Authors: Theresa Alan
“Good for you. I want a full report as soon as you get home.”
“But of course.”
A woman carrying a paper plate filled with food smiles and joins Gabrielle and me in our little circle.
“Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a friend of Rachel’s. I live just down the block.”
“Hi, I’m Eva. This is Gabrielle.”
“You two looked like you were discussing something interesting.” She bites into a carrot, crunching loudly.
“We’re just talking about the joys of dating when you’re in your thirties,” I say.
“I bet it’s not easy.”
I take this opportunity to notice the colossal rock she’s wearing on the ring finger of her left hand.
“Well, it’s fun when you meet a good guy. I met Will a few months ago and I’m in heaven. He’s over there.” I point to where he’s talking to Jon over an open beer cooler. “It’s been great. He’s great. It’s just been a little hard for me to deal with the fact that he’s divorced. I just have to get over it, but still, you know, it’s a little painful.”
“That must be so hard,” she shakes her head as if I’ve just told her I have terminal cancer. “I guess I’m lucky. My husband and I got married when we were both twenty-five.”
I nod and smile. What does she want me to say? Yes, you did the marriage thing right. I’m sorry I didn’t hop to it in my twenties; I will never forgive myself.
Through my defensive feelings, I get this sudden flash of emotion, this sinking feeling
I’m getting used goods.
Nobody ever won a gold medal for coming in second. Second is just not as good. Everyone knows that.
“It’s actually kind of good that he was married,” I say. “He was with her for six years, so that cuts down on the number of sex partners he could have racked up.”
Apparently Lisa doesn’t see the humor or truth in my comment, and she just gives me this fake smile like she just smelled something awful.
“I’m doing the online dating thing, too,” Gabrielle says. “But it’s exactly like you say, Eva. I want a guy around my age, so I’m looking at all these guys in their thirties, and if they’re single I think, ‘why are you still single?’ and if they’re divorced I think, ‘why did you get a divorce?’”
“It’s tricky isn’t it?” I say.
“I’m so glad I never had to go through that,” Lisa says. “I guess that’s what you get when you put a career before family.”
I know Lisa is the one being the bitch here, but I feel judged by her. And even though I know that when people judge other people it’s just because they’re not happy with themselves, I start feeling anxious and uncomfortable.
“Can you excuse me for just a moment?” I say.
I make a hasty retreat into Jon and Rachel’s house to their bathroom. I lock the door and sit on the closed toilet seat and try to steady my breathing. Why do I let people get to me like this? I lock myself in the bathroom because some judgmental stranger looks at me funny?
Retreating is how I’ve “dealt”—which is to say not dealt—with every unpleasant thing that’s happened in my life. When my parents got divorced, I didn’t cry, or talk about how I felt, I just became withdrawn and sullen and lived my life in an emotional fog. When my senior math class suddenly got hard, I just gave up. I didn’t need the class for college, so I failed every test the rest of the semester, squeaking by with a D, thanks to some initial strong test scores at the beginning of the term. Is that how I’ll deal with things if Will and I get married and things start to get a little tough? I’ll just give up, retreat into a silent trance?
I stay in the bathroom for several minutes, just trying to get my breathing and heartbeat back to normal. Every fiber in my body just wants to run out the front door, drive home, and dive into bed, pulling the covers tight over my head. I finally force myself to go back outside when I realize I’ve spent far too long away from the party.
Will has returned with the beers, and happily Evil Bitch Woman Lisa has moved on. Will, Gabrielle, and I start talking about this movie we heard was good and haven’t seen yet, and I look over and see Jon talking to a male friend of his. Rachel is talking to another male friend of theirs across the lawn. The thing about how she’s talking to him is that it’s a definitely flirty kind of chitchat. Extra enthusiastic laughter, eyes lowered and then raised with lashes aflutter, the occasional touch of her hand on his arm. I excuse myself from Will and Gabrielle, and sidle up next to Rachel.
“Hey, Rach, how’s it going?”
“Eva! Eva, you remember Shane, don’t you?”
“You look familiar, yeah.”
“I think we met at the house-painting party,” Shane says.
“I think he means the hours-of-back-breaking-labor-in-exchange-for-some-beer-and-chips party,” Rachel says, and the two of them howl with laughter. What the hell is going on here? Doesn’t Rachel know she’s the one married role model I have in this world? Rachel has never given me any delusions that marriage is easy, but she and Jon have gone through a lot of hard times and managed to stick it out, and I really admire that about them, so I strongly feel that she shouldn’t be flirting with another man, for my sake if nothing else. I need role models, for heaven’s sake!
I stand and talk with them for a few more minutes, but I’m so uncomfortable with their unrestrained flirting I can’t take it anymore and I return to Will and Gabrielle. Will, Gabrielle, and I make our move on the buffet table and help ourselves to the fattening barbeque and potato salad type foods. As I eat, I watch Rachel’s interaction with Jon and her interaction with Shane. Whenever she’s around Jon, she becomes stilted and tight, and whenever she’s around Shane, she’s flirty and loud and full of laughter.
After awhile, I notice that Rachel is by herself, filling her plate at the buffet table. I put my paper plate down and approach her.
“Hey, Rach, is everything okay?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean did you have a fight with Jon or something?”
“It’s stupid…but he said he’d help me get ready for the party today, and instead he spent the entire day at Home Depot buying stuff to build shelves in the garage. And yes, we do need shelves in the garage, but we’ve needed shelves in the garage for the last two years, so I’m thinking we probably could have lived another weekend without them. Why did he have to pick
to go shopping for them? I was running around all day, trying to cook and clean, and you know what it’s like with kids, as soon as you have one room clean, you turn your back for ten seconds and the place is destroyed again…I just really could have used Jon’s help today, even if all he did was entertain the kids and keep them from wrecking the house…” She exhales a tired breath.
“I’m sorry, Rach. I just…it sort of seems like you’re flirting with Shane.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t know, I guess maybe I am.”
A stricken look overtakes my face.
“Nothing’s going to happen. It’s just…sometimes it’s nice to know someone finds you attractive. Sometimes when you’re married, you feel like you’re no longer this sexual being. Every now and then you need to be reminded that you are.”
Rachel takes a decisive bite out of a celery stalk and, with a parting smile at me, returns to the guests out on the lawn.
For the rest of the night, even as I talk to Will and Gabrielle, my eyes drift back over to Rachel and Jon. I watch them as they orbit each other as if the other person were nothing more than a piece of furniture, something you get used to having in the background.
’m at home, working in my sweats. I go downstairs to get more coffee, and when the phone rings, I answer it, even though I’m not supposed to answer the phone during working hours since it might distract me. As it turns out, it does.
“Gabrielle! How did your date with the doctor go?”
“It went really well, I think.” Gabrielle goes on into detail about her four-hour long dinner and after-dinner drinks. I’m interested enough in her story that I only cast a few guilty glances at the clock, noticing twenty minutes, thirty minutes, forty minutes tick by as she gushes about every syllable uttered, every glance exchanged. “We’re going out again tonight.”
“Good for you.”
“It was the best date I’ve had…maybe ever. I just haven’t been able to talk with someone like that since Dan left.”
“Did you guys smooch?”
“Okay, if you get some tonight, call me in the morning with all the salacious details. Even if you don’t get some, I want to know everything. Good luck.”
ill and I drive down to Colorado Springs to have dinner with his mother, Doris. She makes lasagna for us. She knows I don’t like red meat so she makes a vegetable lasagna just for me. She gives me a slice the size of a brick. It’s about twice as much food as I can comfortably eat, but I eat every last bite of it until my stomach is about to explode.
“Can I get you some more?” she asks.
“Oh, no, thank you. I’m stuffed,” I say.
“Don’t you like it?” she asks, a hurt expression on her face.
“What? No, no. I mean yes! I do like it. I meant ‘no,’ like, ‘no, you don’t understand’…” My tongue is coiled in knots.
“I’m going to have so much extra food,” she says with a hurt look on her face. Does she think I can eat an entire pan of lasagna by myself? I finish my glass of wine and quickly pour myself another.
“So, Mom,” Will says, “I’m getting ready to put my house on the market. I’m going to move in with Eva.”
“Really?” She smiles. “That’s nice. Why did you decide to move into her place rather than have her move into yours?”
“Her place is bigger.”
“Hmm. How big is your place?”
“We have two bedrooms and my study,” I say.
“So you’ll want a bigger place someday when you have kids.” She nods, considering this thoughtfully.
“Oh, we don’t want kids.”
Her eyes bulge.
Uh-oh. It occurs to me that was not what she wanted to hear. But it’s not my fault! It just slipped out. I wasn’t thinking.
“But why not?”
“Well, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I feel very strongly about having no desire whatsoever to have a bread box with limbs come popping out of that area of my anatomy.” I hope that my attempt at humor will defuse the tension.
“Oh, giving birth is agony. Will nearly killed me. His birth was awful. Just awful. I was in labor for twenty-eight hours. I wanted to die.”
“Well, see, you understand then,” I say.
“But they have much better drugs today,” she says, as if you could squirt a baby out as easily as you could pop a zit.
“Even so, they can’t give you nearly enough drugs to make it easy. It’s still agonizing. Anyway, even if giving birth were easy, there are other reasons I don’t want kids. I personally don’t want to try to be a superwoman trying to balance work and kids. I like my job, so I don’t want to give that up.”
Will’s mother spends the next hour trying to persuade me to agree to have kids. I’ve never wanted kids. I like them, don’t get me wrong, but being a good parent is a huge job, and I’d rather leave it to people who have more patience and less anxiety than I do.
I get the uncomfortable feeling that if I don’t come around on the kid issue, she is going to do whatever she can to break Will and me apart.
Which, of course, means war.
Any doubts I had about marriage have just flown out the window. I’m going to get Will to marry me no matter what it takes! I will become a Bridal Dominatrix like the world has never seen. I will have my way! All will submit to my bidding!
very night after work I go to Will’s place and help him pack to move. He brings a few boxes with him to my place each night. Will is still at work and I’m unpacking a box of books he brought over the night before when Gabrielle calls me on my cell.
“Hey, babe, how’s the doctor?” I ask.
“Awesome. We’ve gotten together every night this week.”
“For conversation or for sex?”
“A nice mix of the two. Very nice. In fact, I know this is soon, but I think I’m in love with him. I’m crazy about him.”
“Love! Wow! Congratulations.”
“Can you and Will meet us for dinner tonight? I want to show him off.”
“I’m sure we can.”
I get the details about when and where, and then I hang up the phone. I have to say that instead of feeling happy for Gabrielle, I’m a little worried about her. I hope like hell she’s not jumping the gun. Of course, you’ll notice that I told all my friends Will was the man I wanted to marry after our second date, but because that was completely out of character for me, my friends took my comments seriously. Usually my MO is to discuss everything I think might bother me about the guy a few months down the road. Usually I can just look at a guy and foresee the demise of our relationship. I imagine him getting bored with me and cheating on me and breaking my heart; I imagine him being a lazy slob and not doing his share of housework and me ultimately getting so sick of nagging him all the time that it’s easier just to break up, whatever. For me to feel hopeful, for me to feel like things really have a chance to work out, means something. I’m not one of those cry-wolf, fall in love with every guy who comes my way kind of girls. And the thing of it is, I never pegged Gabrielle for one of those girls, either, but I’ve only known her married and then picking up the pieces of her broken marriage. I’ve never seen her do the whole dating thing before. I just hope she doesn’t get hurt.
New love is like a pregnancy—you should wait three months before telling anybody about your exciting news. When you are just falling for somebody, you can tell people you are dating, but you want to keep quiet about just how excited you are until you’ve passed the critical three-month mark; things are just too fragile and unsure before that. Not that things can’t go wrong after that point, but there’s a better chance that things are healthy and will stick.
t the last minute, it turns out that Will has to work late because the new software release his company just launched has bugs in it that need to be fixed pronto, so it turns out I’m on my own to meet Gabrielle and the doctor.
We meet at a noisy pub and order some nachos and beer. Right away I can see Gabrielle’s attraction to him. He’s gorgeous. He wears glasses and all I can think of is a model wearing glasses ironically—in a sort of “look, I’m gorgeous yet smart” way.
“Eva met her boyfriend online, too,” Gabrielle says. “How long has it been now, seven months or so?”
“Yeah, that’s about right. I’m sorry you couldn’t meet him. He had to work.” I shovel in an enormous bite of nachos—I’m determined to get the perfect mix of bean, cheese, salsa, and sour cream on the chip, which requires a heaping, quivering mass of food. I wash it down with a swig of beer. I am in heaven.
“It’s been this whirlwind affair,” Gabrielle adds. “I’ve never heard her talk about marriage before, and after her second date with him she was telling everybody that she could see herself spending her life with him.”
“He’s changing your mind about taking the plunge, huh?” Jeremy says. There’s something I don’t like about his tone of voice. An edge of warning or sarcasm or something.
I decide I don’t want to be talking to two divorced people about getting married. I don’t want them to tell me that love dies and marriage is a one-way ticket to monotony and resentment. Note to self: Befriend people who subscribe to more of “love conquers all” attitude toward life.
“Yeah. I still have fears, of course, but the majority of the time I just look at him and feel so lucky and absolutely delirious with happiness. Of course, every now and then I get these panic attacks over the thought of actually saying ‘I do.’”
“I think being terrified from time to time is normal,” Gabrielle says.
“Do you mean you’re literally having panic attacks?” Jeremy asks. “Describe the symptoms.”
“I just have these meltdowns. I just want to shut the world out and hide until it passes.”
“Does your heart start beating rapidly? Do you feel faint or nauseated?”
“My heart pounds. I feel light-headed, I guess.”
“Do you sweat or tremble?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you have trouble sleeping?”
“Do you worry about things a lot?”
“You might have G.A.D.—Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
Ridiculously, I’m actually thrilled by the prospect that I have a real disease and may not just be your run-of-the-mill basketcase. Having a disease means there is some medicine out there that can treat it. Yeah for drugs!
“Really? What can I do about it?”
“You could take a serotonin inhibitor like Paxil.”
“Oh. But don’t those kind of meds make it hard to ah, you know, enjoy sex?” I say.
“It can be more challenging to achieve orgasm, but it’s not impossible,” Jeremy says.
“Well, I tried just about all of them in the year after Dan and I separated,” Gabrielle says. “I was still on them when I started dating Ken, and I had no sex drive whatsoever. I’d think, am I supposed to want sex? Because I didn’t, not at all.”
“Is that why Ken only lasted a month?” I ask.
“That was part of it. Part of it was also that I still just wasn’t ready to date.”
I’m no longer excited about the possibility of having something technically wrong with me. G.A.D. just seems like a medical term for basketcase. I don’t want to go on anti-anxiety meds unless it’s a life or death issue.
“Well, thanks for the free advice, doc.”
“What do you do for a living?” he asks. I know Gabrielle said he works in internal medicine (What the hell is internal medicine, anyway? Except for skin treatment for rashes, isn’t all medicine pretty much internal?), but the way he asks me this makes me think of a psychiatrist trying to determine whether I’m fit for society.
“I’m an independent management consultant.”
“Do you like your job?”
“Most of the time.”
“What do you do for fun?”
“Well, this isn’t going to make me sound very exciting, but the way I like to relax is to read.”
“What do you read?”
“I read a lot of nonfiction. Mostly history. I got my undergraduate degree in history.”
“I loved my history classes.”
“Yeah? I was lucky because in high school, every history teacher I had was really good. They got me excited about the subject. And so I studied it in college, along with some anthropology and sociology classes, and it just opened up the whole world to me. I think sometimes we think the world we live in now is ‘just the way things are’ naturally. But then when you look at various cultures over the eras of time, you realize that the culture we live in now is very different than the culture we lived in a very short time ago or even other modern cultures. Like the differences between the Europe of today and the America of today are pretty staggering. Even the gap between America and Canada in terms of things like how news is covered is really different. In America, the news is all murder and mayhem all the time. The nightly news isn’t like that in Canada at all. Anyway, I’m babbling. What about you, what do you do for fun?”
“I’m a bit of a film buff,” he says.
“Ahh, just like Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle’s undergraduate degree is in film. She likes to go to movies that are utterly dark and depressing. After she dragged me to enough movies in which I left the theater longing to slit my wrists, I realized that whenever she recommended a film, I should never agree to accompany her, and instead I should run as fast as I could in the opposite direction. Gabrielle notices things in movies like what the camera angle “signifies” and how who was in the foreground versus the background of a shot has some kind of metaphoric importance. When she tells me this stuff, I nod as if I know what the hell she is talking about, but secretly I haven’t a clue.
She and Jeremy are talking about some movie they saw together (in which all the characters are either dead or in jail at the end, very uplifting stuff), discussing metaphor and meaning and what the director’s
was with such and such a cutaway shot (whatever that is), and I smile as I listen to them talk. When you’re as smart as Gabrielle, you clearly need a guy who is your intellectual equal, and Gabrielle has had a hell of a time finding guys who challenged her intellectually. It looks to me like, with Jeremy, she has found a match.
The waitress comes by to take our dinner orders. I’m already full from the nachos and beers, but since Gabrielle and Jeremy are ordering meals, I order a chicken breast sandwich, swapping the fries for a salad. We all order another round of beer.
We spend the evening talking and laughing, and after getting to know Jeremy, I’m feeling better about Gabrielle going crazy over him. I can see why she would. He is handsome, and smart, and successful.
It’s not until we stand to leave that I feel how uncomfortably full I am from all the beers, the nachos, and a full dinner. I feel grotesquely fat and bloated and I’m mad at myself for not showing even the slightest bit of self-control. When I was a kid we had a dog named Happy who would gorge himself and then be forced to puke because he’d made himself so sick from overeating. You’d think I’d have a little more self-control and self-awareness than a schnauzer, but no, apparently I don’t.
I’m officially in a crappy mood when I get to Will’s place. It’s about 9:30, too early for bed, so after we kiss and hug for a minute or two, we park our asses on the couch and Will pops in a DVD. We’ve hardly watched any of it when Will starts kissing me.
A little voice inside my head says, “Just tell him you’re not in the mood.” Then another voice says, “You’ve only been dating a few months. What’ll he think if you are already squirming out of sex? You have to be a perfect girlfriend, always voraciously ready for sex.” Voice number one then retorts, “Don’t be a fucking idiot. You’ve got to learn to speak up. How are you going to have a successful marriage if you can’t communicate how you feel over such a minor thing? What are you going to do when a real problem rears up?”
By now we’ve been kissing for several minutes. I let my hand skim lightly over his penis to see what’s going on down there. He’s fully hard, and now I feel I really can’t say no. I should have pulled away a few minutes ago, I’m a tease. Voice number one, the voice that took Gender and Society classes in college and is good friends with Gabrielle Leveska knows that his hard-on is not my responsibility, but somehow logically knowing that doesn’t lessen the guilt I feel.
Why can’t he just realize I’m not really into this? I’m showing none of the enthusiasm I normally have over such activities.
Will pulls off my shirt, unbuttons my shorts, and I help him take them off. He takes off his own clothes and then moves to go down on me. I grab him by the shoulder. He looks up at me.
“Just come inside me,” I say. Because I want to get this over with. Really, I don’t want it at all. Why don’t you know that?
He’s kneeling on the floor and I’m awkwardly splayed on the couch. He uses his fingers to lubricate me.
It’s not terrible, even though I’m not into it, but out of nowhere, I decide I want to break up with Will. I don’t want to do the whole relationship thing. Will will do like so many husbands I’ve known: Once they get the ring on their finger, they know there’s nothing to work for, so they let the women cook, clean, and do the bulk of the work in child-rearing, even though they, too, work hard at jobs outside the home. I imagine that Will will never go down on me again after we get married. He’ll belch rudely and publicly. The romance will die, the sex will all be like this, and nothing good can possibly come of us actually getting married. We can live together. That will be much better and far less terrifying. We won’t have to get divorced.
There is the knowledge somewhere in the back of my mind that my thoughts are ludicrous. I would love to blame this torrent of emotions that has walloped me out of nowhere on PMS, but my mood swings can plummet by the minute and can come at any time of the month, any part of the day. Something bigger is going on. I feel like some God is playing with my emotions like He’s trying to get the shower temperature just right, but every now and then it goes from scalding hot to bitingly cold for no apparent reason.
Will finishes and we go upstairs to bed.
The next morning I wake up feeling completely fine, utterly happy. I wrap my arms around Will’s sleeping form, smiling, feeling like the luckiest woman in the world. This is my reality: Mood swings of seismic proportions one second that calm just as abruptly for no particular reason.