A month or two after Steve and I got engaged, I had lunch with a friend and former colleague, Thomas. Thomas and I go back almost fifteen years, having met the day I started my first full-time faculty position. He and I had both joined the Language and Literature department of a small state university in Georgia in the fall of 2000, I as an assistant professor fresh out of grad school, he as the new department head established in his academic career. He became a valued mentor as we bonded over our shared status as newbies to the college. We’d left Georgia at the same time, as well, when he and his wife Anne Marie moved to Switzerland, where he’d accepted a professorship, the year I moved to Virginia.
We’ve stayed in touch and have found opportunities for the occasional reunion, the last a family holiday gathering in 2011. When Thomas emailed he would be stateside and passing through my stomping grounds in June, I made plans to meet him. Over sandwiches at Panera, he caught me up on his new book and Anne Marie’s library and translation work, and I filled him in on my memoir-in-progress and my engagement to Steve.
Then, Thomas asked me a really interesting question.
“So,” he said, setting his cup on the table and peering at me through wire-rimmed glasses. “I have to ask. After all these years, how did you know?”
“That’s Steve’s the one?” I said. Thomas nodded.
The cynic in me was tempted to reply, because he asked, and no one else ever did. But that wasn’t entirely true, and it wasn’t the real answer to the question, anyway. “Well,” I said. “I guess the first thing that comes to mind is—because of how he treats me. He’s a genuinely good man, and he’s good to me, and it’s…well, it’s easy.”
Thomas gave a nod of recognition and smiled.
“It’s funny,” I continued, “because all these years, people have been telling me things like, when it’s the right one, you’ll know. It will be easy. And I would sort of nod along, yeah, sure.” I sipped my tea. “But I think that’s true. It is easy. Not in the sense that there aren’t complexities. But there is a sense of ease, of rightness. There’s an effortlessness to being together.”
Thomas nodded more vigorously and said, “Yes. Yes, that’s good.”
“And then there’s this other piece that’s going to sound kind of weird,” I said. “Sometimes it seems a little weird to me, anyway.”
Thomas raised his eyebrows.
“Well,” I said, “Steve is the man most like my father of any man I’ve ever dated.”
At that, Thomas burst out laughing. But he kept nodding.