Written by Anna Claire Hodge. Edited by Mara Strobel-Lanka.
In the photo, I’m wearing unflattering overalls; my arms are thrust high in the air and light pours through the atrium of the dead mall. It’s not where I’d imagined spending our first anniversary, but my face was joyous and like a child’s. The movie Jide and I had planned to see sold out, so we had grabbed tickets for an hours-later showing of a Pixar film. I don’t remember feeling an ounce of anxiety. Later, we had dinner, and I wore jeans and an Old Navy tank.
Fast forward to celebrating anniversary numero dos in Amsterdam, and I’m being a titty baby in a floral kimono dress I’d chosen weeks ago for this very occasion: the dress is riding up and my Spanx are peeking out. The outfit was entirely uncomfortable and unflattering. We walked all the way to the Rijks Museum before I caved and admitted that I needed to go back to our AirBnb to change. Where had all that laid back spontaneity gone? I teared up, thinking I’d ruined the day with my shitty mood, but Jide was gracious. He found me a latte and some carrot cake, called an Uber, and told me to throw on jeans and a leather jacket. We re-started our day.
It took us an hour out of our way and completely upended our plans, but proved again to me how much work I have to do to relax my expectations and lessen my control freak tendencies. Jide doesn’t normally suffer these tantrums because he wants me to be able to more fully enjoy experiences rather than micromanage them. So on that day, his patience meant so much. We were in a gorgeous city, celebrating two years of overcoming obstacles and immense growth, and all I could think about was my janky outfit and how the day was already not what I had pictured. I’ve written thousands of words about my obsession with looking the part and creating a specific ambiance, and I’m still struggling with it.
I’ve spent my life hoping my experiences will meet inflated expectations, and expending tons of energy to bring them to fruition. My parents used to call me a “storybook child” because I wanted everything to mimic the books I read, to follow prescribed plotlines. As I aged, much of that control came through clothes. If I went on a cruise, I needed a coral necklace and would scour stores until I found one because that’s what I had imagined. For canoeing, I bought a Columbia fishing shirt and Chacos because isn’t that what outdoorsy people do?
When the train arrived in Amsterdam, I imagined Jide would have a secret plan for our day. Instead of announcing an “itinerary of romance,” he suggested we go visit one of my favorite paintings, Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch.” I couldn’t remember ever telling him I loved it. It’s the same as when one Christmas, he surprised me with a pristine first edition copy of my favorite poet’s work. But when had I told him about her? He cares about my interests, and is happy to humor me when I rant about the complexities of the Jay-Z’s 4:44 album or fill him in on the latest issue of The New Yorker. He listens, really listens to me. He can glean when something is deeply important to me, when something scares me, and when I need help. He encourages my independence and self-reliance, yet knows exactly when to lend a physical or emotional hand.
I’m learning to trust his spontaneity, especially during holidays and celebrations. Just because we haven’t mapped out a detailed plan doesn’t mean the day won’t be magical. It’s the surprises, and inside jokes they create that stay with us the longest: the kid begging his parents to leave Versailles, yelling “I’m tired!”, the time I bought a THC lollipop in Amsterdam (it wasn’t) and thought I was high (I wasn’t).
That day in the ‘dam, we let all expectations go and relaxed into the joy of just wandering. We found ourselves at the zoo and stumbled upon a nighttime event there: bottles of wine for sale, live music, and picnics in the grass. We took a photo together, surrounded by flowers, smiling into the camera. We look relaxed. We look content. Later, we ate hamburgers and drank negronis. It wasn’t what I expected, but enriching and full of wonder nonetheless.
This year, we celebrated three years together in New York. I had no expectations, and we had no plan. Instead, we traipsed through Central Park, waved away chair massages, and laughed at the terrible Banksy rip-offs for sale. We saw a person dressed as Big Bird, moping on a park bench. Later, we sought respite from the heat in the Plaza Hotel’s bar and accidentally ordered two drinks so expensive that I can’t bear to tell you the cost. The day was perfect, and so was my outfit.
Anna Claire is a PhD, accomplished writer, Visiting Instructor of English at the University of Northern Florida, and monthly columnist for The Boutique Next Door. Find more of her work on her website, www.annaclairehodge.com, and follow her endeavors on Instagram @to.thine.own.self.be.trill.