Last night, we went to my friend Emily’s house for her birthday. Emily has been having these birthday dinner parties at her parents’ house for the entirety of our adult lives – before we were adults, she had really good birthday parties, too, usually involving some kind of craft. Some of the attendees have been consistent for a decade: her family, me, and another friend, Ellen. Others have come and gone, or come and remained: our boyfriends, her brothers’ girlfriends.
This year, there were so many of us that we had to eat in shifts, even though Emily’s family has an incredibly spacious dining room. So it was that, between seatings, while Doug was helping Emily’s mom wash and re-fill dishes, I wound up talking to Emily’s boyfriend, Galen.
Emily and Galen have been together about as long as Doug and I have. In fact, my split with my husband sort of prompted Emily to break up with her then-boyfriend of many years: when I had explained how I’d suddenly realized I didn’t have to settle for mere contentment when I could seek actual happiness instead, Emily took it to heart, and Galen fit the bill. (“Marie always did have quite a bit of influence over you,” Em reported her mom saying at the time, and I was flattered.)
When I finally met Galen, several months later, I saw him in much the same way my parents had first seen Doug. As in, “This is the guy you dumped that other guy for?! But… He’s just a regular kid.” It’s amazing how we can create a person in our heads like that, based only on knowledge of the situation. My dad had originally pictured Doug as a much older guy, possibly with a motorcycle, and was initially taken aback by his regular-kid-dom, his personality resemblance to my brother Martin. Likewise, I was surprised – and rather relieved – to find that Galen wasn’t some Don Juan of Via Pisa Street, but just a friendly, down-to-earth guy who had won Emily’s heart organically. (A kid, also; Emily and I are both older than our male counterparts.)
I guess it’s no one else’s place to say what attracts two people to each other. How many times can I remember hearing that two coworkers were dating, or meeting a friend’s boyfriend for the first time, and wondering, “How does that work?” then waiting to have it proven to me, as though I’m the best judge of character and relationships. I think we all do this, to some extent. But as I looked around the room last night, seeing so many young couples interacting with each other, including Emily’s two younger brothers (once just babies to me) and their girlfriends, all I could think about was how much I like seeing couples interact with each other: the way that they sit with their knees touching, the way that they playfully make fun of each other, the kisses that they steal when they think no one’s looking. It’s not fair to wonder how two people work together; instead we should just be assuming that they do work together, at least until proven otherwise.
So I was talking to Galen, and out of nowhere, he blurted out, “I can’t read your blog.”
“Ok. I’m not offended.”
He gave me reasons I’d heard before: “The writing is very good, that’s not a question, you’re very good at what you do. But it’s too personal. Maybe if I were further removed…”
“Right, if you didn’t know us or had no connection to us.”
“Well, but then I just probably wouldn’t be interested. But Emily is really into it, and she tells me all about it, and then she tries to get me to read it, too.”
We laughed, and he went on to ask me whether publicizing such personal stuff has ever made me uncomfortable. (It hasn’t, but then, I hide behind the cover of my screen, and most of my conversations about it are general – no one has ever come up to me and asked a very personal, point-blank question to my face.) And he asked whether I was worried about how I’m going to end it, or what will happen to it, and to me, after the project is over. (I am, but I have a few more months to figure all that out.)
Then Doug came back from the kitchen, and he and Galen started talking about cooking and bicycles, so I excused myself and went to sit with Emily.
“Your boyfriend was just telling me how he doesn’t want to read my blog, but you tell him about it, and try to make him read it anyway,” I said, grinning.
“Oh, he doesn’t like when I read it either. Because it makes me all emotional, and then I start trying to have conversations with him. He’s always like, ‘What’s wrong? Have you been reading Marie’s blog again?'”
“Marie always did have quite a bit of influence over you.” And I was flattered.