Not that I think there’s anything necessarily wrong with it, but I’ve always been wary of people who choose to get married young. It always seemed like something that was reserved for people who were fundamentally different than me—Jesus freaks, for starters, and following that, hopeless romantics and fools. I was mostly horrified when, at around 18, I did the mental math and figured out that my own father was only 23 or 24 when he proposed to my mom. That’s only 5 years older than me, I remember thinking. The 80s must have been fucking nuts.
This was probably around the time that it somehow lodged in my brain that I was walking a radically different path. Absent sunny personality traits, basic people skills, or even a baseline amount of emotional stability within my day to day life, I figured I’d be alone forever. I’d probably get a dog at some point down the line, but anything approaching real human companionship would more likely start and end with a few very close friends. It’s generally hard for me to be around even those I love for more than a few hours without needing a long break, and I decided that I was OK with being the sort of person who just cherishes their alone time. It was kind of dark and mysterious to be that way, and a decent way to recast the anxiety that I’d very likely die alone into a conscious, liberating choice.
There was a long time when I would have told you that I loved living alone, that I preferred my hours spent in solitude. In a way, it was kind of true, but it was a notion fueled mainly by self-delusion. Truth be told, left up to my own devices, my behavior seems to toggle somewhere between dysfunctional and mildly self-destructive, but in the thick of things I couldn’t really see that. But then I met Max.
“Love at first sight” has always seemed, to me, like one of those stupid, sappy, mythical concepts that bad music and dumb movies have made us all believe in. And I won’t say that’s exactly what I experienced with Max—more like a creepy obsession, like discovering an incredible new band and being rendered useless to do anything but listen to their music and look at photos of their tour and dream hopelessly about a relationship with the frontman. I’d just seen the movie Fatal Attraction for the first time a few months before we met, and all of a sudden I had a glimpse of what might drive a person to boil a pet rabbit. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.
What I remember most about the early months of our relationship was the emotional chaos of feeling so much fear and insecurity and something not unlike bliss simultaneously. I had a difficult time imagining that my feelings could be reciprocated, and besides, I couldn’t fathom that they would last. I knew myself, and worried that the feelings would get stale, or I would get bored, or he would get bored, and the bottom would fall out. But then the early days gave way to weeks, which became months, and nothing really changed. And now we’re two and a half years out, and we’ve moved swiftly to create this whole life for ourselves that I can’t see ending. And I really don’t want to see it end.
Much to the disappointment of everybody close to me, there’s no great story about how we got engaged. There was no scene on a mountaintop, or a rooftop, or a beach, or a Jumbotron at a sports game. There wasn’t a moment when I turned to find him on one knee, the sound of a small box clicking open, or even any real impassioned rejoicing. As I’d been the first to use both the words “boyfriend” and “love” so many months before, at some point I’d made it impeccably clear that the proposal—if ever there was one—would not be my duty. I won’t say it was a fair deal, but it was one we both agreed to.
When you know you’re probably going to marry someone but nobody’s really ready to make the leap yet, you find all sorts of awkward ways to embrace the tension surrounding the issue. For my part, I fell into a horribly unbecoming habit of hinting at it all the time: “I don’t see no ring on this finger!” I’d yell after jokingly waxing poetic about one of the One Direction boys long enough for Max to get annoyed. It became a kind of perverse game: describe a future that didn’t include him for long enough and in enough detail for him to take the bait, at which point I’d pull something from the limited arsenal of familiar refrains. “You don’t own this!” I’d scream in mock-outrage. “Like Beyonce always says,” I’d remind him, “if you like it…”
And then, one cold night when we’d both had a little too much to drink, with friends in the next room probably mixing more cocktails, he just said “OK.”
“OK,” he said, “maybe we should do that then.”
“You know—that. That thing, with the rings.”
“No I’m not.”
“No, you are. If you want to talk about this tomorrow when we’re both sober, we can do that, but we are not making this decision right now.”
“OK, but I’m going to keep asking.”
“You haven’t even said what you want me to do yet.”
I thought that would be the end of it, but it was the first topic of conversation when we woke up the next day, and I think by breakfast, we were engaged. Or something like that. It happened, in any case, and that’s all I really care about.
I sat on this news for a while, sharing it slowly, piecemeal, among various friends and family before it really became public information. It wasn’t any big secret, but in a way, I liked the privacy of it all, the feeling that I could think about it by myself before opening it up to the congratulations and excitement of others. When another student in my writing class this past semester noticed a ring on my finger, the whole class took part in a sort of collective ooo-ing and aww-ing and questioning that left me, frankly, a little queasy. Am I really that kid? That person who, in 2013, ended up with a ring by spring, who is thinking simultaneously about final exams and my wedding? It’s so far from the type of person I took myself for, so distant from wherever I expected my life to be at this point, that it’s all a little hard to wrap my mind around.
The next week, during a couple of hours before the class was set to meet again, I went to sit in the park and read. I’ve never worn any sort of jewelry, so for a while it was a shock to the system to feel the small weight of a band around my finger, like when I got braces and spent weeks running my tongue over the textured, metallic surface where my teeth should have been. A group of 8 or 9 homeless-looking alcoholics stood around some benches nearby, squabbling over the dregs of a vodka bottle and the last hits of a small joint. Evidently, one man had borrowed another’s sunglasses and hadn’t returned them. A woman had recently started smoking pot again, and her boyfriend (they broke up and got back together twice in the space of 30 minutes) slurred his disapproval. One man slept quietly on a bench in the middle of it all. Due to substance abuse, mental illness, or some combination of the two, each of them was, individually, a walking disaster, and the interactions between them moved so quickly between love and hate that it was impossible to keep track. Just as I was losing interest, among all of the yelling and the fighting and the making up again, I saw one man turn to another, put his hand on his shoulder, and say “I don’t have a life vest, but can I grab your arm, man? Because I know you’re going somewhere safe.”
In the moment, I didn’t know what to make of them, but out of context, the words took on a kind of weightiness. They’ve reverberated in my skull for the last few weeks, I think because they encapsulate so much of what I feel. I’m the type of person who has always spent more time worrying about things than enjoying them, more time feeling anxious about the future than looking forward to it. It’s a condition that makes it hard to just let go and be happy, to feel confident that I’m doing the right thing, to dispense with the lingering, crippling fear that I’m making terrible choices at every turn. But I’ve found a certain kind of foil in Max, who isn’t that way, and who accepts my certain brand of crazy but doesn’t allow it to define me. Max, who is patient with me, who is unreasonably kind, who has made me more happy than any other person ever has, who makes me happier than I can imagine anyone ever will. Who, when bobbing around in what often feels like choppy waters, makes me feel so safe.
Thank you for letting me grab your arm, Max.
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In case you’re wondering, our rings are actually inexpensive brass rings from here. I don’t know how other gay couples deal with this, but we both liked the idea of upgrading to gold bands at the wedding, because an engagement without some bling is just no fun (and gold is kind of spendy).