I’m standing in a lushly decorated rooftop bar holding a drink that cost me more than I think a drink should. Although it’s a heavy pour, so that’s good. I’m dressed to the nines. Chic dress, lace pumps, suit coat. I’d spent hours earlier combing my wardrobe for the best pieces, looking for something that says “trendy businesswoman mixed with just a touch of first lady.”
“And what does your wife do for work?” a smartly dressed woman asks Justin.
“I’m a writer,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. It’s clear she’s not expecting that answer. But it’s a welcome relief that she doesn’t ask what I write. I have my stock PG-rated answers: I write about relationships, from an organizational development perspective. Relationships are systems, after all.
In polyamory, this connection is obvious — metamours are a lot like coworkers, after all. They must come together for a common purpose to get things accomplished, even if they don’t like one another. And sometimes feel like they’re in a competition for time and resources (which can be true or not, depending on the logistical situation).
But relationships are systems in monogamy as well. Even without additional romantic partners, relationships don’t exist in isolation. People have friends, family members, coworkers. And that larger environmental context is important.
If I’m in more casual company where I don’t have to worry so much about self-monitoring, I’ll say that I write about alternative relationships. “GLBT, BDSM, poly.”
But she doesn’t ask. Tonight no one does.
I pass from contact to contact trying my best to make a good impression. I try to chat enough to make people feel comfortable. Maintain my composure. Appear dignified. Above all else, I don’t want to embarrass Justin since I’m his plus one.
Eventually I get a reprieve. I take a long swallow from my drink as I stand before an entire wall of windows. Beneath me, the cityscape of Cleveland sparkles, row after row of buildings. This one is taller than most, so I get the feeling that I’m above it all. And that’s a terrifying thought.
“How are you doing?” Justin asks me.
“I’m feeling really overwhelmed,” I confess.
“Really?” he asks. “Why?”
“Look at this,” I say, gesturing around at the bar, the city lights below, my outfit, his (since he, too, is dressed to kill).
“Fancy, isn’t it?” he says.
I nod. “I’m just a girl from the woods.”
“Well, you’re doing great. No one would ever know.”
“But I know,” I say. “It’s a weird kind of impostor syndrome. I keep being worried that I’ll be found out. That they’ll let me know that I really don’t belong here. And that I need to go back where I came from.”
“Page,” he says. “You’re doing great.” He points out various buildings in the skyline, including his office.
Hick Kids in Big City Clothing
It’s funny for me, living here. In The City. The first time I said that to someone else, they laughed. “The City? Cleveland? Really? It’s not like it’s New York. Or even Chicago.”
But to me, it is. Cleveland is large, loud, noisy, and full of more things to do on any given Friday night than I could find in a whole year back home.
And culturally, it’s a lot different. It’s eye opening for Justin when we attend a funeral back in Maine, and half the attendees are wearing jeans. How people stare at us as we walk through stores because of how sharply we’re dressed and how quickly we move.
Everything in the city is fast, fancy.
And yet, Cleveland has welcomed me in a way that’s never really made me feel inferior. As cities go, it’s ridiculously down to earth. There are a few snobs here and there, sure, but no one really takes them seriously. A simple “bitch, you live in Cleveland,” tends to do the trick.
It’s really only me that’s the last holdout. I’m the only person that is yet unconvinced that I belong here.
I often wonder how many others there are like me out there: Hick kids in big city clothing, trying like hell to fit into their new home.