Even though I much prefer navigating, I volunteered to drive the five hours up to the Grand Canyon, mostly to give me an excuse not to talk. While Beth and Alison took turns belting out whatever was on the radio and analyzing the aerodynamics of Alison's convertible, I was lost in thought.
"Jess," Alison said, waving her rapidly browning forearm into the front seat, "You're unnaturally quiet today."
I smiled and shrugged. "Just enjoying the view," I lied.
The night before, El Boyfriend had suggested that we start meeting each other's families -- i.e. time to get serious.
Official Hey-Mom-Meet-the-Potential-Spouse-Meetings are fraught with peril. It can't help but make one feel like a prize poodle at a dog show. I doubted Harris' parents would try to inspect my ears, but I found myself entirely cold to the idea.
Meeting The Parents makes one feel like a prize poodle at a dog show.
On the other hand, I suppose this was what I'd been hoping for. I'd left one boyfriend because he couldn't commit, and along comes Harris: smart, charming, handsome -- and apparently ready.
"So how's Mr. Perfect?" Alison asked, in tuneful disharmony with my thoughts, poking me with her finger.
I felt guilty, sneaking a peek at my sister Beth in the passenger seat, staring dreamily out the car. How could I complain that Harris wanted us to spend Rosh Hashana with his family in D.C.? That my relationship was going well, when hers was kicking her in the teeth?
And that's when it occurred to me: Maybe this so-called relationship isn't going so perfectly.
How can Harris and I consider moving ahead -- going through the emotional ringer of meeting his family in a formal way -- when we haven't yet discussed basic issues of values and priorities?
"I don't even know if he wants kids!" I blurted.
The two passengers looked at me queerly.
Maybe this so-called love life isn't going so perfectly.
"That's a bit of a non-sequituer," Beth said.
"Well," I said, conscious that words were tumbling out of my mouth without being processed by my brain, "if he and I are going to get serious, we ought to discuss these things, you know, kids and all..."
They continued looking at me, oblivious to the red rocks of Oak Creek Canyon whizzing by around us. They weren't letting me get out of this so easily.
"He, um, he wants us to go meet his parents, to spend part of the high holidays with them, you know."
"Jess! That's great!" Alison cheered.
"So why are you stammering?" Beth asked skeptically.
"Well," I said, "because I guess I don't want to."
"Why not?!?" screeched Alison.
"I feel like we're just moving forward without making sure we're going to the same place. I mean, we've been friends now for months and the subject of kids never came up."
I was never crazy about him. I was infatuated.
"So ask him!!" Alison yowled.
"She's right, Jess," Beth concurred softly. "Allow me to introduce a cliche: Communication is a two-way street."
"You know," I said, "I'm realizing that we've spent all of our time together and have had almost nothing in the way of deep emotional interaction."
"Oh man, here she goes again," Alison moaned. "You are getting way too earnest, Jess. It's annoying."
"It's called trying to be mature," Beth defended me.
"I don't understand this whole thing with Harris," Alison said, kicking the back of my seat. "She's overanalyzing the whole thing. First, she was crazy about him -- and now she's annoyed that he doesn’t call everyday to recite his list of life goals."
"I was never crazy about him," I said with rare clarity. "I was infatuated."
"Infatuated ... in love ... whatever."
"Not whatever!" I said, punctuating with a pound on the steering wheel. "They are not the same thing. Think of every relationship you've ever had. You start off spending time together and everything is wonderful and fun and you're sure it is going to be like that forever."
I waited until they'd sufficiently nodded.
Infatuation has a lot to do with desire and very little with who someone is.
"That's infatuation. It's fun. It's light. It's exciting. But it's not sustainable. What lasts is when you're sick with the flu and there's no romance to carry the moment. What's important is the compassion of the person who's there with you. That's where real love begins."
"You sound like a greeting card," Alison snorted.
"Aw, c'mon, think of my mom and dad, or friends who are happily married," I continued, excited by my insight. "Dad is always saying that Mom makes him a better person. Their love is based on their appreciation of who the other person is -- strengths, faults, their whole character. Love is not just the fun they have together. It doesn't just 'happen' through a chemical reaction."
"Okay," Beth said, showing her legal finesse. "But you're talking about two different things. One is whether you and Harris have compatible expectations in life, which you've not brought up, and two, whether you respect and appreciate who he really is."
"Oh my God," Alison said, clearly exasperated. "You Shaeffer women are completely nuts! What are you going to do? Choose boyfriends based on Boy Scout merit badges? For months, all I hear from Jessica is that Harris is sooooo smart and so well-informed and so great... When he focuses on you, he makes you feel like the world. And now you're saying that's not good enough?"
I winced. I thought back on the months I'd been with Harris. I do like him a lot. Attractive. Confident. Smart. Still, I've seen enough of his character to come to a big conclusion: I'm not so impressed.