Jake and I had our first weekend away together.
For a never-married guy, Jake has a weird number of married and engaged friends, particularly since most of them are younger than he is. When we first started dating, he informed me that his last single friend had just gotten married, only to ask after Christmas, if I wanted to go see his friends out of state for an engagement party. Now, coming from the wealthy folk I do, I was picturing h’orderves, at a venue of some sort. Maybe it would be in a barn and the guests of honor would include some lace and burlap, as a shout out to their country roots and Southern locale, but there would definitely be a cello. I’m not being irrational here. My aunt and uncle had an anniversary party just months ago. Just to privately mock him later, I took a mighty pretentious photo of my cousin playing his cello in the corner. Naturally, I was stressing out a bit about meeting Jake’s friends under such formal circumstances. Being a clueless boy, Jake didn’t share, until the week prior, that said engagement party meant beer and crawfish by the lake.
The respite to my nerves was temporary, though, as I realized that Jake hasn’t introduced a girlfriend to his friends. I mean, sure they knew some of the girls he dated in high school and college, because they were around, but Jake has never taken a girl across states lines to meet his best friends and their wives, ever. This was likely a bigger deal than meeting the parents, because while you can rationalize that your parents are from a different time, your friends often have the exact same priorities and aspirations you do. In Jake’s case, he’s told me quite a bit about his friends’ marriages, the way they relate to their wives and their goals in general, and expressed a pretty clear desire for something very similar. If we didn’t get along, that could be a big conflict. What if they hated me? What if I said the wrong thing? Actually, to reword, what would happen when I said the wrong thing? What if I was too much of a city girl, despite every person I work with thinking I’m too much of a country girl? What if they thought I was after Jake’s money? What if I was too nerdy? Should I wear a dress, like I always do, or would I look too big for my britches, like when I met Jake’s sister in a friggin’ prom dress (not really). Why didn’t I own any t-shirts without things like “Super Librarian” of “Trek Yourself, Before You Wreck Yourself” on them?
I tried not to think about these things, as I packed, telling myself that they were Future Belle’s problems. That girl has a lot of issues. She could handle one more. The plan was to leave for the three and a half hour drive on Friday, after I got home from work, which was at about 6:45. Jake would already be at my apartment, waiting for me. I wasn’t aware that this would mean that the second I walked through the door, I’d be greeted with only a moment of pleasantries, to be immediately followed by “You got everything packed? You ready to go?” and rushed out the door. This meant I forgot things, namely my toothbrush and some ibuprofen. Y’all, I don’t get health insurance for another two and a half months. My glasses are almost three years old. I pretty much have a daily headache, when I get off work, because I stare at a computer screen for a living.
Jake and I headed out, quickly stopping by a steakburger fast food restaurant that Jake had been adamant would be amazing, despite my informing him that it was pretty much just fast food. He would not be deterred, being about three times as stubborn as I am, so he ordered while I ran inside to pee, because there was no way he was stopping again, in as much as a hurry as he was… that is, until about two hours later. I tried to play it off, but as the headlights flashed in my eyes, one after the other, I’m pretty sure my brain started to bleed out of my ears.
Me: “I know you don’t want to stop, but I don’t think I can make it. If I don’t get some kind of medicine, I’m not gonna be much fun, when we get there… and I might throw up in your truck on the way.”
Jake: “Is it really that bad?”
I’ve exaggerated my fair share, but it really was. I don’t even think Jake realized this until he pulled into a truck stop and I couldn’t handle the lights long enough to go inside and pee without deep breathing, while he insisted I wait in the truck for him to buy some Aleve (awww). Fortunately, by the time we got to the house, where we were staying, I was no longer near tears. Jake and I walked in together and Jake, despite his many wonderful qualities, completely neglected to introduce me. I was a little uncertain, at first, until three women started hugging me. Apparently, Jake has been quite chatty.
Mindy: “I’m a hugger. I just have to give you a hug!”
Me: “Hi. I’m Belle. I’m sorry we’re so late. I didn’t get off of work until 6:00.”
Hailey: “You’re a librarian, right?”
Aaron: “Jake, you didn’t even introduce her. Be a better boyfriend.”
We sat at a table, where there was clearly a drinking game in progress… I was pretty sure. I’d never played a drinking game, unless you count the one where I’d see how quickly I could finish my paper after taking three shots of everclear, to hide from my marriage. I also didn’t announce this, so three gold stars for normal socialization skills!
These people were so friendly. I was a little worried that the women might be catty or at the very least, a little exclusive, since I was an outsider. I knew it was unlikely Jake would put up with people who practiced the former, but it was equally unlikely he’d even notice the latter. As we chatted and shared embarrassing Jake stories, though, I didn’t feel excluded at all. The girls and Jake explained the drinking game to me and didn’t pressure me to drink the entire bottle of beer when it was my turn to do so. We shared stories and told jokes, until finally Haley interrupted to announce…
Haley: “I’m sorry, but it’s just so weird to see you touching him.”
Callie: “I know! I thought that when he had his hand on her back as they walked in!”
Me: “What are you talking about?”
Haley: “Jake hates to be touched. He won’t even hug us. Did you not see him duck out of the way when he came in?”
Me: “Seriously? He’s the touchy feely one!”
Jake: ::scoffing:: “I am not.”
Me: “You hugged me on our first date. I remember, because I thought you were really sweaty.”
Jake: “What? I wasn’t sweaty.”
Me: “It was June, you were so. You’re the snuggler in this relationship. You pretty much lay on me when we sleep.”
Mindy: “When you were touching his beard, I thought that must be driving him crazy.”
Me: “Well, if it is, it’s been doing so for a while, because I do it all the time.”
His friends weren’t only really nice, but they were also funny. They’ve known each other since the beginning of time and had dozens of stories about growing up in a small town and going to college together. I could tell why Jake hung out with him, particularly because they had such similar senses of humor.
Me: “He thinks it’s hilarious to use his Bane from Batman voice, when we’re fooling around.”
Mindy: “Ugh. Aaron does the same thing! He pretends I’m a Russian prostitute.”
Aaron: ::stereotypical Russian accent:: “Prostitute. Get on the bed.”
This was obviously the funniest thing Jake had ever heard and if I’d had a quarter for every time I heard that sentence over the course of the three day weekend, I’d have been able to fund the gas to get home.
Gradually, the men drifted outside and the women to the living room, where everyone chatted about their careers and guys. Haley was the engaged friend and her fiance, Clyde, was outside with Jake. Mindy has been married to Aaron (Jake’s Gail) for almost three years now, after having dated for only five months from the first time they met, when Aaron asked her to dance at a wedding. Callie was alone, because her husband, Sam, was at a varmint hunt… no really. He was shooting raccoon for sport. Jake assures me it’s a fantastic time.
For probably an hour, we chatted easily, in part because I’d had a beer or two. They seemed surprised by some of the things I told them about Jake, how gentlemanly and sweet he is, but pleasantly so. It’s clear these women, two of whom Jake lived with in college, think of him as an older brother. I give them extra points for not being too fond of him to give me a chance. That night, Jake and I went to bed in a room of our own, since Callie offered to take the mattress on the floor of the pantry, because Sam was shooting gorilla rats. As nice as the privacy was, however, our bed pretty much felt like a bouncy house. So, despite downloading an app that plays the sound of a fan, because I’m just high-maintenance, I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep.
The next day was the day of the actual party. I hadn’t realized, but numerous other people would be arriving around 2:00, so prep work was in order. Having forgotten my toothbrush in Jake’s crazed rush, I tagged along with the girls to Walmart. I wouldn’t say that I had a lot of interests in common with these women, as I’m quite sure they’ve no idea who Spock is and I mightily loathe Nicholas Sparks, but we did seem to share a lot of values. They were very… Southern. They clearly have really traditional relationships, which was a change of pace compared with my Women in Power family. Jake and I have a dynamic I haven’t discussed at length, but it is very traditional. He generally takes the lead and I generally follow. It works for us and I’m aware it wouldn’t for others. Trust me. Jake’s friends seemed to have pretty similar relationships to ours, though more permanent. The men were all very sweet to their wives/fiancees. At one point, not realizing everyone could see them from outside, Aaron grabbed Mindy’s hand and danced with her in the kitchen. Amy, who I would meet later, over-imbibed and her fiance, Taylor, spent at least a couple of hours away from the party, making sure she was alright. There was certainly a shared element, though, and I can’t even put my finger on what exactly it was, but it was pleasantly… relatable.
When we got back from Walmart, Callie started shredding a rotisserie chicken and she and I paired up to make her Pinterest buffalo chicken pinwheels. The women hung out in the kitchen, cooking, while the men goofed off in the back, but it was a mutual decision and really quite nice to be able to talk freely as girls. I don’t know if it was the standing or the bouncy castle bed, but after a few hours, my back was really bothering me. I hurt it about four years ago and it can occasionally be a real problem. Jake was having a great time, so I disappeared into the bedroom to lie down, so he could enjoy himself.
I’m not used to being so… on, as a weekend away with strangers. It took such constant effort to be friendly and sociable that by the time the party had really started going, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. We’d gotten up so early, for a Saturday, probably around 8:00, that the day felt endless. The one person I knew, was having a grand ol’ time with his high school buddies and the last thing I wanted was to make Jake feel like I needed his constant attention. I liked Jake’s friends. They were fun. It was also a lot of stimulation and I was in pain. After about 30 minutes, Jake came in to check on me and I put on my big girl panties and went back to socialize. It was then I met Amy, a newbie to the group, having been engaged to Clyde’s brother, Tanner, only a month ago, after eight months of dating. Amy, coincidentally, teaches home-ec (my bachelor’s degree), while pursuing her master’s in library and information studies. Not only was she a doll, but it was great to see how inclusive of her Jake’s friends already were. These were just really kind people.
I chronicle every detail of my life, so clearly, I’m a total narcissist, but one of my favorite parts of the weekend was the quiet pride Jake took in me. Despite his friends comments about his touch-phobia, he was just as giving with hugs and kisses and “I love yous” as always. He even bragged to someone that Callie and I had made the pinwheels. At one point, as I stood outside, listening to Aaron tell the story of how his made up game had been brought to the USA by the Titanic swim team, Jake came from behind and wrapped his arms around me.
I’m pretty sure these are the sweetest hugs ever.
Haley: ::looking to Jake:: “You are a completely different person.”
Haley: “You’re touching her.”
As sweet, chivalrous, and physically affectionate as Jake is to me, he’s not a blatantly romantic guy. He pays for every date we ever go on, opens the truck door for me nine times out of ten, and shows up at my door less than 24 hours after I call him crying. He’s generally a pretty practical, tough, oil man, so that’s our hearts and flowers. For him to do this stuff in front of his best friends, rubbing my back while insisting I sit down, hugging and kissing me and telling me he loves me, openly bragging about some Pinterest food I helped make… that’s like the equivalent of that scene where Noah and Ally dance in the street, only I’m not an abusive, elitist snob. He’d been the same way, when I was sick during the drive, but that was in private. Seeing Jake value me the way his friends valued their wives and fiances made me picture forever with him in a way I never have. I’m talking about the consideration of compromises like uprooting my career and moving away from my family and friends, one day. It was big.
Not quite as profound, but also very important to me, was the chance to see Jake interact with his friends. Though he’d been drinking pretty steadily, all day, at no point was he out of control drunk. I never felt like I had to act as his babysitter or stay sober so I could take him to the hospital. He didn’t make any hateful comments to anyone or get angry. He was having fun, but he was being an adult while doing so. I never thought I’d say that about someone playing beer pong.
One of the many red flags waved by my ex-husband, was his lack of friends. My mother has a similar problem. I’ve never met an emotionally healthy person who just doesn’t have friends. I consider it a big warning sign that people just don’t like them. I had trouble even keeping up with Jake’s friends and he was loved. It sounds over the top to say that, but they adored Jake and were thrilled to have him there. These are people who’ve known him for 15-20 years. They’ve not only heard the drunken bathroom story, but were there to clean it up. It was awesome to know that he’ll always have his own social circle and that, if the day comes, it’s a pretty welcoming one.
The morning after the party, Jake was, surprisingly, not even hungover. When I asked him about it, he said he’d kept it in check, because he didn’t want me to feel awkward if he was sick. We ate breakfast, as a group, and then we lounged in couples and watched movies for a few hours. After that, everyone packed up and headed on their way. Jake and I chatted on the drive back and I was genuinely sad to leave. As stressful as meeting so many new people was, it was so… normal. I never had a weekend like that in all of my marriage. I’ve never gone away with a man. I’ve never had anyone hug me from behind while his best friend tells me some ridiculous tale. I’ve never even considered uprooting my life for anyone, not even Jake. It was sad to see it all come to a close, but it was pretty great to get all the insight I did from it.