Jessica #1 - Quest for the Sparkling Ring
Episode #1 of the popular 66-part "dating diary" series.
I wasn't running away from the city of my birth merely because the man of my dreams dumped me, right? I mean, he didn't exactly dump me. The decision to terminate the grand romance was technically mine.
"This is your decision, Jessica, remember that," he told me the day when (trying not to sound like a Dr. Laura devotee) I told him that it was put-up or shut-up time.
He waffled, so I accepted a job I'd been offered in the sunny Southwest, producing a TV show for the NYC fashion mag for which I'd been writing for the last several years.
After nearly three years together with Andy, I'd decided I'd been patient enough. The first two years, I'd been perfectly content. Never making a demand, totally satisfied and secure in my relationship. I was so crazy about Andy, I even liked his parents.
But then the itches came. Itches I'd never expected. Itches my self-assured, self-actualized, self-sufficient Womanhood wanted to ignore.
I wanted a commitment. I wanted, um... gulp... to get married?
At first I didn't tell anyone. I was almost ashamed. Jessica Shaeffer, who had written numerous white papers in college decrying the institution of marriage. Did I now want to enter it?
Marriage had up to then seemed quaint and stodgy, unnecessary. Slowly, though, I began to doubt my convictions.
"Things are so different now," my recently engaged (and near-hysterically happy) friend Rachel told me one sunny day, as she shoved the rock on her ring finger under any nose near enough for inspection. Her giddiness was irritating, but she was serious.
"Dating is not the same as being engaged," she told me, marveling at how the change of status had altered their bond. "We've made a real commitment. My fate is tied up in his. It's the most wonderful and most frightening responsibility I've ever had."
There's a permanence and a directness and a closeness to married couples that I couldn't find in the "long-term-but-single" couples I knew. The married ones worked hard at making their marriage a success. But that was the point: it was a shared project and goal. Couples like Andy and I weren't necessarily heading in the same direction. We were just sharing a cab ride to the next stop.
OK, married couples lack the quasi-delirious giddiness that "new" couples possess. But that intoxication is probably not "love." It's infatuation, and it's nothing like the connection between two people who grow and learn and sacrifice together. That is capital "L" love!
Who, I wondered, had infiltrated my mind and placed these ideas where pure cynicism once lurked?
In any case, the trickle already had begun. In the past year I've born witness to the slow but increasingly steady bleed of my friends to the chuppah. I no longer listened happily to "The Secret Wedding Vow." Even Sting and Trudie Styler made it legal! Why not me and Andy?
The urge was there, and I wasn't trying to stop it. I wanted the White Dress, the sparking ring, the bouquet, the weeping mother... the whole shebang. More importantly, I wanted a future that went past the next weekend getaway we'd planned.
"We have freedom now," Andy explained one night, squirming under my insistent gaze. I was beginning to feel like some sort of mop-topped harpy, trying to pin him down, to force him to do something that obviously just wasn't palatable.
"This isn't freedom," I told him, looking around his treasured bachelor pad, which differed from a college dorm room only in the price of the stereo equipment that filled it. The freedom we had was to exit our relationship at any time. But that is precisely what limited the sense of connectedness we could achieve.
"You know I love you," he'd told me. "Isn't that enough?"
No. It wasn't. Out with Andy, in with Phoenix.
Alison, my best friend from Hebrew school, had come to Arizona for college and stayed. I had Alison, a new job, and a new apartment to decorate. And plenty of Ben & Jerry's to soothe me if I felt the need to cry over Andy.
Which I did. A lot. (How could he not be dying to see how I'd look in a Vera Wang wedding gown?!) That's what I've been dealing with the last two months.
Then, last week, he called.
"Jess, our anniversary is coming up," he breathed into my answering machine. "We need to talk."
He'd gotten me a present, he said. Him. He was coming to visit.
I didn't know whether I should dance for joy, or throw up. So I did both.