This week, Bryan and I have been married for three years.
I went to a Christian college where the motto was “Ring by Spring” and relationships were a disproportionately emphasized subject in classes, chapel, hall activities, and pretty much every other facet of campus life. We even dedicated a week to “Roommate Roulette.” Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds; basically, your roommate set you up on blind dates with a different person each night. The outcome for my roommate was a husband. Go Roommate! The outcome for me was the end of one relationship which had barely begun and the beginning of another that I wasn’t sure was even a good idea, and it ended in a mess 6 months later.
Many relationship “experts” talked in chapel.
They told me that I needed to have a List of non-negotiables, as in, all of the things I wanted in a partner, and they encouraged me to have accountability with close friends so that I wouldn’t compromise. “Make it specific, all the way down to hair and eye color,” one of them said, “You are precious china, a princess in the eyes of the Lord, so you should also be in the eyes of your husband, and don’t settle for less.”
They said that I needed to pray and wait and pray some more until I was absolutely certain that my chosen partner was The One. But on the other hand, Define The Relationship! Don’t go too long without a label! Make sure that you lock it in or establish that you won’t early on. Don’t want to leave any doors open.
They warned that if I crossed The Line I’d ruin not only the current relationship, but I’d have to carry the “baggage” of my transgressions with me into every romantic relationship I’d have for the rest of my life. Ironically, each expert had a different idea of what The Line was…so…that was not helpful. The demise of many couples sounded like this: “Oh (insert name here), making out with you is so fun. And we’re a great couple, and we love each other, and there’s nothing wrong. But I feel so guilty. Let’s break up.”
The most common advice I was given, though, was this: Relationships are really hard. Expect to do a lot of work, because you’ll know it’s right when it’s a struggle. No pain, no gain, right?
Relationships started to feel extremely serious and high pressure, and it was all the result of external influences.
Then I met Bryan. He was a super cute drummer at a music festival, and I had a boyfriend and was totally uninterested. The feeling wasn’t mutual. We were in and out of touch for about a year before my other relationship ended, and then it was another several months before we even discussed our feelings for each other, but when we did, we were pretty much on the same page.
Things happened organically. What? That’s a thing? Yeah. That, among the following, is the reason I reject all of the “expert” advice I received.
I wanted a tall husband who doted on me like the Princess my campus community told me to be. Bryan is 5’7″ and treats me like an equal, with kindness and respect, as someone he loves dearly, but not like a fragile, tiara wearing baby. I didn’t settle for less, as the “expert” warned against; I found someone who could do me one better. So much for that List.
I never felt a doubt that Bryan and I were good for each other, and it never crossed my mind that we might break up someday. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s only One person on the whole planet with whom I’m compatible – I don’t believe it’s Biblical, either. I believe that because we’ve chosen to love each other unconditionally, we’re right, and not the other way around.
We were open with each other about our previous relationships and agreed that our past encounters with The Line did not constitute the merit, worth, or other measurement of validity of ours. We checked our proverbial baggage at the door.
I had a mentor in college named Terri. She was only a few years older than me, and she worked in event services at the school. She took me out for coffee from time to time, just to chat; at that age, a few years’ experience makes a big difference. One day, she was describing her relationship with her fiancé. “It’s easy,” she said. “This whole time, I thought it was supposed to be hard, so I just hung in there with bad relationships, but it doesn’t have to be that way.” I almost immediately broke up with my boyfriend at the time. The next person I dated was Bryan, and it occurred to me when we were about to be married that Terri was right. I felt good about my relationship with Bryan all the time, and it was because there was no resentment. We weren’t struggling to “make it work” because we thought that was the noble thing to do.
It just worked.
In three years of marriage and nearly three more before we tied the knot, life has changed a lot. We’ve lived in three different apartments, added a dog, both changed jobs (at least once), and moved clear to the opposite side of the country. We’ve made friends that we love, and then had to start over in a new location. We’ve both lost grandparents. We’ve overcome our aversion to talking about having kids (not yet, folks). We got ourselves out of our only debt by paying off an enormous amount of money in college loans.
Most importantly, we’ve continued to grow in our love for each other; it hasn’t reached a plateau, and that’s because we’ve decided not to let it. Here’s to many, many more years of love and adventure.