Last year, Eric was going to come with me to a fancy library party. I have a friend who is on the board of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation, and every year he has a table and invites people to come sit and eat with him. I am always there as a person who cannot afford a single thing at the silent auction they have, but who is at least a big fan of libraries. Ben invited us to come, and I said we’d be there. But on the evening of the event, Eric went to put on his dress shirt. The term is deliberately singular because he has one. Honestly, that’s kind of rad to me. It means that he doesn’t have a lot of nagging social obligations, and he is always able to be authentically who he is wherever he goes. He does own a suit, and he wore it to prom with me twice, so he is not allergic to getting dressed up.
But something happened between the last time he took me to prom and the night of the library party because when he put his dress shirt on, we both realized it was comically, inappropriately huge. We agreed that he couldn’t really wear that, and since he didn’t have anything else, he stayed home. A bummer, but I went and hung out with my friends Ben and Charlotte and it was fine.
This year, Eric once again agreed to go with me to the library party, so we began an adventure in shirt buying. First of all, I knew men’s shirts were different and tricky, but I was hoping that he might know his size. Or at least know what size his last shirt was so we had a basis of comparison. Also, in the 6 or so years that we’ve been dating, we’ve never once gone shopping for clothes together. I like to shop alone a lot of times, and I always assumed (based on my dad’s tendency to hang out on benches waiting for us whenever mom and I went to the mall) that Eric would not have the same enthusiasm for shopping as me, and that would make shopping together less fun, so I honestly usually wait for a time he’s working, shop online, or go straight from work. I’m weird and a little secretive about it, but he doesn’t want to watch me try on 45 pairs of jeans.
I might also be a little hesitant to shop for clothes with him since shopping for groceries is still a fun, but unorthodox shopping experience where I buy a bunch of things I will use in cooking healthy meals, and then a family sized box of Lucky Charms will “accidentally” fall into our cart. I love him, and that stuff makes me laugh, but it’s not the sort of experience I want to have when I’m just trying to pick out a few shirts I can wear to work or a new pair of shoes.
Six years into dating, we are on our first clothes shopping mission as a couple, and I have decided that we will go to no more than two stores. I take him to the first store and start browsing a bit. I hold a few things up, start to get a lay of the land, and Eric says he wants either a blue shirt or a black shirt. I hold up a blue shirt.
It is not the right blue. He rejects the shirt, and I am flipping through racks to find another one when he says, “They don’t have it. Let’s go.”
I stare at him for a long time and eventually I laugh. I hold up another shirt. “No. Let’s go.” This time it is completed with a head nod toward the door. I hold up a black shirt with small color accents.
“It’s not here. Let’s check out the next store.” He is completely serious.
Now, I told this story to my male co-worker, and he nodded and said, “Yeah, I’ve done that.”
“But like, he stood in one spot, glanced over half a department store and didn’t try anything on.”
“Yep.” He also confirmed that he never shops at more than two stores, so at least that part of my plan was spot on.
Meanwhile, back at the store, I put the shirts I picked up back and walk to the car, stopping every few feet to confirm that this is really happening and not just some weird joke. I shake my head as we load up and drive to Nordstrom Rack.
Look, I have only picked out two stores, so now I’m worried that it’s Tuesday on the week of the event and the simple mission of “Buy a shirt” may take all week and turn up nothing. I suggest no less than a dozen times that Eric could also just get a nice sweater. I know he has heard the suggestion, but he never responds to it.
At Nordstrom Rack, we are not only confronted with the same issue of whether or not they will have a very specific color, but also the shirts only come in those weird men’s sizes that I don’t understand and neither does Eric. Oh boy. He holds up a tie and says, “This is almost the right blue.”
I hold up a shirt that is in the same area of the color wheel. “Too much green,” he says.
“Maybe you should just look for a sweater,” I say. “We know how to size sweaters.”
“How about red?” he asks, holding up a shirt that is marked as “trim fit.”
“Red works!” I say, and I am secretly hopeful that trim fit will work for my tall, skinny boyfriend.
We pick up a belt and check out. We didn’t try the shirt on because it’s one of those that is folded and pinned to a board, and I’m not sure if you are allowed to ask them to take those apart to try them on since, if you know your size, you probably don’t need to do a lot of try-ons. And what adult man doesn’t know his shirt size, is what I assume the men at Nordstrom Rack with think if we ask about it.
We go home, and he immediately tries the shirt on. It is too trim, which is silly because if a shirt is too “trim” for Eric, it’s is made for a skeleton. Or a child. It comes up in conversation that my boyfriend is about 10 inches taller than me, but only weighs about 10 pounds more than me, which is weird on a lot of levels. But this shirt won’t work because while it is a little too tight, it is also a lot too short. He raises his hands above his head–“For the book toss!” he says even though there is no such event since this is a gala, but whatever. His point is made when he raises his arms, and the shirt rises well above the top of his pants and he asks if he would be expected to tuck the shirt in. Um, yes.
We return the shirt the next day, and the cashier happens to be a guy, and he looks at Eric, looks at the shirt, and suggests a shirt that is the same neck size, but a longer set of other numbers that turn out to be sleeve length. I ask one question, and he offers to set us up with a guy that can measure Eric so we know what size we’re looking for. Awesome!
The guys who measure him are very nice, but once they take his measurements, they also say, “We might have 2 shirts in that size in the whole store.” I am afraid to even ask that one of those shirts be black or we’re walking. They do a search of inventory, and it turns out they have no shirts in that size. We are told a few times that the shirt size is very rare, and I pat Eric on the back and say, “You’re like a unicorn!”
Later, I ask if it was okay that I called him a unicorn in front of other guys. Since it made the guys laugh, but also struggle to find the correct response (“Yeah, um, that’s not the industry term, but…” is what he comes up with), I think Eric was okay with it. Making people feel awkward is fun.
Finally, they suggest that he can shop online and there are lot of colors and patterns in his size, but the shirts all cost $150. Or they can make him a custom shirt for $140 in only 5 weeks. The guys are so helpful and so resourceful in their attempts to solve our clothing conundrum that I haven’t the heart to tell them that if we can’t have a shirt in 2 days, we no longer need the shirt.
As we walk to the car, I say, “You could always just get a nice sweater…” To which Eric says…nothing. He is not interested in the sweater suggestion, but I don’t know what else to do. We return home for the second night with no shirt.
I call from work the next day and ask if he wants me to pick something up for him (and I don’t say it will be a sweater, but…it might be a sweater) or if he wants to take care of it. He assures me he’ll figure something out and that night he comes home with a bag from Express and heads straight for the bedroom.
“Did you get a shirt?!?!?”
He emerges a few minutes later wearing a very nice dark blue shirt. It fits well and the length is good. “You don’t have to button it all the way up,” is my only note since without a tie, it looks weird. He proceeds to unbutton the top four buttons and waggle his eyebrows at me. “You’re not European!” I yell at him, “Do up all but the top two.”
And just like that, we have a shirt. But WAIT! He actually got TWO shirts. And somehow they are both blue, and they are different shades of blue, but magically, they are both the RIGHT shade of blue!!! How is this possible? It’s a library miracle!
Over dinner, I look at him and something occurs to me: “Was there a two for one special on shirts?”
He laughs. “Yeah.”
“Well, what made you think to try Express? Did someone suggest that?”
“We went in the other day–” (We had gone out to try to buy him a wallet, and had done a lap through Express to see if they might have something) “and they had the right color, so I thought I’d try it.”
I let that sit with me for a while. “Wait, you KNEW what shirt you wanted and you knew WHERE it was, and you didn’t say anything? Like, for example, I saw a shirt that I liked the other day. Here’s where it was. CAN WE TRY THAT?”
He looks at me perfectly calmly, “Well, you said you knew some good stores.”
You know that moment when you are fully aware of how much you love a person, and you are so glad that everything worked out and he can go with you to your library party–which you realize later he think is at your local branch library, which is hilarious, but not a place that we would ever have to get dressed up for. And you can feel that love strongly and intensely, but you also think you might want to choke him a little bit? That is the feeling I have in that moment.
Instead of attacking him, I end up laughing, “Well, next time, you can just tell me you want to try something in particular.” And I secretly plot to get him a nice sweater for Christmas. And maybe some black pants just in case.
After all of that, you might be wondering how the library party went. I don’t know. Eric got a serious migraine headache and we stayed home. I might have thought it was all a clever rouse except he already had a shirt (two, in fact), and when I finally told him I didn’t care if we had to miss the party, he said, “Ok, well then I think I’m going to go throw up.” And he did. So, that was probably not an elaborate plan to get out of going to a dinner. And it’s totally fine because the library party is pretty fun in that it is a dinner out at a fancy downtown hotel with friends, but, if I was desperate to go I could have gone on my own. It’s not as important to me as being able to bring my sick boyfriend a Topo Chico and rub his back when he’s sick. But we’re totally ready for next year!