Monday, December 06, 2010

Vicarious Love

I mentioned on Monday that my boyfriend and I went to a wedding last weekend. The bride was my first friend in Portland; my boyfriend also met the couple shortly after he moved to Portland. We were later introduced through one of the bride's friends, who my boyfriend knew before moving to Portland, and attended the same parties or bar get-togethers for nine months or so without actually speaking. This includes a Super Bowl Party at which I was a Saints fan just so I could wear black and gold leggings, which was the night before I was snubbed by a guy I had been dating who has the same first name as my boyfriend. That could also be an entertaining story.

Anyway, nine months passed without us saying much more to each other than "hello." The night that we finally had our first conversation (that led to our first date) was the night that this couple, who got married last week, had invited all of their friends out to celebrate the engagement. That was a good night to begin things; everyone was so happy, just like at the wedding.

At the wedding, when people asked us how we knew the couple and how long we'd lived in Portland and where we moved from, we felt compelled to tell them that not only did we not know each other before moving from separate parts of the country, but that we'd also met because of the couple whose wedding we were all attending. As if that wasn't cute enough, we'd started talking at their engagement party.

"So," my boyfriend would say, "we're a couple vicariously through them!" Or some variation.

It registered in my mind that he was using a slightly wrong definition of "vicariously," which means "felt or undergone as if one were taking part in the experience or feelings of another" or "acting or serving in place of someone or something else; substituted." But no one seemed to notice or care, and I saw no reason to correct him, especially because I couldn't think of a way to explain what "vicariously" actually means without saying, "You know, like you 'live vicariously' through someone! You know? Like when you read a book or someone's Peace Corps blog or something!"

The night that I made the miso-braised greens and miso soup, after I kissed him on the cheek, he made a comment about having "miso face."

"What!?" I squawked, utterly perplexed.

"You know!" he said.

"No, I do not!" I cried in utter confusion.

"You know, you ate miso and then you kissed me and vicariously I have miso face."

I had to tell him.

"Darling, I have something to tell you," I announced.

He asked what it was; we faced one another with somber expressions, our eyes locked.

"Darling," I began. I took a deep breath and continued, "That's not what that word means."


"Vicariously. You're using it wrong. I didn't want to tell you yesterday. That's not what it means."

But I couldn't tell him what it actually meant.

"It's know...someone wants to 'live vicariously through' someone who can do something they can't? You know?"

No, he did not.

"Look it up on the dictionary!" and I pointed to his laptop on the coffee table.

Note that now we look things up on the dictionary, meaning a dictionary website, instead of looking it up in the dictionary, the book.

I saw his fingers move furiously across the keyboard; I saw him read, and then I saw his face darken.

"What?" I asked him, moving to see the screen.

"You were right, you're always right..."

"No, the dictionary is right," I corrected him snootily. But why did he look so sad? "It's not a big deal!" I tried to reassure him. "Everyone knew what you meant. I bet they didn't know you were using the word wrong. No one was thinking, 'That guy's dumb!'"

"Yeah!" said my roommate. "It's not like you said, 'I vicariously love this soup!'"

"Yeah, it's not a big deal!" I said.

"You know what this means?" he asked. "This means I've been using that word wrong my entire life. Or at least since I knew that word. I've been misusing the word 'vicariously' for years."


His fingers began to move again on the keyboard. I watched him type a search phrase into Google, and I became filled with dismay when I saw him type, "Christmas poo." What on earth was he Googling?

"Look here!" he declared, clicking on a link.

"No! No! I don't need to see that!" I held my hands over my face, worried he was going to make me look at pictures of poop in a Santa hat.

"It's just text!" he said.

I unshielded my eyes to see him scrolling through the lyrics of the "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" theme song. He stopped and highlighted the following:

Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo
He loves me, I love you
Therefore vicariously, he loves you.

"See?" he asked.

I saw. For years, my boyfriend had been misusing the word "vicariously" because of Christmas poop.

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