When Steve and I were newly married, we took a trip; a long weekend getaway to a beautiful fishing camp in Maine. It was one of those all-inclusive-yet-rustic establishments - complete with three meals a day, fishing guides, and a romantic log cabin on a lake.
Each night we went to the communal dining hall, sat at the same table and gazed fondly into each other's eyes. We were tired but content, and bubbling with conversation about the day. A much older couple sat at the table next to us three nights in a row. Steve and I surreptitiously watched them out of the corner of our eyes, taking in how they just sat there quietly, looking around room, sipping their wine, silently chewing their food. At the end of the meal he would look at her and say "Done?" She would nod, and they left to retire for the evening. For three nights running, they exchanged a total of three words between them.
"That will never be us," I whispered to Steve conspiratorially. "We will never run out of things to say to each other. How sad."
Fast forward ten years. Steve and I are out to dinner on one of our twice monthly date nights. It is not until we're enjoying our dinner that I realize we haven't spoken in about five minutes, and I hadn't even noticed. We're sitting together in a comfortable, companionable silence, grateful for an hour's relief from the chaos of home. I smile quietly to myself, thinking about that night long ago, full of expectations of what life, marriage, would be like. How easily expectations can set you up to be let down, when real beauty is right in front of you.
Case in point: backtrack eleven years. Steve and I have been dating six years, and we're heading away for the weekend. I'm beside myself with excitement, absolutely certain that he will propose on this trip. We've been talking about marriage a lot recently, he knows I'm ready, and he has been dropping all sorts of hints that he has something special in store for me. I have it all mapped out in my head - the romantic getaway, the roaring fire, Steve down on one knee, the soft velvet box containing a sparkling diamond. I can hardly wait.
We arrive at the cabin, settle in and light a fire. The moment comes, he gulps and looks at me nervously. "I have something for you," he says, fidgeting. "I hid it so you wouldn't find it until I was ready. Why don't you have a look in the Backgammon game?"
I am shaking, I'm so excited. I open the Backgammon game and sure enough, there is the soft velvet box. Steve isn't down on one knee, but what the heck - I'm a modern woman. Everything else is perfect - just as I expected. I draw a deep breath and open the box, preparing to squeal with happiness. In the box is a pretty gold band with a little sapphire on it.
I look at him incredulously. "What is this?" I stammer.
"It's a promise ring," he says happily. "It is my promise to you that we'll get married some day, that I will always love you."
I'm furious. I cry and cry, so angry that things haven't turned out as I expected - as I practically demanded. But sure enough, one year later he proposes at Fenway Park, and a year after that we're married. It all worked out as it was meant to, not as I wanted it to.
Fast forward another five years - it is the Christmas following our fifth anniversary. Steve has been hinting, again, that he has a special gift for me. My mind goes into overdrive - is it a five year anniversary ring? A sparkling diamond band? I ask him if it is jewelry, and he smiles knowingly. I can't wait for Christmas morning when, sure enough, at the bottom of my stocking is a little velvet box. My heart leaps. I open the box slowly, wallowing in the anticipation. I find this:
"Isn't it great?" he asks, smiling.
I won't get in to my reaction - suffice it to say it wasn't graceful and it wasn't pretty. I ruined a beautiful Christmas morning because things didn't turn out like I expected.
I now think of this pin as the Angry Squirrel of Expectations. It's a reminder not to get too caught up in what I want life to bring me. That life will bring me what I need, even if it is in the form of one pissed-off-silver-plated-acorn-carrying squirrel pin.
This year at Christmas, when Steve handed me a little velvet box, I simply smiled. I didn't know what to expect, and it didn't matter. Greta and Finn knew what was in there, and were standing next to Steve looking at me expectantly as I opened it.
Inside was my wedding ring, the same one I had worn since we were married, but it was polished to perfection, gleaming and beautiful. Ten years of wear and tear had damaged it, made it scratched, bent, dull looking and chipped. A few weeks before Steve had asked me if he could borrow it to size something for me, and instead of letting my mind go into overdrive - a new band? a bigger diamond? a sparkling guard ring? I simply handed it over to him and forgot about it.
The irony wasn't lost on me: it was what I always had, only better.
Just like him.