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November 15, 2006

One nice thing.

A few months ago I had a very small dinner party at my house, burgers on the grill and chips and cold beer for a hot day.

As the party got later and drunker, as parties at my house tend to do, we were seated in a small circle on the patio passing around a bottle of sparkling wine and that's when Penny asked me about Mr. X, and how on earth I had married him, what it was that made me say 'yes' to that man.

You should know that Penny is Jennifer's younger sister, twenty-one years old and with the most beautiful skin you have ever seen, she radiates youth and promise and future. I looked at her, slouched comfortably in a faded wooden patio chair, and I went all dramatic and Blanche Dubois as I tend to do from time to time, with a drawl and a freshly topped cocktail glass.

"I am a cautionary tale," I twanged at her.

But the story of how we met isn't particularly Streetcar Named Desire, and it is only a cautionary tale (as I am) because you never know what life holds, or what secrets a person is hiding, and frankly I didn't have very high standards. We as women demand so little sometimes. Or anyway, I demanded so little. The common denominator in all my failures is me, after all, and I want to learn from such missteps and not repeat my past.

That's when I told Penny the story of Mr. X., and how I came to marry him, and how our whole life together began.

It was almost a decade ago and I was working at the Los Angeles Daily News with an editor whose wife worked at one of the Hollywood movie studios. In her office was an eligible bachelor, Mr. X of course, and he was my first-ever blind date. We met at the Cheesecake Factory for dinner, and I remember exactly what I wore (brown miniskirt, sweater) and what I ordered (mashed potatoes and crabcakes). At the time, I was dating a golf pro named Rob, a guy who was clearly the inspiration for the book "He's Just Not That Into You." It wasn't going well. I wanted to be married and content and adult and settled. Rob wanted to get naked in golf carts. (By the way, MY HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED. Hello young man! May I see your golf cart, please?)

I was at that very place you find yourself one morning while brushing your teeth when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You Are Ready. So I went on that blind date.

Mr. X sat across the table from me, and recited his credentials, nervous, and I was much younger anyway. We had zero chemistry, but he was very nice and honestly, I didn't think he'd like me. I was from a poor, small backwater town and he had traveled all over the globe, lived in China, he talked about screenwriter friends and big Hollywood stuff. I didn't know 99.999% of the names he dropped. I felt kind of young and stupid.

But he called a few days later. I didn't return his calls. I didn't think we had much in common, I'm more of feet-on-the-ground kind of girl and all that Hollywood talk made me nervous. Rob took a golf instructor job at a private course in San Diego, and stood me up for New Year's Eve. My friend Alicia spent that night with me in my tiny apartment I had rented in Sherman Oaks, $850 a month for a bedroom and a miniature kitchen, a bathroom so small you could barely shut the door and a balcony view right onto the 405 freeway. It was a really bad way to start the new year.

Mr. X called again, in early January, and we went out for drinks at a local dive bar called Pineapple Hill (my pick) (could he stomach a dive bar?), where drinking was required and smoking indoors was still legal. We ordered a round of drinks and a basket of fries, and he looked at me.

"I rented those movies you told me about," he said.

"What movies...?" I said.

"When we were at dinner, and I asked you what your favorite movies were? Remember?"

He'd done that on our first date, asked me my three favorite movies so I bluffed (okay ya'll, who says "Oh my God, I have seen 'Stripes' three thousand times and I think 'The Princess Bride' is maybe the best movie ever created, next to 'Purple Rain' of course!") (Well, I would say that now, but back then I was still working on having An Image and trying to Look Smart.)

And so I had mentioned three artsy-fartsy films and he had gone out and rented them, and watched them.

I was floored. After all, no one, no man, had ever heard me before. No man had ever listened to me, filed away my words, stored them for reference and paid such attention to me. I looked at him with new eyes.

"You rented those movies?" I asked. The word "incredulous" comes to mind.

He had, indeed.

And so we started going out on dates, to dinner and movies and spending time together on the weekends. It was nice. He was nice. He was nice to me.

One day we were at Solley's Diner having breakfast, him reading the paper, me pushing around the food on my plate. We walked back to my tiny apartment in Sherman Oaks, and he reached for my hand as we crossed the parking lot. I looked at him then, an evaluation. I saw a man who was nice to me, if somewhat detached, and I thought that I liked him even though I knew things weren't perfect with him. We didn't talk a lot, and there wasn't really any crazy passionate you-know-what.

"But attraction fades," I told myself. "He's a nice man, stable, smart, funny, and besides. Eventually in marriage you move past pure physical attraction and see only your friend, the person you live with, the kitchen-reality of your life together forever. We're already there. We're comfortable."

And I really did love him.
And I married him.

I often think I did the right thing, marrying a man who I was comfortable with, who I loved (even if I didn't always desire him). It doesn't matter anyway, the decision got made, it's up to me to make good from all of it.

But after a few years together, I began to wonder (and fear) if all relationships are only ten minutes from devolving into companionship. Are all of us, even those with crazy passion at the outset, a mere ten minutes from becoming simply roommates, or siblings, or strangers?

I know that no matter what my future holds I'll pick a guy who excites me. One who isn't detached, isn't always comfortable. I want a man who I'm so happy to be with that I never want to cross that ten-minute line, never want to reach comfort with him to the place where I think, "Attraction fades, anyway, so we just moved past that phase early..."

After every single thing that has happened in the past two years (!), I still love the story of how we ended up together, those damn movies he rented. It's a sweet story, maybe the only sweetness left to our whole long relationship.

Sometimes things don't work out, the end wasn't pretty, or kind, or even amicable. But in the beginning I thought he was a good guy. Perhaps my standards changed, or maybe he changed, we both did. Either way it's like it happened to someone else, a whole lifetime ago when I was 25 and he liked me and I liked him and we never imagined all the hateful things that would transpire, the women whose names I never knew for sure, all the hurtful words and slammed doors and all of it.

It's almost a relief to remember something nice. Something kind, like how he rented those movies. It feels like letting go, I don't know why. But it feels good to let go, a little. Just one nice thing.

Posted by laurie at November 15, 2006 9:57 AM