This past Saturday marked the 11th year anniversary of my marriage to my wonderful wife, Lori. While I have sung her praises before and will sing them again, I will spare your ears today from what even the nicest reviews of my singing call “torture” and “laughable” and “AARRGHH!!!”. Yes, on a beautiful summer’s day (Saturday, July 9th 2005 to be precise) in Penticton, British Columbia I, Tommy Paley, wedded Lori Kedda in front of a suspiciously peaceful and aggressively well-groomed collection of family, friends and hotel staff. I remember standing there in front of the assembled crowd relishing the attention after years of almost-literally starving for it. I kissed my newly crowned wife (author’s note: I almost went with newly cemented, but that sounded wrong…and completely, completely untrue) and enjoying kissing in front of a crowd for a change. As I stood there, sun beating down on my shiny forehead, eyes squinting due to the glare and stinging from the sun screen, I had never felt happier.
And the happiness has continued over the years as kids randomly appeared, jobs changed, cats came and went and waffles with fresh berries were consumed on no fewer than 15 occasions. It is amazing how time has flown and how windy it has been and how we have grown, both individually and as a couple. And to think all of you initially scoffed at my idea of developing growth plans complete with three dimensional pie graphs mostly so I could use my trusty protractor! Some of you also scoffed, quite appropriately, at a mostly-grown man having a trusty protractor. But, we have grown. When this all started, we were but two separate amoeba who barely did anything together almost as if our pseudo-pods just never contacted each other, but over time so much has happened and now we are still two separate amoeba, only we live in the same house, share a bank account and raise a family together. Romantic, isn’t it? I know that eleven years sounds quite impressive (though that could just be the echo in the parkade I’m hearing as I yell it out loud to myself this morning) and some of you may rightfully be wondering if we only got married so that as the years passed we could parade around town waving at the common folk while handing out toffee and used periodicals. Don’t worry, I’m wondering the same thing. Periodical anyone?
I’m also wondering how I got here - not the birds and the bees stuff, though I am wondering about that too, but wondering how I, a once very single guy who almost seemed invisible or infectious or freckled, was able to enter the very prestigious Married Club. The Married Club, for those who haven’t joined, has the most spectacular bathrooms and folded linens. For many years I never thought I’d get married and I thought a lot. I was always thinking; some called me analytical, while others called me philosophical and one girl called me Bartholomew, before continuing to ride her pretend horsey in the sandbox (she was only four). I always knew I wanted to have a ring placed on my finger at some point in the future and get married as well so that I wasn’t just that guy who wore rings, but I was just never confident that it was going to happen. Confidence was an issue for the younger Tommy, which would come as a surprise to all who know me well now, as I am brimming with a self-confidence that could potentially make some people weep (it would help if they were already feeling emotional at the time and hadn’t slept well in the days leading up to our encounter).
Back in my teenage years, while others were dating left, right and centre, I was stuck on the sidelines, reading Nancy Drew novels, playing solitaire and wondering if elective, experimental bicep surgery was the way to go regardless of the cost. I wanted to date and I asked girls out, quite awkwardly hoping they were into that sort of thing, but with no success. I knew that inside this guy lacking self-esteem and a strong enough deodorant, was a nice, funny and caring human male (any resemblance to a chimpanzee was circumstantial at best I kept telling those persistent zookeepers who were only trying to do their jobs). I believed that if people could only look past the odd wardrobe that seemed to shout “witness protection program” to the world, as well as the glasses that seemed to shout “this guy’s nearsighted or possibly farsighted, only that is much rarer among young”, or the puffy hair that seemed to shout “I just moved to the city from the jungle”, they would have found someone who would have treated a girl so well. But I was lacking what the other guys had: height, a firm handshake and muscles. It wasn’t as if I was a pariah (mostly) or a weirdo who couldn’t talk to girls – no, many of my closest friends were girls and I often wondered when we hung out and nothing ever happened if there was some trick or lesson or hypnosis school nearby.
My early twenties, while a lot of fun as I transitioned to university and adulthood, were frustrating as my singlehood continued despite my best efforts. So much of the time I felt that I was being held hostage as friends forced me to tag along with them to clubs as they drank and picked up women. Not that I didn’t enjoy myself, but the club and bar scene always made me feel that I was an awkward imposter whose cover was about to be imminently blown (my obviously fake mustache and obsessive blinking weren’t helping). I was jealous of my buddies “way” with women vis a vis my ineptitude that would have been considered cute if it was the 1830s and I often daydreamed that I was a John Travolta-like hunk who could sashay into the room with such verve that all heads would involuntarily turn as I lit the dance floor on fire without singeing myself or any of the other people. I must emphasize, that part is important – I can’t have anyone getting burned in my daydreams. I also spent time attempting to meet someone in a lecture hall or on a sports field, but the prevailing theme of those stories would be one of near misses as the girls that caught my eye were either conveniently unavailable, “busy” or fictional (and confusingly still unavailable or busy). My frustration was at an all-time high – here I was, a perfectly ripe plum, just aching to be picked and either eaten fresh or made into a delicious plum pudding, living in a world of people who just didn’t like plums.
I was on the prowl as much as a person with my dexterity and level of athleticism could be while maintaining a minimum amount of common decency. And despite my shortfalls, my twenties and early thirties weren’t spent completely single. I had a series of short and medium length relationships that were all good in their own rights at the time. As each ended and the sadness of having failed once again set in, it was so hard not to admonish myself for just not being a good enough boyfriend. But, as I look back on that period of time now, I see that it was all a process; a much-clichéd process of figuring out who I was while also figuring out what kind of girl I was looking for as well as figuring out all of the things I needed to figure out to be in a relationship long term while also being considered cruel and unusual punishment. Clearly, I needed to become better at listening, for example, and especially when the other person was talking and especially when they were talking to me. I needed to become less self-centered even though it was one of my most attractive and compelling features. I needed to develop a new level of intuition that would help me figure out what she was thinking or feeling even though it would have been super great if she could have just told me or at least provided cue cards. And practice these new skills I did. As each relationship came and went, I made mental notes as the flood of tears rendered all actual notes unreadable about what I would do differently if and when I was given another chance.
But I was growing anxious as my biological clock as well as my actual clock were ticking louder and louder and louder to the point where I was considering buying a dog prone to barking all night and an old refrigerator just to provide a variety of noise. Friends did try to explain to me via an amazingly choreographed marionette production that males just don’t have biological clocks in the same way women do and that “no that isn’t reverse sexism” and “stop crying, you’re embarrassing us” and “please stop hugging the marionettes”. Throughout this dry spell in my twenties that I was trying to blame on global warming, friends and random strangers constantly offered words of wisdom and advice about how to “get” or “woo” or, in one odd case, “glue” a woman. I was told to be myself, which I thought I had been doing all along, only to embarrassingly realize that in fact I had been playing the role with a tad too much sarcastic angst. Being one’s self is all and good if you are a suave body builder who has a way with words and a fancy car, or at least the muscles and the car if you can only afford some of them, but for guys like me, who kept swinging and missing, it wasn’t so easy to do as it just didn’t seem sufficient. I swung and missed so many times which, while self-esteem damaging, also led others to wonder, quite rightfully, with concern, what was up with that dude walking around swinging a baseball bat all the time.
I was also told to play it cool as women could smell desperation from miles away. “What? They can? Miles away? Now you tell me! Damn, what are they bears!?” For the record, and for solely this reason, I never considered courting an actual bear despite the allure of really warm hugs and thorough back scratches. Was I coming across as desperate? Perhaps. Let me put it this way, I once left a series of messages for one girl on her answering machine that started out normal and civilized but quickly became tragically depressing so much so that a director almost handed me the role of a tragically depressing man who scared away yet another girlfriend by leaving horribly creepy messages on her phone (it was the part I was born to play) only to change his mind when he realized he was only a figment of my imagination. But, it was readily clear to all that on the scale of not trying at all to trying too hard, I was off the charts on the “too hard” side. I just wanted to find her so badly and couldn’t figure out how she could be so good at hide and seek considering the spread of h’or deuvres I was offering and the sheer amount of pheromones I was spraying around me each and every moment I left the house.
The final great piece of advice was to relax, be patient and when I least expected it, it would happen. This was all well and good, but I figured that I was never expecting it and it still wasn’t happening and that made me want to chase the friend who gave that advice through the downtown carrying a large brick of cheese. I’d hit rock bottom, so instead of fighting back and being stubborn, I took all of these words to heart, though I wasn’t sure about it happening when I least expected it as there was just no way I was going to meet the girl of my dreams while cleaning the bathroom or peeling potatoes or playing air guitar with the mop while bouncing on my bed in front of the mirror. But I understood that my approach had to change or I’d be stuck as the third wheel forever and I so badly wanted to fulfill my dream to be a second wheel at some point. I am, by the way, a pretty amazing wheel after enjoying an evening of all-you-can-eat sushi.
So I stopped asking random girls sitting next to me in a lecture hall if they wanted to study together when it was clear to all that they didn’t study, and I stopped asking girls on my sports teams if they wanted to grab a coffee when it was clear to all they preferred a nice spot of tea and I stopped hoping one of my coworkers at the restaurant I worked at during the summers would finally change her mind and go out with me when it was clear that they never changed their minds about anything. I also decided to stop frequenting online dating sites where my writing skills got me in the door, but then the door was mysteriously jammed once we met in person. I was going to just live my life, be myself, have fun and let the cards fall where they may and hope that someone else would help pick them up once and a while because, even if it was solely to complete the metaphor, the cards were never going to pick themselves up.
And along the way I somehow convinced myself that I didn’t need someone to be happy. I didn’t need to be in a relationship no matter how fun and cool and sparkling they appeared. I was pretty cool and somehow developed a feeling that it would just work out somehow. I was too good catch to not be caught and I was providing the hook, line and sinker for one low low price that probably made me look crazy. I started going to movies on my own, grabbing a meal out even if no one was available and spending a weekend evening at home watching movies in my sweatpants if that was what I felt like doing. Sure there was always that voice in my head, or set of voices that spoke in eerie unison, yelling at me like a general in the army me that I was single and needed to go out the door and not come home until I had fulfilled my mission, but as I entered my thirties that voice or voices became quieter. I had settled into a confidence in myself that I had slowly been evolving into all along. I always knew that I wanted to get married and be a father and I wasn’t looking for a relationship that was superficial. I always knew that I wanted to find someone fun and smart who got me. I always felt that she was out there but possibly locked up in a woman’s prison somewhere for a crime she didn’t commit and it was up to me to lead the jailbreak. I felt that if only we could meet at the right time and place then everything would just click.
And then, magically, I met her (the vast amount of magic I used is top secret, or at least it was). And it was when I least expected it. It didn’t seem like hard work. We just clicked (that’s what that sound was by the way). All of the relationship struggles and worries and concerns of the past years as well as all of the lessons and learning and community college classes had paid off as they prepared me for the moment I met her. I was so ready and she never knew what hit her (a large sack of ping pong balls I keep around for special occasions). She was what I had been looking for and waiting for all this time. A few months after meeting we were engaged and a little over a year later we married and haven’t looked back since aside from that one time we thought we were being chased by wolves. It has been a wonderful 11 years and it just keeps getting better with age like a good balsamic vinegar or cured pork product. Meeting her is the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m not saying that because she is standing behind me demonically threatening me, or at least I’m not only saying it for that reason.