An intimate relationship does not banish loneliness. Only when we are comfortable with who we are can we truly function independently in a healthy way, can we truly function within a relationship. Two halves do not make a whole when it comes to a healthy relationship: it takes two wholes.
Zack and Kari Make a Wedding
We sit in white plastic lawn chairs as JD, the officiant of the ceremony, begins to eulogize of the dearly departed. He then acts flustered and flips pages in his binder and begins unfurling a wedding spiel I have heard before. No, not the familiar one you might have witnessed at innumerable weddings. He says the one from Spaceballs. As Gregg, dressed all in white, beings to yawn and is referred to as "Prince Valium", I break into a grin. This is the sort of wedding I signed up for. JD say, to all the scripted interruptions, "Excuse me! I'm trying to conduct a wedding here which has nothing to do with love, so please be quiet!" Zack soon swoops in - to the best of his ability given that there is nowhere to swoop from other than slightly farther off on the grass - and claims he is a real life prince, replacing Gregg as the groom and hugging Kari to him.
"All of these are actors I hired to portray my friends," I whisper to Amber, squeezing her hand. "It wasn't cheap, but I had to test you somehow. You've passed and will one day meet my real friends."
JD, in his part as the minister, goes to the quickie version of the vows. Zack and Kari kiss after saying "I do" and then settle down on the lawn. On a table before them, a television is revealed and begins to play well-wishes from various horror movie icons. Zack is like a kid on Christmas, hugging Kari, mock shouting things like "That is the whore from Demons! She is the best prostitute!", and occasionally bouncing.
"That part wasn't cheap," I tell Amber, "but I figured, while I was hiring actors, I should go with the big names. They needed the work."
Zack and Kari are that couple that seem attached to one another to a bizarre degree. They are the ones always posting about their love on Facebook, who engage in strange hobbies together (captioning bad movies with commentary), the ones who do not seem to waver when other relationships dissolve around them. Everything else in their lives might turn to havoc, but they found one another and so nothing can shake them. In short, they have the sort of romantic relationship I want (though with some personal revisions I will gloss over in politely company).
Gregg, also known at Sweetness Whachacha professionally, then takes out torches, the ends of which he lights on fire and then begins to juggle, transitioning into fire eating, which of course morphs into fire breathing.
"I should tell you, I hired circus folk, too. There was a deal on them. I didn't think you would believe I am friends with normal people and, hey, it's a wedding."
"What about those people over there?" she asks, motioning to our left to people in their sixties.
"I don't know who they are, I'm not paying them. They just showed up when they heard there would be a fire breather."
I had promised myself to Zack and Kari's wedding months ago, excited that I would attend a combination nuptial and pool party. Until meeting Amber, I had no plan to bring a date, imaging that I could not find the right woman to escort me. Coordinating the appropriate outfit would be hard enough without my hypothetical friend having to invest in a semi-formal tankini. I asked Amber half-jokingly days ago (after our last date, I informed her it was in her court when next I saw her, then promptly asked her to the Dia Museum Sunday and later to this wedding, inviting her to spend the night in between, because I am not good about being patient), but will not deny that a joyful jig may have resulted from her saying she would love to escort me.
Even before we arrived - because I had to properly kiss every inch of bare skin before I could contemplate being civil in mixed company, given that she wore a skirt that exposed that bit of her thigh that I was so desperate to place my lips upon last week - Amber had been the perfect date: interested in but not dependent on me, sweet, affectionate, conversational, and - most importantly for the occasion - a nice bit of arm candy. "Do you know how happy I am to be here with the most attractive date?" I had asked her, putting my arm around her possessively.
"You might be biased," she had said.
In retort, I had decided she might be under-kissed and remedied this with all haste.
Amber is here at the wedding to be with me with no other goal in mind. She is not inclined to disparage me, to score imagined points with strangers at my expense because she is uncomfortable in this social paradigm. Even when I ended up in a surprisingly learned conversation about RealDolls which she largely spectated, she just laughed. "Why do you let me speak?" I asked her, self-depricatingly, when I realized how much I had shared of what I apparently knew on the subject.
"I like when you speak."
When I get a drink later, one of the other guests waylaid me. "How long have you two been together?"
"Oh, we're not-" I stopped myself, uncertain. "I've known her for a few weeks."
"You are really cute together. Most people aren't. Keep her around."
I blushed. "Oh. Thank you. Yes, Amber is good people."
We stay at the party for hours, enjoying the copious food and company, though not the pool. As night slowly falls, it finds her sharing a chair with me. Jill, Gregg's partner in love and showmanship, happens by and asks to take a picture of us, as we are a fittingly adorable couple. A millisecond of panic flashes through my brain, a "Jill will put it on the internet and then everyone will know!", but then I laugh at the ridiculousness of this concern and smile. Let them know, I am proud to have Amber's arm around me.
We leave soon after, partly because I am eager to get Amber home and begin our sleepover and partly because the mosquitoes have figured out she is delicious (and that is my job). I had told Amber that I was fine sleeping on the air mattress or couch, but we are not yet to the point where this matters. We cuddle on the sofa together and begin to watch The Orphanage. As the movie progresses, I kiss her and trace the curves of her body with my hand, relaxing from design and necessity on her stomach. Minutes turn to hours as I transgress and presume, testing the boundaries. My blood feels carbonated by the excitement of touching her, of smelling the top of her head, of her kisses on my neck and lips. And all at once, it reaches a breaking point where I know I can't do this anymore.
"We should have a talk," I say.
"Oh?" she asks, her eyes twinkling.
"On the bed. We should have a talk. Now."
"Oh. Okay," she says, but does not move.
"Let me rephrase, if I might. You can walk to my bed of your own volition or I can carry you. But I need you there. Please."
She grins. "I think I can walk."
There, I tell her what has been bubbling within me. I can't just be the friend she kisses and, frankly, I can't deal with only kissing her. I need her. "Let's make this official," I say. "You my girl?"
"Yep," she says. "You my boy?"
"I think I always was."
She nods. "You were."
I realize that I don't know what is going to happen with Amber. I understood how my relationship with Emily or Melanie might end before I had kissed either one of them, and I entered those relationships anyway. With Amber, I don't see a likely end. I had made a list of every fatal flaw that killed my prior relationships (from seventeen to thirty) and she does not fall into a single one. She is not too young, she is capable of loving me, she is monogamous, she is looking for the kind of relationship I can provide her, she isn't looking for a fling, she is not selfish or inwardly focused, she does not live in another state or a three hour train ride away. But the lack of a visible kill-switch is not why I want to be with her.
The minute I stopped trying to overthink Amber, I allowed myself to realize that she is exactly who I wanted in my life. Since the moment I saw her in person, I had been trying to resist her, trying to suss out ways in which she was not right for me. Time and again, my excuses failed. That I almost immediately began seeking fault should have been indication enough that I knew she was right and was scared at the prospect. In the time I have known Amber, she has shown herself to be one of the most genuine, kindest, sweetest women I have ever encountered. There is not a part of her that is inauthentic, no aspect to her character that exists for guile or show. When she says she cares for me, I know she means exactly that, that she isn't advancing a pawn in the long range hope of distracting me from my rook so she can claiming my queen. There are already little things about her that warm me, like how she opens seltzer cans only enough for a trickle of liquid to escape so she had to suck on it like a hummingbird or her unnaturally blue her eyes are or how she is only photogenic when she has no idea I am taking a picture of her. She knows who she is and, as such, knows exactly what she wants. She is content, even as she struggles for greater artistic and job success. She is ready for the love I do not doubt I will soon give her.
It does not feel like it did with Emily or Melanie, rushed and not yet right, something I was letting happen for now because the woman in my arms cared about me or because I was breathless in the momentum of the experience. With Amber, everything has felt exactly right, holding her hand and walking in the night, going dancing, having her come over the next day to watch movies, reading her poetry. Life isn't usually like a movie, but it is with her. As Lauren will later put it to me, people don't trace each other's faces in the moonlight in real life. Amber makes my heart beat fast, makes me want to touch every bit of her, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Even when it is fumbling and awkward, it is right. She has never made me feel as though I had to earn her admiration. Melanie always made me feel that I simply wasn't good enough, which helped in some ways (my writing, certainly). But it is a frenzied and ego-smashing way of existing, loving someone who seems to always talk to you as though you are inadequate, someone who hides you away from their friends as though you are unworthy to be seen in daylight. I feel, even with only a few weeks of knowing Amber, that she will be as willing to care about me on my worst day as on my best, that I deserve how she feels about me. We have had a beautiful beginning so far, one largely without regret, and I can only anticipate how good it will become.
I would not have attempted this with anyone else, I was finally content being single, but it would be a mistake not to attempt a full relationship with Amber. I look at her through this night and I think then say, "One day, I will love you." Followed, by necessity, with, "One day, I will be your lover." This last one I feel the need to clarify. "I am not ready to have sex with you. I want us to put that off until we both know that we love the other person, until we are both totally ready for that kind of relationship. Is that okay with you?"
"Absolutely," she says, as though she can't quite believe a guy would ask to wait for things to be right.
Soon in Xenology: Amber.