It occurred to me tonight, the eve of Valentine’s Day, that while I spend plenty of time pontificating about the merits of my four-legged family members, I don’t often write about my husband. Why, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really the mushy type. While he likes the Hallmark tear-jerkers, I prefer cards that fart when you open them. He tells me he gets watery eyed when we hold hands. Me, I get watery eyed when the wind stirs up leaf mold. Just because I’m a hardened bitch, however, it doesn’t mean I don’t love him. I just have different ways of showing it.
I met Troy after failing miserably at being single for several months. I had never really been single, and late into your thirties is not an opportune time to learn. Still, I promised myself I would not settle for anything less than Mr. Right, and there were many one-off coffee dates with a slew of Lavalife losers before I finally met my knight in shining spandex.
I didn’t have a great long list of “What I need in a man” when Troy walked into my life, but there were definitely a few key criteria. First of all, he had to be a mountain biker. Mountain biking was pretty much my life, and I knew that someone who didn’t ride would cramp my style. My dating profile listed a few other “needs”. Wanted: a partner with a high degree of education and a love for the finer things in life. Must enjoy physical fitness, the outdoors, good cooking and excellent wine, sushi, adventure and culture. No tolerance for chemical dependencies or smokers. Also, must love dogs.
Many people think that internet dating is as simple as fishing – throw out a line with your bait on the hook and reel in a big trout. What they don’t realize is that you catch a lot of rubber boots if that’s all you invest in the process. I was much more devious out of necessity. Because the mountain biker part of the equation was very high on my list of priorities, I decided to start organizing rides. Every weekend or two I would post a group ride up on a local mountain bike forum. I hosted rides all over the province, willing to travel because I knew damn well that the ratio of men to women who mountain bike in the province is something like 30 to 1. My odds were good. Furthermore, male mountain bikers LOVE it when they find a female who can talk headsets and bottom brackets… most mountain bike widows despise the metal their men put between their legs.
All it took was one summer and along came Troy. The ride I organized at Fitzpatrick Mountain in Scotsburn attracted a good-sized crowd. Amongst those riders was my friend Sherry, who clued in quickly to my motives. The ride was peppered with comments about which locals were available, in case I wasn’t capable of figuring it out for myself. Troy caught my attention with more than his spandex-clad glutes. I am notorious for wheezing up a storm whenever I get my heart pumping. It’s one of the joys of excercise-induced asthma. Troy noticed my back-of-the-pack status on the way up the trails at Fitz, and despite my painfully slow cadence, he hung back and chatted me up the mountain, praising my perseverance instead of judging my lack of speed. Brownie points scored.
Troy and I had a few more riding “dates” before he invited me to come to Pictou, meet his parents, and accompany him to his birthday party. I made the two-hour drive to Scotsburn and met him at the Lyon’s Brook convenience store. I followed his car to his parents’ place a minute up the road and he introduced me to Jim and Joann, two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Troy had been raving for a week about his favourite food, “Pictou County Pizza”. I loved pizza too and had high hopes, but my heart sank as I watched the grease-soaked box make its way to the table. Call me a city snob, but my idea of gourmet pizza involves a thin crust, spinach, roasted garlic, portobellos, some freshly chopped herbs. If there’s meat involved it has to be something like prosciutto or chorizo. THIS was an inch of dough slathered with what seemed to be barbecue sauce, then another inch of luncheon meat and salami, all topped with another inch of cheese. I had a heart attack just looking at it. “Sometimes I’ll eat an extra-large one of these all by myself”, Troy informed me proudly. I gagged at the thought. Out of politeness I washed a slice down with a Coors Light and then swore I could eat no more.
I tried not to register the amount of pizza that Troy put away and instead chatted up his parents, getting a feel how they felt about an older woman robbing their baby boy from the cradle. Finally it was time to head to his birthday party, also a house-warming party for his friends Rick and Aaron. I figured there was some hope if his good friends were a gay couple – that was a sign of a somewhat open mind.
As we pulled into the driveway Troy pointed to a lump slouched over on the deck. “That’s Paul,” he told me, “He was out hunting all afternoon so he I guess he got a head start on the drinking.” I froze in my seat. What the HELL was I getting into?
The party. I wasn’t long in the door before I made my first enemy, a woman who was instantly rude and determined to put me down in front of everyone she could get to listen. Someone else informed me I shouldn’t worry – she’d had a crush on Troy and I was obviously a threat. Great, still had my coat on and I was already embroiled in a soap opera. Luckily for her, there was so much smoke in the house from a variety of substances that I had to keep taking my asthmatic lungs outside to avoid keeling over and dieing. While Troy played poker with his buds, I found myself hanging out the patio door gasping for air, one foot on the bare plywood floor, the other perched on a scaffold where the deck should have been. It wasn’t long before I found myself trying to talk in a blind-drunk man who was out on a plank at least 20 feet off of the ground. Eventually I got him inside, took him by the shoulder and walked him home. Not that I had a clue where I was going, but somehow, thankfully, he did. When I got him in the door of his apartment, he dragged me to his fridge and spewed out the story behind every photo and paper stuck to the door by magnet. I sat him in a lazyboy and, convinced that he was positioned such that he wasn’t likely to choke on his own vomit, I left.
Not long after I found my way back to the party all hell broke loose. Most people had left by this time, but I entered the house to find one woman spinning in circles yelling “Hide the weed, the cops are coming”. I recognized Troy’s voice shouting up from the basement for someone to call 911. In moments there were paramedics at the door and a lifeless guy at the foot of the basement stairs was taken away on a stretcher. He was unconscious – apparently certain substances and pacemakers don’t mix. With only one and a half glasses of wine in my system everything was a little too real. As the remaining guests cleared out, Troy offered, “I’m ready to call it a night if you are.” I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. On the way home I admitted that if all Troy’s birthday parties were going to be like this one, I wasn’t sure I was the person he should be inviting.
Despite all the warning signs that night, I stuck it out. A few good tiffs later, Troy decided to quit smoking cold turkey and I decided to support his decision. We’ve been through a lot since then, and I think we’ve both learned from each other. I learned from Troy that my list of needs was somewhat misguided. He is a blue collar worker, not an academic. Instead of pondering the symbolism of women in Impressionist paintings, we have some good arguments about social policy and journalistic truth. When we met, Troy had never eaten an avocado or a samosa and he had no idea that beer came in anything other than Moosehead, Coors, or Keiths. Now he appreciates microbrews and merlot , and not only does he take me for sushi, he can cook a mean curry with the best of them. I taught Troy about technical outdoor clothing that repels water and breathes. He taught me that you don’t need the best of everything to be great at what you do. We both taught each other that all you really need to be happy is is determination and heart.
Troy is still somewhat mushy, and I am really not, but that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. When I want to do crazy things like raise goats and llamas or wander off into the woods with a compass and a thermos of coffee, he encourages me rather than telling me that I’m insane. When he wants to do crazy things like put a tractor on his Visa card or stash chocolate bars all over the house I act as the voice of reason until I convince him that deciding not to do it is his own decision. It’s an odd balance, but it works. We love each other all the more because of it.
When you’re young and pumped with hormones, love is all about flirting and sex and silliness. Thankfully, I realize now that there’s much, much more. Love is really about finding the person who wants to be with you, regardless of whether you’ve showered in lavender or rolled in goat poop. Love is about waking up in the morning and seeing your best friend through the mad scientist hairdo and the swollen eyelids. Love is knowing that it doesn’t matter what you do together, as long as you do it together. Love is pretending that Pictou County pizza is delicious, even if it makes you feel ill.
I have realized that what we think we need is often a contrived ideal. When you realize what’s really important, life becomes a simple path instead of a struggle. I’m not sure exactly what Troy has learned from me but he’s turning into more of a grammar Nazi than I ever was. He balances out his Howard Stern with a healthy dose of CBC, and he loves having clean lungs now as much as I hate having asthmatic ones. Best of all, when he makes pizza, he makes two. There’s always spinach and roasted garlic and portobellos, and there’s always a variation on the Pictou County pizza – a thin-crust meat and cheese concoction that’s far from healthy, but much tastier than the original version. Tolerance and compromise – that’s what makes a relationship work. That, and knowing that you’ve found a best friend that you want to spend time with despite all the little imperfections.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Troy. Thank you for putting up with my animals, my bed head, my extreme mood swings and intense convictions. Thank you for loving me when I’m wearing my frumpiest t-shirt, when I put on a few extra pounds, when I belch at the table, or curse like a sailor. Thank you for holding on to the things that make you who you are and for letting go of the things that were dragging you down. Thanks for being a part of us. Here’s to another hundred years of hugs and kisses and adventures and pizzas. I’m glad you’re mine.