My girlfriend and I decided six months ago to book a flight to an exotic island. The cold Chicago winters were hard on us the year before, and my work schedule had made it difficult for us to travel during the summer. The trip would be a welcomed retreat from the busy lives we adopted since moving to the city.
As we got closer to our departure people began to question the intentions of our visit. After all, we are in our mid-twenties and had been living together for nearly four years. Many of our friends and family of similar age had already taken their life-long vows. Some had done so with less time together than her and I.
I began to question if I was missing an opportunity. Is the expectation of marriage after such time a reality for good reason? Perhaps I was selfishly keeping her around for the comfort at home, while depriving her the comfort of a future. Perhaps the expectation wasn’t realistic. Maybe we were the outliers, the couple that needed more time, or didn’t need a marriage certificate to validate the time we spent together.
We considered ourselves happier than most of our friends, even those who married younger than us. Yet for some reason I was discouraged to pursue an engagement of any sorts. I enjoyed spending time with her, and she had become a major part of my life. Couldn’t I just continue dating as it were. When it came down to it, I thought, what’s the difference?
It’s day two on the island, our first morning waking up to the sound of gentle waves intersecting with the soft sandy beach. We both had never seen water so clear, so blue, and yet so gentle.
She wakes up before me. I am greeted with a smile so big that her cheeks begin to press up into her eyes. We walk outside together, waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. I look over to see her smiling face, knowing that being near water makes her happy. There is a tear running down her cheek.
I assumed she is sad, with a tear running down her face at the disappointment of my lack of commitment. We talked the night prior about our future including plans of engagement within the next couple of years. There was an affirmative statement that due to lack of personal savings, an engagement ring would not be realistic for another two years.
I want to give you what you deserve.
I don’t mind. Really, what’s the difference?
She tells me that the tear is from the overwhelming view. Not to worry about the tear as she quickly becomes embarrassed for her outburst of happiness.
I begin to cook breakfast with leftover squash, onions and broccoli from the night before. It is difficult to travel on the island and we only bought enough food for four days. Using ever last piece of food, even the next day, would be important to get our fill. I crack open a couple of eggs to scramble together. The vegetables and cheese is sorted out, diced and prepared to dump into the pan.
I used to make omelets all the time at the restaurant, I boast. I was a fry cook for six years at a popular breakfast diner. I knew how to make an omelet. I really did.
I’m not used to cooking it in a pan, but what’s the difference?
I slop her omelet onto a plate set aside with friend potato squares.
It’s a mess.
The eggs separated completely in the pan as I attempted to flip it. Some of the eggs sat exposed too long to the pan’s heat, turning brown, while other bits did not cook quite enough leaving them goopy and undone. I attempted to turn the omelet once more to cook the eggs thoroughly, and again the eggs fell apart. My last hope was to angle the eggs and vegetables onto the plate and recreate the shape of a half-circle. That too did not work.
I cleared the pan for my omelet to cook. My breakfast included more cheese and meat, a reaffirmation that I had little interest in eating healthier while away from home. I checked the bottom of the eggs as they began to bubble from the heat of the pan. With a swift flip of the spatula I turn the omelet perfectly, landing the well-done side of the eggs into the circle of the pan without any additional sliding or poking from the spatula.
Already smothered in cheese and ham, there was no hope to present the perfect omelet to her. I would soon have to walk onto the porch, place the disgusting mess in front of her while I selfishly sat down with a plate that looked like something from well-trained breakfast chef.
And I did just that.
I’m very sorry. I don’t know what happened. I guess cooking in the pan is way different. I wanted to give you mine but you said you’re trying to avoid cheese. I’m really sorry.
I continued to profusely apologize. It was an embarrassment and another glaring display of my selfishness. She looked up at me and smiled. She reassured me that the food looked fine and that she couldn’t wait to taste it. Her first bites were of potato. Her forked navigated around the plate to avoid the pile of messy eggs and soggy vegetables. She was terrified of tasting my breakfast. I said something to which she smiled back and replied with reassurance.
It’s really okay. You have an omelet and I have a scramble. What’s the difference?
For me the difference was obvious: I could take a picture of my plate without any hesitation and later brag to my friends about how good my culinary skills are. She would need a blindfold to enjoy that “scramble.”
But there was no difference.
All too often I, and many people, miss the difference. We see ourselves for our faults and lack the pride of our successes. Five years ago I was jobless with a college degree rolled up in it’s original shipping envelope behind my parent’s couch. I was single, living at home, hoping for a break. Shortly thereafter, I found the open arms of an old friend. She was kind to me, built me up and told me to chase my dreams. I sit here today, on an island, because of her. She is everything, as I am to her.
I think too often about the implications of one day asking her to marry me. We spend so much time seeing engagement photos on Facebook and receiving wedding invitations from our friends and family. Just last year we attended eight weddings. By the fourth one we had memorized every bible verse and champagne toast there was. We both complained about going through that process again this year for our already scheduled five weddings. But none of that mattered. She was a girl madly in love with a guy, through all of his faults and past discretions, that didn’t care about anything else other than his happiness.
It didn’t matter to her that there was no proposal the night before. It didn’t matter that there was no cream for her coffee. It didn’t matter that her omelet was turned into a scramble.
The difference is that five years ago, I would not have cared about creating the perfect breakfast omelet for her. I was more selfish then for not caring, based on the assumption that if she didn’t like my breakfast there might be another girl out there who would. I wasn’t interested in keeping her, or anyone around. The difference now is that I see what’s important, to her, and to me. I expect to return home in a week and feel the same way I felt this morning. There is no difference between the snow and the sea. There is no difference between a promise and vow. There is no difference between her and I.