Saturday, February 14, 2015

By popular request

Years ago someone on here said that they hoped someday I would write John's and my love story.  I immediately thought "uh-oh!"  I mean, there is five years of stuff.  A lot of twists and turns along the way.  It could be a book.  That is, if either of us even remembered it all anymore!  Somewhere I have a file about the first year we knew each other ... and it's under a password ... which I have since forgotten.

But in honor of Valentine's Day this year, I guess I'll try for a quick summary.  Because our love story makes me smile.

When I arrived at Christendom, I knew pretty much nothing about guys, or about romance.  I had no older siblings who had dated, and I had been to an all-girls school.  So I mainly was thinking of Lizzie Bennett and Anne Shirley.  I thought the odds were good I would meet somebody in college -- that's where my parents met -- but I was resolved not to get married till after graduation, unlike them.  I figured I'd have lots of guy friends, over the years perhaps one would be a bit closer of a friend than the others, we'd start dating senior year, and sometime after we'd graduated and I had had time to be a grownup a bit, we'd get married.  I wasn't going to waste my time at college with a lot of drama and pining over guys!  Friendship first, I said.

I guess I kind of overestimated my own ability to be practical.  I may or may not have made it to October of freshman year without falling in love.

John and I met the second Tuesday of freshman year, at 7:30 in the morning, at the commons.  We were both early risers and had found ourselves in the dining room before the kitchen had opened, so along with some other people, we loitered around waiting for food.  John was entertaining everyone with his very silly and irreverent sense of humor, which somewhat offended me at the time.  He was the center of attention as usual, but I was picking up on some insecurity from him, and shy people draw me like a moth.  I felt it was important that I be friendly to him, so I followed him out when breakfast was over and walked with him to his first class.  (We had no classes in common, which in a small college like ours was actually very unusual.)  He told me about his family, which I found fascinating (I have always loved big families) and I just listened.

It became a habit, both of us arriving early to breakfast and chatting a bit.  He was very entertaining, and I grew to appreciate his twisted sense of humor.  We started hanging out between classes, sometimes just us and sometimes some of our other friends.  I thought he was a huge nerd and not very good-looking ... also he seemed ridiculously tall.  I already had a crush on another guy, so I didn't pay much attention to the friendship we were developing.

But it turns out that if you are single, and your guy friend is single, and you are spending almost all of your time together, you may find yourself a bit distracted.  There were a lot of moments when I found myself getting closer to him than I meant to.  Times I said to myself "I am not going to waste time talking to John today" and wound up hanging out with him for a solid hour listening to him talk about deer.  Times I tagged along to his soccer game, saw him madly running after the ball, and thought .... "Wait, this guy is actually hot all of a sudden.  I thought I wasn't attracted to him?"  Times he got mad or sad about something and I found myself thinking ... "He's not just a silly joker, he has Deep Feelings."  The time I asked him what color his eyes were, and he whipped off his glasses and stuck his face in mine so I could see them.  (At the time I thought he was coming on to me.  He wasn't.  It's just what he does, because there isn't a word for the color of his eyes.)

It became clear after awhile that I wasn't at all interested in that other guy, or any other guy, and was very much distracted with John.  My friends were always teasing me about it.  I gave it some thought, and decided okay fine, I was into John.  And since he probably was into me (I thought) that was just fine!

Well, the course of true love never did run smooth.  We spent a ton of time together, we went to a formal dance together, we talked about our deepest feelings and debated political systems, and yet he was sending some very mixed messages and I didn't really know what to make of it.  He seemed to be interested in me.  He certainly was willing to spend most of his free time with me, and had said I was pretty.  But when I accidentally let slip that I liked him, he didn't react well to it.  I think he was doing in earnest what I had meant to do -- he was just being friends.  And letting the cat out of the bag that I liked him had made him suddenly leery of me.

Time went by, there was all kinds of drama ... times when he or I would "break off" the non-relationship we had and avoid each other, only to bump into each other again (small campus!) and stick to each other like glue again.  I found myself wishing I wasn't interested in him so we could just be friends, but it seemed utterly impossible.  The chemistry was there even though both of us were fighting hard against it -- him, because he didn't want to be in a relationship, and me, because I knew if I let it show I'd scare him off!  I knew what everyone said: that if the girl likes the guy first, it never works out, that men like to pursue, that they hate being chased, and so forth.  And yet I had this feeling that John never would have "pursued" anybody, because that's not his way.

All of my friends told me to to stop hanging out with that guy because he would never like me.  But I felt that even if he never did like me back, it wouldn't matter because it was still a friendship that meant everything to me.  That was the one thing that kept me around even in the most intense despair, the thought that no matter what, I wanted to be friends with him for life.  At more hopeful moments, I thought, "He really does like me.  He just doesn't realize it.  He needs a girl like me.  I'll just stick it out .... sooner or later he'll come around."  I figured perhaps I could win the man of my dreams by sheer stubbornness.  I seem like a pushover sometimes, but when it really matters, I will outlast the competition.

After a long, long time, and some amount of me avoiding him because the whole thing was just too painful to me .... some of him getting hurt because I was avoiding him and weren't we friends? ... and me crying because dangnabbit, how was I supposed to get over a guy who wrote me sweet notes when I was feeling down and could make me laugh no matter how I felt? .... well, after lots and lots of this, he eventually realized that he did, in fact, like me back.

I still maintain he had liked me for at least a year before he admitted it.  But he fought it awfully hard.  He wasn't sure he ever wanted to get married.  His mother was against dating in college.  He liked the friendship we had and didn't want to mess it up.  You know.  So many reasons.

And through all of this there were insane amounts of drama because Christendom is a tiny, tiny school and if you're seen often with one guy, you're practically engaged.  If you then hang out with another guy, you're seen as a flirt.  Kind of hard to focus on "just friends" when every five minutes someone asks you, "Are you together?"  Because there is a policy against public displays of affection, there's really no way to signal to everyone if you are or aren't dating, so they just assume you are.  And that puts pressure on a just-friends relationship that isn't very helpful.

Once he did actually like me back, it still wasn't simple because my family believed in dating and his family believed in courtship and we both were pretty thoroughly aware that it would be a long time before we could even think about getting married.  So we sort of just kept hanging out, just without the drama of trying to pretend we didn't like each other.  Everyone just assumed we were dating, like they had before.  And I guess in some sense we were, expect we never went anywhere.  We had deep conversations about theology and the Battle of Gettysburg.  We fought sometimes, about things that made no sense to anyone else, and all of our friends would get very anxious and tell us to make up quick because we were making everyone unhappy.  We visited each other's families a few times, and our parents didn't quite know how to treat us because they weren't sure how serious we were about each other.

Then we graduated, and were "officially dating" for a few months, during which we rarely saw each other (he was working in Philadelphia and I was still in Virginia) and then we got engaged.  Our engagement was miserable, because it was long distance and we both suck at talking on the phone, but eventually it ended, we got married, and lived happily ever after.

Haha.  Not really.  We just kept going on like we always have ... having deep conversations, having silly conversations, fighting sometimes, making up lots.  Really it's not very different from the old days when we were "just friends."  Our relationship was always complicated and sometimes difficult, but at the same time I'd recommend that sort of thing to anybody.  Be friends first.  Friends are good.  But I'd also recommend stressing less about it than I did.  I didn't realize what we had was a slowly developing love story ... I thought it was a friendship doomed by unrequited love, and that made it less fun than it could have been.  But in retrospect it doesn't really matter, because it ended with us married and very happy to be together.

I like that we didn't know what we were doing.  I like that we forged our own way, which didn't fit any of the scripts of what a relationship was supposed to be.  I like that I learned early on to laugh off the advice of other people who told me, "You can't let yourself be dragged around by this guy, if he doesn't commit now, drop him!"  I like that the first thing I liked about him was his sense of humor, second his kindness, and third his incredible brain.  I like that we were the first and only ones for each other ... that the question throughout everything was "Will we be together, or not?" and not "This person, or another person?"  There was never anyone else, for either of us.  

We've been friends for over ten years now, and though we can't read each other's mind, we understand each other a heck of a lot better than anyone else does.  Neither of us is much like anybody else, although we're not much like each other either.  It's just that over all this time we've been learning to work with each other.  People see the dance; what they don't see is the hours and hours of practice that went into being able to dance like this.  We're far from perfect, but we're happy.  Ten years more, twenty years, thirty .... then, perhaps, we'll be real masters.

4 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

How are there no comments on this post yet?!?! Great story! Thanks for sharing it! =) And a belated Happy St. Valentine's Day to you and John. <3

Zagorka said...

A wonderful story! Some of this is so similar to my experience - after all the "practice" I notice "we get this now" for this and that topic, which used to be diffcult again and again and these are truly great moments. It doesn't matter that it's 26 years now, it is really joyfull having this great friend at my side! I whish you the same!

sarah e. said...

Oh, I love your story! It reminds me very much of my own "how I met my husband" story. We went to the University of Dallas (also a small Catholic liberal arts college) and we met our freshman year, although like you and John it took many twists and turns in the plot before we became a couple. The part that makes for the best story is the very beginning: the first time we met, it was because my roommate and I decided to be bold and sit down to dinner in the cafeteria with two other guys-- my future husband and his friend. Guess who asked me for my number at the end of dinner. Yep, it was the other guy, not my future husband!

By the way, I want to say that I've been getting a lot out of your posts about the Church. I'm having trouble putting it into words, but I guess I just want to say that it's been helpful to my own faith to watch someone honestly wrestle a bit with the harder aspects of faith.

Sheila said...

Thanks! I'm glad the faith posts are helpful ... honestly it is very scary to deal with all this so publicly. But I feel it's necessary in a way ... I can't be a witness to the bright side while keeping the dark side hidden, because it wouldn't be honest.

Aren't Catholic colleges a great place for cute love stories? :)

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