I know people sometimes wonder about how Doug and I work as a couple. People at work have asked me “how [I] live with him;” a mutual friend once told him he “could do better” than me. And they have a point: we don’t look that great on paper. On first meeting, I come across as bookish and shy; Doug is athletic and charming. I try to empathize with everyone, even those who have wronged me; Doug can be kind of a jerk, even to people who’ve done nothing. I’m three years older than he is, and significantly more mature. And as far as common interests, when we met, we had a total of one: microbreweries. Not exactly what you’d call grounds for a functional and lasting relationship.
But there was a definite spark when we met, and that was enough to get us interested in each other’s hobbies. (I’m watching football as I type.) And, over the years, we got to know each other, came to understand each other, built a life together, and survived a tragedy together. And through it all, we came to learn that we really are a good match. I think I’ve given enough insight into our day-to-day relationship by now to convince my readers of this fact.
But this post isn’t about me and Doug.
I’ve said here before that it’s unfair to judge a couple based on its individual components; it’s unfair to wonder about how they work together, when really we should just be assuming that they do work together, and that’s why they are together. But, even as someone who’s been on the receiving end of that type of criticism, I’m guilty of judging other couples every once in a while. And when I first learned that two people I work with – both of whom I adore as individuals – were a couple, I have to admit, I was a little skeptical.
Jamie is a beautiful, friendly, well-put-together young woman; Kiki is fun and energetic – actually, almost spastic – with the heart of a lion and the attention span of a goldfish. Like I said, separately, I love both of these people. But upon hearing that they’d been together for two years, I couldn’t help but wonder how she puts up with him 24/7. I couldn’t help but conclude that she must be taking one for the team.
And then I thought about it a little more, and I remembered the way Doug and I present ourselves at work verses the way we are at home, and I decided that the specifics of their relationship was none of my business. I asked Jamie once, whether Kiki was different at home than he was at work, and she assured me that he was. And from that day, I began to feel a sort of kinship with her, like we shared a secret about functional relationships with unlikely men, a secret that no one else in our store could understand.
Which brings me to the other night, New Year’s Eve. Our grocery store was a madhouse, with people rushing to buy their appetizers and champagne before we closed early for the holiday. And even worse than the store was the parking lot. Behind the store, where most of the employees prefer to park, our cars were stacked up in the loading dock, facing all directions, blocking each other in. Out in the main part of the lot, in the farthest corner from the store, there’s a row of spaces that are marked as reserved for the employees and customers of the bank across the street from us, a business that has no lot of its own. This row, too, was full of cars.
Late in the afternoon, right around the time the bank should have been closing, customers started coming back into the store and reporting that, when they had taken their groceries out to their cars, their cars were nowhere to be found. The bank was towing every car that had parked in one of its designated spaces. We soon learned: they’d gotten six customers, and Jamie, and Kiki.
I heard the rest of this story later, in pieces, from Doug, Jamie, and various coworkers who’d seen and heard what happened next.
When Jamie discovered her car was gone, she was hysterical. Doug took her outside and walked with her around the building as she tried to make sense of what had just happened. “Find Kiki,” she wailed.
Once found, Kiki reported that he’d already gotten the number of the tow company, called them, and called Jamie’s sister to come pick them up and take them to the lot. If they left work early, they could get both their cars back that night; it wouldn’t be cheap, but it would cost about twice as much if they chose to wait until the following day.
As Jamie and Kiki were leaving, Doug gave Jamie his number, and invited them to join us at the party we’d be going to later, a relatively low-key celebration in his mom’s neighborhood. Jamie politely declined, but Doug touched base with her later in the evening anyway, to make sure everything had turned out okay at the tow lot (it had), and to wish her and Kiki a happy new year on our behalf.
In that moment, or series of moments, we got a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes life of this other seemingly mismatched couple. When the usually collected girlfriend broke down, the usually hyperactive boyfriend became incredibly focused. (And my own boyfriend, usually such a jackass at work, showed how considerate he can be, too.) It’s easy to see now what I’d only imagined before: obviously, there is a balance in this relationship; obviously, things aren’t always what they seem.
Sometimes, it takes a crisis to show ourselves, and those around us, how wonderful we really are.