Q: How do you stay so happy in your marriage, after 11 years?
A: That's easy--I married a perfect man.
Kidding, kidding. He's far from perfect; almost as flawed as I am.
It was just before midterms that we decided to be exclusive.
After a month or two of dating, I declared that we were going to be just friends. I pushed him away, and away he went. He didn't fit my list of desirable qualifications. He was fun, yes, and it amazed me how well we clicked intellectually, but he had no direction in life. And he was a big flirt. I didn't want to get mixed up in that. Plus, I didn't feel like I was in a good place in my life to start forming a serious relationship with someone. I had a semester and a half of college left, and emotionally, I felt very unavailable. He was much better off as a friend.
Not too long after I put the brakes on our budding relationship, I realized that I was doing more harm than good to my heart. It was difficult to know he was dating other girls. Even worse to hear about it. Yet, I persisted in being just friends. I was stubborn. I didn't have room in my life for a mall worker, no matter how great our conversations were. He called me up to invite me to take dance lessons with him. Why, oh why, did I turn him down? I instantly regretted the decision--I still do!
Finally, I came to terms with my feelings and decided to let him back in. Our young adult group at church had an activity one night, so I called him up to ask for a ride. He was clearly confused by my tactics. I don't blame him; I was confused, too! He pulled up in his boxy gold-colored car and called me down from my dorm room. I smiled at him through the damp night and jumped in the car. The heater in my seat was turned on. The faint, familiar scent of Juicy Fruit gum wafted through the air. I settled into my seat, clicked the belt in place, and felt relieved.
He was very cautious around me that night. Everything happened in slow motion. The first kiss was comically drawn out. He wanted to give me ample time to change my mind and bolt. I didn't run, although I did have to fight really hard to keep from bursting out laughing. But, eventually, the kiss landed, and he got the hint that I didn't want to push him away anymore.
I realized that night that even though I wasn't where I thought I needed to be--that I wasn't ready for a serious relationship--I needed to let people in. It takes practice, letting people into my heart. If I clammed up and shut everyone out like I naturally want to do, would I be ready for the real deal, or would I be out of relationship practice when he came along? It was rare to find someone who I could talk to so easily, and for so long. Quickly, I came to realize how important that quality was to me, and that THIS was the real deal. So, we decided to see where things went, and to be exclusive.
I dragged him to a Richard Serra exhibit at the MOCA the next week, to fill a requirement for one of my art classes. Midterms had descended.
He came to pick me and a classmate up, and instantly, I knew something was wrong. I wandered through the larger than life metal structures, feeling their weight above me as I ran my hand along the cold surface. I bent with them, catching glimpses here and there of my boyfriend. He was avoiding me. The teetering metal was oppressive.
We drove home that cloudy day and made plans to meet for dinner on campus. All the while, the little warning lights were going crazy. It didn't take too long to put two and two together and figure out what was wrong--he had hooked back up a couple of times with a girl he had been seeing while we were in the friends stage. It wasn't a big deal, looking back. But at the time, since our relationship was so young and fragile, it spelled the end. At dinner I confronted him and my suspicions proved to be true. I finally let him in, and here he was, not a week later, screwing things up. The deception cut me to the core.
It hurt. I ran out into the rainy night; he followed. We had a moment of non-silence under a tall street light. The rain came down harder, each drop illuminated in the yellow artificial light. I had more to say (well, okay, "say" is putting it nicely--yell is more like it), but I had a test that evening that I couldn't be late for, and he had to get to the mall for his work shift. I walked into the classroom, drenched, crying, and really not prepared to take a test. I was glad when the test started; less people stared at me, and it gave me a chance to process what had happened.
I was done. Clearly, this trial run was much more trouble than it was worth. It shouldn't be too hard to end it; we hadn't been dating for long. But it was hard. Ridiculously hard. My thoughts plagued me for hours. I was hurt, and my pride was hurt too, but I strongly felt that I needed to give him a second chance.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend was in misery at work. He spent that evening, knowing he had seriously screwed things up, waiting to hear the worst from me. When I finally did call him, I put his fears to rest and let him know that I had decided to forgive and, hopefully, move on.
I'm so grateful that I learned that lesson, that letting someone in means occasionally getting hurt. That loving someone includes being able to forgive them for being less than perfect. By that same time the next year, we were married. I can't fathom how different and lonely my life would be without him. The fact that we came so close to never building this future is scary. I know, I would have followed a different path if we hadn't gotten together, and I would never miss this. But I don't want that future. I want our future. And I feel blessed to have it.
Isn't life a beautiful, convoluted mess? And people are the most beautiful and convoluted mess of it all.