The first time Gabe asked me to marry him we were in a car, driving home from a long weekend away at the very start of spring. We’d been dating less than a year, and were still in the early stages of our romance. We texted more than 50 times a day and talked for two hours every night after the kids were down. I was head over heels in love with this tall, capable, motorcycle-riding man, and wanted to spend every minute next to him.
Still, his proposal came as something of a shock.
It started out innocently enough. We’d settled into the car for a long drive home, snacks and sodas on board, and radio blaring. “I’d like to talk about getting married,” Gabe said. “Oh, good, me too! Let’s!” I shot back, grinning. He turned the radio down.
That was my first sign this was not the silly romantic repartee I’d first assumed.
“I’m glad you feel that way. I thought you might. I wonder if we might talk about timing. When do you see us getting married?” Gabe asked. It’s here that I should mention that Gabe is a killer poker player. He’ll take your money looking you straight in the eye. His face, when he wants it to be, is totally unreadable. This is an especially frustrating conundrum for me, because I wear every emotion, no matter how fleeting, on my face, my sleeve, my t-shirt, my back. I am an open book, even when I don’t want to be.
The good news, is I knew the answer to this question. It was simple and one I was sure he agreed with. While I wanted to marry Gabe, it was clear we would have to wait. Six children was an unreasonable number. “I think we should date long term, and marry when Lottie and Jack leave for college.”
“Thirteen years from now?” Gabe asked. Face still neutral.
“Yup.” I was quite satisfied with my rational answer. Kids first, romance second, it was settled.
“I was thinking we could get married later this year,” Gabe said.
I choked on my Pringle. It appeared I had misinterpreted his poker face. I was immediately aware of my precarious situation. Here was a man I loved with my whole being, more than I’d ever thought possible, and I was going to have to convince him that getting married now was the wrong answer for us. What if I made him angry? What if my rejection felt personal? I didn’t want to ruin the perfect thing we had together, by getting married or by hurting his feelings. I concentrated my efforts on remaining calm and open, took a deep breath, and said “tell me more about why you want to get married this year.”
Gabe started talking. Honestly, I missed the first part because I was still mid-freakout, and also congratulating myself on not telling him to stop the car so I could get out and run away. The mental high-fives for being a grown-up were still in progress.
When I tuned back in, he was talking about the kids. “They’ve known each other a long time, and are comfortable as a group. They are young, and the sooner we marry, the sooner that will feel normal to them.”
I responded that they’d already been through more than is reasonable to ask a kid to manage. I’d never planned to divorce, and was still managing my own guilt about the failure of my marriage. My plan to never marry was born of that guilt, under the No More Change for The Kids banner.
Gabe went on the offensive, with facts and data, of all things. He reasoned that the kids were resilient, and that our marriage could be good for them. Our relationship was a healthy, balanced partnership and would be a positive model. He could help me with the children and vice versa. We could live more economically in one household than two. More love and more support for kids couldn’t be bad. It was clear he had not just blurted this out; he’d been thinking of it for some time.
Deep breaths. This man was clearly crazy, but I would have to continue to let him down carefully. I loved this lunatic.
“Raising six kids is a challenge neither of us is ready for. We would need a huge house and a ridiculously large car. Second marriages fail at alarming rates – it would be devastating to go through another divorce. We don’t even know another blended family! We don’t know what we don’t know – it seems hard and complicated and involves all these little people we love so much. Getting married doesn’t seem worth the risk. This weekend was so much fun – I love dating you. Let’s not mess with the good thing we have.”
Gabe was ready. “I love you too much to have you stay my girlfriend. We’ve spent too much of our lives apart already. I want to live with you and raise our children as one family. I want to come home to you every night. I want you to be my wife.”
I continued to throw up obstacles. We’d never traveled with the children, we hadn’t made any major purchases together, we’d both been responsible for the finances in our prior relationships, what if that caused friction? I was clinging desperately to my calm demeanor, but I soldiered on. We’d never traveled internationally together, we hadn’t come out on Facebook, we’d just told the kids we were dating the month before.
I was still protesting when Gabe, driving calmly, handed me his phone. “Will you open up the notes, please?” Thank God. We were changing topics.
“Sure, what do you need, Love?” I was ready to jot down his thoughts on the latest deal he was managing at work – we did this often. I was relieved to be in familiar territory.
“I want you to write down every single objection you have to being my wife, everything you want done before we can get married. Write it all down. Make me a list,” Gabe said.
And so I did. I wanted us to be in premarital coparenting counseling so that we would know what we were getting in to. I wanted us to find a house with seven bedrooms in my school district without spending more than the cost of our current two houses combined (aka a unicorn). I wanted to have dinner with another couple leading a blended family. I wanted to talk to his parents and mine about our marriage, and ask for their input. I wanted to take a trip with the kids so we could be together for an extended amount of time. I wanted the kids to be in counseling. I wanted us to buy a car. I needed to know how he spent his money, and wanted him to see how I spent mine. I wanted to have a serious discussion about theology (Gabe is active in a church, and though spirituality is incredibly important to me, organized religion is not). I wanted us to read books, at least five, on blending families. The list went on and on. As I typed, I started to calm down. Gabe was a reasonable guy. He would soon see we needed thirteen years to accomplish all these things.
As I finished, I read it out to him, even generously offering to add any items he had. He declined, saying I had pretty well covered it. He looked over at me, blue eyes twinkling and stifling a grin. “Great job, Babe. Thanks for writing it down. Easy peasy.” I breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t mad. I’d let him down easy and successfully avoided the marriage issue. “One more thing,” Gabe said. “You can stop rubbing your neck, Sweetheart. It’s okay. We’re okay.”
I looked in the mirror. My neck was bright red where I’d unconsciously rubbed it nearly raw for the last hour and a half as we’d been talking. So much for my calm exterior.
As I said, we were in the early stages of our romance. We were still learning about each other. Little did I know then that a list just lights Gabe’s fire. We were married, list complete, thirteen months later.