Monday, July 2, 2012

Proof of Partner: Entering Adulthood Next to the Right Person

K and I woke up Saturday morning at 7:30, took down and packed up our tent, and were on the road by 8:00.  Nearly four hours later, we arrived at my parents' house with the goal of making ourselves presentable before we went to our friends' wedding.  We had a plan: we would spend the next two to three hours struggling into our unfamiliar formal clothes, drive the last hour, check into our hotel, and have time to take our nap early before six, when we would arrive at the wedding.

We took turns in the shower, and then we diverged. He trimmed his beard while I shaved my legs. I put on a bathrobe and glopped color onto my nails; K pulled out his netbook and his tie and spent forty-five minutes failing to tie a Windsor knot.  After waiting for what I hoped was a suitable interval, I tried to towel-dry my hair, and the towel scored deep grooves into my attempt at nail polish.  I took it off, finished drying my hair, and tried again.

From the bed, K looked up from his tie.  "Do you even like putting on nail polish?" he asked me.

"Not really," I said. "But I'm supposed to be a girl, and girls are supposed to be able to take care of their hands and do their own hair nicely and so on."

"I don't care if you can't do your nails or hair," he told me, watching the frustration bloom on my face. "I still love you."

I paused with the brush in mid-air. "I know," I told him.  "I still feel like I should be able to do these things."

I try to cultivate these skills: the ones that don't come naturally to me, but the ones that may allow me to fit in a little bit better.  Theoretically, employers evaluate your merit based solely on your work performance; in practice, I feel like I miss some interpersonal-interaction targets because I'm too different.  I use different words, think about different things, participate in different leisure time activities*.  When I'm at work, I prefer to focus on work, but the package of professionalism includes appearance and the ability to find enough non-work-related common ground with the people around you to build relationships and trust. It means cooing over baby pictures, carefully remaining neutral when the people around you discuss television shows you wouldn't watch even if you had cable, and participating in office celebrations-- all while attempting to demonstrate your value and your focus on the work at hand. I can do it, but it takes effort.

Struggling with my hair and my nails in preparation for a wedding seems like practice for a career in which I'll have to do things with my hair and my nails on a regular basis, so I didn't give up. Eventually, I managed to stuff myself into a thrifted dress and a pair of heels I can't walk in.  We cut our nap to twenty minutes and got to the wedding ten minutes before the ceremony began.
foot with painted toes and ribbons on a purple dress
Foreground: my foot (without the heels). Background: my dress.
It's the second wedding we've attended as a couple (out of only three I've attended as an adult.. The experience still feels new and a little bit weird: at the wedding, people treat us as a unit. The invitation arrived in a single envelope with two names, and the place card at the table shared the names, too. As neither of us plan to change names when we get married, we will see our names almost exactly as we saw them this weekend for the rest of our lives (barring disaster).


Perhaps attending weddings as an adult signals impending adulthood across other areas of my life.  The feeling resembles the one I had the first time I signed a brand new rental agreement-- K and I had elected to room together as a matter of convenience, and reading through the paperwork, placing a security deposit, and signing every page of a twenty-page document seemed like an adventure. (The semester I rented space with a couple of guys, filling the vacated room of a guy who had taken off to parts unknown on a journey of self-discovery, does not count.) It feels good, like I'm stepping into something approaching a permanent place in society (carving out bits to improve the fit whenever I feel I can get away with it).

In that case, the wedding contained another signal. I love to dance. I took dance classes every year except one from the age of five until I graduated from high school. When there's socially-sanctioned dancing, I dance.** The last time K and I went to a wedding, he amiably held my bag and watched me dance with a group of friends.

This time, he beat me onto the dance floor.  Apparently, he secretly spent some quality alone time with the Kinect and our copy of Dance Central and developed some dance moves. (He convinced me to leave it with him while I interned in Florida, claiming he couldn't resist the challenge of a new video game.) Now, it appears that he took time to learn how to do something that I love to do so he could do it with me, sore leg muscles and all. He may not be a polished professional, but he's mine, and I couldn't have picked a better partner.
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*I love following baseball with K in part because it lets me have acceptably neutral conversations with people.  Apparently, it's OK to publicly disagree with Yankees fans, but publicly disagreeing with people who oppose marriage equality isn't-- even though both groups of people are clearly wrong.
** I also dance in situations when it's not socially sanctioned, such as in supermarket aisles, when I think no one's watching.

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