Authors: Jessi Klein
Of course, I couldn't quit while I was ahead, which led to me flying to Europe on New Year's Eve, using every single one of my frequent flier miles. A few weeks after I returned, in the midst of a busy work/travel schedule, he offered to come visit me for the forty-eight hours he would be free in the next four months. Excited that this might be the beginning of my relationship with my Husband, I decided the occasion called for a serious lingerie attempt, with no bullshitting around at Victoria's Secret, which I'd finally realized was the McDonald's of underwear stores.
This is how I found myself at La Petite Coquette, a lingerie store in Greenwich Village. I'd passed it a million times over the years, noting their carefully curated store window display for Valentine's Day (theme = Frisky). Their displays for every holiday looked sort of the same, i.e., Frisky Christmas, Frisky Easter, etc. Their inventory appeared classier than the offerings at VS (no panties with
on the butt), so on the day before my man friend's arrival I walked over.
That morning I'd started to feel the first little inkling of a cold coming on. This often happens to me in the week leading up to an event that might bring some kind of joy. My body rejects this foreign feeling and crashes. But I was determined not to miss out on a visit from my gentleman caller, so I took some echinacea and decided I would fight it off.
I had always assumed that La Petite Coquette was French in name only, but it turned out the three women who worked there were in fact real French ladies from actual France, which meant they were impossibly thin and beautiful in that French off-kilter jolie-laide way. They all basically looked like Charlotte Gainsbourg.
One of the Charlottes floated over to me and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. I was actually prepared with an answer, having thought about what lingerie identity I could plausibly pull off. I'd decided I could try a matching chemise and underwear set (I just had to Google “chemise” to make sure that's what it's called). If you are a man, or a woman who doesn't waste her time with this nonsense, a chemise is basically a loose long top that covers your butt, yet can flash a solid amount of boob. When I explained this to Charlotte #1, she said she would pull a few things for me and ushered me into a fitting space, the kind where there's a curtain that's not nearly big enough to actually give you privacy. (I don't know why so many stores have this issue. It's very obvious it's a problem and yet the clerks always pretend like they're not seeing your nips or peen or whatever is clearly visible through the gapingly open margins of their fitting rooms.) She asked me what size underwear she should bring. I said medium or large, but she didn't hear me and asked me to repeat myself. “MEDIUM OR LARGE.” I really wasn't feeling well.
She brought back a selection of gauzy little outfits, all of which were paired with thongs as the bottom half. “Do you have any sets that aren't thongs?” I asked. She looked at me like I was asking if she would like to join ISIS. They did not. I closed the curtain and put on the medium thong. I looked like a groundhog wearing a tiny belt. I tried on the large thong, which yielded results that were only slightly better. I then endured the indignity of having to yell back over the curtain that I needed the thong in an extra large. She couldn't seem to fathom that such a size even existed. I could feel my temperature climbing. I was definitely getting the flu. I suddenly found myself missing Victoria's Secret and their drawers full of underwear that go up to size infinity.
We went back and forth this way for an hour, during which my physical condition continued to deteriorate. Charlotte kept returning to my dressing room with lacy little trifles that did not fit me. By the time she handed me a scalloped black thong with the promise, “Duhn't wehrrree [French pronunciation of
], theez run very large,” I was sopping in sweat. I tried on the thong that ran very large to find that it still barely fit. This was actually the least distressing thing that was happening, because as it turns out, I had started to cry.
I was crying because, just like when I was a little girl, I sorely wanted something from my reflection that I wasn't getting. I wanted to be desired. I wanted to be desired the way women are desired in movies and commercials and Victoria's Secret catalogs and all that cheesy shit. Because looking good in lingerie felt like part of the package of being female. And to be female means to inspire
. And lust seemed inextricably snarled with G-strings and bralettes and demicups and garters.
Weeping and sweating in a dressing room, on the other hand, felt like the opposite of lust.
I left La Petite Coquette with the black scalloped thong, which only kind of fit, and its matching bra and chemise counterpart. I was a mess. At home I got into bed with a mug of tea, but not before I took my lingerie arsenal and carefully folded the pieces into my underwear drawer, where they looked like purebred French poodles sleeping with a pack of mutts (i.e., stretched-out Gap boy shorts).
On the first night of my Affair's stay, I was excited for him to take off my clothes and reveal the $375 investment I'd made in our sex life.
But all I remember when I think back to that night is how dark it was in my room; that the underwear was revealed with no reaction or commentary; that the underwear itself was off in seconds and ended up on the floor. I don't remember anything about the sex itself. I remember that in the two days we were together, my sense that he was my Husband began to fade. He was jet-lagged, and always seemed a little distracted. The magic of our initial rendezvous had been replaced by a low-grade anxiety that seemed to constantly buzz between us like AM radio static. I remember I had bought tulips, and that at one point he walked naked through my apartment with the stem of one of the tulips tucked into his butt cheeks to make me laugh, and I remember that he wanted to make me laugh because I was sad. I remember I was sad because I realized he did not feel the same way about me that I did about him.
There is that Maya Angelou quote about how people may forget what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. I don't remember the last words that guy and I said to each other.
But I remember feeling that lingerie is really never worth the agita.
Â Nine bucks.
Â I'm just kidding around. I'm sure Victoria's Secret would never exploit anyone. Right? I mean, of course they wouldn't. Would they? They seem very against exploiting anyone. Well, maybe they exploit women's bodies in their advertising a little bit. Just kidding; everything's fine with them. Is it? I'm hungry.
Â Thank you, Richard!
t's about ten thirty a.m. and I am sitting at a bar at Logan Airport (Boston Beer Works, specifically), sucking down my third giant glass of lager. I'm a little enamored of the bartender, a solidly built young woman whose working-class accent hovers somewhere between Ben Affleck in
Good Will Hunting
and Mark Wahlberg in
. I have always found this accent endearing. My boyfriend Mike grew up in Boston but he doesn't speak with the accent, which is yet another reason that right now he is a massive disappointment. He is the reason I am here, waiting for a puddle-jumper Cape Air flight to Martha's Vineyard, where I am going to meet my friends Jenny and Zander.
They will comfort me about the fact that I wasn't supposed to be there. I was supposed to be in Los Angeles, doing a victory circle around the city as friends congratulated Mike and me on getting engaged. That is no longer happening now. What is happening now is that I am guzzling beer for breakfast, and very quickly I am drunk. Among other things, I'm trying to get over the fact that when I checked in for my flight, the clerk asked me for my weight, which at first I thought was a joke. But that's how small this plane is. If my butt's too big, we could die. Thinking about this possibility, as well as the fact that the man whom I thought I was spending the rest of my life with just choked on proposing to me, has led me to the third beer. I am tilting toward very drunk as I start messaging all my girlfriends to tell them where I am and what has happened. Over the next few days, as they begin to respond, via text, email, and phone, I will be initiated into an ancient world of female knowledge, one that I never thought I'd have to know, about how men and women really decide to get engaged.
Mike and I were set up on a blind date, analog-styleâas in we were actually set up by a mutual friend, not the Internet. We had a slow start, but once we began to date in earnest, there never seemed to be any real doubt that we would be together forever. This was the inverse of most other serious relationships I'd been in in my thirties, in which the breakup had always been taken as the assumption. (Seriously, my last boyfriend before Mikeâa man I'd dated TWICE, like a big fat dummyâwas begging me to spend Thanksgiving with his family about an hour and a half before we went back to my house, where, after some gentle prodding, he admitted he wanted to break up.)
But that wasn't Mike and me. Two months in, before he even told me he loved me, we were enjoying a long Labor Day weekendâpicnicking on the rug in his apartment, drinking whiskey, and talking about where we were on 9/11 (the deepest conversation you can have with another person). I told him I knew we'd been spending so much time together because he'd had the week off from work, and he shouldn't feel any pressure to continue this schedule because I was aware we'd been in a bit of a bubble.
He looked out the window, and then at me, and said, “But the thing is, I'm in.”
Every girlfriend I told that story toâand I told all of themâhad the same reaction. Their eyes would well up and they'd softly whisper, “Oh my God.”
So that's how it was.
From “I'm in” onward, Mike was never scared of commitment. After six months, he started asking if I wanted to move in with him. Part of me did,
but part of me also knew what a shitshow it would be to move out again if things fell apart,
and part of me also kept thinking about the lyrics to “Single Ladies,” and I thought if BeyoncÃ© was saying he should put a ring on it I should probably listen, because just fucking look at her.
But I wasn't stressed about getting engaged. My worst nightmareâworse even than my childhood nightmare about being abducted by Alfâwas one day having to cajole or bully a guy into marrying me by giving him an ultimatum. In my head, that was a move reserved for a certain type of woman who was not me, and I'm not exactly sure how to describe her, but in a movie she would be played by Jeanne Tripplehorn carrying a big expensive purse and yelling into a very large cell phone.
In late 2011, we started talking in earnest about the idea that we would get married. I didn't care how he proposed, and I didn't especially care when he did it, just that he wanted to do it. Which I knew he did. Because he'd told me. Did I mention we had gone to couples therapy to work out some issues? Whatever, doesn't matter. He wanted to do it. Right? We'd have these little shorthand conversationsâ
“So, just checking, just so I know, because I'm not Jeanne Tripplehorn on a large cell phone, when?”
Mike said February of next year, after we've worked on our issues a little while longer.
Cool! My life is all set! It's so nice when your life is going perfectly.
Not only did I feel sure this engagement would happen, so did everyone else. Starting about a year into our relationship, every time I told anyone we were going on any kind of vacation they would get a look in their eyes and whisper, “You're getting engaged, right?” This speculation hit a fever pitch right before our trip to Paris for his fortieth birthday. I'm not sure if Parisians are aware of this, but in the minds of many Americans, their museums, rich history, and incredible food are all a backdrop for American men to fork over little blue boxes to the American women who have ensnared them.
But we did not get engaged in Paris. Nor did we get engaged in Turks and Caicos, nor on our trip to various quaint spas in the Northeast.
Then “February of next year” arrives. Mike has been promoted, and this is the first year he is in charge of a very important yearly work event. He is stressed out. I know he's stressed out, but he needs me to know it's really bad, worse than I can imagine. I tell him I know it's bad and I am supportive! He says he can't deal with getting engaged until after the event, which is in the middle of March. I am an angel-saint, so I say this is fine, I don't care. I click, for maybe a millimeter of a second, on some engagement rings online before shamefully slamming my laptop closed, albeit with a little grin on my face. It's amazing how calm I am about my own life!
So we start planning a vacation for after his work event, a vacation he'll especially need after working so hard. But it's also perfect, because it's when we're going to get engaged. He asks where I want to go, and I say I've always dreamed of going to Napa, something I've never done before. He's never been to Big Sur, so we split the difference and talk about flying to San Francisco, driving to Napa for a few days, then continuing on to Big Sur. Mike, who has a decidedly luxe notion of vacationing, gets very excited about the idea of going to Post Ranch Inn, a hotel set on the cliffs of Northern California that has won every Most Luxurious, Most Ridiculous, Most Over the Top award from
Travel & CondÃ© Whatever
magazine so many times in a row that now they're just showboating. The beauty and drama of it is so incredible that even visiting their website feels like a trip you cannot afford. The Spa at Post Ranch offers all kinds of California woo-woo services, including sessions of spiritual guidance billed as a “Drum Journey.” I almost take the drum journey, but book a Reiki session instead, fearful that the drum journey could end in me leaving Big Sur with a bindi and a bong, the way some white chicks return from the Bahamas with cornrows.
So we book our spa appointments and make restaurant reservations in Napa and reserve a car. Our tickets home give us a layover in LA, where Mike has to be for a few days for work immediately after our vacation ends. I don't really have to be there but I figure I should go with him since we'll have just gotten engaged. I'll find stuff to do in between our Pinot-filled dinners with friends toasting us and asking have we thought about where we're doing it and we'll look at each other and smile because we know we're just going to enjoy being engaged for a while.
Then, the weekend before we leave for our trip, we get in a fight, and it spills over into the following week. It's nothing huge, but there's daily bickering, a low gaslight of negativity that is never totally extinguished. It's not the dream, to be at each other this way just before such an important moment in our shared lives, but here we are arguing in his car the morning before we're supposed to leave. As he's dropping me off at my apartment on his way in to work, I make him pull over for a moment so we can keep bitching at each other. After I lob another snipe into the air, Mike frowns and says, “Have you been so mad at me this week because you know I'm not proposing to you on this trip?”
I don't remember what exactly I had been mad about before that information came to light, because once that cat was out of the bag everything became kind of dark, as if someone had just dilated my pupils so that only one point was harshly clear while everything else was a smudge. I had to get out of the car, but the awkward part, the part that made this my life, was that my cleaning lady was working in my apartment, so I couldn't go home. I got out of the Toyota Matrix, while Mike yelled after me, and made my way to the one place that always felt safe: Spa Belles.
Trying not to weep, I went inside to get a manicure and took a seat next to a girl who was waiting for a friend. A few minutes later, her friend walked in and immediately raised her left hand, followed by the I-just-got-engaged scream. At which point her friend said, and these are her exact words: “Ohmigod! I knew something was up when he asked you to go to the top of the Empire State Building!”
I spent the day in a fog. I kept trying to make sense of how this could have happened, this misunderstanding. Was it a misunderstanding or a miscommunication? Or worse: Was this my wake-up call that I am one of those people who has no self-awareness? The type of human mosquito who clips her nails on an airplane or scream-talks into her cell phone at a cafÃ©? I kept turning the situation over and over, trying to formulate an angle on the scenario that both made sense and wasn't decimating.
That evening, we started to pack. Our suitcases were open and we were silently folding clothes when I asked him, “So, are you not proposing on the trip because you wanted to propose in a different way, or because you're not sure you want to marry me?”
He was silent.
We spent the next three hours rotating between fighting, crying, drinking, talking, reasoning, and threatening. At one point I panicked and said I had to get out of the house. I stood up to grab my stuff, whereupon Mike panicked and grabbed my arm and started weeping. It was like a soap opera with a less talented, less attractive cast.
Whiskey came out. Some clothes made it into the bags, and then other clothes didn't go into bags, as he explained, over and over again, that he felt like we still had things to work out, that he didn't feel ready, that he just wasn't 100 percent sure, that maybe it could be a few more months, soon, just not now. I stared at little details of his bedroom, the ugly brown wool throw pillow with once white but now grayish embroidery, the even uglier white-noise machine perched quietly on top of the side table like a Band-Aid-colored beetle. I zeroed in on the checks of his shirt, looking at the blue check, then the white check. I was surprised at how many banal little objects were woven into this moment, and imagined they were all alive, and that all of them were as surprised as I was that the relationship was ending and that soon we'd all have to say good-bye forever.
I told him I didn't see the point of going on this insanely romantic trip anymore. I didn't want to go for a coastline horseback ride with some guy who didn't feel like he knew enough about me to marry me. You already know me, I insisted. I like dogs and comedy. I'm insecure but loving. That's who I am.
To make our seven a.m. flight, we were supposed to wake up at four thirty in the morning. From nine p.m. until three thirty in the morning, we debated over whether or not we should cancel the trip. At three forty-five a.m. we decided we would go, and fell asleep.
I woke up when the alarm went off, had one of those terrible moments of not remembering why I should be sad, and then groaned. We rode in total quiet to the airport, the little knot of anger behind my sternum getting tighter and tighter. As we were about to check ourselves in at the JetBlue kiosk, I hissed something jealous and miserable into his ear. Mike, furious, said we should turn around and leave. A little girl with a monkey backpack stared at us as we made a scene.
“What will I tell my parents?” I whimpered.
He pulled me over next to a bag drop, and we debated once again whether we would go on the trip. As we argued, the agent picked up my bag and put it on the conveyor belt.
We were going.
So we made it to San Francisco, where we'd planned to spend one night until leaving for Napa in the morning. On the plane, I'd promised Mike I would call a truce and suppress the negative feelings, but I was lying. At four in the afternoon, I walked into the hallway of our hotel and called my friend Kate, bawling. I couldn't do this. She offered to book me a flight home the next morning. I was a woman sobbing in a hotel corridor, which is kind of incredible, because when I was little I thought I was going to be a senator.
My spiral continued through what was supposed to have been our romantic dinner. I started sulking around appetizers, and a few glasses of (admittedly incredible) Sancerre later, I was yelling again. My tirade continued in the cab, in the elevator, up to our room, and even for a minute or two after Mike stormed out of our hotel room, because I wanted to make sure he heard me through the door.
I don't remember falling asleep. I woke up at dawn, and Mike was next to me. He had returned to the room. I looked at the back of his neck, and felt three things, each crushing in its own way.