Today marks our two-year anniversary.
I spent the morning on the phone. First with the New York State of Health to set straight some issues about my eligibility for health insurance. Since I was fired, things on that front have gotten a bit complicated. I was on hold for an hour before I was connected with a woman whose teeth seemed to be gritted and who, when our conversation ended, failed to hang up correctly.
“What is wrong with these fucking people,” she said to a coworker who I imagined to be equally disgruntled, “I tell this girl she needs to submit her documents so get off the damn phone and submit your fucking documents. Don’t be wasting my time.”
I wanted to yell back, “I don’t have the Goddamn documents which is why I was calling, you impatient jerk!” But hung up instead, telling myself that at the end of the day, even though she has glorious health coverage, her life is probably still harder than mine.
Then it was another call, this time with the Department of Labor, regarding more documents, ones I needed to apply for unemployment because well, why not.
After that, I wrote a copy trial for a potential job, proofread two assignments for which I’ll be paid a total of $20 and chased down a late payment for last month’s freelance assignments. None of it was hard.
It was just different.
In the middle of it all, I gave Tom periodic updates via Gchat.
I used words like, “nightmare,” and “bitches.”
Tom, ever supportive, replied, “That’s the worst kind of mare,” and “Bitches indeed.”
When he came home he gave me his usual “I’m home” hug. I listed out all the additional steps I had to take to secure health insurance, though secure was probably too optimistic a word.
“Yeah that sounds like a drag,” Tom said, “Though I’ve never had to deal with all this poor people stuff.”
I laughed. My solutions man hard at work.
“So what,” my father snorted.
“It’s not like you’re married,” my mother said.
But that wasn’t the point. I saw it as a huge achievement because Tom and I had conquered so many of our biggest issues: we’d figured out how to talk about money, how to navigate Tom’s army of female friends (become their friends), how to deal with my relative inexperience in arguing. Mostly, my learning how to differentiate between a normal, healthy disagreement versus an actual deal-breaker and Tom recognizing that he would often put up walls before I could even began to explain my reasoning. Seeing as how we are still together, none were deal breakers. On my end, I observed and admired how Tom reacted during hard times.
The honeymoon can finally begin, I thought.
“The first year is hard,” Tom said, “But second year’s probably going to be harder.”
“You’re about to graduate,” he said, “And it’s going to be an interesting time.”
Interesting and hard. The times before, during and after graduation were both. I had frequent, inexplicable mood swings and temper tantrums. I was very happy one minute and extremely sad the next. I saw so much potential in myself! And in us! And then I saw nothing whatsoever. Except I could always see Tom. The nature of someone supportive is to be there, both physically and in your minds’ eye. It was easy to take things out on him.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you,” Tom would say from time to time, when I became unaccountably mean or grumpy.
“I don’t know either,” I would say, “I feel strange.”
The months that followed graduation were strange indeed. I job hunted as though it was my job, and when I finally found a job, wished that I could be doing almost anything else. When I was fired, I vowed to pursue writing full-time, but lacked the discipline to sit and write each day, even though it was the only job I had to do.
I wanted immediate progress, somehow, and looked for it in places close to me, where I felt my demands were justified. I looked for it in my parents: why weren’t they calling me more? I looked for it in my friends: weren’t they concerned about my plans for the future? And I looked for it in Tom: yeah I had no job, but couldn’t he find a better one? I looked for it in our relationship: yeah I had no job, but was Tom thinking about marriage? Were we still on the same page? Were we ever?
Like I said: mood swings. Monkey bars.
I imagine somewhere there is another saying: The Terrible Two’s doesn’t just affect toddlers. Sometimes grown ass women can act like toddlers. If not worse.
I have a feeling that Tom, wise and experienced as he is, wasn’t picturing the exact arguments we encountered. He probably didn’t expect things to get so interesting. He probably didn’t expect that at one point in the past year, our late-night fights would not just persist but increase. Or that I would still, two years in, fear that ordinary disagreements were deal-breakers and would haphazardly, defensively, bring up “breaking up” even if that was the very last thing I wanted.
But I had a feeling too, about myself. It began as a sinking feeling, that the issue was not my family, nor friends, nor Tom, but myself. And then the feeling lifted just enough so that I saw what I really needed: to have a conversation with myself, one separate from the relationship, however unreasonable it seemed to do so.
Argument by argument, setback by setback, I learned that to grow as a couple was also, or perhaps was only reasonable, to grow myself.
My mother, my brother, my father, my Tom – all were right in their own ways: you can’t change others. You can only change yourself.
I slowly learned to put aside my pride. Who did I think I was? Where did this entitlement come from? What happened to the girl who moved to Manhattan to find not just love but also fulfillment in the very pursuit that brought her here?
It’s been a slow and not so steady climb. But tonight, after days spent verbally wrestling with the New York State of Health and the Department of Labor and the Accounts Payable department at my current sort-of employer, and then to finally see a small but personally meaningful sum made – from writing! – deposited, I can say that the hardships Tom referred to are inextricable from the hardships we experienced in our second year together. Inextricable from the things I had to decipher for myself.
I can say that I feel good about my relationship because I feel good about myself.
Who knows what year three will bring. For me, things published elsewhere from this blog. Health insurance. For Tom, career and other goals, which I leave to him. For us both, more travel, more laughs – though it’s hard to imagine more as we already enjoy both in a considerable amount – and probably more fights too, though the constructive kind that might be more accurately labeled as “discussions.”
Small changes, big results.
So here’s to year three. To my Tom and to me.