Dear Emily

apologyDear Emily,

I’m sorry for wearing sweat pants to our first dinner date and for getting stoned before meeting your parents for the first time.

This was in 1999, before we were married. We’d been friends for a couple years at that point, and had recently started seeing each romantically-the result of a particularly drunken night at the WXOU Bar on Hudson Street, near where we lived in the West Village. I’d asked you out for a first proper dinner date, to Hangawi, a fancy Korean restaurant on 32nd Street.

It’s funny now to think about what I was thinking as I got ready to meet you. It was a Saturday, and I had been wearing a pair of green sweatpants that I used to wear on weekends. They were the kind that George Costanza used to wear on Seinfeld, the kind that Jerry once said announced to the world, “I give up. I can’t compete in normal society.” It occurred to me that I might change into something else, but I stood in my bedroom and thought for a minute and decided against it. I put on a white polo shirt and my Converse All-stars and walked out the door.

It wasn’t that I was trying to feign ambivalence, to give the impression I didn’t care enough to put on pants with buttons and belt-loops. I had made it very clear, in fact, that I wanted us to be girlfriend and boyfriend. If anything, you were the one who took some convincing. (Glaringly easy, in hindsight, to see why.) My thinking, as best I can explain it, was more along the lines of “take me as I am.” I was a guy who wore green sweat pants on a Saturday. I wanted to make a good impression, but changing pants for that reason felt wrong. Like I’d be faking it, presenting myself as someone I was not. This type of thinking makes very little sense to me now and is derailed by something as simple as the fact that I certainly didn’t wear those sweat pants exclusively. I had lots of other pants, many of which I often changed into before dinner without much thought at all. But that day, I felt myself in the hands of fate: These were the pants you put on this morning, these are the pants you shall wear tonight.

I don’t know. I used to be really superstitious, too. And that’s just a terrible way to live. I was smoking too much pot those days, I suppose.

Which brings me to the second part of this apology. A couple months later, our relationship having miraculously survived my sweat pants, you’d arranged for us to go to dinner with your parents-my first time meeting them. Bored, sitting around my apartment that afternoon, I came to the same kind of question as before: Here was a situation in which, on any other day, I would be smoking pot. Should the fact that I was soon to be meeting these important people, the parents of the woman I was falling in love with, should I let that change my routine? I knew that I’d be brighter-eyed and clearer in conversation if I refrained, and I definitely wanted your parents to like me.

But then I thought, well, the way things are going, chances are I’ll be spending a lot of time around these people in the future. There would be lots of days like this. I wasn’t planning on making any major changes to my personal lifestyle. They might as well get to know me half-lidded and cloudy-headed. I packed a bowl.

Dinner went fine. Your parents turned out to be groovy 60s-types anyway. Towards the end of the evening, after I recognized a reference one of them made to the Steve Martin-Lily Tomlin movie All of Me, and mentioned that it was as a favorite of mine, your dad said, “Anyone who appreciates All of Me is all right by me,” and my heart felt warm in my chest. I’d lucked out.

Still, thinking back, it seems pretty stupid. There’s a reason most people would choose not to get stoned before meeting their girlfriend’s parents. Just like there’s a reason to change out of sweatpants before going on a date to a fancy restaurant. Making decisions based on principle rather than pragmatism is a prescription for failure. Even more so when the principle is so confused and self-defeating.

Was all this a test for you? I guess in a way it was, odd as that sounds. Not that I’d meant it that way. But I remember the expression on your face when we met at the restaurant for that first dinner date. You looked down at my sweat pants, and then back up to me, and gave a bemused little sigh. “So this is how it’s going to be, huh?” You thought for a second more and said, “All right.”

Again, I lucked out.