Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You
‘I am getting to know so much about her and, fortunately, I delight in each new thing’
For the entirety of our relationship, my fiancée Debbie and I have been long distance. Or, we were long distance. She is based in New York City and I am based in Los Angeles and we are both stubborn about changing our geographies. For the first six months of our relationship, I was teaching in Connecticut, flying East every other week. Despite the distance, we saw each other regularly. Then, we just made it work. As frequently as we saw each other, we never really spent a significant amount of uninterrupted time together. I was always jetting off to an event here or there or returning to Los Angeles for my work there, my life there. Or she was jetting off to an event somewhere. Or she had to return to New York, after visiting me in L.A., because of her day job.
We were never concerned about the distance. We’re even getting married. Our friends, on the other hand, have long been deeply concerned about the matter of residence. We get a lot of questions about how we will manage the logistics of our marriage. We laugh and say we’re going to continue being bi-coastal. She loves her city and I love mine and we both have good reasons for living where we do.
And then there was a pandemic. Travel became intensely fraught and the country basically shut down. We decided to quarantine together in Los Angeles, where there was less population density, warmer weather, a big blue ocean, a backyard. For the first time in 18 months, we were spending all our time together from morning until night. Once again, our friends were deeply concerned, regularly asking how we were doing, if we’re still getting married, if we were still getting along. When they didn’t get the answers they were expecting, they were surprised.
There is a lot of public discourse about relationships. According to conventional wisdom love is hard. Or, love is easy. Or, love is simple. Or, love is complicated. I have grown tired of this conventional wisdom. Sometimes a relationship works and sometimes it doesn’t and rarely does the quality of a relationship have anything to do with platitudes. Or maybe I am just older now and this is who I am for better and worse. Either you want to deal with all of me or you don’t.
In many ways, distance makes a relationship easy. When your time together is finite, you’re generally on your best behavior. Every night is date night — sexy restaurants, exciting theater, museums, fancy parties, hot dogs at three in the morning from Chelsea Papaya, our favorite lesbian bar and booze in plastic cups and grinding on a tiny dance floor surrounded by people 20 years our junior. You don’t really settle into any ruts because you’re always on the go, go, go. Before any cracks might start to show, you’re apart again and missing each other and hearts are growing fonder. You get quality time together and quality time alone, the best of both worlds. In the weeks before the pandemic, however, both Debbie and I shared that maybe, just maybe, we wanted to spend more time together than apart even if we didn’t know how to make that happen.
Now, we are together all day every day. We are together more than we ordinarily would be if we lived together. We have had more than enough time for cracks to show. We work in separate areas of the house but we’re always in each other’s orbit, always. We run errands together. We ride bikes around our neighborhood together. I knew my fiancée before we began isolating but still, with each passing day, I am getting to know so much more about her and, fortunately, I delight in each new thing I learn.
So many people seem to genuinely dislike their partners, to merely tolerate the one they’re with. They seem profoundly unhappy, unwilling or unable to do anything about it, and invested in the idea that everyone is just as unhappy as they are. I actually like my fiancée. She is smart and funny and kind and witty and intense and endlessly interesting. She takes no shit from anyone and stands up for herself and the people she cares about, without hesitation or apology.
Debbie is growing a garden and she tends to it with real tenderness. Every day she walks among the various plants and bushes and trees, pruning this and pulling back that. She waters and talks to the greenery, encouraging everything to grow. I am learning that she has a real love for the natural world. She takes bugs outside instead of killing them. In New York, she is all designer clothing and fancy shoes and fast walking. In Los Angeles, she is always barefoot, relaxed, willing to settle into a slower pace of life. Despite her normal social schedule, she is a homebody and I suspect if she could never leave the house again, she would be content.
I have no idea what perfect looks like in a relationship but I have to imagine what we have is pretty damn close.
She watches Wheel of Fortune every day, unironically. She plays along and is very good at decoding the words before Vanna White turns the letters. When both she and a contestant correctly guess a word, she claps enthusiastically, completely guileless about this simple pleasure. She gets very invested in a given episode’s narrative. One time, during a team play episode, these two women landed on the $1,000,000 wedge and she was literally on the edge of her seat, anxious and hoping they would actually take home that grand prize. When they didn’t, her sadness for them was earnest and palpable.
When Debbie sees a dog, any dog, in any context, she says, “Doggy!” with such joy and enthusiasm. She also does this with cats and birds. I knew she was an animal lover and, in fact, we have two cats, but I did not realize the depth and breadth of her animal love and how just seeing animals brings her so much joy. She loves wind chimes and birds and installed a bird feeder so thought whenever a bird comes to have a snack, she says, “Birdy!” She makes up words all the time and sometimes, they are so strange and surprising that I laugh and laugh. She also spontaneously breaks into dance. Why? Who knows?
While I hate grocery shopping, Debbie loves going to the supermarket and walking up and down every single aisle in the store. She loves farmers markets and pausing at every stand and chatting with the farmers and buying interesting fruits and breads and flowers and jams. She is not a big eater during the day but loves a hearty dinner and I have no idea where it all goes. She grazes, nibbling on this and that, mostly while walking from one area of the house to another. She eats a rather shocking amount of fruit and pretzel rods and cake for breakfast because I am an avid baker. She drinks a lot of coffee but only takes it with milk, no sugar. She refuses to drink water. She simply refuses. She loves kombucha and Fresca but has a real disdain for sugary drinks.
When we sit down to dinner, she lights a candle to set the mood. She will not eat on paper plates or use plastic cutlery. She is loath to use paper napkins but will if she must. When we order take out, she plates it and puts food in serving dishes and sometimes I get so contrary I put my takeout container on my plate to prove a point though I could not tell you what that point is.
I am the cook in our relationship, a role I am more than happy to assume. In turn, she washes the dishes. As my mother’s daughter, when I am doing the dishes, I essentially wash the dishes before washing them in the dishwasher. Debbie just puts everything in the dishwasher caked with food and it’s fine. The dishes come out perfectly clean anyway. She loves checking the mail and will go look at the mailbox several times a day, even once the mail has been delivered.
She does not believe in waste and if there is something left over or extra, she finds a way to give it to someone, anyone, to ensure that no waste has occurred. She loves to sit criss cross apple sauce when she is in a chair. Technology is not her friend. She is very capable and reasonably technology savvy but the cable remote control refuses to work for her. It seems to simply stop functioning when she holds it in the palm of her hand. It’s fascinating.
When we are watching television, she is completely unable to tolerate commercials. Her response is practically visceral, and then it’s a frantic rush to mute the television until the end of the commercial break. She will watch any episode of Criminal Minds no matter how many times she has seen it, and the same goes for Law & Order: SVU. She is not at all tethered to her phone the way most people are. She can go hours on end without looking at her phone which is maddening when I have sent her a text and am waiting for a response. She spends very little time on social media. I am often embroiled in some absurd online nonsense. I try to explain that nonsense to her and the more I explain, the more I hear how absurd it all is, and she looks at me like I am speaking a different language which, I suppose, I am.
My fiancée is always moving and her energy is, seemingly, boundless. I plan my trips throughout the house very carefully, in ways that minimize effort. If I am leaving the bedroom, I will take with me what I need for the next several hours. She will go up and downstairs 30 times in a day without breaking a sweat. She wears her watch, every day, even though we have nowhere to go and nowhere to be.
We are both workaholics but it is really revelatory to live with someone who wakes up, starts working, and powers through the entire day, busy with meetings and teaching and running a graduate program and hosting her long-running podcast and serving on nonprofit boards and a hundred other things. All the while I wander aimlessly around the house in cargo shorts marveling at what I can fit in my pockets, maybe holding a book so I look writerly, and she graciously does not judge me.
This is not to say our relationship is perfect. It isn’t. Or, at least, that’s what I am supposed to say, according to conventional wisdom. We have our quirks and bad habits and once in a while we have an argument. And still, every night, when we get into bed far too late because we are both night owls, we spend another hour talking and laughing and reminding each other about the need to go to sleep. I have no idea what perfect looks like in a relationship but I have to imagine what we have is pretty damn close.
Debbie is, at her core, an artist. Every night, she draws, sitting on the couch, her knees pulled to her chest as she shares how she sees the world through her art. At the beginning of the evening her canvas is blank and by the time we go to bed, she has created something soulful and honest and singular.
In many ways, our relationship was a blank canvas before we started living together. We imagined what we might become without really knowing how to make it real. Now, each day, we add something new to the portrait of us and it is unexpectedly thrilling. You think you know a person, and then you live with them.