When I was home in Virginia two years ago, my dad and I were driving around town when we drove past my friend Mitt’s* house. After his mom died and his dad remarried and moved to another town, Mitt ended up moving back into the house he grew up in. Later he bought the house from his dad, and then his long-term, out-of-town girlfriend moved in.
I asked my dad if he’d heard whether Mitt had gotten engaged yet. Marriage not only seemed like the next logical step, but like something Mitt would be good at. He’s someone people describe as “a good guy,” the kind of person everyone just likes. Because he’s friendly, uncomplicated, easy to be around. He’s kind of like my dad, actually, and maybe that’s why I can so easily imagine him married, settled and happy.
But my dad said no, Mitt was not engaged. And I made some comment about how the one time I met Nancy, I thought she was a real keeper.
“Well, what I want to know,” my dad said, “is when Reg** is going to ask you a very important question.”
This was a conversational detour I’d totally failed to see coming. My parents had never asked about me marrying Reg. And, because they’d never asked, I’d kind of assumed they were quietly waiting for things to fizzle out between us.
“Um. I hope it’s not too soon,” I said without thinking, “because I’m not sure how I’d answer any very important questions right now.”
Dad kept his eyes on the road. Then he said, “Well, honey, I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.”
And this, I think, is the problem. The idea that there is a right choice to be made about a relationship also implies that there are wrong choices, which suggests that one could make a very serious mistake with her life, which can make a person a bit panicked about love. But my dad is someone who has always inhabited a world of moral clarity. Almost anything can be labeled as right or wrong. The problem is that he’s not the only one who talks about love this way. We all do it.