It had been a productive day working in the coffee shop with my friend Jessica. The hot summer sun pouring in the window in the late morning had given way to a warm breezy afternoon, just as our hot lattes and fevered computer work had eventually become bright orange Aperol Spritz aperitifs and idle chatter. Now we were headed to the tram to go back to our flats and our separate evening plans.
The walk from the café to the tram stop meandered through a boring, soviet era neighborhood, and Jessica and I chatted amiably without paying much attention to our surroundings. As we skirted a construction barrier on the corner, about three blocks from our destination, I looked up and stopped in my tracks.
“Hey! That’s Stefan’s shop!” I said.
“What? Where? Are you sure?”
“Yes, that’s his store. Remember we passed here in the spring and they were inside doing inventory?”
“OH! I didn’t realize we were in the same neighborhood again!”
“Me either, let’s see if he’s there.”
As we crossed the street, and approached the headshop, I saw the man himself standing behind the counter. He was wearing a light blue t-shirt, his hair overgrown and hanging in his eyes. My stomach immediately twisted with butterflies as I looked at Jessica and said, “Oh, he’s here! You’ll get to meet him.”
I was apprehensive. None of my friends had actually met Stefan yet, even though he had been my partner for almost two years. All of our dates, after the very first one, had been at his flat, a fifth-floor walkup on a fashionable street in Friedrichshain. I talk about him all the time though. So much so, that my friend Rhonda tells me she feels like she knows him, however no one but me actually knew him, until that day.
He’s a smart man, a bad boy, and one of the most ambitious people I know. His often backward and old-fashioned ideas, born from being raised in the countryside of East Germany, make me laugh. I usually accompany that laughter with a firm shove and a “You are such an asshole!” Our relationship primarily consists of hours and hours spent naked, curled up on his couch, laughing, talking, smoking weed, and making love.
When we entered the shop, the young woman at the counter gave us a friendly wave. I said hello, but immediately turned towards the window, where I had seen Stefan standing from across the street. It’s early summer but already his skin was brown from weekends spent in the countryside working on his parent’s farm.
“Hellooo there!” I sing out.
“HEY! Wow Hi!” He responds, with a genuine smile. “What? Were you in the neighborhood?”
He came out from behind the counter, walked straight to me, put his hand on my shoulder and kissed my lips, just as he does every time I walk into his flat. But this time it was in front of his employees, in front of his business partner, and in front of Jessica. Quite frankly, I was a bit surprised.
I introduced him to Jessica and he showed us around the shop. His pride in his business was evident as he showed us case after gleaming glass case of marijuana paraphernalia. The electronica music was pumping loudly in the background which caused him to lean in close to my ear to point out various items of interest. His hand occasionally rested lightly on my back and once he reached up to push a stray piece of hair from my face.
After the tour, we stood in front of the counter for a few more minutes, chatting about nothing. My hand rested lightly at his waist, while his arm overlapped mine and sat easily again on my lower back. Before too long, we needed to leave to catch the tram. He leaned down and gave me a gentle kiss goodbye, pat me on the ass, and sent us on our way.
I was almost giddy when I left the shop. First of all, one of my friends had finally met Stefan! I could now say, “He IS real! Just ask Jessica, she met him!” But even more, I was overwhelmed and happy that he would so publicly acknowledge our relationship as more than just some random friend stopping in to see the shop. We walked the two remaining blocks to the tram, almost silently, while I happily absorbed this public show of affection.
I realize now, that until that moment, I didn’t know how our very intimate, very private commitment would extend to the public persona of our relationship. I was more uncertain about this than he appeared to be though, because there was no hesitation or awkwardness at all in his actions. There was simply genuine pleasure to see me and all very normal interactions for our relationship, in public or in private. Before that moment, I hadn’t known what to expect, thankfully he showed me that he knew.
This is a committed relationship of two years, why wouldn’t he kiss me in front of other people? Of course, I had the right to expect to be acknowledged as a partner, so why didn’t I expect it?