Chapter Eight: Distant
It's finally back! After a brief haitus, I'm happy to present Chapter Eight, or, the most difficult chapter I've written to date. Perhaps that's why it's taken me some time to actually publish, the fact that we remember this time as a pressure point in our relationship.
If you need catching up, you can read the whole Love Story (and you should because it's juicy and more fun than emails).
I went on a total of one date in college. His name was Dale and he wore a white button-up shirt with khaki shorts almost every day. They matched his deep, southern drawl that he’d acquired from Arkansas (or Alabama), and he called me Miss Brittany. After several weeks of his “knowing looks” as he passed me in the resident assistant office on the way to his freshman dorm, he finally walked up to me and said, “Miss Brittany, can I take you to the zoo?”
It should have been a red flag to begin with, but I said yes, excited that my college dating career had finally begun, and got to Facebook stalking right away.
He was very polite as he talked about his Range Rover (I didn’t know what that meant or why it was interesting) and mudding with his Range Rover. He showed me photos of him and his buddies standing in front of their muddy Range Rovers. He also talked about how he was a stand-in for the giant in the movie Big Fish. He talked about other stuff that I can’t remember. He never asked me anything about myself.
After a few weeks of dodging him on campus until summer break, then ignoring MySpace messages from him, then informing him upon fall arrival that we were not dating, I figured that this whole thing just wasn’t for me.
I know there are people that love dating, but I find dates so awkward. I wanted to the next first date to be my last first date - and that’s saying something because there is little I won’t do for free food.
Here’s when I do want a date: at a wedding. It’s perfect because you have an excuse to dress up, the food is free, the dancing is fun, it’s romantic, the guy has to do zero planning, he’s gonna look hot, and what better setting to bring up the subject of marriage? I don’t care if that’s cliche. It’s real.
Matty and I were meeting in Seattle for Dre’s wedding, our friend from New York who we basically credited for bringing us together. Even though I knew he’d be busy as the wedding photographer, I couldn’t wait to be on his arm. I bought a royal blue babydoll dress and nude pointed heels for the occasion and he bought a new suit. It would be the first time I’d see him in a suit, aka men’s lingerie, and judging by how crazy I went when he sent me a video of him trying it on, I figured someone would have to carry me out of there before the night was over.
The first night in Seattle we hardly saw each other. I was at the bachelorette party and he was with the guys (a night of frustration for him, being turned away at bars and restaurants for forgetting his ID) so by the time we met up later that night, we were basically ready for bed and had to part ways. The next day we hiked up a mountain with all our friends who flew in from New York, and he kept walking ahead without me. Things certainly felt off, but we didn't have time to talk before running into town for a shower, then driving back out for the rehearsal dinner. The wedding was the following day and while I went on with our friends to get breakfast then decorate the venue, Matty was taking photos of the bridal party. I was almost too busy getting caught up in the rush of a wedding week before I realized that I’d been in the same city as my boyfriend for almost three days and we really hadn’t had any alone time together.
I got ready at the venue and when we saw each other for the first time all dressed up, his hands were sweating. He looked so handsome in his suit, just like I knew he would. We only had a brief moment before he had to run off and I could see in his eyes that something was up. He missed me and I’d been too busy to realize.
The wedding venue looked absolutely beautiful. Dre had lit candles all down the aisle and the firelight was seeping romance. I sat on the end so that Matty could easily join me when he wasn’t taking photos. We took selfies and laughed with our friends before I began to smell something odd. I looked down to see my coat that I had draped on my chair had caught on fire. Of course.
Thankfully, we snuffed it out before things got out of hand, and Matty went on to resume his photographer duties as the wedding began.
He was a dream that night. It was the first time I’d seen him shoot photos since church in New York before we were dating, and as he ran around the room, crouching for the best shot, adjusting his settings, taking the shot - I felt all the schoolgirl crush feelings. He knew exactly what he was doing and I found it terribly attractive. Also, he was wearing men’s lingerie, so I was in all kinds of trouble. Unfortunately, he wasn't catching that vibe from me. Our lack of time together was making him feel distant and uncomfortable.
The night went by quickly after that. We ate, drank, and hardly got to dance before the bride and groom were off and we were cleaning up. Matty was exhausted, as much from running around with a camera all day as he was not spending anytime with his girlfriend - who appeared on the outside to be just fine hanging around with their friends.
The truth was, I’d compartmentalized the trip. It made sense to me that the first half would be busy and wedding-focused, and the second half would be quiet and Matty-focused. Exactly what any stubbornly independent, almost 30-year-old woman would do. I wasn’t used to living near my boyfriend, so I didn’t know that he wouldn’t appreciate this straight-forward assessment, and/or how I put him in a box. In his eyes, he wanted to be with me as much as possible, and he wanted at least some of that time to be alone.
The next day all of our friends dispersed and we were on our own to explore the city. Dre had kindly let us borrow her car, which was a stick shift. I had no experience driving a stick, so Matty took over. But the thing about Seattle is it’s rainy and it’s hilly. And driving a stick under those kind of conditions when you’ve been living in New York for awhile is basically the worst possible combination. Just about every time he shifted gears, the car stalled. Often on a steep hill with cars behind us. He became increasingly frustrated and I became increasingly scared. We made it to Pike Place Market in Seattle and rejoiced with thanksgiving and praise as we parked the damn car.
We had delicious coffee at a brilliant cafe, tucked away from the crowds, and looked on with pity at the line of people standing in the cold rain to get into the original Starbucks. Ducking in and out of shops and eating the sorts of foods you only allow on vacation, I was having so much fun exploring a new place with him. It wasn’t his territory and it wasn’t mine. The thought of travelling with him more often was thrilling.
Eventually we made it back to the car with much trepidation. The rain came slow and steady and though I feared what may happen next, I was determined to make it to a local chocolate factory that produced my absolute favorite chocolate bars. There was a tour in the afternoon that I was willing to risk anything for, even stalled cars on wet hills.
As we pulled up and parked on the side of the road (with relief), we had about 10 minutes before the tour began. Matty sweetly indulged my sweet indulgence. The factory was out of the way and not something that particularly interested him, beyond grabbing a few free samples and seeing my giddy excitement.
It turned out that I wasn’t the only one with such tastes. The tour was sold out and, in fact, often required online reservations ahead of time. There were no other tours available and just like that, my Willy Wonka dreams were gone. The saving grace was that the front-facing chocolate shop was open and had copious amounts of samples. I tried every single one and tried to get Matty to eat the strange ones with chili and puffed quinoa. We took more than one sample of coffee and I eventually walked out with $50 worth of chocolate gifts. Not entirely a lost cause.
Still, we could feel the strain of the day. We drove back and the car was acting up more than ever. Our stress was through the roof and every new hill was met with clinched fists and a few cuss words. We decided to stay in and watch a movie until we could gather up the strength to get out again.
Eventually we started getting hungry and we wanted at least one date night before we had to part ways. Rather than jump back in the killing machine, we walked to the nearest restaurant, which happened to be a small tapas place in an old house. The space was quaint and a bit kitschy, but the owners were kind and the food was authentic and delicious. We ordered a pitcher of sangria and finally, after long days apart and stressful ones together, we fell into the familiar space where our relationship thrived. We spoke openly about how the days had been difficult and how to care for each other better as we grew in love. I felt challenged and complete at the same time; I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be better for Matty, and that he wanted to be better for me. There are moments in relationships where you decide if it’s worth it - and it wasn’t even a question to me. I was fully immersed in love.
I think that was one of the most poignant conversations in our relationship at that point. Up until then we hadn’t spent a difficult day together. We’d had arguments over the phone and discussions that challenged us, but to walk through it face-to-face was a new thing. There was no knock-down blow-out situation, and I wouldn’t even call it fighting, it was just a regular conversation that real couples have after hard days. The nitty gritty of what happens when two people come together and decide the continue coming together, no matter what.
We laughed a lot, and maybe the sangria helped. We ate until we were too full and walked back happy, if not a little cold and damp from the rain.
The next day we went to church with our friends and then Matty took me to the airport. His flight wasn’t until later that night, so we did a quick and painful goodbye. We didn’t know when we were going to see each other again and I didn't leave him with much confidence for our future. Our banks were empty and the financial strain of long-distance was weighing on us. But it was my turn to come to him, and I was hatching a brilliant idea.