My boyfriend’s company had their holiday party this past Saturday evening, which meant I was on my best behavior – except of course for that one moment when I asked the woman who was there with her step-son where her husband was and she had to tell me they were separated. Eek. I always love a good holiday party and it’s always interesting to get a sneak peak into your significant other’s work life, where he spends all those hours toiling away and you can’t help but wonder if they know the same person you do.
After hours of small talk, when we finally got home and I was looking at him sans suit and tie, I thought about how this is the little part of him that nobody else knows. The person we are when we rest our head on that pillow next to the one we love is different from the person everyone else sees.
There’s some element of being arm candy that I confess I love. I want my boyfriend to be able to show off that he has a pretty, smart girl on his arms whom he can trust in a situation like this. But on the other hand, sometimes when the women group off together and leave the men to talk to business while we talk girl stuff, I get a little uncomfortable. At times, I feel like a teenage girl playing dress up in an adult world and at any moment, I could get exposed for having the emotional development of an errant teenager. A lot of the women who were just a few years older than me, have kids and were talking about getting their hair done and building homes in the Palisades.
In the last two weeks, I’ve had a ton of fun at some of the very LA holiday parties I’ve been at. As much as people love to rag on LA, it really is a creative environment – even if they have stopped making creative movies. I feel it because when I’m socializing and it comes time to talk about my profession I feel comfortable without defining myself and instead talking about whatever I happen to be working on that particular day. But, when I step into his white shoe world, and no one can think of any question to ask me except what job I have, I am suddenly very conscious of the fact that there is a “right” answer to this question. Yes, some of the significant others have professions, but many more of them are simply moms, and more notably, I could sense that all of their careers seem to take a backseat to their husband’s pursuits. In having to answer the what-do-I-do question, it is most expedient for me to simply say that I just obtained a law degree and so I do. But I am very conscious of the fact that a complicated answer to this question is not going to be “right” at any point in time for these people.
What I’m most concerned about though, is I start to wonder if Mr. DB wants me to be like all the other significant others tossing back champagne. There is a type of woman who wants nothing more than to be an accomplished man’s significant other. But it’s not me. I met some of them Saturday night and they really were lovely. They seem like they’re great mothers and smart and funny and I enjoyed a lot of them. But I’m never really going to be one of them. I wonder if my boyfriend knows this about me. I think he does, but sometimes I get a whiff that although he might not need a Stepford wife, he does want to be with someone who might be more domesticated than I am.
One of the very few times, he has ever made me cry involved this matter. We were in Cambodia, listening to one of our favorite podcasts, Radiolab and somehow the topic of cooking and cleaning came up. I joked and said that my mother taught me how to hire someone to do those things. He said that my lack of interest in domesticity did kind of bother him. I was taken aback. It was six months into our relationship and it was the first time he had ever said anything critical of me. I made some smart alec remark back to him, apologizing for being successful in other areas of life which shut him down.
Naturally, when we got back to the hotel, I completely lost it and cried for the first time in front of him, accusing him of making me feel like he could care less about my brain and just wanted a maid to clean up after him. He quickly assured me that it came out wrong. In fact, he exhaustively tried to explain that he didn’t mean cleaning and he just thought home cooked meals were important especially down the road with children and something about how his mother had spoiled him and maybe given him unreasonable expectations about what a partner should provide and yada yada yada whatever else he could say to dig himself out of this hole. Clearly, he eventually convinced me that he loves what my mind has to offer and that he was just talking jibberish when he said this because we’re still together and I have reiterated that I will never be someone who enjoys cleaning sinks.
And so I pretty much thought this was all settled. I did agree with him on one point - as someone who grew up on home cooked family dinners every night of the week where attendance was required, cooking for children is important to me, but otherwise I’m never going to be much in the way of Susie Homemaker. But there we were at his holiday party and I was talking to the pretty young housewives with their fabulous lives and wondering to myself, does he think I’m the same as them? And if he doesn’t, does he think he can turn me into one? I just want so much out of life, there’s no way, I’m ever going to be happy as only a cheerleader for my partner. Maybe I’ll work from home when I have kids or maybe I’ll take some time off when they’re young, but I’m never going to have a simple answer to the what-do-you-do question. I’m always going to have five things going on at once and probably still be in school to learn one more. He has to know this about me, right?
Which brings me back to that moment on the pillow. That moment when it’s just us. Not the us out there, but the us only we know about, that only exists in here. I really had spent a fair portion of the evening wondering if I’m dating a man who wants me to be someone I will never be. I start to worry that he believes that the act I put on to blend in at the party isn’t really an act at all. I start to realize how exhausted I am from acting like that for the last five hours and as we both begin to unwind I am feeling very self-conscious, wondering if the woman he loves is really the one that now lies here beside him. He tells me he loves me so much and I look back at him for a long time. I don’t say anything, not on purpose but just because I am really considering whom he thinks he loves. It’s painful and I remain motionless and silent because I haven’t figured out what to say. I start inner monologuing at a mile a minute: Maybe we need to have a talk. I’ll wait till after till Christmas, but I need to tell him I’m not who he wants. If I don’t tell him, he’ll never see it and I’ll be perpetuating a lie - He grabs my head almost forcefully and pulls my ear to his lips so he can whisper to me. He whispers what I need to hear. How does he know? He uses my whole full name. He’s slow and deliberate with his words. He makes me feel how much he loves me.
And I really believe him. Not just about the love part. But about the me part. He does know me. He knows me and he picks me. And I let him tell me again. And again.