Earlier this week, I shared about how love isn’t rooted in feelings but in something much deeper.
A close friend of mine encouraged me to write about my own “love story”. A story where the feelings followed the promise.
The Start of Something Wonderful
I waited tables all through college. I was responsible for my bills and half of the rent each month in my shared apartment, and this meant working a lot of hours. About thirty-two hours total a week. Not a lot of time for extracurriculars.
Tuesday night was one of the only nights I had free. Tuesday night was also the night that the weekly Bible study took place at my friend Carolyn’s house.
I distinctly remember the first time I met my husband. I was sitting on the kitchen counter at Carolyn’s and in walked Jeff. He looked tall and cute in his Carhartt pants and band t-shirt. Still sporting his amish-style facial hair. Being the cute guy in the room, he had my attention. I sat up straight, kept my eye on him (without really looking…you know), and had my best come-hither-and-talk-to-me smile donned while I chatted with a friend.
Well I guess all my practicing helped because come hither he did. At which point I found out that not only was he tall and cute, but he was funny and friendly as well.
It wasn’t long after that Jeff called me up and asked me to go to a movie with him. We made plans for the following Monday night.
He was to meet me at Carolyn’s again and we would leave from there. This afforded me a decent amount of time for girlish giggling with Carolyn and pre-date assessment of Jeff and his qualities (neither one of us knew him well, though, so this didn’t last much past agreeing that he was good looking and quick with the quips).
The date was not exactly romantic. Or even fun. But hindsight can be kind and now it’s fun to look back and laugh at how unfortunate our first date was.
Jeff picked me up in his ’76 Land Cruiser (read: off-road vehicle made for muddy fun and not keeping college coeds comfortable). The November weather was cold and my sandals and date attire were not much help against the cool night air. During the twenty minute drive to the movie theater, I did my best to simultaneously keep myself warm and try to avoid making Jeff feel bad that his ride had no heat and was blowing cold air on me through the cracks. Of course, we could’t talk above the noise of the engine so at least he was not able to notice my chattering teeth.
Stole this from Jeff’s Facebook photos. To be fair, there were doors when he picked me up.
The movie he chose had potential to be interesting and entertaining. Unfortunately it was anything but. In fact, it was quite possibly the most boring movie I have ever sat through. First date etiquette frowns upon excessive complaining though. So after the movie, we just shrugged our shoulders and commented that it wasn’t exactly what we expected. Oh well. Another twenty-minute (cold, loud) drive back and thus ended our first date.
I didn’t actually give Jeff a chance to redeem himself before I called him up and told him that I thought we should just stay friends for a while. Do you believe me when I say it actually wasn’t because of the date? I really enjoyed Jeff’s company and still found him cute and funny, but that was about all I knew about him. I wasn’t ready to start dating.
Through old school AOL messaging and many mutual friends, Jeff and I became very good friends over the next couple of years. We saw each other often at Bible study, church, and parties. We saw so much of each other that my two closest friends at college teased me just about every Monday when they would ask what I did over the weekend, and almost invariably, Jeff was among the short list of friends I hung out with.
“You and Jeff are always together!”
“You and Jeff will be married one day.”
“Me? Marry Jeff??!! Noooo. We are just friends.”
Sarah and Tami, who knew better than I did.
First Comes Dinner Club
Fast forward two years after our first date. Past dating other people for a short time. Past summers away. Past parties and picnics and a lot of ultimate frisbee. To January 2007 when everything started to change.
Jeff had graduated from college the month before and I was starting my final semester. As an education major, I was about to begin student teaching for the next three months. No more classes, just the schedule of a teacher and a rule prohibiting working during the week. For the first time in my college career, I was free every weeknight.
I was eager to enjoy my new routine, starting with lots of home cooked meals. But cooking and eating alone is no fun. Dinner alone during college usually meant one of three meals: cereal, coke and a pack of Lance crackers, or a tray of Stouffer’s mac’n’cheese with Ritz crackers crumbled on top. No kidding. The college diet can be rough.
Such was the catalyst for our dinner club. Together with Jeff and our mutual friend, Amy, we came up with a plan to eat dinner together three nights a week. Each night we would take turns cooking the meal or hosting each other in our apartments. We had a plan.
Plans can fall through.
Amy ended up working many of our dinner nights, which meant that more often than not, it was just me and Jeff eating dinner together. Let me say that another way. For three or more nights a week, Jeff and I would get together after working our respective jobs to cook dinner, grade papers, and watch college basketball.
Sound rather domestic? It was.
This lasted for about a month before I realized that Jeff and I had a relationship that was fast becoming a little more complicated than the “just friends” label I had always insisted upon to my friends.
I asked my friend Amy to get together with me for coffee. I needed to talk.
I had done a lot of thinking and analyzing of my friendship with Jeff. I looked at the routines we had created. What we were doing was simply the normal, everyday stuff of life. Talking about our day. Cooking together. Relaxing together. Bonding over Trivial Pursuit cards and Duke basketball games.
Amy and I sat across from each other and I laid it all out. Clearly, Jeff was one of my best friends. We got along together really well. We both loved the Lord and had similar views on theology. I asked Amy her opinion. I told her that I knew something needed to change. Either Jeff and I needed to stop spending so much time alone together or we needed to define the relationship (the dreaded DTR…dun dun dun).
Then I said it. The words I never thought would come out of my mouth. I think I could marry Jeff.
And even as I said those words out loud to Amy, a friend who knew us both so well, in my heart I knew that it was even more than that. I knew that I would marry Jeff.
Laying Out the Cards
Not one to put off things, I sent Jeff a text message right then to ask if he was free to meet me. He was free but had to return a few movies. Did I want to go with him?
He picked me up and started driving. We didn’t have a long drive in the car, but I tried to use the short time to throw out a few hints. He didn’t take the bait. We talked. I’m pretty sure it was awkward for both of us. For me because I was trying to casually lead the conversation to a DTR, and for him because I was not being very causal.
With nothing left to do, he dropped me off at my apartment. Before I made it to the door, my phone was dialing his number. While pacing in circles in front of my apartment building in the dark, I made a muddled attempt to do more than throw out a few hints. I believe something along the lines of “hey, are we just friends or more? Because if we are just friends, we need to stop hanging out so much. But if not…”, came out of my mouth. At which point I just stopped talking.
As in, the ball’s in your court dude. So what are you going to do about it?
The actual DTR happened while I was standing in front of my closet. He liked me, I liked him. And that is the romantic story of how we started dating.
Why Don’t We Take It Up A Notch?
We started dating on the day after Valentine’s Day. Two weeks later we realized we were both facing big decisions.
Jeff was in the midst of figuring out where he would be attending seminary. Both options would mean a move to another state. I was looking at buying a home in town and had just found one I loved.
The city we were living in has a beautiful park downtown– big grassy areas, a river, and a waterfall in the center of it all. So naturally, we headed there for our second DTR in two weeks.
Not much had changed in the two weeks that we had been dating. Much of the same activities, just with an understanding that we knew we were more than simply friends.
Lounging on a hill in the sunshine, we asked each other every question we could think of. From our future goals to beliefs to whether or not we would do Santa with our kids. If we thought of it, we asked it. With the exception of one or two questions, we already knew each other’s answers.
It was there in the sun that day that we decided to get married. There were no rose petals or waves of emotion. There was not even a ring. There was just the knowledge that we would be spending our lives in the company of our best friend with a commitment to honor God and love each other.
What Came Next & A Near Death Experience
So there it was. Jeff and I were planning to get married. I called one of my closest friends and asked her if I was crazy. Things were starting to sink in. I can’t remember what she said but I guess it wasn’t that I was crazy because things kept going on.
More dinners together. More phone calls. More meaningful conversations. More fun.
The affection we felt came after our commitment for one another. There was a sense of security in the fact that our relationship was not built upon a rush of feelings and was not initiated simply because we found each other attractive. We were comfortable with each other in the way that comes with true friendship.
The sense of security, the comfort, and yes, the attraction led to a gradual build-up of feelings. Until one day, we not only knew we should get married, but our feelings matched our thinking. We loved each other.
Expressing his love was almost too much, I suppose, because Jeff almost killed us the first time he told me loved me. We were driving down the road and he had this look in his eye. I knew it was coming. In hindsight, a declaration like this is obviously not the kind of thing to do when you are operating a motor vehicle in the middle of town.
He told me, I reciprocated, and THEN he saw the red light. When he was just yards away. Praise the Lord we didn’t crash as he slammed on the brakes and made a hard right turn into a parking lot and then another to swerve out of the way of another car. We parked and it felt like the moment in Bourne Identity just after Jason Bourne’s first intense car chase and he pulls into the parking garage and then silence. Only better.
Then Comes Marriage and A Baby in A Baby Carriage
We had started talking wedding dates at the park. A July date was decided upon and planning began.
We were very much engaged before I had a ring on my finger to testify to the fact. But I didn’t have to wait too long until Jeff proposed and everything just got more shiny and sparkly.
The next few months were full of finishing college, graduating, changing jobs, an emergency appendectomy, wedding planning, and finding a home and job in North Carolina where Jeff would attend seminary.
The giddiness, the love, the friendship. It all grew as we eagerly awaited our wedding day. Then, just a little over five months after that late night phone call, Jeff and I became Mr. and Mrs. in the company of our family and friends and in the midst of a flood of tears (mine, I blubber at all weddings, apparently including my own).
This week I wrote about how love is not dependent on having the right feelings or enough of them. Love is made of more solid stuff. It has the sure foundation of a commitment to one another that is able to withstand the ups and downs of life together. It is a gift, a treasure, and a choice.
Tomorrow will be eight years since Jeff and I started down this path. Since then, we have lived in five homes, welcomed three children into our home, lost a baby, struggled with sin and discouragement, and shared our deepest joys.
I am more thankful now than ever that I married my best friend. He knows me better than anyone in this world. He wipes my tears away, shares in my laughter, and gives me hugs that have the power to brighten any gloom. He is an incredible father, a humble disciple, and tender husband. And he remains my very best friend.
I love our unconventional love story, even with unromantic beginnings like “so I guess we should get married”, because I have seen the other side and I know just how amazing it is.