Blogging is narcissistic, but so are couple selfies.
An acquaintance I knew as a teenager married her high school sweetheart. And not in the never-left-home kind of way. They separated during college, dated other people, did different things, but got back together as adults and got married. I don’t know the exact details, but I know that’s the basic outline of their story. They now work for tech companies in Northern California. A quick perusal of my Facebook homepage provides glimpses into the immaculate windows of their world. Warm, fuzzy, happy. They are both attractive, successful, and in love in that gushy kind of way, like they might talk to one another in baby voices. Oh, and their Facebook #tbt’s are amazing, of course.
I imagine their day-to-day like a sitcom or a romantic comedy. You don’t see the boring parts, like what goes on at work; you just see them walk up the steps of their Victorian-style San Francisco home early in the evening, then enter and clink their keys on the countertop, tired but happy to be with one another. Maybe they argue about gender roles, Why don’t you try making dinner for a change? Or their in-laws, Your mother is coming this weekend?? And then they laugh it off and settle onto giant fluffy pillows, putting bookmarks in their novels, and pecking each other on the lips before going to sleep.
They recently posted a couple selfie before heading out to a holiday party. The guy was wearing a trendy, metro sweater with a tie, and the girl was smiling with a serious red lip, her dark, straight hair perfectly pulled back on top, the rest of it swishing over her shoulders. I imagined they were going to some kind of fancy office party. I imagined them remaining side by side throughout the night, her hand lightly touching his shoulder. He would probably make well-timed jokes, she would probably wear heels and hold a wine glass between her index and middle finger like people do (although I was told you should really just hold the stem of a wineglass so you don’t affect the temperature of the wine). And I was suddenly filled with that sensation many of us get from seeing such photos on Facebook. You know, when you start to ask yourself, “Why doesn’t my life look like that?” I come from the same place as these two. I also have a supportive, stable family. I also went to a good university. Why don’t I get invited to Christmas parties that require me to buy a dress, to bring a gallant husband? Why don’t my social events involve schmoozing over hor d’oeuvres?
A fun time for me very rarely involves heels. (I own one pair made by a brand called Dexflex that are squishy and comfortable, meaning they are less likely to end up dangling from my fingertips as I walk home barefoot. Still, I’ve worn them twice.) I often excuse my heel aversion with the fact that I once had a short boyfriend (for real, he was 5’3) and therefore gave up heels forever. But I was never really into them anyway. I don’t know why the grown-up parties don’t appeal to me. I don’t know what I have against high heels.
And perhaps fittingly, I don’t have a husband, but I do have a younger boyfriend. He doesn’t care much about shoes either. He likes to wear these peasant sandals he got from some Spanish island if he wears shoes at all. (“Can’t you do something about those?” a British coworker once asked me.) I’m pretty sure he doesn’t own a tie. He also doesn’t own deodorant. I think he would feel uncomfortable at a fancy Christmas party, but feels perfectly comfortable sleeping in a car, or sleeping on a beach. In fact, we’ve slept on beaches twice now. The first time was when all the hostels were sold out in a little-known beach town in Peru due to a surfing competition. We had no choice. The second time was in La Costa Brava in Spain after we found ourselves at a hidden bonfire below some steep cliffs where we didn’t really know anyone. It was also like a movie, though not the romantic comedy kind, more like the kind featuring strangers being kind to one another sharing beer and passing joints. The kind where you think, this never happens in real life. But apparently it does. We weren’t well prepared for such festivities. The others brought tents. But that’s OK. We huddled up close to one another under the cloudy beach sky in our sleeping bags and slept a little bit. We watched the sunrise for a few moments until the mosquitoes started to viciously attack us, and self-preservation seemed more important than the beauty of the European sunrise. We cursed and swatted, then scurried up the cliffs in an unattractive scene that would be cut from a movie.
But that’s one of my favorite things about this relationship. The element of surprise, I suppose. Letting things unfold without tampering too much with them. Letting things be. Like my boyfriend’s beard, which he once promised not to trim or shave until he saw me, and we were apart for three months. This was his own idea. I never asked him to prove his dedication through hair-growth, but I also never discouraged it. When we finally saw one another, his beard was thick and wiry. I could grab a fistful of it. He wondered why he was briefly detained during a layover at the Miami airport while making his way from Peru to Spain. He said he thought it was because of a Catalan symbol on his T-shirt that may have been confused for a Communist symbol. Europeans have strange ideas about America. Let’s be real. It was the beard.
And now I imagine us posing in our very own selfie, perfectly timed and touched-up for Facebook, though not too much in order to preserve the impression of spontaneity, of that social media casualness. I woke up like this. And I wonder, could I rock a red lip? Could he pull off a tie? Does he even know how to tie a tie?
Before visiting me in California, he asks if there is anything specific he should bring. “Maybe something nice for the New Year?” I suggest. His face changes like I’ve caught him off guard. He pauses, and then, “I don’t really have anything nice,” he says, completely earnestly. And I feel this inexplicable sense of relief.