I'd left Andy because I wanted a commitment from him, and here he was, offering one... sort of. "Move in together, Jess?"
Sure, moving in was more permanent. More visible. More of a commitment. But I didn't want to. I knew what would really happen: He'd move in. I'd lose half my closet space. I'd do his laundry. Make his meals. Tolerate Sundays howling at a football game on TV. And a year later, nothing would have changed.
Still feeling strangely disconnected, I didn't know what to say. So I did the smart thing (for once) -- I said nothing.
"It's a first step, Jess," he said to my silence. His eyes widened in alarm at my uncharacteristic stillness.
His words came back to me. "Married couples don't have to talk... they're married."
Is that what commitment meant to him?
I thought of Beth, my sister -- my beautiful, brilliant, wonderful, successful elder sister. At the too-young-to-be-bitter age of 34, Beth had made her way through an endless series of "significant relationships." They'd bond, buy some furniture together, and then part, never neglecting to fight over who keeps the bookcase from Ikea. Each time, my brave Beth would act less hurt, pretending her skin was thicker than it was.
She'd lost the bloom of hope and instead blithely called her men "beau d'jour," confining the relationship to the dustbin before it began. She'd been hurt too many times to not expect it again. I instinctively distrusted any of her boyfriends. Had her skepticism infected me?
Even Andy had many times commented on Beth's jadedness, at how emotionally guarded she'd become.
"I don't want to become Beth," I told him.
Andy started in his seat, realizing perhaps that the issue was bigger than the timing of his reticence. "I want to marry you. I do. I think," he said, plaintively. "Oh, man, Jess, I don't want to lose you."
Had he pulled out a diamond, I wouldn't have wanted that, either.
I suddenly grasped the revelation that had he pulled out a diamond, I wouldn't have wanted that, either.
I didn't want someone to marry me because I might not be there the next day, the way you buy a shirt you're not sure you like because it's on sale. I wanted someone who wanted to marry me, who would view sharing domestic space as the beginning of something wonderful, a new adventure, a new being: us, together. A decisive step forward, not a fumble into the future.
A familiar phrase, "Through marriage, two people become one," had come into my head. But in contrast to the deliberate fusion this suggested, Andy brought to mind the image of the two of us repeatedly banging into each other until some sort of haphazard commitment took shape. I saw golden contusions in place of wedding bands.
"I like you, too, Andy," I said decisively. "But I'm not a marked-down shirt. And I bruise way too easily."
The next day, I put a confused Andy onto his flight back to Philadelphia. Perhaps I should have felt more sorrowful over the final dissolution of a three-year relationship. But instead I was excited. I was striding purposely through the airport, celebrating the beginning of the rest of my life -- thankful that I wasn't wearing a hat, for fear I'd toss it in the air a la Mary Tyler Moore (or something equally melodramatic).
I was standing in line at the airport's Coffee Plantation to get a celebratory cup of Italian soda with cream, when I noticed a guy looking at me. The realization was somewhat startling since I had not paid much attention to such things for, oh, three years now.
Being a single woman is like riding a bike. The moves came back.
I gave him a sidelong glance and took one step backward, intending to lean against the table behind me. Except that it wasn't there -- and I tumbled backwards, legs akimbo, over the suitcase of the man standing behind me.
The humiliation was complete. From my prone position, I saw the guy chuckle and wander off, as I tried to extricate myself from the pile of luggage. A man I assumed to be the bag's owner gallantly bent down to help me up.
"Jessica?" said my savior, "Jessica Shaeffer?"
Oh. My. Gosh. Nothing like a college reunion to complete one's humiliation.