The Long Con, or: What Not to Do in a Good Relationship

“What about you and Alex?” our friend Tiffany asked Franny just a day or two before we left New York City for good.

“I don’t know,” Franny responded. “I mean, I love him, but I don’t think he’s ever going to propose.”

At least, I’m sure she said something to that effect. That’s how that conversation was related to me by my groomsman John — Tiff’s boyfriend — on the day Franny and I got married nearly two years after moving from New York to California. John and I were around for that conversation, but we both missed it. We were probably talking about something more important, like the New Orleans Saints or the Indiana Pacers or whether or not we should order the three-liter boot of beer again.

The exact words are probably slightly different, because that’s just how memories work. But the idea is the same: yeah, she loved me, but was there a future? She wasn’t so sure.

This was intentional. I was playing a dangerous game. It was the Long Con. Unsurprisingly, it very nearly backfired on me.

Just a day or two after she apparently had that conversation, I proposed. It was, in a very traditional sort of way, a surprise to her*. This, too, was intentional.

The only way I knew I could ensure that it would be a surprise would be to make her think it was never going to happen. Franny’s desires, needs, and hopes were clear. We would have very open and honest conversations about marriage and proposing and how she wanted it to happen. I knew she didn’t want to wait forever to get married, but  that she also wanted a longer engagement**. I believed she wanted it with me.

When we had these conversations, or similar conversations about having children, I would be honest as well. But then I would always add — because I’m sort of an asshole this way — that I wanted to wait five to eight years. Or four to six. It always changed, but it was always a long time. Always in the future. Never imminent. Never real.

Those claims weren’t far-fetched, and sometimes I really meant them. After all, I’m divorced, after a very short and ill-advised marriage in my early 20s. (Something so short and so far in my past that approximately half of my friends today don’t even know about it.) I’m more than a little unstable, too, having moved at least once a year since I graduated high school. In the last 11 years I’ve lived in 12 different apartments in five different cities and four different states. People like me are hard to pin down.

But deep down inside, I believed we were together for the long haul. I wanted to get married, and I wanted to propose. I talked about this with John several times over the course of that spring.

Meanwhile, we were having our roughest year personally and professionally. I was unhappy and underpaid at the fancy New York media job that we left New Orleans for. Franny was unhappy at her fancy New York corporate job — until she was laid off and, absent other options, returned to her job as hostess at an East Village restaurant. (Admittedly, an amazing restaurant — now closed — that was at the time among New York’s coolest restaurants.) I, more than Franny, was sinking. I had very quickly gone from a person she considered to have unlimited upside, boundless potential, the brightest future, to somebody who basically just walked around grumbling the F-word under my breath constantly. In New Orleans we knew all the scoops before they were public, and we were invited to all the cool industry events. We — not just me, but we — were cool. Now, I had a cool, fancy New York media job, but I was a wreck.

Not only was I no longer full of potential and exciting prospects, but also, I was kind of an asshole. I’ve always had that streak in me, where a little bit of discomfort can make me lash out at good people. (This was also an issue early in our relationship, when I would get entirely too drunk and say nasty things about people we were with. Not because I didn’t like her friends, but because I felt uncomfortable with the fact that I didn’t have my own***, and that her scene was different from what I was used to.) But now, in New York, I was turning into a bad partner.

Of course, nobody ever sees this in themselves. When you’re deeply unhappy, you also lose all self-awareness. Your actions — and their effects on the people around you — seem normal to you, while everything happening around you is the worst, and everyone is such a jerk, and this city smells like trash and everything’s terrible.

So this is the context in which I was playing my dangerous game. Is it any wonder that at the same time I was thinking about proposing, she was honestly and frankly assessing whether or not she should continue to allow me to hitch my wagon to her star?

In the end we stayed together, we made plans to move together****, and when I proposed she said yes. That last sentence suggests something very important: that things were not nearly as bad as the preceding 850 words made them seem. But that’s a better story, I think.

The real point, then, is simple. Last weekend I married the best person, and I’m deeply grateful that she’s continued to roll her dice on this bizarre unit we call “us.”

*There are important things to say about these tropes, and the way the proposal-engagement-wedding-marriage processes explicitly and implicitly negate women’s agency. In the proposal process, the man is the capacious agent, the woman is a passive recipient of his plans. It’s problematic for sure, and while my wife and I like how we did things, one must recognize how deeply it’s rooted in patriarchy and (let’s be real) sexism.

**In the end, we were engaged for just under two years. I proposed at the beginning of August 2013, in Baltimore, as we stayed there with my parents for a few days before moving west. We were married last week, in mid-June 2015. As we got to the end, we both agreed that maybe a shorter engagement would have been nice. It’s a funny, slightly awkward middle ground. It is, by definition, a transitory phase. And we sat in that transitory phase for quite a while.

*** Not having my own friends in New Orleans, and not really being allowed to, was a big reason my first marriage was so short-lived.

**** Our second cross-country move together, in as many years.

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