For our fourth date, Brian took me to meet his closest friends in a town over an hour away, and the bulk of our car-ride conversation revolved around something I’d learned about him when we stayed up talking all night: the fact that he used be married.
See, Brian married his high school sweetheart. As I’m a sucker for a love story – yes, any love story, even my date’s – I wanted to know the when’s and where’s and why’s and how’s. What class did they meet in? Did they go to prom? Where exactly did they get married? (Oh hey, and he wrote their wedding ceremony – how badly I wanted to ask to see that to see if he’d be good help for my side business, Vow Muse…)
Keeping my trap shut about romantic pasts was a notion that had been hand-sewn into my brain from my mom. She may as well have created her own label to go on each of my bras and undies for the amount of times we’ve talked about it. But much as I tried to take her advice – it really did seem like good advice – I have yet to not be able to ask. I know my curiosity is abnormal, and perhaps even more important, considered a taboo of dating. I had an ex who had been married and reluctant to speak about it, and an ex who had been engaged and even more reticent to chat up the past than have to be in a foreign language spelling bee. The ex that ignited the 50/50 idea had also been engaged.
Clearly, Brian wound up divorced and copped to it the moment I asked. He also wondered how I knew. I can’t say even I knew how I knew. I had an inkling. A gut feeling. Oh right, I had thing I learned about in North Carolina: intuition. Though I was not surprised to hear about his his previous marriage, I still wound up having complex feelings about the situation, especially given that I was about to meet people who were still friends with his ex wife. In an effort to mask my discomfort, I began poking gentle fun of Brian for his “failed marriage.” Though tactless on my part, he still laughed.
Meeting the friends went well – I smiled, drank beer, made jokes, talked all things Brian and basked in the late winter glory of Northern California (meaning it was 85 degrees and sensational outside). But I kept wondering how this had to feel for his friends. They’d known him as married for the better part of the decade. Brian’s ex wife had surely celebrated birthdays with them. And probably their own wedding. Not only had I missed milestone after milestone (hello dating in your 30’s and meeting the friends) but I also managed to feel like a ghost of girlfriend’s past…as though they looked at me and saw her.
Which is clearly ridiculous. But it didn’t stop the feeling.
Add to all of this that I copped to having chronic generalized anxiety that required the sort of medication that comes with a stigma and…let’s just say Brian and I had the sort of day that you dread when you start dating someone: the day guano gets real. No longer were Brian and I perfect beings, standing flawless in front of one another. We were human.
And he still held my hand in public, wanted to spend all day with his friends, and insisted we pull over in a field to look for shooting stars on our way home. So that seemed like a good thing. Neither of us were running yet.