Dater X: Meet The Parents

This week in Things I Worried About But Shouldn’t Have: The Bartender met my parents.

Generally speaking, I don’t tend to fret about boyfriends meeting Mama and Papa X. For one thing, my parents are delightful humans who go out of their way to be friendly to all of the rare specimens that I bring before them (and there have been few enough for me to count on one hand). For another, The Bartender’s ability to talk to just about anyone about just about anything is one of my favorite things about him. So I didn’t have major doubts about them getting along. But as our relationship progressed, it became more important to me that my parents not just like him, but that they love him – and love him for me.

Given that the last potential suitor they met was The Big Easy, I was concerned that they would see nothing but déjà vu: another cute guy, eager to please, and (in retrospect) a grenade that could go off at any minute and disorder my life. The last time, I didn’t see it coming; this time, I can’t imagine it happening. But it occurred to me that they might, and inflicting the negative emotional capital that I banked with The Big Easy onto The Bartender was a real concern for me.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to my mom often about The Bartender, and about the larger issues of changes that seem more and more imminent in my life: my evolving job situation, and the possibility that I’ll find myself living in another city by fall at the top of that list. She’s been a patient sounding board, as she always is, but I couldn’t help detecting a note of incredulity in her responses. A sense of, “Sure, but we’ll see.” An unnerving hint that she didn’t quite believe me when I told her how well things were going. I could hardly blame her for it; as I’ve written about here, for several weeks, I’ve been battling that sense myself. That this is all too simple, too good; that the other shoe is preparing to drop; that things are not what they seem. I’ve grown more certain, living in the situation from week to week, that it’s real; she has had only my words to guide her.

In other words: like many of you, my mother was skeptical that I was looking only on the sunny side and missing the reality. Which was frustrating, but not altogether impossible to understand.

Look, I’m the first to admit that I didn’t see this coming. My life right now feels wildly divergent from my life at this time last year (when I was applying to write this column) or even my life a few months ago, fresh out of one relationship and eager but not hopeful for another. If you had told me that I would lock eyes with some younger-than-me bartender while traveling for work and almost instantly start restructuring my expectations of my life and myself, I’d have firmly instructed you to lay down the crack pipe and reacquaint yourself with reality. So it’s not hard to imagine that, when it happened, my mother (and many of my readers) were quick to assume that it was fake, fantasy, embellished, imagined: unreal. Trying to convince her otherwise without some hard evidence was about as effective as trying to make sense of it here, which is to say more or less impossible. Relating to someone else’s story, especially one that doesn’t parallel our own or any that we’ve known to end well, is no small feat, and my mother was supportive but cautious.

Frankly, if I was a friend hearing my own story, I’d likely have reacted the same way.

So when The Bartender and I invited my parents into town to spend the day with us, I was excited but also anxious. We made plans to visit a popular outdoor park, but when the weather turned cold, we settled on a museum instead. I was happy that we would have something to talk about, but could barely contain my apprehension. What if they didn’t like him? What if – worse – they liked him, but saw something gravely wrong with our relationship that I had missed? Sure, The Bartender has met a few friends (and my very forward Little Sis X), but as we started to plan for a future together, it was more and more important to me that my parents agree with my assessment that this was a guy worth keeping in my life.

I’m happy to report that they did. We met them at the train station, then walked to the museum, my mother interrogating The Bartender the whole way while my dad and I stayed a few steps ahead. By the time we got there, the two of them were laughing like old friends. We marveled at the art and architecture of the museum and shared lunch in the café, then walked back towards the train station for dinner, where The Bartender slyly sneaked his credit card to the server without even my noticing; when my dad asked for the check, she dropped it off, ready for The Bartender to sign. It was a sweet gesture, but I think my parents were more impressed by his ability to engage them in conversation than his willingness to pick up the bill. He talked enthusiastically about his own interests and listened warmly to theirs. At the train station, as my dad pulled him into a gruff Guys’ Hug, my mother whispered in my ear that he was a keeper. Warmed by her approval, I took his hand, and we waved goodbye as Mama and Papa X headed to the tracks.

Impossibly sunny? It sure sounds like it. But here I am, still basking in the happiness of having found someone who makes me as joyful as I always hoped I could be with a partner. And that leaves me with less and less to say about dating, as I focus more and more on the changes coming down the pike in my life. So, yes, I buried the lede again: next week’s installment will be my last as Dater X. I can’t say that I feel like I’m riding off into the sunset, exactly, but rather that I am relieved. A long chapter of my life – my single life – seems to be coming to an end, and while the next one is uncertain, I feel confident that I have the support and the know-how that I need to make a go of it, even if it turns out very differently than I expected. And if I end up back here again someday, I’ll know what to do. And what not to do.

Until next week, one more time,

Dater X