Was there anything more disappointing as a kid than when you got to your hotel and the pool was closed?
It looked so lovely in the brochure.
I grew up being fed a lot of stories about Love and Romance and Happy Endings. Mostly through TV and movies, since my parents didn’t seem to even like each other.
My mother was also pretty bleak about my chances of finding another human being willing to tolerate me for more than short lengths of time.
“You’re a small doses person,” my mom would say. “An acquired taste.”
Because I was embarrassing. Weird. And talked too much. Tended to make people uncomfortable just by being me.
At least that’s what she and the rest of my family said.
Mysteriously, I had no problem making friends outside of my home, a reality which mystified my parents. My siblings were mostly loners, and neither of my parents had many friends themselves. So I was an anomaly.
And mom’s view of my chances for marriage were particularly bleak. “People like the quiet, pretty ones,” she’d say. “They want to wonder about you. You’ll never find a good Catholic boy acting the way you are.”
She told me to play down my intelligence because “no guy wants to feel like the girl he’s dating is smarter than him.” (Of course, she didn’t know I was dating mostly women, who unfortunately kept leaving me for men).
A few years after I married my first husband, she confessed to me one afternoon, “It was such a relief when you met Seth. I didn’t know how someone like you would find anyone decent who’d want to be with you.”
It stung of course, but it wasn’t anything new. She’d been saying similar things my entire life.
And truly, I’d been astonished myself when I met Seth. Amazed that he’d tolerated me so well. True, he didn’t like or read my writing. And he was pretty open about the fact that he found most of what I said annoying and most of my interests silly. But I was glad to have anyone. And the fact that he’d acknowledge me publicly to others? A big super bonus that was frankly a little mind blowing, having spent most of my life in relationships where I was a dirty secret (lesbian relationships were far less tolerated in the 90s and early 2000s than today, and a much-older, illegal-aged boyfriend was worried about legal repercussions).
Prior to that point, I’d always felt like an outsider. If life were a sit com, I would have been a colorful guest star who shows up for one episode, makes a splash, and moves on to the next thing. I was entertaining. Got plenty of attention. But I didn’t really belong anywhere.
Certainly not in my own family and not at the friends’ houses where I often crashed when I couldn’t go home because things were bad there.
I struggled to cobble together a family from everyone I knew. In pieces and parts. Here, there, and everywhere. This friend got one aspect of me. This other friend got another. Their parents saw still other things. As did my teachers and the older musicians I played with in jazz groups.
I did what I wanted. Had flings that were more intense than I have words for. And one-night stands that challenged but not did end me.
Over and over, I was understood for mere moments in brief glimpses by the occasional observer who would soon wander off to somewhere else.
But I remained largely unknown in those years, even to myself.
I was a pure ball of being, of acting in the moment. There was no continuous narrative. I let the days slip through the cracks, not wanting to account for them. It seemed like all that waited for me down that road was a huge bill. An emotional debt I would someday have to sit down and pay.
The Married Club
And then Seth happened. I got the Happily Ever After. The white wedding at a country inn. The guest registry. The rings.
Everyone around me congratulated us. “Welcome to the Married Club,” one explicitly said, and many others implied.
But strangely, the label didn’t really change much of anything. Seth and I were still us. Our relationship was basically the same — good, bad, and otherwise.
Still, I happily stayed settled down. Thrilled to have a place where I finally belonged. Just happy to have a home. Sure, it was more like an efficiency than a mansion, but I preferred this state of things to being a nomad. The worst part of those years, when I lived without a real home base, had been the feeling that I was always an imposition on others.
Surely, now that I was a good married lady all of that would change. I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way anymore.
The Pool Is Closed
Seth bemoaned the state I’d put him in. He felt we’d married too young. “I never got to taste other flavors. How do I know if what we have is any good? I have nothing to compare it to.”
And he wasn’t the only one. I found myself surrounded by married couples who had gone through all the motions, followed step by step the recommended recipe for happiness, only to find… the finished product looked nothing like the photo.
They were gutted… just like kids who had finally gotten to the hotel after months of buildup in their own minds, only to find that the pool was closed.
So when we found out close friends of ours had opened up their marriage, the conversation started about whether we wanted to do the same. I was initially the more hesitant partner, but eventually I agreed, taking me on a journey that took me at first to some profoundly stressful places, but ultimately led me to a place of radical understanding.
I was understood for the first time. By others, sure. But more importantly by myself.
And while Seth and I ultimately split up, we both found new, better homes. We still talk every now and then about what’s going on in our lives. And we laugh that we were ever married.