Dater X: The Queen Mother

I spent most of this weekend debating whether to tell The Bartender that I love him.

I’ve written about this before, but in my mind, when it comes to four-letter words, “love” makes “fuck” look like fiddlesticks. I’ve been in love before, and I’ve said it, but with no small amount of consideration; in retrospect, some of the times that I’ve said it haven’t held up to the scrutiny of hindsight (though who among us can’t say that?)

The last time I said “I love you,” it was to The Big Easy. Did we rush to get to that point? Definitely, though I still don’t think my feelings were unreal or forced, just fleeting (his, doubly so, it turned out). When I thought about telling The Bartender that I love him, it was hard not to think about having just said it, months ago, to someone else. But there’s a depth and a sureness to my feelings about The Bartender that I don’t recall from my lightning-speed courtship with The Big Easy, and so far, we’ve hit on none of the lifestyle snags that peppered that relationship from the get, including my nagging independence and his staggering jealousy, two qualities that ultimately clashed us right into our break-up.

On some level, I feel like I owe a debt of gratitude to The Big Easy: while our relationship was a flash in the pan that I’ll likely remember with little detail except for these columns in the years to come, it was the first time that I’d opened up to someone in years, and I don’t think I would have considered getting into this unusual situation with The Bartender if I hadn’t recently relearned how to fall – and how to get back up.

So, with my work schedule bringing me into The Bartender’s city again this week, we planned to spend the weekend together. His two best friends – who happen to be married to each other – were in town from out of state, as well, and we arranged to spend some time with them and also alone together. He asked if we could have dinner together, just the two of us, when he finished work on Saturday; I asked if he was sure he didn’t want to invite his friends along, and he replied that he preferred that we meet them for drinks after dinner, because spending time with me would relax him after a long week.

“I love you,” I thought but did not say.

We had a great meal, then met up with his buddies over beers, with plans to rendezvous with them for brunch the next day. They were fun, and silly, and I loved hearing them tell stories about knowing each other long before he and I met. It was a good night.

The next morning, en route to brunch, his buddies got into a car accident. No one was hurt, but both their car and the driver’s who T-boned them had to be towed, leaving them standing on a street corner with all the belongings that had been in the back seat and trunk, in case the car was totaled and they weren’t able to get back into town to retrieve their possessions. Compounding things, shortly after The Bartender and I got to the scene, one of his employees called with a work emergency, and he had to jet off to the bar. So I stayed with his friends and made sure that they had all the information that they needed from the towing company and the cops, then helped them carry their bags and boxes to a coffee shop, where we picked at pastries and waited for The Bartender to get back. It wasn’t exactly the carefree day of brunch and wandering that we’d planned, but thanks to a card game that they had in the car and some stubbornly sunny optimism on everyone’s parts, we managed to get them a rental car, share a pizza for lunch, and even have a good time before getting them back on the road.

“I love you,” I nearly blurted out when we had seen them safely off, and bit my tongue.

After that excitement, The Bartender and I spent the rest of the day indulging our whims: we wandered into an outdoor beer garden for a game of Jenga (“I love you,” I thought, when he returned to our table with a smirk and two ciders “because it smells like fall by this fire pit”); explored an unfamiliar neighborhood and played a game of pool at a local dive (“I love you,” I thought, when he played my favorite artist, first and without asking, on the juke); treated ourselves to dinner at a cozy, out-of-the-way spot (“I love you,” when he wiped a drip of sauce from my chin with his thumb and licked it clean). Sitting at dinner, marveling at the maturity and composure that he showed on what could otherwise have been a miserable, taxing afternoon, I realized that I loved him, and I couldn’t keep the words in my mouth any longer.

“I love you,” I said.

And immediately apologized, but explained that I couldn’t help it. And he laughed and told me that he loves me, too, and that he had been working up the courage to say it. I’m not sure he’s ever been in love before, but I am sure that I’ve never been in love with anyone who felt like such a good match for me. It doesn’t feel like falling; it’s more deliberate than that, and it has never once felt like something I’m doing alone. We’re in this together, handling situations good and bad as a team, and I’m grateful and happy to be here, as unexpected as it has all been.

Next week: The Bartender comes to my city! And the week after that, we amended his birthday weekend to include a visit to his hometown – and for me to meet his dad. I’m apprehensive, a bit, but also excited and very, very happy. It turns out, I’m in love.

Until next week,
Dater X 3.0