This excerpt has been adapted from journalist and best-selling author Jo Piazza's memoir How to Be Married, which hit shelves on April 18. For her book, Piazza set out on a reporting journey around the world to 20 countries on five continents to interview men and women about what makes for a happy and fulfilling marriage for both partners.
I’d kept cheese in my fridge longer than I’d known the man who just proposed to me.
It had been 92 days, yes, 12 weeks, since I’d met a perfect stranger on a work trip in the Galápagos Islands, and now he was asking me to be his wife.
I paused. “Are you sure?” He looked at me strangely. I laughed and remembered I was supposed to say yes. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
But I wasn’t so sure from the start.
A few weeks after I met Nick I lamented to my shrink, Jen, that he really wasn’t my type. She made a face like she’d swallowed a bad oyster.
“Your type isn’t working for you!” she shouted and rolled her eyes.
She wasn’t wrong. I definitely had a type. Like many women who came of age with Carrie Bradshaw and Sex and the City, I spent my twenties and early thirties on a persistent quest for my own Mr. Big. During those years, I essentially ploughed through every unavailable man in Manhattan — men who wore suits, made a lot of money, did drugs, and wished they were dating supermodels instead of me.
Nick Aster was not my type. I knew that the second we met on a rickety bus in the Galápagos, where we were both journalists on assignment. He had a wide smile and a kind face, long blond hair like a California surfer or a young Neil Young. He was wearing hiking sandals. Yes, hiking sandals.
He was very outdoorsy. I was used to dating men who were very indoorsy, who preferred a dimly lit restaurant or club with bottle service to fresh air. Over the course of the next week, trapped on a boat without Wi-Fi or cell service, I learned that Nick was a man who was ready for anything. He scaled mountains, dived to the depths of the ocean, camped alone in the wilderness with just a hunk of cheese and a tarp. The men I dated often didn’t know how to drive their own car.
Nick was also handsome and clever and funny. When I asked him to help me with things, he said, “As you wish.” This was particularly attractive to a girl whose first sexual fantasy was about Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.
And he liked me. A lot.
That’s the part of my type that, if I am being honest, took a darker turn, the part that explains why I was seeing my shrink on a weekly basis by the time I’d turned 34. I spent most of my time obsessing over and focusing on men who just weren’t that into me.
The meaner they were, the more difficult, the less available, the more I wanted them, the more I thought I could change them, the more I coveted them as a prize to win.
There was the time I asked one conservative political consultant what he liked about me and he responded that I was brunette and had a vagina. This only made me crave his affection all the more.
There was the guy I dated for two years who refused to introduce me to his parents, and another one who only said "I love you" when he was drunk and never called me his girlfriend.
But I kept going, no matter how pathetic it may have seemed, or does seem in hindsight. After all, it only took Carrie six seasons and two movies to finally settle into domestic bliss with her Mr. Big.
Nick kissed me on our last night at sea. Either that kiss was going to be the start of something wonderful or I’d never see him again. When we said goodbye at the airport in Ecuador, he looked so sad, like a Labrador retriever who’d misplaced his favorite ball.
“I want to see you again,” he murmured as we exited the security line to fly to our homes on opposite sides of the country. He lived in San Francisco. I lived in New York City. He was a California hippie. I was the star of every romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson ever.
“Maybe I’ll see you on Tinder,” I joked to make the moment less awkward.
“Can I call you?”
“Don’t you even want to play a little hard to get?” I asked.
He shrugged. “What’s the point?”
Three days later, my phone rang. When was the last time a guy had picked up a phone and called me? The answer: before smartphones. Nick wanted to talk to me for an hour, just because.
“In a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Palm Springs to speak at a conference. I could come early. We could go to Joshua Tree. I’ve never been,” I said to him carefully before we hung up.
“I’ll take you camping!” he exclaimed with glee.
As soon as I got back on the internet, I Google- and Facebook-stalked him to ensure that he wasn’t a serial killer.
Nick promised to meet me in the parking lot of LAX, but I surprised him at baggage claim instead. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about seeing this near stranger again. He turned around, grinned, and enveloped me in an enormous hug with a full kiss on the lips. He’d brought along a tent, a grill, two sleeping bags, and a first-aid kit that included a foil blanket in case I got hypothermia. This was clearly someone who wanted to take care of me. This was who I needed.
We hiked and camped and lay naked in a tiny tent with an open roof so we could see the stars.
On the second night, a thunderstorm triggered a flash flood in the park. We scrambled to pack our supplies and find shelter at a fancy hotel for the night. Keen to impress me with his camping skills, in or out of doors, Nick went foraging for sticks in the posh Palm Springs resort’s garden wearing only the hotel’s terry-cloth bathrobe. He lit the gas fireplace and candles, poured two glasses of wine, and roasted s’mores for me over the fake flames. They were the best s’mores I’d ever tasted.
He said "I love you" before he fell asleep that night. I figured he had a lot of wine and didn’t say anything. But I kind of felt it, too.
Now that we’ve been married, people ask me if it was love at first sight, if I knew, if I felt like I’d been hit by a bolt of lightning. Not really. It was more a gradual sense of being more comfortable with him than I’d been with anyone else.
He had meant the drunk “I love you.” We continued to criss-cross the country, cashing in all of our frequent-flier miles to be together whenever we could. Three months later, he proposed on the top of Mt. Tam overlooking the Golden Gate.
I’d been the star of my own sad romantic comedy for so long that I truly believed falling in love had to involve hilarious misunderstandings, confusing sub-plots, and nights spent drinking all the Chardonnay overanalysing every little detail of a relationship.
By falling in love with Nick, I learned all of the clichés are true. When you know, you know. When it’s right, it’s easy. Love happens when you least expect it. When I was single, I thought the people who said those things were liars. I knew the truth. The truth was you dated someone for two to three years and then tricked them into marrying you. But I was the one who was wrong all along. It took me a long time to believe that I deserved someone who would be very good to me. I’m happy I finally got there.
Before we announced our engagement on Facebook, I told Nick he should tell his most recent ex-girlfriend in person. They’d dated for three years and if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t want to find out about my ex’s engagement to someone he met three months ago on social media. In fact, that was exactly how I’d found out about my last three exes' engagements.
He looked confused when he came home that night.
I pulled some cheese and wine out of the fridge and asked him how it went. He said fine, uncertainty still muddling his brow. “She told me she felt like Carrie in the scene where Big tells her he is marrying Natasha.” Nick doesn’t own a television, never has. I was a gossip columnist and entertainment editor for a good portion of my twenties, and when I talk about Jen and Justin or Brad and Angelina he often thinks I’m referring to friends or coworkers. I could tell he had no idea who these people were or what significance that statement held for her or for him, or for me.
I laughed and laughed. I cried from laughing so hard. I may have peed a little. But Nick didn't understand what was so funny.
I kissed him and began unbuttoning his flannel shirt right in the middle of the kitchen. "Oh, honey,” I smiled and whispered into his chest. “You'll never be Mr. Big. You're so Aidan. And that’s a really good thing."
When we got engaged so quickly, friends wondered whether we knew each other well enough to get married. I know without a doubt that I know him better than I’ve known anyone in my entire life.