It was February 1994 and I had just been dumped— on the phone, no less. His name was Thomas and he walked with a sort of swagger, having broken his femur playing soccer for his Catholic alma mater (which shall remain nameless lest I reveal too much), and it didn’t heal quite right. He yodeled and looked like Clark Kent.
There had been signs it might not work out, like when we played Catholic Trivial Pursuit and he mocked me for saying Mother Teresa was born in Albania. (She was.) At Thanksgiving dinner with his mother, I scandalized him when I checked the temperature of the mashed potatoes with my finger. I didn’t cook much. I honestly didn’t know how else to tell if food was hot. “Use a spooooon . . . ” he scolded. And he didn’t have a car. Still, I was crushed.
Two weeks later I was in Jerome, Arizona in a defunct Catholic Church called Holy Family. at a retreat for young adults. A young man wearing way too much faded denim for one outfit and coke-bottle glasses started sitting next to me at meals. During an icebreaker we discovered a mutual interest in poetry, and that he had taken a poetry class with Rita Dove. Years later he would reveal that he had almost failed the class, and that Ms. Dove had asked him incredulously—he being a Supply Chain and Materials Management major—”Why in the world did you take this class?”
His name was Chris, and during the retreat he started wearing his contacts. A little dose of being on the rebound helped me get past the denim ensemble. He asked for my phone number. I gave it to him.
We were both mid-twenties, both Catholic and both wanted to be married. Over the next few months, we talked about everything. In what circumstances do you believe divorce is justified? I want to stay home with the kids. How many children?
“I’d like to have some and then adopt from China,” I told him. Chris thought I meant I wanted procreate to the limits of my fertility, and when my ovaries went kaput, start adopting.
“What do you think of picnic tables?” he asked. A peculiar question given the context, I thought. He was trying to figure out where all those kids would sit.
This is how I arranged my own marriage. My parents had 5 divorces between them, despite my dad being tall, dark and handsome and all his wives being lovely—at least at the beginning—and my mother’s first husband being a dreamboat of a Pakistani man with cocoa skin and ice blue eyes. I wasn’t about to bet the farm on sexual attraction. I would leave no stone unturned. Chris and I examined our compatability with surgical precision.
“In the secular world, a lot of the times a couple will fall in love with each other and then at that point they lose objectivity,” said Rabbi Steven Weil, the executive vice president at the Orthodox Union in New York in this New York Times article. In arranged marriages, “there is a lot of homework, a lot of energy spent, before a young man and woman fall in love with each other. . . .”
When our homework was done, Chris proposed and I accepted. My sexier, less repressed, more optimistic friend and eventual bridesmaid, Mary, whose updo outshone mine at the wedding—not that I hold grudges—suggested I not marry him.
“Of all the men I’ve ever met, he’s the most suitable,” I told her.
“But what about all the ones you haven’t met yet?” What? I was 25, my biological clock was ticking, there were babies to be made, meatloafs to be cooked, a perfect Catholic family to be orchestrated. I didn’t care about all the men I hadn’t met.
In May, our match will have lasted 20 years. There have been some hard times, as revealed in another post. We were only able to have two children. Our attempts at adoption failed. I got fat.
But Chris dresses better. He’s the kind of handsome that my new friends always feel compelled to mention, usually right before they ask if he’s younger than I am. (He’s two years older.)
He’s the kind of rational, that when I ask him what he would do if Sophia Vergara threw herself at him, he doesn’t tell me she isn’t attractive (a lie I would happily believe). He tells me he would hate to run in her circles, with Hollywood people. They would have nothing in common.
We’ve decided to leave Scottsdale, the rural horsey-town cum luxury-resort-clogged fancy city of my birth in a few months and start fresh in upstate New York. There’s a trepidation and thrill in our house akin to newly-wedded bliss. Commitment and compatibilty and the grace of Holy Matrimony have aged into a long, happy marriage. I’m so grateful the yodeller dumped me, God bless him.
I’d like to thank poet Rita Dove. If Chris hadn’t taken her class, we might not have had anything to say at the icebreaker in 1994. I owe her a lot. Happy Valentine’s Day.