Most of what I knew about love and romance growing up I learned from books. That, and watching daytime soap operas with my grandmother Mildred. It was all wind-blown hair in slow motion, passionate kisses, instant and overwhelming attraction – completely unrealistic. Throughout my teens I was always waiting for that, baited breath. My hands clenched, waiting for that break in the clouds when my “one true love” would walk into my life. It never came, but what did come, a handful of half-hearted romances later, was real and honest love. A love that bolstered me to care for myself and for others better, protected and strengthened me. A first kiss that has stretched out for nearly a decade, so far, with no end in sight.
I met my partner on a dating website. At the time I had joined after a particularly difficult breakup with my on-again-off-again ‘middle school sweetheart’. Obviously meeting people on my own wasn’t working, so I took to the digital world to help me find a connection. After a few weeks of lackluster conversation I was paired up with a guy a couple year my senior. He was living about 20 minutes away from me. I clearly remember thinking “Oh, okay” – nothing special, no fireworks, no vapors. I messaged him a couple days later after work, standard stuff, “What’s your favourite colour?” “Where did you grow up?”. The first topic we bonded on? Hockey. We had both gone to high school with a well-known player in the NHL, so we swapped stories about how they were. I gloated, shamelessly, about seeing the Stanley Cup in person. After a couple weeks, we were talking all the time. Messages on a dating site turned into text (hundreds a day) then phone calls, then Skype. I clearly remember our first date, and how at the end I had my head rested against his shoulder. He brushed my bangs away from my face and said with a breathy chuckle, “I don’t want to leave, because you really make me laugh.” Little did I know then, just how much laughter we would share.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
In those early days, I worked the night shift then would stay up all day texting him sleeping very little in between. I don’t remember exhaustion in those days, although I must have felt it. Love has a funny way of blunting pain and making us feel invincible. We met in person after about a month, had only known each other for 2 months. Been dating about 5 weeks before he called me to tell me he was going to Afghanistan for a year and that – surprise – his mother was flying in to meet me. I was terrified, heartbroken, and stressed beyond what I thought imaginable. Looking back, it seems fitting, as there really wasn’t anything traditional about our relationship. On our second date we discussed how many children we wanted (we said 3 back then, but after having one decided one was plenty). On our 5th date we told each other we loved each other, and now his mother would meet me so soon in our budding relationship. Now, after 8 years, it all seems so quirky and charming, but at the time I felt like we were shuffling over thin ice.
Luckily, we weren’t on thin ice. We made it through 2 separate year-long deployments within 32 consecutive months. Ups and downs, big fights and small fights, and in all these years we’ve only raised our voices twice. In those early years, especially with the distance, it was a lot of talking. Talking about insecurities, talking about concerns, talking about hurt feelings and miscommunications. We never stayed mad at each other, we stuck it out and did a lot of talking. We did “time-outs” if fights were escalating in unhealthy ways, we avoided passive-aggressiveness, and we showed up. We showed up for each other even when it wasn’t convenient, even when it hurt, we showed up.
One of the most important things about love and dating, especially in the modern world where the opportunity to connect with people is so much more accessible, is managing expectations. Understanding it won’t always be a romantic swell of music, accepting that there will be disagreements – big ones, even. Being patient and understanding as you open yourself and your space up to another person, being gentle with their flaws, and allotting room for them grow. You have to be their friend, always.
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
After 2 years of dating, we got engaged, 8 months after that we were married, and last month we celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary. We’ve both made sacrifices for the relationship and for each other, and it hasn’t always been peaceful, it hasn’t always been easy, and it surely hasn’t ever involved running in slow motion on a beach. It did involve 5 different apartments, a miscarriage, 4 deployments, a cat, a kid, and 10 road-trips up and down the east coast. While it didn’t unfold the way I had believed it would growing up, I fall in love with him more each day. He challenges me to be a better person, to push myself, and most of all, to value myself. Slowly, then all at once, I couldn’t remember my life without him in it, and now it’s hard to imagine a life without him walking firmly by my side.
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