooey stuff that wouldn’t make sense to anyone outside our relationship. Suffice it to say that I’d met an impossible person who flipped a switch inside of me I didn’t even know I had. A switch that turned me from a person who never wanted to get married again to a person who very much wanted to spend the rest of his life with the woman before him.
It was one thing for me to search for companionship on the nights and weekends when my son was with his mom. It was another thing entirely to foist this whole other… person on my kid, an intruder into the cozy little world I had created for us. Wasn’t that kind of like… a betrayal? Wasn’t this a little selfish?
And then I remembered an evening I spent with my friends Anndee and Elissa.
Anndee is a beautiful friend I’ve known since we were both 17. Elissa is her partner (though now married, Anndee will sweetly but firmly insist she is no one’s wife), and the two of them have built a home together that has been an oasis of warmth and sanity for me throughout the years. They’re Good People, and Good People are rare and to be treasured.
I was sitting in Anndee’s kitchen, and we’re catching up on life and movies since the last time we’ve seen each other, when Elissa comes home from work. Elissa’s had a bad day, and the frustration just radiates from her. She gives me a quick hug, and then can’t contain herself anymore, and just launches into a litany of Crap That Happened To Her at work that day, and Elissa’s had a really shitty day. I can’t follow half of it, because it involves people and histories I haven’t been in on, but it’s clear that this is something that’s been building for a while. And it’s not that Elissa’s ignoring me, she just literally may burst if she doesn’t do a toxicity dump right now.
I watch Anndee. She hasn’t forgotten about me, but her attention is where it needs to be; on her spouse, who needs her right now. She doesn’t try to move the conversation elsewhere. She doesn’t say, “Maybe we can talk about this later.” She doesn’t try to downplay Elissa’s frustration. She’s all ears. She nods. She shakes her head in the right places. And when Elissa’s done, she says, “Wow. You really had a terrible day.”
She empathizes. She doesn’t, as so often married couples do, get into a pissing match over who had the worst day. She exhibits patience and tenderness and attends to the needs of a person she loves when they need it. Simple stuff, really, but I realized that day that I’d rarely seen it before. I’d more often seen someone coming home in a bad mood as the start of a bad night. And it was all Elissa needed. It was over in ten minutes. She knew she had someone on her side. She knew she had support.
She knew she was home.
Anndee had given Elissa just what she needed. Elissa was free to relax and enjoy the evening, and the gratitude in her face was hard to miss. Elissa is a loving and patient person herself, so I knew it took a lot to get her to this point. But I also had the feeling that Elissa knew she could rely on Anndee’s support, not opposition, and that Elissa had probably been there for Anndee when the roles were reversed. That evening, I learned two things about marriage that I’ve never forgotten:
The first thing I learned is that “gay marriage” is bullshit. It’s marriage. Period. Marriage is about how we deal with the thousand big and little joys and stressors with another human being over the course of a lifetime. How one couple expresses themselves sexually may be radically different than what another couple does, but as anyone who’s ever been married can tell you, what happens in the bedroom isn’t what makes the marriage. It can sometimes reflect what’s going on in the marriage. But the real work of the marriage is done at the kitchen table. Or in the supermarket. Or on the phone. Anndee and Elissa didn’t teach me anything about “gay marriage” that day. They taught me about marriage, about loving relationships. My memory of that evening made me a better spouse, and a better father.
The second thing I learned was that this woman I’d fallen in love with, rather than intruding on my relationship with my son, might actually add to it. What I had not been able to model for my son was a healthy loving relationship with another adult. Where do we best learn these things if not in our own families? It was always my wish that my son would find love in his life. No matter what form that love takes, my example would be the template he’d have for how a man acts in a relationship.
Suddenly, getting married didn’t seem completely selfish after all.
It’s not that I needed to get married to be a good dad. Millions of single parents will tell you that the job can be done alone. Also, getting married just for your kid’s sake is a terrible idea. The love has to be there first. I just needed to learn that opening up our little world to someone else was maybe not only possible, but something that could really be healthy. As The Knucklehead was soon to teach me.
Because as I introduced him to My Bride (well before she was even My Fiancée) I saw the boy (12 at the time) take to her like she was a Ted Williams rookie card. And I realized that my son had been worried about me. He knew he was the sole love in my life, and that’s a pretty heavy burden for a little kid to carry around. Now he didn’t have to worry so much – he knew there was someone who had dad’s back when Knucks wasn’t around. And I had the joy and astonishment of watching two people I love bond over a common endearment:
I would have waited. My Bride and I would have waited. Childhood is as brief as vapor, and life is long, and our marriage could have waited a few more years until The Knucklehead was out of the house. But the look on his face when the three of us were together told me he didn’t want us to wait that long. Knucks was as excited as we were.
I had never thought about my son’s role in my wedding. Or how to handle a stepmom, something I’d had zero experience with in my own life. I think having no clue or preconceptions may have helped. I’ll tell you how next week.
*All but one. For the sake of full disclosure, there was a serious relationship before meeting My Bride, one that I included The Knucklehead in on. Life teaches us best through our mistakes, and some of the lessons I write about today were learned – the hard way – in a relationship that was not a good match.