Saturday, January 18, 2014

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The When Question- Guest Author Ashley McNamara

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Joey and I talk about the future and getting married, but it’s hypothetical. At the end of the month I’ll be 27 and he is 22; in January we will have been together two years. He thinks it is too soon in our relationship to get engaged; I think it’s not yet practical to take that step. Most of the time, my practical side wins. I know when that step comes – rings and questions - he is the one that has to be ready. I’m willing to wait, except on the days when I’m not.
My attack is planned and made while he is playing video games. I was getting ready to go to bed, teeth brushed, baggy t-shirt on, when I sidle up to his side of the couch and perch on the arm.
“You have some sort of timeline for us, right?”
He does the thing where he shakes his head and blinks trying to understand what I just said while also not getting shot in the game. “What?”
“I mean, I’m great with where we are, but you have some idea of when stuff will happen…” I trail off. I am great with where we are. We moved to the South because I got a job, far away from friends and family, and it’s brought us even closer together. The thing is…the South is a little different.
We are both from Wisconsin, but generally refer to the Midwest as “back home.” Back home, no one questioned that we were going to live together without being engaged or married. Our families knew us, did not want us to rush into anything, and were happy we were happy. No one asked too often or pressed too much about when I was going to get the sparkly thing on my finger (except my grandmother, who is still disappointed it didn’t happen last Christmas). I never felt like we were weird or that I was deluding myself about our future.

Then we came here. I moved to Arkansas first, he followed about 2 months later. My first few weeks on the job I met a ton of new people and made the usual small talk, always mentioning that Joey was moving down with me at the end of July. The conversation usually went like this:
Me(happy): “My boyfriend will be moving down at the end of July, I can’t wait.”
Person(excited): “Oh, that’s nice! When are you getting engaged?”
Me (confused): “Uh, no idea. We’ve talked about it.”
Person (awkward): “How exciting!”
This conversation got so common that I did what anyone would do (maybe); I lied. Saying that I didn’t know if we were getting engaged, that I didn’t know when we were getting married, kept appearing to be the wrong answer. I tried it like this:
Me (happy): “My boyfriend will be moving down at the end of July. I can’t wait.”
Person (excited): “That’s nice! When are you getting engaged?”
Me (fake happy): “Soon. I think he’ll propose for my birthday in December.”
Person (approving): “That’s so sweet.”
There were other times when I tried being honest. I stated that it wasn’t a practical decision because weddings were expensive, that he wanted to find a better job, maybe go to grad school. When I talked about the practical and financial reasons, they reacted with pity. One woman actually put her hand on my shoulder and gave me the saddest sounding “That’s smart,” I ever heard.  What my practical answer translated to was: he doesn’t take it seriously, he’s not committed, or I was making excuses.
            It made sense to me when I learned one of our student staff at the front desk had already booked her banquet hall and caterer and her boyfriend hadn’t even proposed yet. Down here, if you knew the person you wanted to be with there was no point in waiting. At least, that’s been my surface experience. It didn’t matter about money or practicality; it was just what you did. The church said do it, so you did it. Your family said do it, so you did it. It was the culture here. I’d never felt pressure like that, and pressure from people who have no influence on my decisions. 

            I know it made me weird for a while. It made me bring up the M-word once too often, made me casually mention things that I liked to him in a way that was obvious and made me blush when he called me on it. We’ve had pretty honest discussions about what we want our wedding to be like, who we want there, about colors and endless conversations about food, and it’s fun and I could throw the whole thing together in a few months if I had to, but it’s just dreaming. It’s just dreaming when we talk about how we want to raise our hypothetical kids – names, chores, spankings, at what age to let them watch R-rated movies. When we talk about pets and houses and vacations, it’s just dreaming.
We’re at the point in our relationship where the dreaming is more important than the doing. We have to figure out that our dreams are the same, or that they can meld together to create a solid and doable reality. Our current reality is dividing up the chores between the two of us, of knowing there is always someone to rely on, like this morning when his car wouldn’t start and I could leave work to come home and jump it. Now is good, now is practical – and why can’t practical be good and right and fun? Why do I feel the need to rush out of this? We will never have this again. Jobs, kids, life is going to happen. I want to revel in this, no matter what anyone thinks I should be doing instead.
I’m living in sin, and I couldn’t be happier.
I am sitting on the arm of the couch, waiting for an answer to half a question. Joey smiles at me, a little mischievous because he knows I’ve been thinking about it, and says, “Of course I do. Don’t worry about it.” And I won’t. 

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Ashley McNamara is a 2013 graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State Mankato, with an emphasis in creative nonfiction. She currently works in student conduct at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, researching, fixing, mentoring, and teaching ethical decision-making. She is currently writing and shopping essays, as well as finishing her supernatural young adult novel