I married at 48-years-old, for the first time, to someone I had known, on and off, for 12 years. Marriage was one of life's great adventures that I had never experienced -- not even pretended to experience. I had never lived with a man before I got married. I'm not even sure a man ever stored a toothbrush or razor at my apartment before I got married. Not that I'm against co-habitation before or instead of marriage, but merging without a contractual commitment never made sense to me, especially as I got older and bought, decorated and redecorated my space in my way. I liked my space. I liked the way I cluttered my space. Control is my friend. Why would I give it up without a license?
The Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband and I met on a blind date when I was 36 and he was a 48-year-old divorced father of a college-aged daughter. Our date books say we went out five times over the course of the summer and while the relationship faded, as summer did, his impression lingered. Fast forward eight years to when a girlfriend and I, dressed in leather skirts and boots and hoping to meet new people, attended a charity art auction.
"Oh no," I said as we walked in the room.
"See that man over there?" I threw my head to the left and described Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband. Tall, salt-and-pepper hair, blue eyes, blonde woman on his arm.
"I went out with him years ago and just never called him back." I told my girlfriend that he was the only man I had dated -- if five dates constitutes dating -- to whom I wished I had given more of a chance.
"But he was such a man and I was used to boys." He told me jokes in German and knew about art past the Impressionists. We danced in Greek restaurants, on his deck and in my den. But I let him go.
That night I bought a piece of art that I didn't even like just to spend time talking to him at the auction table. The following week we went to dinner where we learned that we were both in new relationships with people in the UK.
For the next two years we casually went out to dinner when we were both in town. His cross-Atlantic relationship ended before mine. For a year, he patiently listened to me agonize over whether or not I should marry my man from Wales. Then one night on our way home from dinner, as he placed me in a cab, he said:
"I'll dance at your wedding if you marry this guy, but if you don't, I think we could have something here."
The walk down the aisle didn't come right away. My need for doing things my way tested and retested our relationship. I had to stop at the edge of the crosswalk. He waited a foot back from the curb. I needed to know exact directions to a location. He enjoyed the serendipity of getting lost and then found. But nothing was more irritating to him than my popcorn rule. I insisted on my own small, no butter popcorn on movie dates. He was perplexed and mildly put off. It was as if I had committed Dating Crime #1; if I couldn't share something as inconsequential as popcorn could I possibly share The New York Times crossword puzzle? The last squeeze of toothpaste? My depleted 401K?
In my defense, I like to ration my popcorn so it lasts through the first half hour of the movie. Most people I know finish their popcorn before the seventh preview. If I share I can't control the pace and therefore my satisfaction.
On one typical movie date night, after we found seats in the front row behind the break in seats, he went to the refreshment stand. I placed my order:
"A small, no butter popcorn and medium Diet Coke for me, please."
He returned with two popcorns, as I had hoped. One child's size, no butter for him, and the jumbo tub of popcorn, no butter for me. Jumbo, as in big-enough-to-feed-the-rest-of-the-audience, please-take-some-as-you-walk-by popcorn. Jumbo, as in see-how-ridiculous-it-is-to-insist-on-your-own-popcorn-when-you're-in-an-intimate-relationship-with-someone popcorn. I got the message as well as everyone else in the movie theater.
So on the next movie outing, in a spirit of compromise and in an effort to see if I could live outside my control zone, I agreed to share a medium, no butter popcorn. Sharing that first box of popcorn was as stressful as I had imagined. His big hand, which never seemed big before, opened and closed like one of those claws in the arcade game that tries to grab a stuffed animal or plastic encased prize but never does. But his claw grabbed a gross of kernels.
He ate the popcorn, his fist moving from bag to mouth, bag to mouth. I watched him eat and slowly put one, two, maybe three kernels in my mouth hoping that he would see this as behavior he should model. Bits of popcorn decorated his sweater, staring at me, daring me to not pick them off. Popcorn shrapnel trailed from the box to my jeans to his jeans and beyond. I cleaned up after him, off of him and off of me.
If we were going to make it as a couple I needed to take control in a non-controlling way. I spread a napkin over my lap and tried to create a little bowl like shape. I poured a large amount of popcorn out of the bag into my makeshift receptacle and handed the box to him. I proceeded to eat by the 1s, 2s and 3s. He didn't drop as much popcorn on our laps and I got my fair share. I turned to him and said,
"You know, this could work."
A couple more years and a few more adjustments to coupledom passed before we married. Bit by bit my singledom behavior and habitat have changed. Sharing closet space. Planning dinner. Watching the Military Channel.
However, there's one change I didn't make from my single days. My name. This doesn't bother Husband. "It's a sign of the times. My first wife won't give up my name, and my second wife won't take it," he's said.
As I see it, there are only so many changes that can be accommodated in my middle age marriage.
This has been adapted from part of a GenFab BlogHop at #GenFab.