Monday, May 10, 2004

The san(ct)ity of marriage

They popped the question again.

We were in Ottawa, celebrating my boyfriend's mother's birthday. His family would have preferred that we were there to celebrate my mother-IN-LAW's birthday, though, and they made that clear.

After a nice lunch hosted by the "Uncles" (two men who've been living, traveling and presumably sleeping together for more than 30 years now), we bought some shitty gelato and went for a stroll along the Ottawa canal. The city is currently hosting the tulip festival-a colourful, yet painfully dull annual event. The city itself breeds mediocrity.

Sure it's multicultural and has lots of government funding. Sure everyone there has a job and a multi-level brick house with stone pathways leading to frosted glass and brass front doors and loon-print welcome mats, but I'm not ready for my 2.5 kids. I'm just not interested.

My boyfriend and I walked hand-in-hand and his brother walked alone (since his girlfriend wasn't able to come along and his wife has been out of the picture for years). My un-in-laws also walked together. Surely they'd have held hands if my boyfriend's dad had been able to stop taking pictures. The Uncles never walk too close to each other, and never hold hands in public.

It was later that night, following another meal of so-so Vietnamese food, that the un-father-in-law cornered me.


The way he drew the word out was meant to prepare me, I think.

"Have you two made any decisions about your relationship yet?" he asked.

I was relieved that my boyfriend was there to share the pressure with me. Last time they tried to get me to confess that I craved stability and the only way to really get it would be to convince my boyfriend to marry me. Until then, I don't think it had occurred to them that I didn't want to have a wedding either.

That first conversation was almost as uncomfortable as when the aunts referred to their non-Catholic nephew as an "idiot" and then remembered I was there.

This time, I shared the stage. My boyfriend's mother laughed nervously and his brother cackled.

I considered sharing my reasons for not wanting to get married. I thought of pointing out that the fact that two men who've loved each other for more than three decades aren't legally able to marry, and that if marriage isn't about love it must be about economics.

Considering my priorities--the things I believe will make me happy--if I have an extra few thousand to spend on a wedding, that makes me a complete friggin' moron.

To those of you who are married, I respect that. It was a priority for you. But, this is more in line with how I feel:

Traveling somewhere tropical, enduring 19-hour flight delays; helping each other through lonnnnng nights of the Shits because we ate the 'special' meat on some remote island; almost being arrested while driving through the mountains in BC because of mistaken identity; being sponge-bathed to bring down a three-day fever of 104 F-and-rising in NYC during 9-11; having the air let out of someone's bike tires because they disrespected me; having my '67 Schwinn fitted with the original handle grips of my dreams; having the house filled with ginger flowers when I return from a trip; choosing the perfect tiki lanterns together on Ebay...those things hold more weight for me as a symbol of everlasting love and affection than trying not to get too drunk on bubbly before the white-dress ceremony.

It's just hard to tell that to the Filipino-Catholic not-yet-relatives. They are so big on symbols of commitment, on official contracts.

And that's exactly why we settled for life insurance policies instead.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

More than just your average transaction

Starting May 14th, I'm going to have to stand in line at the bank like the rest of you. I don't expect sympathy; I'm just saying it's going to take some getting used to. I'm really not sure why he chose me, but for several years I've been getting secret, special treatment, thanks to a flirty young banker.

He was a simple, chubby teller who greeted me with an eager smile and unchecked enthusiasm, weekly. At first I thought he treated all the fertile girls this way, but then I began noticing that he'd put up a "Next Teller Please" card when he'd spot me in queue. When I'd near the front of the line, he'd lift the card and motion me to his booth. This went on for months. I was polite enough not to mention how painfully obvious he was in his flirtation, as, I suspect, were his superiors. Besides, talking about his attraction to me was right at the top of my "Things-to-Avoid-at-All-Costs" list.

The first real favour I enjoyed, involved my account status; there would be no more holds placed on my foreign currency cheques. I thanked him sincerely. Other people, regular people, have to wait up to forty days to get their cash. I loved this perk.

Then the transformation began. He lost weight, roasted himself to a tangerine
hue, and revamped his wardrobe with tighter, shinier shirts. He strategically unbuttoned those silky atrocities just enough to allow the occasional glimpse of a two-inch gold cross, nestled awkwardly, blasphemously in his chest hair. I knew what was coming. It was inevitable.

The managers were pleased with his way with customers and promoted this soon-to-be Greek God of Finance. With his own office, his confidence skyrocketed. From that point on, when I stood in line with the good citizens of Montreal, he'd emerge from his office, adjust his suit jacket and ask me in a rehearsed professional tone, "Are you here to seek advice about our Retirement Savings Plan, Miss?" Just so I wouldn't miss my cue, he'd wink, every time.

From that point on, he'd escort me to his private office immediately upon arrival, and in exchange for a little small talk, I could avoid waiting in line.

This interaction wasn't without weirdness, though. I soon learned that this fine young momma's boy was looking for a naughty-but-nice young wife to appease his traditional Greek family. I know this, because he told me. Flat out. He was the youngest of many, and photos of (seemingly) hundreds of his brother's children papered his office walls. His thick, dark eyelashes (the kind I wish I had) fluttered at me for the duration of each transaction, while I thought of him wanting to impregnate me. Oh geezus, I thought, he wants to have preggo sex.

I started weighing the pros and cons of this special treatment. "Special" carries many meanings. Each visit to the bank became more and more awkward. I began timing my visits with his lunch hour, hoping to avoid the inevitable woo session. I'd also developed a minor guilt complex. What made me so special, and why shouldn't I have to wait in line like everyone else? I mean, he'd pull me out of line before frail old ladies, matriarchs on canes. Ultimately, I decided to smother my internal socialist. A bank is no place for socialism, I reasoned.

Then, one night, I bumped into the banker downtown. Draped in his usual silky, shiny and glittering adornments he approached me. Me, who was pedaling an old beater bike in filthy Converse, rolled up jeans and a messy for-function-only ponytail. He was blind to my shortcomings, to my obvious incompatibility, so I knew he had it bad. I had to break the news to him, "I have a boyfriend."

I really thought that might scare him away, and I wasn't sure I'd mind. I was so naive. For the following three years, he continued with his "Retirement Savings Plan" tactic for getting me into his private office, and winking so I'd know to follow him there, but now with this addendum: "You still got a boyfriend?" I still blush when I say, "yes."

After several years of this, with only nine days until his departure for the greener pastures of the downtown financial district, I don't think my answer is going to change, but I'm sure going to miss not standing in line.