I Knew I Loved You Then

Young kids in love

Young kids in love

He's in the driver seat, and I turn my head just in time to see his shoulders lift and his face shift to annoyance — but I'm not fooled. Even though I'm breaking the driver-gets-to-choose rule, he doesn't touch the dial. 

My sentimental attachment to things is something he accepts about me. It's everything he dislikes about pop music, but he lets the song play itself out and keeps the groaning to a minimum, while I belt out the words.

It's the words in the uber-saccharine song that have captured my heart, after all. And I remind him every time it comes on. The story of two young people caught off guard by a meeting and dancing the night away. It's simple and predictable and the kind of song a very young version of me would have played on repeat. I know better than to be wooed by a cliché, but I feel an affection for its lyrics anyway. It reminds me of a memorable night at the beginning of our own story. 

At our wedding, my sister told that story. It was about a huge party we all attended the night she met him for the first time. For our group of friends, it was the party of the year and I was nervous about how our new relationship would play itself out in front of everyone. I was also young, inexperienced and had too much to drink before we even arrived. She told our wedding guests that it was a funny story, but also a special one. She said watching how he cared for me that night showed her that nothing mattered more to him than making sure I was okay. 

We had only known each other a month or so by then. He led me out of the party, got me home safely, made sure there was someone there to stay with me, and told me he'd see me the next day when I was feeling better. I cried as I said goodnight and apologized for ruining his night, before it had even begun. I was still learning about love then and was sure I'd shown him a side of myself that would make it easy for him to walk away. He leaned into me and whispered, "When you love someone, you have to take care of them." I already knew I loved him, but I hadn't known he felt the same.

It's been decades since that night and he has never wavered in the words he shared with me — even though years of marriage and all the challenges that come with sharing a life have given us both ample reasons to forget

We're like any other family; there's no such thing as perfect. We've each had heartaches and disappointments. And we've also been through experiences together that we dealt with in our own and often differing ways. All of it has changed who we are, because that's what life does.

But I believe the heart of our relationship is still as simple as the song. We are older and wiser, but have never let the picture of who we were at the beginning get too blurry: two kids with a pure and simple understanding of what it means to take care of someone you love. It's not grandiose; it's not complicated; it's not too much to ask. 

The song is coming to a merciful end, and I watch his hand move towards the dial before another syrupy song has a chance to assault his ears. He'll probably put on some shouty rock song that will make me want to cover mine. 

"Thank you," I tell him. And I know he understands — it's for so much more than the song. 

 

Podcast: What A Sinking Ship Taught Me About Love

Podcast: What A Sinking Ship Taught Me About Love

Maybe I thought it was a sign they had allowed staleness into their relationship, like they weren’t trying hard enough or too easily letting a distance grow between them. At the time, I was still greedy for outward gestures and declarations to reassure me of my romantic partners’ love. Losing myself to that togetherness was part of what I thought united a couple that had declared themselves in love.

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Back To School: With The One Who Always Believed In Me

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I was the first one to say something when we were introduced.

Some things haven't changed about who we are when we're together. 

My roommate had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, 

This is the guy I was telling you about. The one who's in your program.

I think she nudged/gently shoved me forward and said something similar to him.

I looked at him, did my best to ignore the firework show that was setting itself off inside my body, and said something like, 

So how did you find that anatomy course last semester? 

We still laugh about how such an awkward exchange could feel so natural. We ended up continuing that conversation through the night and into the following day. We talked about our lofty goals and the plans we each had for our future. 

It's a conversation we're still having. 

We were in our third year of university then and, as our relationship grew, so did our mutual support for reaching those goals and achieving those plans. We developed rituals like sitting in certain cubicles in the library (though never on the same floor, because that ultimately proved too distracting), meeting at the doors when the library was closing for the night, pulling through a drive-thru on our way home for milkshakes. 

We held each other accountable for showing up at class. He used my computer to write his papers, I borrowed his meticulous study notes when I got overwhelmed. When we walked across the stage at convocation two years later, we very much had each other to thank. We continued on in school together and crossed a few more convocation stages in the years that followed. 

But being on similar career tracks and committing to a long-term relationship came with its challenges, of course. Sometimes one of us took the lead, while the other had to fall back. Sometimes, and especially after parenthood became part of our story, resentments would make themselves known. Eventually, we ended up in completely different places in our careers, and we're doing okay with those roles today. 

A few weeks ago, we settled on a documentary for our family room date night, about a talented life that ended too soon. As often happens with the two of us, it inspired a long-into-the-night conversation. We revisited our individual goals and plans. And with years of experience behind us, we spoke openly about regrets and missed chances. 

When we finally went to bed, I lay down beside him with a full heart and busy mind. But our conversation rattled around for days afterward. Have we done enough to keep regret out of each other's lives? Have we continued to hold each other accountable for showing up for ourselves, as well as each other?

Last week, we accepted an invitation to return to that first campus and meet with undergraduate students from our program who are planning for their futures. We were placed at different tables, because we have very different careers. And as I snuck glances at him from where I sat, I wondered what advice he was giving the students who lined up to speak to him. 

I was surprised by the more philosophical questions I was getting about how I knew I was on the right path (I didn't) and how I decided to get on it in the first place (accidentally). I spoke with students at the beginning of their journeys, while being pummeled with memories of being in that same position, on that same campus, years ago.

When the event was over, and we made a last-minute decision to return to the campus pub where our paths first crossed, we talked about how we had been asked very similar questions. And we both wondered whether we had been able to answer them with the passion and sense of possibility those questions deserved—being that we were so far from those days now.  

back-to-school

I looked at him on the other side of the table, only a few feet from the place I first passed him my dreams and he gave his to me, and I thought about our recent late-night exchange about regrets and missed chances. It struck me that none of those regrets and missed chances live in the time and space we've spent with each other. 

Resentments and frustrations dot our timeline, yes, but they were never given enough light to cast shadows on our goals and plans. Even when my conflict about stepping off a full-time career track to focus on our children had me lashing out at him for the ease with which I felt he could stay on his, he held on to the bigger picture for me. Possibility is as close to us now as it's always been.

Thank you for the pep talk, one student said after we spoke about her next steps. It was nice to hear those things from someone who doesn't know me, because the people who love you are supposed to say those things about you. 

I looked over at him again, before I answered her. 

If you're very, very lucky, I said to her, that's true

 

 

Sweet Sixteen: A Story About Marriage and A Missing Ring

Maybe that mindset was part of my youth; we were so young then. I believed commitment and love were made stronger if they were marked with outward gestures. And if that symbol could so easily be lost, so early in our marriage, how easily could the strength of a relationship meant to last a lifetime be lost, too?

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