The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Love is weird. And that’s OK
I remember his blue eyes, and how fast he talked. At the time, I didn’t know that he’d worked up his nerve to talk to the only woman in the room who wasn’t standing by a partner.
We were both at the day care center to partake in a Thanksgiving meal made by our sons, who had befriended one another in the center’s room devoted to 2-year olds. As the teachers ladled turkey stew into Styrofoam cups, I looked around and figured I was probably the only person who’d ever divorced in the city of Manchester. The other parents looked so happy, and coupled.
I was feeling sorry for myself. I did that a lot back then. Divorce court was just four weeks in my rearview mirror. As I ate the stew, I thought how convenient it would be to carry orange cones around and move them as I walked to warn everyone away from me. I never anticipated I’d be the best wife, but I had no idea I’d make such a hash of it.
He’d been divorced quite a bit longer, but none of that came up as he stood and reeled out what amounted to a verbal dating ad. He was a skier. He ran. He swam, and then he asked me if I had any hobbies. I said I read books, and left it at that. I’d never skied. I ran if chased. I swam but mostly only to avoid drowning.
He talked and I listened, and as the evening came to a close, he asked me to dinner. I thought he was asking as a friend and said yes.
It took us a couple of tries to actually share that dinner. He’d suggested we meet in the “lounge” of an area restaurant, but I heard “lobby,” and on the appointed night, I sat waiting a bench by the front door. I gave him 30 minutes, and when he didn’t show, I left. Meanwhile, he was sitting about 40 feet away in the bar. I drove home reminding myself that in my new, single life, this might be something that happens, being stood up. When we finally figured it out (after a late-night message he left on my answering machine, where he chastised me for not showing up), we had a laugh, and then we actually met and had dinner. Then we met again and again and then there we were, dating.
We did that for five years, and some of my friends started taking bets whether we’d ever get married. I bet no. We were not particularly skilled at dating. We’d go do fun things together, have a killer argument, and break up. I’d start planning my move back West, and then he’d call again (for the record, I never called after a breakup) and we’d be dating again. It was a pattern, and not a particularly interesting one. My friends stopped mourning with me over our breakups, and I don’t blame them.
And then one Memorial Day weekend, I set out to break with him for real. I planned what I would say. I would stick to the script. I would be kind. I would tell him I needed … something, and
The stories are generally funny and sometimes sweet. Some of them should make you drop your head into your hands at our unmitigated stupidity. And yet somehow, we keep finding each another, in the lounge, on a bench, hanging around a motorcycle shop. We catch one another’s eye and say, “Oh! Here you are.”
I couldn’t put my finger on it and so maybe it would be best if we …
And he said: “We should look at rings on Tuesday.” I started explaining to him that in my culture (and in all cultures with which I am familiar), you do not look at rings when a relationship is ending. I suppose you can give back the gifts you’ve given one another when the relationship was healthy and vibrant, but I’ve never been a fan of that. Keep the wallet. I’d only throw it out, anyway.
We argued, and then that Tuesday, we looked at rings. We tried fancy jewelry stores, but I found the ring I wanted in a motorcycle shop in Manchester. The guy behind the counter was named Snake — or, at least, that’s what his nametag said. I fished a ring out of a flat box he’d pulled from under the counter, and suddenly, my beloved had me by the arm and was frogmarching me outside, where he said emphatically that he was not buying his wedding band from a man named Snake. I didn’t ask why, but went back in to tell Snake we’d have to think about the ring, and we left and never went back. Sorry, Snake.
The day we got married in the backyard, I took one look into his eyes and figured things would go more smoothly if I just stared at the ground. All our photos show me looking at my feet, as if someone had buried the answers to having a good marriage there.
The thing is, our entire 35-year relationship is studded with anecdotes like this. The stories are generally funny and sometimes sweet. Some of them should make you drop your head into your hands at our unmitigated stupidity. And yet somehow, we keep finding each another, in the lounge, on a bench, hanging around a motorcycle shop. We catch one another’s eye and say, “Oh! Here you are.”
I have yet to find a Valentine card that sums this up, and I don’t think we’re special in that. If you’re doing love properly, I kind of think it should be weird and unpredictable and sometimes incredibly stupid. It should also be maddening and comfortable and oh! Here we are.
Susan Campbell is the author of “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,” “TempestTossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker” and “Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl.” She is Distinguished Lecturer at the University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.