The first time I met B’s children, we all played basketball in the driveway, where I attempted to block their mother’s rush to the net with the enthusiasm of a pet dry humping a pillow.
This isn’t a game; I understand. I’ve long ago fit “stepparent-in-training” into my Twitter bio at the expense of other self-identifiers. In the United States, with each successive marriage the risk of divorce is greater—even higher in remarriages with children, and higher still when one partner enters the marriage childless. Even the youngest had done an audit of how this could go down: People come and go, but will any of them stay? B’s mother, with advancing dementia, had lived with them for a time. A close family friend has also moved in briefly to get on his feet after a divorce. Now me.
I truly had joined a family in progress, our family. We do have our moments. Just the other day, one of the dogs, curled up under a blanket with the eldest son, emerged, slinked across the room, and up onto my lap. I took a whiff and winced.
Me: “Did you fart on the dog?”
Stepson (bemused): “Yes. I did fart on the dog.”
* * *
The night before our wedding, B and I stonewalled one another, nerves getting the better of us. Online, we’d communicated so well. We’d done the work. In person, we were still learning how to share, like, and follow the other. We dreaded our wedding would turn into a memory of loss not gain.
To our relief, we had nothing to fear. The wedding was small and peaceful. Nothing had been crowdsourced. No selfies sent to Instagram. Just a lovely champagne buzz and an actual neighbor popping his head over the fence to say congratulations. We’d removed all the typical stressors of a sudden wedding. We told friends and family to expect a formal ceremony down the line. We married in pajamas. Our close friends offered their backyard as the location and to act as witnesses. One, a videographer, recorded the nuptials. During our vows, I can be heard mumbling, “I’m clenching my butt cheeks,” and an expressed gratitude that we’d opted not to livestream the event.
Now that B and I live under the same roof, I can't say that technology simply bridged a gap between two countries, nor gave us the space to reveal our true selves. Under this roof, our circumstances don't bear any resemblance to what we might have imagined—sunny walks on the beach and the hope that one day I'd erect a studio in the back yard. In person, I'm only newly able to work in the U.S., starting from scratch, just as B begins to grieve the imminent departure of her teenaged sons, almost grown themselves. We're all of us meeting for the first time, in matrimony. And like the first year of any marriage, it's tough.
Then there are the details. Memories of meeting B for the first time, holding hands, her scent of macadamia, and a giddiness that I now get to experience that daily. The woman who stood before me on our wedding day was real. We were real, not a story we'd told ourselves, not just a mass of digital information hoarded over time. It was all real.
We ate BBQ. A tray of maple bacon donuts sat in as a wedding cake. And this Canadian expat walked down the aisle to the familiar strains of O Canada. One of B’s dearest friends officiated the ceremony—after going online to become an ordained minister. We were unplugged, offline, and as IRL as I’ve known life to be. We began our shared vows, “Thank you for finding me.”