Commitment Can Happen Without A Marriage Certificate

Young couple sitting in movie theater

We’ve been together for over 14 years, and have never gotten married. We’re deeply committed to each other, but sometimes the belief in a relationship can be tested when you least expect it.

Andy and I stay seated watching the names scroll down the screen. We left early once, missing the teaser scene at the end of Iron Man. After that, we swore that we would never, ever, under any circumstance, miss a post-credits scene again. Although it can be challenging to stay in our seats after sitting there for three-plus hours, we’re optimistic that the movie teaser scene this time will be worth it.

We’ve been together for over 14 years, but have never gotten married. There aren’t any common law marriages in California, but we still feel very committed to each other, even though we have nothing official that proves our commitment. Sometimes the belief in a relationship can be tested when you least expect it.

I really need to use the ladies room and silently curse myself for drinking that large bottle of water. The lights finally come up, and without saying anything to Andy, I sprint to the restroom. I know that he’ll will be waiting for me in the hall when I’ve finished—it’s our post-movie routine.

The women’s room is packed. There’s no order to anything as the lines have become corrupted and the women desperate. It’s the Hunger Games all over again, but with less humanity. The fight for stall dominance is getting uglier as I walk up to a stall near the end just in time to get the door slammed in my face. Fine. I’ll wait until we get home.

When I go back into the lobby, Andy isn’t there. I try calling him, but the call goes right to voicemail. He probably left his phone at home. I’m not worried.

I stand in the hall across from the men’s restroom; Andy must be in there. After about 10 minutes, I realize that I’m seeing the same men go in, and come out. Andy’s taking longer than usual. Is he OK? He didn’t mention not feeling well.

A few minutes later the hallway has cleared out. I’m feeling uneasy as I’m the only non-staff member loitering outside the restrooms. My mind is starting to go to that place—the place of doubts, fears, and disasters. Could Andy have passed out? Is he lying unconscious on the stall-floor? I walk up to the men’s room, but at the last minute veer left to the water fountain. The men’s room is not an option. There’s a reason it’s called “The Men’s room.”

To anyone looking I appear calm, but my anxiety is rising as I pace the lobby. I pray that I’m not having a panic attack. The only other time that I’ve had one was when I was driving on the freeway. Once I stopped my freeway driving, I assumed my panic attacks were over, but the slight feeling of dizziness that’s overtaking me says otherwise.

Maybe he went outside. I look through the window, but don’t see him. Did he walk past me without either of us noticing? The theater is on the 3rd floor; he could be downstairs. If I leave, I’m gambling that I will able to get back into the theater. Hey life is a gamble—go for it.

As I take the elevator down to the ground level, I grip the handrail for support. I wish I was holding on to Andy’s arm. I see men who resemble him with brown hair, wearing T-shirts and jeans, but no Andy.

Is he waiting in the car? It’s unlikely, but I have to check. I can feel my heart beating in sharp, quick lub-dubs. My face feels flush and my eyes are watery. Don’t panic, he’s fine.

I snake my way through the parking structure and find our car. Andy’s jacket is in the backseat and his computer mug is on the dash, but once again no Andy. My heart is now beating so fast that I’m aware of each beat. Every abduction scene I’ve ever seen is playing in my head. Damn you Liam Neeson! Think about our trip to Hawaii where we had tea under the Banyan tree or anything other than kidnapping. I keep thinking about the original version of The Vanishing where a woman is kidnapped from a rest stop. But we’re not in Holland or a rest stop, we’re in a multi-plex in Burbank.

Could he have left me for another woman? But, how? The car is still here. You don’t run away from a relationship by bus. Besides, we get along great and rarely fight. We’ve been together for so long I’d know if we were having problems, and we aren’t having problems.

I try to get myself to calm down. This kind of stress isn’t good for anybody. I decide to walk slowly and calmly back to the theater, but end up running.

“I was just here,” I say panting and pressing my ticket stub against the window. “My boyfriend is still inside. Could I come in and look for him?” The ticket taker waves me through without saying anything.

I speed walk back to my spot in front of the men’s restroom. My accelerated breathing is now mirroring my heart, beat by beat.

When was the last time I told Andy that I loved him?

“Could you check the men’s room for me?” I ask the assistant manager with the “Robert” name tag. “I can’t find my boyfriend.”

“What’s his name?”

“Andrew or Andy,” I say holding back my tears. Don’t lose control.

Robert goes into the men’s room and comes right out.

“Nope, there’s nobody in there.” That’s it—Andy is gone. What am I going to do now?

I’m trying to come up with a plan, but all I can think about are the movie moments of our relationship. How we met online, our first kiss, moving in together, Las Vegas trips, laughing at his love of bad Canadian rock music, and crying when his grandmother passed away. You don’t have those memories of a relationship that isn’t meant to last.

“Did you check the other side?” Robert suggests.

Huh?

I hadn’t realized there were two separate sides of screening rooms with the restrooms in the middle. I must have walked in one entrance and out the other.

I run past the concession stand, past the condiment area, to where a completely unfazed Andy is sitting.

“There he is,” I shout to both the manager and myself, causing Andy to look up and smile.

Andy stands up from the bench, walks over to me and says “Ready?” Not knowing the hell I just put myself through.

I give him a big hug, while quietly crying tears of relief.

As we leave the theater, I’m reminded of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I didn’t need to search for my heart—he was there all the time—sitting by the posters of coming attractions. Sometimes you need to lose something to know that you already found it a long time ago.

Roll credits.

Christine Schoenwald has had pieces in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Purple Clover, Your Tango, XoJane, and is a regular writer for Bustle. In her spare time, she performs in spoken word shows all over Los Angeles.

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