Two years ago today, I went to a surprise 50th birthday party for the boyfriend of one of my favorite human friends. I had met the boyfriend many years before at a mutual friend's party, before he and my girlfriend began dating, and then one other time while they were dating. Needless to say, I was definitely not someone he would expect to see at this somewhat intimate surprise celebration on a party bus headed to a boardwalk bar at the NJ Shore.
My girlfriend and I had reconnected recently over shared life experiences and she invited me to her beloved's celebration because a) based on our conversations, it sounded like I needed to get out, let loose and have fun, and b) she had a couple cancellations and needed to fill the bus to be able to foot the bill. So I said "yes" not knowing it was going to be the greatest "yes" I had ever uttered (or one of the best...and I don't mean that in a pervy, sexy way...). This "yes" with surprisingly little hesitation given the fact that I knew maybe two other people going to this party (because we are related) has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made to date (going from blonde to brunette, notwithstanding) and it almost didn't happen.
The anxiety cocktail kicked in a few days before the event. My inner voices were explaining why this party was going to be a bad idea: 1) I don't know anyone; 2) the birthday boy probably won't even remember meeting me; 3) what if the people suck? I'm trapped on a bus for 2.5 hours each way; 4) I'm not going to have fun - I don't even like the shore 5) it's going to be super hot and humid, my hair will be out of control and nobody needs to see that...I needed to tell my girlfriend I wasn't going to make it after all. This party thing was a dumb idea.
But first, I asked my sister how I should approach the subject. My sister and brother in law were also going to the party, and both of them mocked me until I relented. "Fine! I'll go, but you jerks better hang out with me at this thing." (Spoiler alert: They didn't.) The morning of the surprise, I was still wrestling with the idea of sending the "I'm so sorry, something came up. Have fun" text ten minutes before bus boarding time.
So I show up and step onto the bus. I sat down and started chatting with a woman who I recognized from the women's club tennis team I had been occasionally playing with that spring and summer. The bus began filling with a lot of people who seemed to know each other. I could feel myself sweating already. This was going to be a long ride.
Three guys got on the bus together. I made eye contact with one of them and internally chastised myself. Meeting guys and talking to them were really not on my agenda. I had been separated for quite a while, my ex already seriously dating someone else, and I had just very emotionally ended a dead-end relationship of my own. Flirting or having conversations with men were not part of my plan to remain heartbroken and miserable. But I wasn't going to be rude.
One of the guys asked if the seat next to me was taken. I probably stuttered something stupid, because I am so smooth. And he began to chat me up, but first offered to get me a beer. I liked him already. He asked me some stuff as the noise level on the bus began to rise. I explained that I had just returned from LA a few days before having spoken at a national lawyers' convention and I was also there to meet with my writing partner. He didn't seem all that impressed with that information, nor did he ask any follow up questions. Instead, he excused himself and went to talk to another woman directly across from us. "Nice talking to you, too, buddy!"
My brother in law took pity on me and led me to where he and my sister were seated. I was introduced to a bunch of very nice people, most of whom were members of the trail running club to which I now belong. When we finally reached our destination, I felt comfortable enough having met these nice people, to continue conversing. It looked as though I might actually enjoy myself, which was something I had found impossible at social events, by myself. Perhaps today was the exception. (Also: I had a few IPAs in me from the bus ride. Feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good.)
I headed to the bar and the guy from the bus offered to buy me a Summer Shandy. That was nice. I went off and danced with my girlfriend, my sister and some of my new acquaintances and noticed the guy seemed to be watching me. I asked my sister "what's his deal?" Her response was "not your type." Sounded like a challenge. Unfortunately, I was not up for challenges. It didn't fit with my current "miserable and heartbroken" self.
At one point in the afternoon, I needed some fresh Jersey Shore, Boardwalk air. Outside I went. "Bus boy" found me there and asked to join me. We picked up on the small talk sitting on a boardwalk bench.
I learned that he was my younger sister's age; he learned and was surprised I was not 25 (marry me?), had a kid and was dealing with a divorce. He suggested we get a giant slice of pizza (again, marry me?) and the conversation continued. He lived in my old hometown, owned his own home, had a dog, was very close with his family, had a Masters degree...then one of the women I had been dancing with earlier came up to us and reported there was another band and dancing on the roof and we should go do that. Of course we should. He tells me "I don't really dance." I tell him, "I most seriously do." He danced.
In fact, we danced until it was time to leave. Back on the bus, I hoped the night never would end, and by some strange magic, it hasn't. Since that day, two years ago, there hasn't been a day we have not been in contact. We started seeing each other as friends and then started dating a month later. Another month later it was just him and me.
Looking back now on what we count as our anniversary day, I realize just how one tiny decision to not be an anti-social loser has led to a whole new and amazing life experience. I wasn't expecting that getting on a party bus with a bunch of strangers would now be one of the best choices I have ever made. I was looking for "Benjamin" and I found him. I also found 40 + new friends and running buddies.
I'm a risk taker, as we all know - primarily in non-life threatening situations - and when it came to relenting and getting on that bus, the juice was worth the squeeze. The internal struggle- "what if this is terrible vs. what if this is wonderful " played out in my mind the days before the party.
Once we have a positive experience from taking a chance, even as seemingly innocuous as just saying yes to a party invitation (and actually showing up), taking other risks becomes easier. The risk of starting my own law firm, for example, although continuously terrifying and challenging, became an easier "yes" because the internal "what if this sucks vs. what if it's awesome" conflict became easier to resolve. Most things are difficult- work, relationships, living an authentic life, running up a mountain - so the fear of something being terrible can be overcome with the possibility of it being the best thing ever. Little chances we take can sometimes result in big, rewards.
Like anybody in a relationship, we aren't perfect, but we have had some truly perfect moments. We make a great team. I am grateful and incredibly proud to have this wonderful man on my side and at my side.
Benjamin hates when I make public proclamations of love and get all mushy-gushy, but it's our special day so I think he'll give me a pass this time.
I'm just so glad you were on that bus. xoxoxo