I was out with my boyfriend for our two-year dating anniversary (“date-i-versary”, as we liked to call it – adorable, right?). We were eating great food, we were drinking great wine, and we were having a great conversation about how lucky we were to have found each other. All of a sudden, he started looking at me with a very connected, deep look in his eyes. Wait a minute…was he going to propose? I had been waiting and hoping for a proposal for six months by this point, trying to be patient as his man brain caught up to the fact that he obviously wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.
He took my hands. Oh my god. He said, “Emily, there’s something big I want to talk with you about.” Holy shit, here it comes. “I’ve realized that I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Today is the day! The happiest day of my 30something life! “But before I propose…” Huh? “…there’s something you should know…” Seriously? I thought we’d covered all the you-should-knows already. “I’ve come to the point where I’ve realized that the corporate life just isn’t for me, and I’ll never be completely happy if I keep this up. I need to quit my job and pursue my dream of becoming a stand-up comedian.”
He then went on to say that I should think very seriously about this, because our lives would change. We wouldn’t be able to enjoy the same lifestyle as when we both were making corporate salaries and working regular hours. We may have to move to New York or L.A. He might have to be on the road a lot, seeking out comedy opportunities in obscure places where he could get booked and honing his art. And it may delay our timeline for starting a family.
Oh. Okay. So this was not the romantic proposal that I had thought it was going to be. It was like a pre-proposal to make sure I’d want to commit my life to a poor comedian, and to give me an out if I didn’t.
While I was admittedly disappointed to realize that this wouldn’t actually be the happiest day of my 30something life, I wasn’t entirely surprised by his big announcement. He had been doing comedy as a hobby for three years by that point and had gotten more serious about it lately, going to open mics several nights a week and waking up early to write new jokes before work. He was fitting comedy in around his day job as a management consultant, which is no easy feat; and this was a guy who had majored in English and theater in college, so consulting was not exactly his dream job. I certainly wasn’t opposed to the salary he was making, but if I wanted him to keep up that lifestyle forever, then I was probably fighting down the sneaking suspicion that he would eventually descend into a deep dark depression if he continued up the ladder and down the partner track.
At his team’s holiday dinner a few months before, all of the wives had sat around talking about how they’d go to bed alone every night, then awaken at 2am to find their husbands bathed in the glow of their Blackberries, and how they’d had to make a rule about no laptops in bed. Being a management consultant, while lucrative, was a pretty miserable life full of late nights at the office and weekly trips to places like Teaneck, New Jersey and Overland Park, Kansas. Frankly, I didn’t know how anyone kept that up for more than a couple months. This wasn’t necessarily the life I wanted for my future husband – or myself, for that matter. Even if it came with a nice salary for vacations in Italy and Hawaii, were you ever able to relax enough to enjoy them?
At the time he told me, I was caught up in the date-i-versary moment (and the wine), high on the knowledge that he wanted to marry me, so I simply gushed about how I had a feeling this was coming, I was totally supportive, and I obviously still wanted to be with him. I just wanted him to be happy! I knew that consulting wasn’t for him, and I didn’t want to be one of those wives complaining about how she never saw her husband. I would rather be with someone who was happily (if pennilessly) pursuing his dream than someone who was wealthily but unhappily slogging along in life, just waiting until the day he could finally retire. And what courage it takes to pursue a dream – how admirable! Not to worry, we’ll make all of this work. I wasn’t sure how it would all play out exactly, but I had a fairly well-paying job, and we both had some savings stashed away. We weren’t desperate.
When I woke up the next day, the wine and the pre-proposal high had worn off, and I was left with the fact that my boyfriend, soon-to-be-fiancé, was going to quit his job and try to make it as a stand-up comedian. And that he needed to tell me this and make sure I was on board before he proposed. He hadn’t just accepted my profession of love and assurance that I just wanted to be with him; he really insisted that I give this some thought before committing to anything. Which got me thinking. What did that mean exactly? It was either incredibly thoughtful or a heartbreaking ultimatum, and I wasn’t sure which. What if I decided that I wasn’t supportive of his dream and didn’t want to live this kind of lifestyle – would he have broken up with me to pursue comedy? He had said this was something that he had to do. Were the only options Me + Comedy or just Comedy?
I tried not to play out that ultimatum in my head. I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, no matter what career path he chose or how much money he was making. He was a smart, funny, thoughtful, caring, loving, genuine, attractive guy, and those don’t come around every day – or every 10 years – trust me, I kissed a lot of frogs before him (and dated even worse). Besides, you never know how life is going to go. You could marry a well-paid consultant who later loses his job involuntarily, or a hedge fund manager who decides he’d feel more fulfilled being a high school math teacher. I was not going to choose a future life to marry, but a person that I would want by my side throughout whatever the future held. So for the time being, I decided to focus on the fact that my boyfriend loved me too and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.
Me + Comedy.