I never wanted to be that girl. Like the ones I'd see sassing their boyfriends into a submissive 'Yes, dear' position as they stand at a bar, in a grocery line. Or the ones demanding attention, snapping 'Take me home, now' amongst friends, coworkers, complete strangers. She, I'd think, she must be such an unpleasant handful.
"Where do you want to go to dinner?" my exes would often ask.
"I'm fine with whatever," I'd often respond.
"Nah, I'm not in the mood for pizza. Pick something else."
"Yeah, like I said, I'm fine with whatever."
Maybe it's because I grew up with a father with physically deteriorating health, a once strong man now a shell of his former self. Maybe it's because I spent over a decade volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, watching sick children fight for their lives. At a certain point, I adopted the motto: I don't have cancer. Such an approach pretty much makes the question of tacos or pizza rather inane.
In early April, I met Pete at that Charleston cocktail party. Mid-May I finally reached out to him. And a week into our conversations, he shared something personal. That two weeks prior to meeting me, he and his wife had separated. For the first time in four years they were communicating, they were making progress, this time toward mediation. Meeting me, he said, was both unexpected and delightful. He hadn't felt such a connection in many years. But he wanted to be honest about his situation. The manner in which I wanted to proceed, if at all, he would respect.
I sat with his email for an entire day before I typed a response. My instinct was to console him, offer genuine words of support. Except his gesture had opened the door for me to say what I truly wanted. Here it was, a chance to vocalize my needs. It would then be up to him to determine if he was capable of meeting them. I wrote, deleted, and rewrote my response no less than ten times, eventually settling on truthfulness:
In exchange for your honesty, I will admit that I am hoping to find a copilot, someone with whom I can share my life. Someone who cheers me on when I thrive and lends a hand when I stumble. Someone who makes me laugh and makes me think. Someone who appreciates delicious cuisine, adventurous travel, and intellectual curiosity. Someone who adores me, even though I can't whistle. Someone who will tend to spiders while I dance across the living room sofa, point and squeal. I'm not sure what we have here but I'm okay with where you are if you're okay with where I am.
It took me twenty minutes to click send, my extended index finger hovering over the button as I managed knots in my stomach and tightness in my chest. What if this turns him off? What if he has no interest in ever remarrying? Isn't it premature to address this? What if I sound needy and unreasonable? What if I sound like that girl?
The thing is, you can't get what you don't ask for. Tiptoeing around the truth would be misleading. Plus, he had offered honesty, led with respect. The least I could do was reciprocate it. I reread my response and, a little shy of midnight, clicked send. He responded early the next morning:
Nothing less should be expected from a partner and you have a great sense of worth embedded in those thoughts. I am more than okay with where you are and I appreciate the open door from you very much.