RED FLAG #7, JANUARY 1997
We’re living together now. It’s Friday night and my boyfriend calls to say he'll be home around seven. Seven comes and goes. I leave messages on his cell. I order in Chinese food and hunker down in a chair with a book and my anger to wait. He comes home at ten, drunk and defensive. "Why didn’t you call?" I demand. He rolls his eyes and turns on the TV.
I'm staggered by his rudeness and can't understand how he fails to see his behavior as such. To compound things, he falls asleep on the couch in a pattern that has become a routine. Wasn’t the point of living together to get in bed beside each other every night?
"It's time for bed," I say, pulling him up. "Let’s go. Up." And like a petulant four year old being dragged by his mother, he follows me into our bedroom.
RED FLAG #8, APRIL 1997
I'm sitting at breakfast in an ornately decorated dining room in a hotel in West Virginia listening to the head of banking address the "spouses/significant others" of the managing directors.
"Please be understanding when your husbands or boyfriends come home late," the head of banking says, "even if it’s two in the morning and they've been at a strip club. It's just a work thing, ladies. Nothing to get alarmed about." There's a smattering of giggles from the audience. The head of banking is pleased with himself and smiles, too.
"Become your own community, ladies," he continues. "Support each other. Get your nails done together. Have a girls' night out. Because we consider the work that you do on the home front to be as important to the success of the firm as the work your spouses are doing for us."
After the talk, I return to our plush, Pink, green, and gold room, take out my suitcase and start to pack: the cocktail dress for the semiformal Friday night dinner, the tennis skirt, the gown for tonight's black-tie ball, the bathing suit for the Whirlpool my boyfriend and I hoped to soak in together. I'm collecting my toiletries when he comes in and asks what I’m doing.
"Going home," I tell him. "This isn’t for me." I tell him about the lecture by the head of banking. "The head of banking is a moron," he says. "He has nothing to do with us, and you have nothing to do with anyone else who was in that room. Ignore it. It's bullshit. He was just trying to be nice."
My boyfriend is right. He's usually right. He's a real individual, and I'm too easily swayed by group opinion. I thank him for helping me to be a better person. I thank him for helping me recover my sense of humor. I make a joke about heads and banking and he laughs. I paint on a fresh coat of lip gloss, brush my hair, and out we go to meet the others in The Orchid Room for lunch.
RED FLAG #9, JUNE 1997—UNION SQUARE
I have a drink with my ex-boyfriend, a fellow writer, who asks if my current boyfriend is my soul mate. "Definitely not," I answer flatly. "Does he understand you?" he asks. "He doesn’t understand me at all," I explain. That night, I climb under the covers and sob myself to sleep.
RED FLAG #10, AUGUST 1997
I’m no longer interested in sex. It's been weeks now, maybe months. I'm depressed because I'm already 30, and my boyfriend hasn't asked me to marry him yet and we've been together for more than two years; and I'm depressed because he might ask me to marry him and I know we aren't right for each other.
THE REASONS I IGNORE THE RED FLAGS
I ignore the red flags because I really want to get married. I ignore the red flags because I'm terrible at math and my boyfriend is a math genius. He also has a great sense of direction and I have no sense of direction whatsoever. What's more, he can skip a stone across the water, drive stick shift, work a grill, make a fire; he appreciates the smell of honeysuckle; he thinks ahead, he thinks calmly, he thinks in a linear progression, while I live in the moment, get overwhelmed easily, and think free-associatively. Have I mentioned that I really want to get married? And I will get married. I'm a Taurus. We’re a very stubborn, determined bunch.
OCTOBER 1997, KENT, CT.
The suspense is killing me. Will he ask me? If so, when? Should I get a manicure once a week, just in case? Should I wear makeup before I leave the house in the event that we'll want to take a picture to document the moment?
Then, on a magnificent Saturday in early October, my boyfriend suggests we go hiking. Sounds like a nice way to liberate myself from the prison of my engagement anxiety, so I throw on some boots and a ratty old T-shirt. We set off in the car for Kent, where the leaves are apparently at their peak. We get to a clearing high up with a beautiful view.
Another couple is already there. My boyfriend becomes agitated and suggests we walk further. I begin to complain: I'm tired and sweaty and feel we've gone far enough. But something in the urgency of his tone makes me relent, so off we go into a beautiful, leafy glade. We stop for a moment while my boyfriend appears to be tying his boot. He isn’t. He's getting on one knee. I begin to laugh. This seems ridiculous. But I bite the inside of my cheek and warn myself that a man is about to propose and I better shut up and let it happen.
My boyfriend tells me he wants to climb all of life's mountains with me—the real ones and the metaphorical ones—and will I marry him? I laugh and apologize for complaining. He says that isn't an answer to his question and asks me again if I'll marry him. I say, "Of course!" and he laughs with joy and relief. I wish I could feel some kind of honest thrill but I don’t. I'm not entirely sure that I feel anything. Keep reading...