My wife is starting a new job. For her, this is an exciting time. She is embarking on a career path that has been years in the making, doing what she truly wants to be doing in a way and a place that she wants to do it. She’s taking on new and interesting tasks, meeting new people, and making new friends.
And I guess that’s where I come in, with that last part about the new friends.
Because—and if you’re not married or in an otherwise long-term committed relationship, this isn’t something you really can understand—when my wife wants to make new friends, the process involves me as well.
This, on its face, is utterly ludicrous. My wife has her friends, I have mine. A few over the years have overlapped and are “our” friends, but even they usually started out as one or the other. And someone she’s trying to be friends with isn’t someone I’m trying to be friends with, so what does it have to do with me?
I don’t know. But it does. So there I sit at a table in an Asian fusion restaurant, trying to negotiate the complicated human politics of sharing an appetizer. Do I know this person well enough to eat edamame in front of them? What if a carrot out of the spicy combo falls in my lap while I’m eating? What if the conversation dies and I wind up saying something about boogers just to fill the silence?
All of these are very real possibilities, by the way. Particularly that one about the carrot. The point is, though, that I find these kinds of interactions incredibly draining. I’ve never been an outgoing person, could never work sales, never a great conversationalist. Public speaking I can do, but one-on-one time, or worse, couples? Forget it. My wife’s going to be doing all the talking anyway. I’d just as soon stay home and hang out with the dog.
I think I did alright. Only once at dinner I let it slip that my life was falling apart, so that’s decent. I did get up in the middle of the restaurant—which wasn’t at all crowded, at least—and kill a hawk mosquito, but I couldn’t really help that. Needed to be done. Other than that, I thought I held it together pretty well. It’s not like they were bad people, but man, by the time we were done, I was so exhausted. It’s hard work, trying to be a real person. My wife does not feel this way. For her, it’s fun.
So then why should I be taken along on these friend-making adventures of hers, going to couples dinner and trying so, so hard to keep a natural flow with the husband of one of her colleagues, who also just moved and tell me about your family—there’s a loaded question for you—and so on, meanwhile the place where we’re getting ice cream visibly wants to close down and I’m freaking out because I hate making waitstaff’s lives shittier and so I leave a $12 tip on a $17 bill and try to scoot everyone out as quickly as possible? Well, I don’t really know. The only explanation I got out of my wife on the subject was it’s the way it goes. So it apparently is.
When you’re a kid, you think adults get to do whatever they want all the time. Although I’ve had nights when I’ve made the conscious, adult decision to eat popcorn for dinner, I know that’s obviously not the case and that being a grownup comes with its own responsibilities and obligations. Some of them, like trying to not embarrass yourself in front of strangers whom you may or may not ever see again while your wife works at this new exciting job of hers, are very, very strange.
But again, I think I did alright.