Our theme for the month of November is “firsts.”

I am now in a relationship with a woman. I say things like, “My girlfriend lives over there.” And, “Can I bring my girlfriend?” And, “My girlfriend and I are in a fight because I played a Knight card and took her wheat while playing Settlers.”

We met in April and proceeded to not speak until July when she moved here from the midwest and fell for me like a spacecraft burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. Or that was me for her…what I’m trying to say is: I’ve never had a girlfriend before. This is a first. This is the blind leading the blind. So close your eyes, and read on.

My parents had this rule: no dating until I turned seventeen. After this strict rule was briefly mentioned in an off-hand comment, my father would ask if there were any girls I was interested in or seeing. As Captain Barbossa would say, “…It’s more of a guideline than an actual rule.”

I grew up knowing that I would not date a woman unless we were going to get married. No pressure, you’ll know when you know, but figure it out and don’t mess it up or your entire life will be ruined. I was going to do it right.

Then I turned seventeen, legal dating age, and nothing happened. Do other people not have this same rule? What’s the deal? Instead, I continued to not date because I continued to have girls not want to be in a relationship with me.

I turned eighteen and shipped out to Australia to attend an uber evangelical bootcamp called Youth With A Mission (YWAM), that was dubbed, “Young Women Awaiting Marriage” by a large contingent of old fashioned people.

YWAM had this mantra that you should “Be the one before you find the one.” Just become who you were meant to be, then…and only then…your spouse will appear. Poof! And it’ll be great because she’s been working on being the one, too. I knew that I had a lot of work to do because I was eighteen…by nineteen I’ll be ready. I also knew that to date in YWAM, you had to have a chaperone and you had to make sure your leader said it was okay, and her leader had to say it was okay, and God had to weigh in and it was a whole thing.

And then I turned twenty-three—the imaginary age that, when I was young, was held, by me, as the appropriate age to get married. I figured hey, my brain won’t be fully developed, I’ll be looking for my first job, I’ll be driving a Ford Crown Victoria…I’ll be ready.

No marriage. Instead, I realized that I was embracing being single. It took a bit, because directly after college, my friends were coupling up and dive-bombing into marriages like fruit flies into red wine, and I felt a little left out. I wanted to try the wine. But after every wedding, I was relieved that it wasn’t me standing at the front. (I want you to know, dear reader, that I was still happy for people. I am not that bitter guy sitting in the back of the church downing a flask of vodka telling your nephews that love is dead. I’m more of a whiskey guy.)

I turned twenty-five. Legal car-renting age and two whole years past initial marriage age. I briefly dated a girl whom I broke up with because I got scared that I would have to marry her. Then I moved to Chicago and away from the real or imagined pressures of finding the one, or being the one, or two becoming one.

I turned twenty-seven and all the girls whom I dated for barely a month started to get married and invited me to their weddings which was a real blessing. One by one, my ex-not-quite-girlfriends tied the knot and I was in the process of trying to make rope and so I felt bad. Why did I feel bad? Because the goal in life is to get married. Everyone knows that! That’s why people really want you to be in a relationship. That’s why my grandfather always used to ask when he first saw me: “Bartholomucci! Have a girlfriend yet?” And I always said not yet.

During this time, I was counseling friends on what they should do with dating. “Say this, text this, email that…” And then, I would catch myself giving advice, and tell them, “…Because it’s working really well for me!” And we would all burst out laughing because the tiny boat I was rowing to Relationship Land was actually just a massive block of concrete.

Everything was so serious or so flippant. When you have to marry the person you are in a relationship with, every tiny thing is under a giant microscope. Every annoying laugh or nose whistle or every time you pay and she doesn’t say thanks.

Then I turned twenty-nine and went on dates with women in their mid thirties and one woman asked me, “Is my age a problem?” And I really want to be the kind of guy who answers no to that question, but it turns out I’m not. I picked up perspective after these conversations—women really have this harder. And I quickly stopped feeling sorry for myself.

I’ll be thirty later this month and I don’t know if my girlfriend and I are going to get married, but that’s okay. I do know that I like her a lot. So here’s the advice because I know about this stuff: Be the one before you find the one. Find the one who kisses your forehead instead of your lips. If you love something, let it go, if it comes back to you, that’s how you know.

Just kidding.

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