Bryan and I met when I was 19 and he was 20. We were in rural Minnesota (no, not all of Minnesota is rural) at a music festival where I’d just watched him play drums. As fun as they are, ours isn’t a story of “and we knew we belonged together and have been together ever since”; instead it’s one of “and eventually we got our acts together.” Just as fun, in my humble opinion.
Here’s a little background for you:
As most youth group and Christian college girls did and do, I spent way too much time agonizing over finding the right man. At the advice of youth leaders, mentors, and even professors (so weird), I made lists of non-negotiable qualities in a partner, all the way from his interests, goals, and convictions, right down to height and eye color. The point was to never compromise or settle. The most important book I’d ever read (second to the Bible, of course) was I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris, which he’s recently apologized for writing in the first place.
With each boyfriend, I felt a little pang of guilt as I looked over my lists and admitted to myself that I’d compromised on one quality (or five) or another. He has brown eyes instead of green. He doesn’t have a musical bone in his body. He’s not six feet tall. He swears.
Really, when it came down to it, I liked boys, or at least the ones I surrounded myself with. I liked the way I could pick on them and know they’d expect me to take it if I dished it out, the way they did gross stuff like fart and then laugh hysterically, the way they didn’t make me feel like I had to stand in front of a mirror for the requisite 15 minutes before leaving the house. I had no idea how to apply makeup, anyway. I always identified more closely with boys and tomboyish or nerdy girls, probably at least in part because I felt no need to compete with them. My ego was far too frail for competition. Inevitably, a handful of my boy friends became boyfriends — sometimes for a month, and sometimes for a year. I was supposed to feel bad about that, and I usually did, at least a little.
When I became aware of Bryan’s existence (and thank goodness I did — I mean, yum), I had a boyfriend. He was someone I’d known sort of peripherally for years and gotten quite close to as we finished high school and started college, and before I knew it, I LOVED HIM AND NEEDED TO MARRY HIM. It was the perfect little narrative, the one I’d been told I should hold out for: Youth group acquaintances for years, friends for a bit (mostly because we happened to be going to the same college), then suddenly we woke up to the fact that we were meant to be and would live happily ever after.
Our relationship wasn’t easy. But that’s to be expected, right? My peers and I were constantly being told that relationships are hard and take lots of work, which, without knowing what a healthy adult relationship looked like, helped many of us to justify and rationalize staying in unpleasant, guilt-saturated ones. I can’t even count the number of somber, shame-fueled conversations we had about having “gone too far,” which, full disclosure, could’ve been a boob grab. (Non-youth-grouping friends: Go ahead. Laugh. You’re welcome.) But relationships are hard, so we stuck it out too long, partly for the sake of the story, and ruined a perfectly good friendship.
A friend-turned-mentor was going through some post-college relationship stuff when I was a sophomore, and after she started dating the man who’s now her husband, she told me over coffee that she no longer bought the whole “relationships are a life sucking struggle” rhetoric. They take effort, she told me, but they shouldn’t cause you to suffer. Generally, I think they should actually be easy. And toss that stupid list. Look for someone who challenges you, builds you up, and inspires you to try at life. I broke up with that boyfriend over coffee the following week. It wasn’t an easy or clean break, but it was a start.
When Bryan and I met the summer before that, there was no magical spark. He was cute and we flirted a little, but I don’t think it was anything either of us hadn’t experienced before. Turns out, he liked girls for many of the same kinds of reasons I liked boys, and spent most of his time with them. We were both fluent in the language of casual friend-flirting.
We got to know each other in writing, which seems fitting because writing’s my favorite. We wrote probably two hundred emails back and forth if you count the one-liners, and a good portion of them were pages long. We spent hours wordsmithing our experiences, feelings, opinions, and ideas into “letters to a friend” so as to sound as intelligent, witty, and insightful as we could. In a lot of ways, it was like a diary. I can’t say for sure if Bryan would say the same, but I know I learned a lot about myself through writing to him.
We couldn’t get our timing right, though. By the time I was single, he’d started dating someone. We stayed friends anyway, and after what felt like a million years (it was about 6 months), the stars aligned, we were both single, and I got to smush his pretty lips onto mine. Ooh la la.
I never thought I’d bother with a long distance relationship, but have you met Bryan? Gaze into those eyes for three seconds and tell me you wouldn’t traverse continents to spend a long weekend with him. From late 2007 to August of 2009 when I moved to his hometown of Rochester, New York, we took turns visiting each other every few months. I still get goosebumps remembering what it felt like to hear the captain say we we’d be landing in Rochester soon or to get the call from Bryan that he was about to get off his plane in Minneapolis and would be waiting for me outside. When the time came, the decision to move was easy, and we were engaged just a few months later.
Today is our sixth wedding anniversary.
In 2010, we got married on a muggy Minnesota-August day. My satin slippers had bright green grass stains on them before we made it to the Varsity Theater, where we made our vows and drank Manhattans.
2011 was the year Bright joined our family, we fasted for a month and ate pretty much only brown rice and lentils, and started paying off our debt. We got serious about our money, agreed to say no even when it hurt, and made some seriously amazing lifelong friends in the process. We both had mullets and I think we may have also eaten only vegan foods for a period somewhere in there.
In 2012, I worked two jobs to try and make faster progress on our debt, Bryan ran his first marathon, and we moved to California so Bryan could accept a new job at Apple. We spent our first Christmas away from family and old friends, but were welcomed into the homes of new ones. I swam in an outdoor pool in December and swore I’d never return to the tundra.
We paid off the last of our debt in 2013, and there was much rejoicing. I bought Chicken McNuggets (so much for the vegan thing) and a handcycle. Bryan bought new running shoes. Tears of joy were shed.
We totally coasted in 2014. Settled into 9-5 jobs at Apple, ate at restaurants, and planned a trip to Germany, which got cancelled because…
I got pregnant and spent most of 2015 on the couch, throwing up. Bryan was the best, most supportive partner I could’ve hoped for. His wife was replaced by an emotional, cranky, sick roommate. He’s a superhero, basically. Somebody, get this guy a cape.
2016 has been a year of renewed dedication to our goal to live simply and without being slaves to our stuff. We’re new parents and finding that the most important thing to us is the time we spend together, so we’re looking for ways to increase it and make the most of it. I left Apple to be with Arwen full time, which was a huge first step.
Six years in, we’re smarter, better communicators, bigger dreamers, and prettier, if I do say so myself. I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I’m a big fan of crow’s feet and smile lines.
To our friends and family who’ve tolerated (…haha…) and even supported us through so many phases and experiences: We love and appreciate you more than we can properly express. Thank you.
To Bryan: Here’s to at least 65 more anniversaries and like a hundred more of these weird essays. Thanks for encouraging me to write everything down. Be careful what you wish for. 😉 Love you.