the last boyfriend

NPR ran a piece on Indian women matching themselves to mates, given their new levels of economic and social independence. It’s 2013. I’ll have to share this story with our parents, so that they can see, again, that their daughters were just ahead of their time. (And in another country.)

In 1963, our parents met each other, on their wedding day. Our dad had rejected a previous matrimonial match a few years prior. I’m not perfectly clear on the reasons, but I know he planned big things for his education, and marriage was not part of the short-term plan.

***

In 1991, our big sister introduced us to her future husband, a nice Methodist boy from Ohio. Our parents loved him immediately. My parents wondered about me, my mom especially. She knew I liked my job a great deal; she wasn’t sure if I wanted to settle down and have children. (My sister was 27 when she married. When I was 27 I was quite happily single.) I had boyfriends, but didn’t bring them to major family events. It was too much to ask of anybody: I wasn’t secure enough in those relationships.

Then I started seeing Boyfriend Z. The Last Boyfriend. Z was easy to be around. He liked to know what I thought about things. He liked my advice. He sought my input. Around him, I felt… free and secure.

So I asked my mom if I could bring him to a friend’s wedding. Not just any friend, but an Indian friend I’ve known since I was seven, a friend whose Indian parents had been my parents friends for over 20 years. Bringing him to this wedding would be an introduction to the Indian community. Whoa.

I remember being surprised that my mom was so cool about bringing him. “Yeah, sure,” she said, with a different lilt in her voice. We had a lovely time at the wedding. It was Memorial Day weekend, in a suburb of Detroit, in 1999. 14 years ago. My parents liked him. At a later visit, my mother further confirmed this, with one of these.

It is waved, and it is written.

Z and I dated, and dated. And dated. Till at one point, in 2001, my mother said to me, “When are you going to settle down? Tell him that if he’s not careful I will find a boy for you in India.” I didn’t find that remotely funny, and told her so. I wish I could have found the humor in that, then. But I too, was growing impatient.

Later that year he proposed, rather anticlimactically. In the summer he told me that he had told his father, months prior, that he would ask me to marry him. (Me: “You DID????” thinking “Was that a proposal?”) In the early fall he looked at me over a dinner table and said, “Maybe we should think about what ring you’d like.” (Me: “We SHOULD???” thinking “Was that a proposal?”)

We picked out a ring. He bought the ring. He did not give me the ring. Well, he did eventually.

He came to visit, a couple weeks before the 2001 Marine Corps Marathon. I just KNEW he was going to propose but I didn’t know how or when. We were making our dinner plans and he suggested we walk down from my apartment to Dupont Circle to get dinner. A bit over a mile. My knee was killing me after all the marathon training (I actually had a bit of a limp) and I demurred. We ordered in.

I couldn’t take it. Every time he left the room and came back I’d glance at his hands or his pockets to see if they were holding any small sort of box. (Pathetic.) I finally broke down and asked him: “Do you have something for me?” He laughed off the question. The first time. After the second or third iteration (I am unfortunately relentless), he finally gave up and reached into his pocket and put a box on the coffee table.

“Okay, okay! Here! Would you like to get married?”

Poor Z. Exasperated into a proposal. He told me that he had a plan, to walk down to Dupont Circle, where we had enjoyed our first-ever “date” (workday lunch) three years prior, almost to the day, and then propose. (I had forgotten that day.) But my knee was hurting. He was trying to figure out another way to propose but I got in his way. Poor, poor Z.

Still not sure what I did to deserve him.

The night before our wedding, at our rehearsal dinner, he gave a speech, thanking everybody for coming. He told a room full of nearly 100 people that he wouldn’t have been able to do all that he’d done in the past several years without me. His voice broke a little, and his eyes seemed a little more moist. I’d never seen him like that before.

It was worth the wait.

Tomorrow we will have been married for 11 years. I am not at all sure whether Z remembers that our anniversary is tomorrow. He’s got his regular golf game planned; he’s looking forward to Memorial Day weekend without a concurrent heavy workload due to a board meeting (It’s usually scheduled right after the long weekend, but this time, it falls around my birthday. Perfect.).

Maybe he remembers. Maybe not. I haven’t mentioned it to him. He doesn’t read my blog, or at least I don’t think he does.

After 11 years, I’m learning still, to be less relentless, less exasperating. I am remembering what I really am with him: my last boyfriend, my husband, Mr. Z.

I am free, and I am secure.

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