I always hate first days at a new job. They’re invariably full of introductions and small talk, two things that fill me, a natural introvert, with disproportionate dread. I nod and smile at what I hope are the right moments, shake many hands with what I hope is the right amount of pressure, and generally try to keep my verbal replies to any questions I’m asked under five or so syllables. So as I sat in a stiff armchair in the lobby of the Austin, Texas tech company at which I’d spend the next year of my life, the last thing on my mind was whether I’d make any new friends. As any introvert or ancient Roman could tell you, nothing of substance is built in one day.
I’ve grown quite accustomed to my shyness – it doesn’t really bother me any more than the fact that I’m right-handed or the presence of the glasses I wear on my face. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be annoying, though, like the fingerprints I’m constantly wiping from my lenses. I’m retroactively annoyed by my shyness on that February morning in 2015 because it has spoiled my memory of a very special introduction – a smudge clouding my vision of an especially splendid view. I’m frustrated and a little ashamed that I don’t remember the first words I spoke to Mary Cate, a co-worker whose desk sat directly across from mine. Probably something nervous and halting. Resultantly, perhaps something I’d even want to forget. I don’t have that option, though, which now seems unfair. I’d love to be able to wish I could forget it.
I do remember a few of our early exchanges – my lame attempt at a joke, her polite observation about (what else?) the weather. One stands out in particular. Some Monday morning a few weeks into my tenure, the office was abuzz with the news that a co-worker had become engaged over the weekend. There was a lot of cooing and clapping, which I did my best to avoid. I didn’t know the girl in question, and it felt uncomfortably voyeuristic to be seated so close to the scene of her happiness. Mary Cate glanced up from her desk and said, almost to herself, “I aggressively don’t want to be married.”
There was no trace of judgment in her voice – only honesty. This, too, felt a little like eavesdropping, as I was sure I wasn’t the intended audience for such a remark. But I remember thinking to myself, “Ah, yes. This girl gets it.” At the time, she had just escaped an unsavory relationship and my own was teetering along towards the edge of a much-appreciated cliff. It would be months before we struck up a correspondence, and several more before we started dating.
“I aggressively don’t want to be married.” My, how the tables have turned.
I never thought of myself as the marrying kind of fellow. Oh, I was vaguely hopeful that I might someday find a lasting life partner, but the institution of marriage struck me as irredeemably broken and full of bunk. Half of the blasted things fail, or so I’ve been told, and these were the days that marriage inequality, a gross violation of basic human rights, was masquerading around as a piece of legislation. Besides, I hadn’t ever felt fully, properly comfortable around anyone – not even good friends. Nor had Mary Cate, for that matter. But she changed all that with indecent speed and exuberance.
One of those early days – it may even have been the same one – a book on her desk caught my eye. She was reading “Born Standing Up,” Steve Martin’s memoir of a life spent in show-biz. Somewhere just below the surface of my consciousness, I made a mental note – I was and continue to be a deep admirer of Martin’s fiction, starting with his novella “Shopgirl,” which I lent to Mary Cate out of the blue a few months later, along with his second, “The Pleasure of My Company.” His novel, “An Object of Beauty,” followed another few weeks after that. She, in turn, introduced me to Junot Díaz. Amidst the book exchange, a relationship was forming, in a way that suited introverted old me just fine.
We kept at it like that for quite a while, making recommendations and writing increasingly long letters. I experienced the strange sensation of becoming closer to someone than I ever had before without having exchanged more than a few dozen spoken words. (The twenty-thousand-plus written words that we exchanged helped to mitigate that strangeness, of course, but in those days I lived in dread of running into her one day in the hall. Whatever to say? Surely, “I think I love you” would have put an abrupt end to the letter writing.)
Another bewildering month or two dragged by before we realized we had little choice but to clear the hurdle of physical conversation, and so we arranged to meet at a museum one weekend afternoon. It was the first time we’d really heard one another’s voices, the first thing we did that could be described as a date, and we were both already bashfully and secretly in love. A six-hour walk through the moonlit streets of Austin followed a few nights later, and another weekend outing a few days after that. By the same time the next week, we were dating. A month later, we had plotted both our move to New York and the basic points of the next several decades of our lives.
A stranger to such feelings of love and admiration, I’m afraid I tipped my hand embarrassingly early. Mary Cate was at my apartment a few weeks after our romance stepped out from behind our laptop screens, sneezing at the cats she would soon co-own. Her allergy was a source of great concern, as it seemed like a possible stumbling block on the road to what I hoped was eternal happiness and companionship. Would she still want to spend time with me if it meant another fifteen years of watery eyes and an ever-runny nose? The thought shot from my brain directly into my mouth, somehow managing to bypass the self-preserving filter that’s supposed to prevent such things. “I hope it’s okay with you – they’ll probably be around until we’re forty.” Realizing what I had said, I felt mortified; she very graciously said nothing. She happily teases me about it now that her allergies have faded away, though.
And so here we are, two months away from our wedding and practically counting down the minutes. The strangest part about the whole thing, aside from all of it, is how easy the decision was. Two self-avowed marriage doubters with a sudden, mutual urge to get hitched. That’s the sort of thing people must be talking about when they talk about the power of love. That’s the sort of thing that allows me, fingers awkwardly clacking over the keys under the weight of the wedding band we purchased together last week, to say this with all of the smug satisfaction one would expect of a young lover gone head over heels:
You may not think you’re the marrying kind. I didn’t. But now I’m not sure that there even is such a thing. The desire to marry can strike anyone – sometimes when it’s least suspected. Mary Cate and I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. After thinking it over, we wanted to get married, too. So just wait and see. It could be that the only thing standing between you and the nearest jewelry store is that you just haven’t found the right person yet.