The Back of the Book
Written on the occasion of our first wedding anniversary
We met thanks to the web. There's no other way we would have found each other; we lived hundreds of miles apart, we didn't know anyone in common, and I can't think of an event we would have ever both attended at which we could have met by chance.
It began as a minor online friendship. I'd been writing various commentary on media, computers and politics on a website of my own since sometime in 1997 (the archives from the old site aren't all on this server yet; that's a "someday" project). Back then there really weren't that many people doing similar things, so it was noteworthy every time you found a new one (unlike today, when you hear about new weblogs even when you'd rather not).
She started writing about various things on her own site, and in her surfing found Brad's site, through which she found me. She linked to me; I checked out her pages. Seemed like an interesting person, with interesting things to say. I linked to her, saying her site was "pretty cool".
She posted new writing often enough to make it worth visiting her site regularly. Now and then I'd pick up a good story from her and comment on it on my page; sometimes she would do the same to me. Over time, certain things became clear: she was highly intelligent, paid attention to many of the same topics I did, and had a very entertaining personality that showed in her writing. At the end of 1999 she gave 'Medley Medals' to sites she liked, including mine. Her good judgement certainly contributed to my high opinion of her intelligence. ;)
Now and then the thought did cross my mind that she'd probably be interesting in person too (and perhaps extremely so). But I already had a significant other; so did she, plus she was far away; it was impractical and unfaithful to even consider the possibility seriously, so I didn't.
Things changed in 2000. Over several weeks I had been silently coming to the conclusion that while my existing relationship was hardly a bad one, I was very unsure about making it permanent -- and like many people, I wanted to be Very Sure about it. (Unbeknownst to me, Lyn was coming to a similar juncture herself). So I began to be open to other possibilities. On a whim, I asked Lyn if she'd be likely to come to any of the weblogger gatherings that were springing up, such as at SXSW (which had recently ended for that year). She said "No", but we continued to e-mail back and forth, drifting into a mild conversation about the issues involved with meeting online acquaintances in person; the traps of expectations, etc.
As we wrote to each other, we found we had even more in common than we'd known. Gradually our discussion took a more serious turn, and one of us finally asked: well, what happens if we ever meet and like each other too much? Hmm, yes it's possible we might. Then much damage might be done to those closest to us. So then maybe we shouldn't meet. Or maybe we should wait to meet until we're both unattached. But I don't want to wait that long, you don't want to wait that long, and hmm, this is starting to become a problem. It's important to both of us to find out for sure if we could be as good together as we think we might. So, uh, what can we do?
With no good answer, what would be the least bad answer? The least bad way forward we could think of was: first, we tried to dig up anything that could be a flat-out deal-breaker: am I allergic to cats? No. Do we disagree about [not] having kids? No. How do you feel about dirty dishes? And so on (and on). We found no deal-breakers, though we seriously tried.
Second, we had to end our current relationships before we could ever meet in person. That way we wouldn't be behaving any worse than we had already.
Time passed. We each did as we had decided, difficult as that was. A couple of weeks later I flew to New York to meet her. We spent a few days getting to know each other, and I returned home filled with excitement, possibilities, and joy.
And here I have to digress and explain the metaphor in my title.
Book? What book?
There are many ways to look at life; many models one may apply.
One popular model is that life is a contest, scored with money or sales numbers or weight or fame or market share or any number of arbitrary (often numerical) measures. In this model, as long as you can be better than everybody you know at this one thing (or for the truly ambitious or twisted, better than all the other n-Billion people on the planet), then you're a success. If you know of people with better scores, you will pay a great deal of attention to them and try to find other weaknesses they have so you can still feel superior to them in some way, and you expect other people to do the same to you. Everyone everywhere is either a competitor or a sidekick, because what matters above all else is the score. To me this is a very limited view of life.
You can also look at life as a game. Or a test you have to pass, or a library full of fascinating books, or a simulation you have to learn the nature of, or a series of duties one has to fulfill, or a meaningless exercise you get to impose your own meaning on, etc. etc... or any combination of the above depending on the moment.
There are times when I look at life as a study guide. Like in a school textbook, with exercises at the end of each chapter. As we live our lives we answer our assigned questions, often unwittingly.
One could conceive of an answer key at the back of this book (just like at the ends of textbooks), but one would also expect that we rarely get a clear peek at it.
Some questions in the study guide are routine and minor, such as "What did you learn from this experience?" "What do you think will happen if you do that again?" "Is there a logical solution to this conflict?"
Other questions have more import and are harder to come up with definitive answers for: "What's truly important to you?" "What are the skills and privileges you've been given, and what will you do with them?" "What can you do that people will pay you for?" "What do you want to do that people will pay you for?"
Some don't necessarily even have demonstrably Right answers, though one can come to be sure about one's own answer: "Where should you live?" "Do you want to have children?" "What are your long-term goals?" "What would lead you to change your goals?" Questions like this generally take much self-examination.
In this last section, I would put a very big one, which can be put numerous ways: "Who shall you spend your life with?", or: "Whom shall you commit yourself to?", or: "Is there a match for you and will you ever find her?"
I'd wondered about that one a lot over 29 years.
And after I had finally spent some days with this remarkable woman whose thoughts I already knew, whom I had gotten to know first through her writing, I had an overpowering feeling that I'd been given a peek at the answer key in the back of my book. There under "who shall I spend my life with?" was her name, neatly printed in crisp black type.
"...and in her eyes he could see no parting." -- Stardust, Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess
Soon she visited my city; I visited hers again. We talked every night (and usually day). E-mailed all the time. The question we had to resolve was, how can we be together more without going bankrupt from airfare? The answer became obvious fairly quickly.
I had stuck around my alma mater for a long while after graduation to hang out with the many friends who came after me (and with those who had also stayed for a time themselves), but six years after graduating, that population had dwindled considerably. My job at the business school had finally chafed enough that I had already gone solo in 1999. I had few strong ties to the city any more, so there really wasn't much beyond inertia to keep me from moving. Since I do web work, it didn't matter all that much where I moved to, so long as there was a net connection.
Lyn, on the other hand, had a job lined up in the nation's capital. Logically, I was the one who could and should move. So I did. In a sense, I'd been waiting for six years for a reason to leave town, and here was the best reason of all.
We found a townhouse to rent together in Virginia. She moved south, I moved east, and there we were. A happy couple, but not yet a married one. My tolerance for big, wrenching life changes was maxed for the moment, and part of me was wanting to let the dust settle a bit so I/we could take stock before making things permanent. It did seem the logical direction to go; we were certainly working with the assumption of a lifetime together, whether it was recognized by the state or not. But while I was emotionally Sure, my cold instincts for self-protection were ordering me to give it some time to sink in and see just how well we worked before acting further just on emotional instinct.
By January of 2001, I felt (and told my future best man) that I had all the information I needed. I now knew what we were like together, I knew from experience and observation what else was out there to be found (and not found), and the one solidly trumped the other. This satisfied my cold side and gave me the freedom to go on ahead and attempt another big change.
In February, I fairly unceremoniously noted one night at dinner that I thought we should get married. As this had been a hypothetical talking point before, she had to ask if I was actually being serious. I was, and she said 'yes'; we called our folks, e-mailed some people and then announced it on both our websites to make sure anyone else who was interested could get the news too.
In September 2001, we had a small wedding ceremony that went just about exactly how we wanted it to, and we were married. (We had gotten legally married in April since there were certain legal privileges that we wanted ASAP, but we consider the September date to be the real one).
I did keep my name. :)
Home is where people understand what you say. -- Seth Golub
And so it's been a year. (More, now, as I'm such a slow writer and polisher.) And I would do it all again.
We are similar enough, and we are different enough. She very quickly knows what I mean, only needing a word or three to understand a great deal -- even about highly technical stuff that I'm working on. And I can do the same for her. I never had such broad and deep understanding from someone else before.
She inspires me to think bigger, to plan further into the future, to work harder to be better at everything I do. I love to make her laugh, and she forever surprises me with connections I didn't see.
From the time we met, one of us could just start a conversation with "What did you think of the discussion/article on...?" Quite often (since we're both crazy websurfing junkies) we've both already read the thing in question and can leap right into talking about it without needing to explain any background to each other. I love that.
We disagree often, but as she observes, we agree on the large outlines of so many things that when we do find an edge case that we disagree on, it can seem more important and become more contentious than it really ought to be. Each of us can't believe the other doesn't see the obvious illogic of his/her position since s/he's usually so sensible... The trick is to remember that it's usually such a minor thing we're sparring over. And I'm grateful that's all it is.
We are excellent matches and complements for each other in so many ways. When I am overly patient, she is there to prompt. (And when she is too much in a hurry, I am there to calm.) We share the loves of reading and music and good stories, even though we come at them from very different places and have plenty to teach each other. And on, and on. We simply work together, better than we could with anyone else anywhere.
From only knowing each other through our public writings to being lifelong companions -- it's been an odd trip, and one I never expected, but one that we could predict since before we ever met in 'real life'.
I'm a lucky man. Happy anniversary, my love.
-- Steve Bogart