When I was seventeen I started dating my first real boyfriend. For three sweet months, I floated through life in a daze of love, lust, and teenage hormones. News of this quickly traveled south to Los Angeles, where my grandparents lived, and one day I received an envelope from my Panta (my paternal grandfather, named for my inability to pronounce "grandpa" as a toddler), containing an article he clipped from an automobile magazine.
Test Driving a Car Before Buying it is No Longer Necessary, the article proclaimed. The piece made the argument that if a car fulfills your basic requirements, a professional inspection is all you to know whether it's worth your money--no need to take it for a spin before committing. Paper-clipped to the article was a note from Panta that read, "I heard you have a boyfriend now, so I wanted to send you some car advice. Love, Panta."
Since the only car in my life at the time was my parents' 1986 Volvo station wagon, it became clear to me that his intention wasn't to educate me on the art of buying a car, but rather to suggest, rather humorously, that I consider not having sex with my boyfriend until marriage--i.e.: skipping the test drive. I called him to thank him for the article, and told him that, though nothing had happened yet, if it did, I wouldn't be telling him. "I only ever bought one car!" he told me. "And she was the only one for me!" This exchange became one of his favorite stories to tell.
Sixteen years and several boyfriends later, I finally found the car I want to spend the rest of my life driving. Despite Panta's suggestion against it, I did ample field research to eventually find it. Like a twenty-first century Goldilocks, I test-drove everything from pick-up trucks, to Maseratis, to Subarus, Priuses (Priuii?), and even a couple of skateboards.
Test driving eventually shifted in meaning. At first it really was primarily about figuring out sex. As I grew older, I began to learn the value of test-driving a relationship--feeling for myself where my connection with a potential partner drove smoothly, and where it could maybe have used a better turning radius. With every spin around the block, I learned how to better gauge if a relationship seemed like a good fit--or if maybe it was time to put on the brakes. My driving skills got better and better.
By the time I met Evan, I had done my fair share of driving. I had learned to recognize worn tires and crappy paint jobs, as well as great cars that just weren't right for me before I even turned on the gas. Evan and I took our time test driving our relationship, gingerly approaching inevitable sharp turns and bumpy roads together, catching our breath each time we came out of them OK. Eventually the bumps and turns became easier to predict, and we learned to trust one another to navigate our way out of them. It became clear to us both that this was how we wanted to drive for the rest of our lives.
I'm thankful for every other car I test drove, though. With each one, I became a better driver, and from each one, I learned another rule of the road. And even though I didn't follow my Panta's advice, I'm pretty sure he would have loved the car I ended up with.