Billy Hargrove paused with his hand on the handle of the heavy glass door, his heart pounding. He had heard so many stories from others who had already gone through what he was about to do. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, pulled open the door and walked into the air conditioned coolness.
His footsteps were whisper quiet as he walked across the industrial green carpet and stopped in front of a waist-high counter. On the other side of the counter he could see the object of his consternation sitting at a desk with his back to Billy, typing away on a computer keyboard, seemingly unaware that anyone had entered his sanctum.
Billy licked his dry lips and cleared his throat. "Ahem."
"Aye," the elderly man said in a thick Scottish brogue as he continued to pound the keyboard into submission, "I'm not deaf you know. At least not yet."
Billy waited obediently until Old Man Slatterly finished his work and turned slowly in his chair to finally gaze in Billy's direction.
"Well if it isn't young Mr. Hargrove now," Slatterly said. "Aye and I've been expecting to see you in here, what with all the talk of that young lass you've been seeing."
Billy swallowed and tried to produce enough saliva to get the words out. "I need a marriage license."
Slatterly's face constricted into a caricature of concern. With the fly-away wisps of curly white hair on both sides of his head, he looked like Albert Einstein trying to puzzle his way through a particularly tough problem.
"Do you now?" Slatterly said, the skepticism evident in his tone.
He grasped the silver ball at the top of the cane lying on his desk, struggled to his feet and began clumping his way toward the counter. It was all Billy could do not to take an involuntary step backwards.
Slatterly reached under the counter and pulled out a single sheet of paper, which he slapped down on the counter.
"And what makes you think," he said with his gnarled hand still holding the sheet in place, "that you're ready to fill out this form?"
"Wh-what do you mean?" Billy stammered.
"Don't get cute with me, boy. Have you found the right girl to marry or haven't you?"
Billy blinked as Slatterly glared at him, his deeply lined face thrust forward aggressively.
"Yes sir," Billy said with all the confidence he could muster, "of course I have."
"Have you now?" Slatterly produced a pen and slapped it down on the form. "Then you better start writing, hadn't you?"
Billy nodded and picked up the pen. He leaned forward and started printing his name (USE BLOCK LETTERS ONLY) in the appropriate field. He studiously avoided glancing up.
"Is she pretty?" Slatterly said.
Billy looked up into Slatterly's face, which was only inches from his own.
"This lass you're so anxious to tie the knot with. You don't want a chubby one, you know. You'll never be happy with a wife like that."
Billy nearly fainted with relief. He knew he was on solid ground here. "Oh no, Mr. Slatterly, she only weighs about a hundred and ten pounds."
Slatterly's skeptical expression showed he was far from convinced. "That's all good and fine," he said, "but she's got to have a proper set of, you know." The old man cupped his arthritic hands in front of his chest to indicate which body parts he was talking about.
"No worries there either," Billy said with a smile. "She had a boob job."
Slatterly raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed. "Good, good."
Billy bent to the form again, feeling more confidence than he had before.
"Still," the old man said, "there's more to marital bliss than that."
Billy looked up once more. "Such as?"
"What about your job, lad? Can you afford to buy her the things she'll need to be happy, like a nice laptop and a Bimmer ... and one 'a them cell phones what takes pictures? You'll not want to be squabbling about that sort o' stuff, you know."
Billy swallowed. He wasn't sure his position at Wal-Mart was what the old man had in mind.
"And what about her ring?" Slattery continued. "She'll never be satisfied if the rock is so small that she can actually lift her hand to show it to her friends."
"No problem," Billy said, anxious to get off this topic, "I'll think of something."
"And you know," Slatterly said as he leaned in even closer (which Billy had not thought possible), "you should make sure you're sexually compatible before you get married."
"Look Mr. Slatterly, that's really none of your--"
"I know, I know," the old man said, "it's just that not everyone realizes a good sex life can guarantee you'll be okay together."
"We're going to be just fine," Billy said. He wanted to add "once we get married," but he didn't want to give Slatterly any more ammunition. He thought back to the fight he had with his fiancee the night before. In fact, it seemed they had been doing little else besides fighting lately. Billy knew, though, that everything would be better as soon as they were married. And if that didn't fix things, they could always have a baby.
Billy decided to change the subject.
"Have you ever been married Mr. Slatterly?"
"Never felt the need."
"Then how do you know so much about relationships?"
"I'll have you know," the old man roared indignantly, "that I have seen every episode of Friends ... twice!"
"Oh," Billy said before bending to the form once more. He was already dreading his next visit to this office, which he expected to be in two or three years when he would need to come back and apply for a divorce.
The collective message in your responses was that the media blasts us with messages about things we "need" if we want to be happy, and that having those things will guarantee our happiness. Of course this is far from true. The response that seemed to wrap it all up most succinctly was from Julie Julie Bo Boolie, who maintains a blog called The World According to Julie. Julie wrote:
I think one of the most damaging myths about relationships is that when two people click they will go on to live happily ever after. Real life isn't like that and real marriages are hard work. Even great marriages take effort, patience, understanding and endless willingness to compromise from both parties. It's so easy to get drawn into the rush of first love and to expect that everything will be sunshine and roses and while that part is fun, the truly rewarding part of having a life partner is precisely getting through the ups and downs of everyday life.
In my view, that hard work Julie talks about is the reason why forums like To Love, Honor and Dismay are so necessary.
Thanks again, everyone, for the fantastic input!