It was on a Sunday afternoon in late October, 1994, when I knew I would marry my husband. Which was strange, because I had woken up that morning feeling relieved that it was finally over between us.
It had been all wrong. I was eighteen years old and had only known Dave for three months. We were touring together in a musical group with a strict rule against dating. We each called a different state home, and neither of us had ever lived on our own before. To make matters worse, Dave had a girlfriend away at college. He could not live with the guilt of falling for me, and I was not interested in being the other woman. Besides, I had plans for my life that made letting go of him inevitable.
That month of October was the most exciting and heartbreaking time in my life. When we realized we both had feelings for each other, we had built up too much tension to act reasonably. We fell hard and we lost our minds a little. Then came reality. The guilt. The long talks. What were we doing? All the while we were traveling the country with eight other people who were oblivious to what was happening between us.
One night our group was waiting to be introduced to a room full of people when Dave turned to me and whispered: “I can’t do this anymore. We shouldn’t be together.” Then the doors opened and we were expected to take turns talking to the crowd. I had to put on a happy face and pretend as if nothing had happened, and all I wanted to do was go home. But home was thousands of miles away.
It was only October. I had no idea how I was going to make it until May. He was my closest friend on the road. We worked together, and we depended on each other for social support. Although I now understand how people can absolutely restore friendship after romance, I don’t believe I was emotionally mature enough at that time to have pulled it off. And either was he, because —
The next day he changed his mind.
Then he changed it again. And again. This went on for what felt like a year, but was probably only a week. Our time together was spent analyzing the options and tearfully talking in circles. While he was torn between a doomed love affair and a stable relationship back home – I was torn between the fear of being alone on this weird road trip, and feeling drained by a relationship that now revolved around him and his ever-changing needs.
I was enjoying a night off at a friend’s house when he called me at midnight. We agreed to call it quits. Something about being back home and in my real world again made it easy. I didn’t know how we would go forward as just friends, but I was determined to figure it out. I wanted things between us to be simple again.
The next morning when the group came to pick me up, I was in good spirits. It wasn’t awkward between us. In fact, things had never felt less tense. When we arrived back at our home base, a chore list awaited us. And wouldn’t you know it, Dave and I had been assigned to rake leaves. We spent that afternoon raking, making each other laugh, and having fun together, just like we did in the beginning of tour. And it changed everything all over again. But this time it was permanent.
The guilt and serious talks had sucked all the excitement of new love out of us, and had turned the presence of each other into a source of negativity. Once that cloud was lifted by ending our romance, we could have remained bitter and played emotional games with each other until May; but instead we chose to forgive, and embrace the friendship that had also allowed us to be supportive of each other in our misery.
We had been ready to move on from the situation we were in, but not from each other. After all, the first half of October had been amazing; more thrilling than anything either of our young hearts had ever experienced with anyone else. And once we eliminated the distractions, the excitement was still there. That was over 8000 days ago, and we have never doubted our relationship since. Not even once.
The mountain we had to climb to stay together went from being an impossible task to an inspiring puzzle to solve. Conversations spent figuring it all out were now enjoyable. How would we do it? Where would we live? How would one of us afford to move? Answering these questions came with a commitment that should have been terrifying. Was I really going to let this boy I just met break up with his girlfriend and move away from all his friends and family for me?
To the horror of many of my own friends and family – yes. And it still stands as the best decision of my life. It turns out that a successful relationship with anyone is not built on magic, luck, time, or maturity; it’s about figuring out how to relate to another human being. Some of us are better at it than others, and most of us can learn. If you know how to do it, relationships will be both easy and rewarding. And for us, it has been.
Tough times do not destroy us; but they will reveal our ability to empathize, forgive, and communicate.
The first few years after our daughter’s autism diagnosis should have been the most difficult test in our relationship. We had isolated ourselves by moving away from friends, and some of the challenges felt overwhelming. At times it appeared as if there was no end in sight, and maybe we believed we would never possess the skills required to keep up.
We were wrong, of course.
He was the stay-at-home parent. He could have easily blamed me for not sharing an equal burden, and I could have pointed at him for not having the optimism I needed him to find. But instead, we understood each other’s failings and found we could even bond over our shared ability to screw everything up. We’re both human. No point in wasting time dwelling on the inconvenience of it. It would be far worse if just one of us was perfect, right?
I wrote a post in 2014 about sharing ups and downs in a partnership called “This Is My Life Today.” Most of the time we take turns feeling discouraged. But even on the days when we both give up and think: “That’s it. This is our life now, and we can’t do this;” we still find ourselves feeling as if we have more good fortune than we deserve, because we have each other. It has been a constant source of happiness for us that is always within our control when nothing else seems to be.
Too often couples get caught up in a rough situation and stop feeling happy together. So when they finally seek escape from that unhappiness – they find themselves walking in opposite directions. We only had to learn that lesson once. Even now, when it feels like everything is going wrong and we have talked ourselves into a place of despair, I can count on my husband to say: “But we’re in love, and that’s fucking awesome.”
And 22 years later…. it really is.