"When a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife." --Anon
The preliminary emails I sent to my core group of friends about JJB were a way for me to test the waters without having to bring my family into the immediate moment. I was already under enough pressure. Survival in another country was one thing. Survival in a country at war was another. And here, I was learning how to navigate through a love relationship with a guy who had not only a dead wife, but two half-grown children? Oy vey!
I found myself having flashbacks of the huge family fallout that occurred two decades ago, when my aunt ran off one summer with an Israeli man, and ended up bearing his child out of wedlock. Oh, that was huge. Huge, I tell you. If anything, my child brain stored a memory not only as a lesson against having sex out of wedlock, but also against running off with strange Israeli men who might do me naughty. Over dinner one night, I told JJB this story, which, by the way, ended in a lovely version of Roman Catholicism and happily-ever-after. He responded by saying, "I knew there was a bigger reason why you won't marry me in Israel. You don't think your family will accept me, do you?"
Gently and honestly, I explained to him that it wasn't that my family would or would not accept him, but chances are much greater that they would not accept the idea of me marrying someone without being there to share the day with me. That's what families do. They show up to big things like this. It may not make sense, but it's important. "You shouldn't worry so much about your family," he said to me. "I'm the only one who will love you for the rest of your life."
That was scary...
"Look," I said. "I have no doubt that you are serious about this, but can't we just take this slowly and see what happens over the course of the year? I mean, I really feel like I need to meet your children and your family before I get myself into something this big."
"Of course," he said. "I want to respect your wishes, but I want you to know that I am serious about marrying you. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend my life with you and only you forever and ever. I'll make you the happiest woman in the world, and you know this. I don't care if you marry me tomorrow or next year because I know that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together, and it's going to be absolutely wonderful."
God, was there a pill I could take for energy? I was just exhausted.
In a sigh, I sought reconciliation before refusal. If this was for real, then maybe I had the ground to negotiate my terms:
"Ok, first, can you please stop calling me your wife? I just don't like the word. It makes me uncomfortable, and it conjures up all sorts of archiac things for me that I can't deal with."
"Ok," he said. "But what should I call you?"
"Um...call me your 'life partner'. That makes me feel a little better."
"Ok, done. I'll never say 'wife' again."
"And, further," I continued with visions of stepmother hell dancing through my head, "I need you to honestly tell me...are the children at least somewhat well-behaved?"
And so began our negotiations...