living together

The High School Sweethearts

From time to time  the oldest daughter would shyly announce that she’d “met a boy”.  Sometimes that’d be it. But occasionally a date or two-ish followed only for said “boy” to be quickly banished for his clinging ways or over-enthusiastic interest in her.

One thing about both of my step-daughters that struck me early is that neither one has a clear picture of themselves in relationship to how others see them.  Attention and enthusiasm seem to puzzle them.

That young men notice them is no surprise to me.  Each in her own way is a bright light that naturally draws the eye and incites interest.

The “boy” in question turned out to be the older brother of a friend.  I can’t recall if they’d met previously, but they collided with some force at a party, which found them sitting on the roof, deep in conversation for five hours.

“He thinks I’m funny,” she chirped bemusedly.

He probably thinks you are quite beautiful too, I thought but knew better than to say aloud.

“Anyway,” she continued, “we have a date.”

And we didn’t hear about “the boy” again for some weeks.

Edie will be 28 on Thanksgiving (the Canadian one) this year. Her age and singleness have been a growing concern – to her. Rob was unconcerned. His ambivalence about the girls and “boys” is amusing and reminds me a lot of my own father, who had little visible interest in his children’s marital status*.

I tried to be encouraging without being nosy. I am not her mother. Although we have a good relationship, it is not a deep one. She has her confidants, and I am unlikely to be added to the list. That’s okay. I don’t have expectations of being a mother-like figure for her. I came into her life late, and we simply haven’t had, and most probably won’t have, opportunities to bond in that way.

But I wasn’t surprised that a “boy” would find her funny, want to take her out or discover a way to pursue her without sending her in search of her hidey-hole in the hills. That clever “boy” was bound to show up some day.

On Father’s Day, Edie brought him up again. She’d just gotten back from a long weekend in the States, and he surprised her with wine and flowers.

“He missed me,” she blushed a bit.

At the end of a Sunday supper visit later in the summer, I inquired about whether she would be bringing the “boy”, who now had a name which peppered her conversation, to visit.

“It’s too soon for that,” she said.

And I let it go, but I told Rob I expected we’d meet this “boy” by Thanksgiving.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” he replied.

Christmas at the latest perhaps, but I am guessing sooner rather than later,” I said.

She brought him around for Rob’s birthday at the end of August. A bit sooner than I thought, and the significance of the occasion wasn’t lost, even on her father.

We knew a lot about him by then.

Edie had breathlessly updated Rob as he lay in the hospital the night of his heart attack. Worried perhaps that she wouldn’t have another chance?

At one point during her gushing, Mick leaned over to me and said, “I wish she’d just marry him and shut up about it.”

Silver is a paragon though this is no surprise as like as he is to Rob.

He is handy. Renovating his first house and flipping it for his current fixer-upper. He’s outdoorsy. Good with the romantic gestures and sweeping a girl off her feet moves in a way that cast me back to my early days knowing Rob.

The clincher, I think, was an extended weekend camping trip he planned for the two of them.

“He’s doing everything,” she said. “And I don’t even have to drive!”

So familiar. The keepers must all get the same playbook handed to them before they embark on a new existence.

His first Sunday dinner with us was enlightening as it was vindicating. He was, however, not what any of us had envisioned.

Rob feigned indifference to the potentially momentous occasion.

“I’ve met boyfriends before,” he said.

“But have they had good jobs, their own transportation and owned property?” I asked.

“Good point,” he said.

And upon first glance, he was handsome with pants that sat at his waist and a ball-cap that just about hid his Dermot Mulroney eyes.

During their first conversation, Silver explained to Rob that he liked to do all the renovation work himself because he was “too cheap to pay someone”, and I had to turn around and find something to do in the dining room to keep from laughing out loud where I found Mick snickering knowingly.

When I commented on that revelation later, Rob simply said,

“Don’t go there.”

Barely a week later, a Facebook message from Edie announced their intention to come to dinner again.

“Why so soon?” I asked. “What’s up?”

“Maybe they just want to spend time with us,” Rob said. “There doesn’t have to be something up.”

But of course there was. The children want to spend time with us only about every six weeks more or less.

I am not Edie’s mother but I did watch** them carefully that first supper. Silver had eyes or a hand on her at all times, and I have seen that look before. It’s the one that says everything in the world that will ever matter is right in front of you, and you still can’t quite believe it.

The second dinner was a family dinner. Teasing and stories and protests that nothing more can possibly be consumed even as hands move to refill plates.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Until we were at the door, Mick, Silver and Edie saying their good nights. Edie suddenly threw her arms around her Dad’s neck and said,

“So …” Long pause and deep breath expelling a rush of words she’d clearly rehearsed. “I’m moving in with Silver at the end of October.”

Rob blinked but said nothing. This produced a slightly less breathless rush to fill the gap as Edie began to expound on the foolishness of renting a place she was never at anymore and that finding a sublet had been easy and that Rob wouldn’t have to move the couch again – in case he was worried about that.

“Well, I’m certainly not helping with that couch again,” Mick chimed in.

My heart sank a bit at the “rent saving” reason. I don’t think that money should ever be the motivating factor for couples to co-habitate. It should always be based on love, and the realization that a shared journey is the only option for them even if achieving this means scrapping one life, or both, to rebuild the new one together.  Expense, logistics, degree of difficulty are to be treated as details only. And then Silver broke into her monologue with

“And she likes me.”

And she does more than that. She’s giving up the city, her beloved neighborhood of Whyte Ave to move to the suburbs. Her sensible speech was for Rob because all his daughters from oldest to smallest value his opinion and respect and want him to approve and be proud.

“Well, I told you so,” I said.

The next day Rob asked,

“How long have they been seeing each other again?”

“How long did we know each other before we were engaged and I was leaving the U.S. and everything I knew?” I said.

“We weren’t kids,” he countered, “but good point.”

“They aren’t kids. Twenty-eight and thirty-two are firmly in adult territory.”

“Good point again.”

“He’s good for her. She loves him,” I said, “and he fits.”

And now that I have officially blogged about him – he’s family.

*Save for that of my youngest sister. Her habit of breeding with men she either wasn’t interested in marrying or those who were not interested in marrying her drove him to distraction periodically.

**I watch because I care deeply about her happiness and because I have this inexplicable sense of obligation to Shelley to keep watch in her absence. It’s something only mothers would understand, I think.

I am not one of those who had multiple opportunities to marry throughout my life. I know people who could have married anyone. Had numerous suitors and sorted through them like a closet stuffed with clothing. Not me. I can count on one hand the number of men who were even remotely attracted to me and not one of them saw me as a take home to mom prospect. For me there has only been Will and now Rob.

My first engagement was storied. Surprise. One knee, rose, wine and a ring in a box. Very school girl fantasy.

Rob and I were not school kids though I was hardly a girl with Will either being 35 and all. But Rob and I came to be engaged after knowing each other for just a tad more than three months, and I would characterize the courtship as not usual.

The third anniversary of our betrothal is tomorrow  – sort of – and I don’t think I have every really written about it.

Rob came down to Iowa to pick me up for a Spring Break trip. He actually began planning this vacation for me early in our friendship when we were still just friends. Destination – Arkansas. We took Dee to my folks but had headed back to my home in Des Moines to visit with BFF and her husband before heading out. We went to dinner and saw the raunchiest comic/hypnotist show at a local comedy club before getting home around midnight.

A couple of weeks early, we’d talked about my coming to Canada. I made it clear that a move of that magnitude was not whimsical nor could I do any “test-driving” of living together. It’s not that I am old-fashioned. I just think living together is not a test for marriage compatibility.

“Let’s see if we are compatible by playing at house.” is a stupid idea that is mostly doomed to failure because I have rarely witnessed two people do this having discussed in advance what they want or where they are really going. And playing is how children learn things. Adults at play are … well … adults just playing. Nothing more or less.

Before you wonder, I told Will the exact same thing when he was basically spending every minute at my house within a month of our dating. I don’t live with someone unless we are getting married in the very near future. I don’t believe that two people learn anything from the process that simply having frank discussions about wouldn’t reveal and compatibility is like happily ever after – a matter of mindset and resolve. If I am in love and committed, do socks and underwear on the floor or snoring or never remembering to start the dishwasher before bed so there are clean dishes for the next day really matter all that much? Shouldn’t tightwadness or ditzy behavior have already been apparent? Sexism isn’t something that is easily cloaked until close quarters flushes it out and if you need to “test drive” someone, isn’t that really a red flag?

I knew that Rob and I were compatible. I wasn’t so naive that I believed that marriage is some flower and singing animal strewn forest of nuptial bliss. I didn’t need a test drive. Do you test drive friendships or do you just have them?

Before we went to bed, Rob took a box out of his suitcase and showed me the rings. An engagement band and a wedding ring.

“I’m not ready to ask the question, but I want you to wear this,” he told me.

I protested. I didn’t want this until he was ready. I could wait. He insisted.

We headed out the next morning to stock the ice chests for the trip and then hit the highway south with me ringed. It felt strange to wear a ring again. I’d taken my wedding ring from Will off the day after his funeral and it took months of rubbing my ring finger raw to get used to it being gone. Now it felt funny to have the finger encased again. I chalked it up to my whole thing with jewelry in general. I just am not meant to be adorned.

The second night in Arkansas – and again we were in bed – Rob said,

“You know what I wasn’t ready to ask? I’m ready. Will you marry me?”

And I said yes because I was too.

On the way back to pick up Dee at my folks’, we had a marathon discussion session. I don’t think I knew as much about Will after several years of marriage as I did about Rob after Arkansas. Very little was left unsaid. Full disclosure then and since. Too often we fall into this trap of believing that all will be revealed over time through gestures and situations and that another person can be learned through proximity. But I lived with my parents for 18 years and I don’t think either one of them ever really knew me. And it wasn’t for lack of time or love. We just didn’t talk. Really talk.

Closeness is more than sharing a bed and bath.