Later this month, my husband Erick and I will celebrate a dozen years of marriage; we’ve spent almost 15 years of our lives as a couple.
Erick and I aren’t a particularly glamorous, romantic, or even interesting couple, but we did “meet cute;” we’d stand up pretty well alongside those couples in When Harry Met Sally… who tell the true stories of how they met.
I was his waitress.
Summer 1999. I was working at a now-defunct restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut called “Organic Planet.” It was about as much of a hole-in-the-wall as you can get in Greenwich: a tiny space with about 8 tables, next to a vacuum cleaner repair shop on a nondescript street off of Greenwich’s main drag. But it dished up smoothies and tempeh salads to clientele like Tommy Hilfiger. The Tommy Hilfiger. (He was a very generous tipper.)
I had no previous waitressing experience, and was biding my time until I moved to New York City to begin a teaching job that fall. I figured everybody should waitress at least once in their lives, and that I’d probably learn a thing or two. As it turned out, I learned how to pronounce “quinoa,” and I met my future husband.
Erick was working (and often sleeping) at the Greenwich office of a hedge fund startup. The office’s air conditioning was turned off on the weekends, but Erick worked on the weekends and it was summer. So occasionally he’d bring his work to the air-conditioned, tofu scented paradise that was Organic Planet.
My first impression: “There’s a young, skinny Asian guy who seems nice and probably won’t try to hit on me. But why is he lugging around that huge stack of papers?”
Whenever Erick and I tell this story to others, he highlights his subtle strategy for wooing me. Throughout most of the summer, his plan of attack involved timing his arrival for 7:50 PM — Organic Planet closed at 8 — so that he could be the last customer in the place and therefore have more time to talk with me. He’d always order a banana smoothie.
It was only later, after we’d been dating a while, that he told me how precisely he’d orchestrated this. And I, in turn, told him how his plan had driven me nuts.
Because by 7:45, I’d figured that nobody else was going to come in and order a smoothie: Who drinks smoothies at 8 PM? I was anxious to close up shop and get home. So I’d clean the blender.
Cleaning the blender was one of the worst parts of waitressing. Most of the other dishes we’d just slide back to the dishwashing staff, but the blender station was up front, so cleaning it was the waitstaff’s responsibility. Blenders, as you may know, have multiple parts, including blades. Cleaning them involves disassembling the parts, scrubbing under and between the little blades, and then reassembling the whole thing.
As soon as I set the neatly scrubbed blender atop its base, in would walk Erick, asking for a smoothie.
As Erick and I told this story to some new friends last month, I realized that for years I’ve thought of this blender incident as just an amusing anecdote, a cute little detail, when actually it was an amazingly accurate preview of marriage. Because that feeling I had when Erick would ask me to make a smoothie using my just-cleaned blender — that feeling is one of the emotions I’ve felt most often throughout twelve years of marriage. Frustration. Vague annoyance. Martyrdom. Just when I get everything nice and tidy, you come in and make me mess it up again with your needs!
I’ve felt this way more than I’ve felt the soaring highs of early love, more than I’ve felt passion. And that’s not because I don’t love Erick, or because he’s an irritating person; on the contrary, I love him immensely, and he’s one of the least demanding people I’ve ever met.
I think that the “please make me a smoothie in your clean blender” feeling is all tangled up with what it means to have relationships with others. You don’t even have to be married to feel it: I feel it all the time towards my children. If I’m honest, I feel it every time the phone rings.
Because sometimes, at the end of a long day, you just want to sit on the couch eating popcorn and reading a good book, but your spouse wants to talk about their feelings or your day or the budget.
Sometimes, just when you think all the kids are napping (finally!) and you’re sitting down to write your next blog post, the bedroom door slams open and they come pounding down the hall screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!”
Sometimes, when you’re trying to cook dinner or get everyone out the door or call the dog in, the phone rings and it’s a friend who needs help or wants to chat.
Having your neat and tidy life messed up is a side effect of connection. And love is when you grit your teeth and usher in the mess.
When you lay down your book and talk to your spouse.
When you get up from your computer and tuck the kids back into bed.
When you pick up the phone.
When you toss bananas, yogurt, and ice into the blender that you just scrubbed.
If I seem to suggest that love usually entails frustration and teeth-gritting acts of service — well, I think that’s true. It’s what a dozen years of marriage, half of those years with children, have taught me.
But I wouldn’t give back a single one of those years. In fact, I’m probably more romantic than when I put on that white dress twelve years ago. I believe wholeheartedly in love. I believe that nothing has more power to change other people and ourselves for the better than dirtying our clean blenders because somebody else wants a smoothie.
Keeping the blender unsullied, keeping our lives neat and tidy, may sound like a good thing. It may even feel like a good thing, for a time. But after a while, you’re just a waitress sitting alone with a clean blender at closing time. And that sounds pretty sad to me.