In the last year, I’ve become a part of an incredible community called tenx9 nashville, which gathers monthly to hear nine people share true stories (in ten minutes or less) on a given theme. In January, I told my second story with tenx9. The theme was “Beginnings.” Here it is.
People always say that the beginning of a relationship is the best part — lots of firsts, each with enough nervous excitement and anticipation to forget that we’ve felt this way before, but with someone who is now a distant memory— or so we pretend. It’s that time when everything still seems perfect. Not yet complicated. You’re enamored. It’s great. The naiveté is allowed and encouraged. “Just enjoy it,” people say. The beginning is the best part.
For any of us who have made it past this stage, or hope to, this trite or sentimental outlook on love and relationships may seem shallow and sad. We might say that true love reaches far beyond the excitement of the first weeks and months. So yes, I’m sure the best is always yet to come or something, but you can’t deny the beauty of the good ol’ days… you know: before you realized that your partner snores like an erratic freight train or all those nights before you laid awake wondering how he still has a damn molar in his mouth with all that grinding. It may not be as rosy to start uncovering dark and unsettling insecurities— it’s much nicer to stick to discovering similarities and family trees and favorite albums. I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t looked longingly over my shoulder at the carefree levity of a relationship’s earliest stages. It’s easy to romanticize my memories of the beginning of one in particular, because the beginning is all that it ever was.
Last December, my friend married her love in a tiny Episcopal church in Spring Hill, TN. My fingers were crossed for an invitation — I knew it would be a small wedding and I didn’t know if work-friends would make the cut. We were at lunch one day when she was telling me how excited her sister was to be the Maid of Honor. Her sister has some developmental disabilities and it was important that my friend be able to give her this gift without creating more wedding-day anxiety for herself, so she was hoping to find a Maid of Honor “coach” for the weekend— someone to be at her sister’s beckon call, help her get dressed, remind her where to stand, when to move, how to kneel for communion in a long dress— that kind of thing. She told me, “I know it will all be okay and my sister will be fine but I’d feel so much better if I knew someone was there for her and with her on that day… and I just keep coming back to you.” I jumped all over it — not only because it would definitely lock down that wedding invite I was coveting, but because I felt somehow deeply connected to this celebration.
I was excited to be a fly on the wall during this wedding— kinda in the wedding party, but not really connected or tied down. I arrived just in time for the rehearsal. My long hair flowed behind me as I raced through the church, reporting for duty. I rounded a corner and there he was, tall and bearded and starting to smile back at me: the nephew of the groom.
I collected myself and went into the sanctuary for the rehearsal. At that point, Steve was standing in the sanctuary and people were milling around so we introduced ourselves – I learned that he was finishing up an M.Div at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and shared that I had just done the same at Vanderbilt Divinity School. We exchanged some other pertinent details, like what I was doing at the wedding, but to be honest, it’s all a blur. I do remember the minister asking if we were ready to begin, and realizing that everyone else was in the right place and waiting on us to be finished with our conversation in the middle of the aisle.
We spoke more at the rehearsal dinner, played the “do you know” game, which I’ve come to find is a favorite Presbyterian pastime, second only to doing energizers at bars and bemoaning the confusion between the PCA and the PC(USA). We also discovered we had each spent a year in the same volunteer program, where he served in Belfast and I, in Seattle. His mother suggested that he get my phone number in case he had any questions about Vanderbilt during his visit to campus the next day to learn about PhD programs. It’s always good to lock down that mom vote.
I heard from him a little that night and some the next day in the midst of wedding prep with the Maid of Honor. We did hair, nails, put on Spanx, makeup — all the works. At one point in the afternoon, I was racing around and called a friend to ask for a favor and tell her that I might marry this guy. It sounded crazy and it was totally crazy, but I had that weird feeling that you get when you meet someone who is going to be important in your life.
The wedding was beautiful – The Maid of Honor was so relieved to have made it through the ceremony and, oh, so happy for her sister and her new brother-in-law. I quickly accepted the invitation to sit with Steve and his cousins and the rest of the wedding party at the reception— I mean, I was practically IN the wedding. No more of this fly-on-the-wall, safe-distance nonsense. At one point, we were standing around, he had his hand on my lower back (which I’m certain is some knee-weakening pressure-point) and I knew I was in trouble.
This never happens to me — that I would meet someone and have a connection so strong and have it immediately validated. I’m more accustomed to the dance of trying to pretend like we haven’t noticed each other, finding ourselves in a casual setting that could maybe be called a date, but isn’t, and then eventually stumbling into a serious long-term relationship. This was different.
I hung with the family all night, even going back to the house where everyone was staying for the after-party. They all insisted I stay the night so I wouldn’t have to worry about driving back so late. So we all hung out, toasted the bride and groom, watched SNL, and basked in the glow of a great day. I felt like I belonged there. At one point, Steve and I went out to the back porch to get a bottle of water because that’s a two-person job – and by the time we made it back inside, everyone had gone to bed. We stayed up all night, talking, kissing, repeating. We were in a fog of mutual admiration: lots of eye-gazing, face-touching, memory-preserving. It was like a movie scene that you watch, then scoff about how that never happens in real life— a magical, swirly dream. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing and we knew it was crazy to entertain the idea of being together beyond this night— he lived in Texas, I lived here, we had known each other for 24 hours. None of it made any sense. But my excitement insisted I throw caution to the wind and let myself feel all of it enough to enjoy it.
By the morning, we had plans. He was coming to visit for Valentine’s Day and I knew I would certainly implode by then. He bought a plane ticket the next day and we spoke on the phone for hours each night. We were both considering summer trips to Europe and started talking about making plans to meet up and do some traveling together while we were over there. I told this crazy story to everyone — I couldn’t help it. It felt like a dream and I just couldn’t get over the fact that any of it was actually happening.
The haze wore off a little bit, which was actually reassuring. It felt good to get a foot on the ground, but I was definitely still wearing the new-relationship goggles. I did notice that he wasn’t without his quirks: he did this weird thing where he leaned into kiss the camera when we were Facetiming. He was terrible at texting. He was a little obsessive about working out. He really liked the band Owl City. I was nervous. Not about the poor texting conduct or Owl City, but — I couldn’t stop worrying that it all seemed too good to be true, that we had been too rash, that I was too invested for my own good. Over and over, I talked myself down, and decided it was worth it to see what was there.
Until it wasn’t. About two weeks in, he called one night while I was in the drive-thru at Taco Bell with some friends after a night out. He asked me to call him back when I got home, so I stewed silently in the backseat, got back to my friends’ house, ate my Doritos Locos Taco, and excused myself to go home and make a phone call. I sat in my driveway while he told me he thought we should end things. He said he got caught up in everything and he wanted to be my friend but nothing more. I said “okay”. We never spoke again. I have enough friends.
I was devastated for about 24 hours. There’s that nonsensical equation about how long it takes to get over a person, based on how long you were together. I don’t know how this fits into that, but after a few days, and making sure that everyone I had told about him knew that it was over, the whole thing was just gone. Over about as quickly as it started.
I felt foolish for letting myself go rogue. This wasn’t my style, and I gave in, and it fell apart. Before Steve, it had been a long time since I had really made space for someone else. I called it an extended recovery period from a previous breakup, but as more time passed, it felt harder to take the leap and, frankly, it never felt worth it. My dear friend Ben, who is nothing if not immediately and unwaveringly loyal at times like this, reminded me that, while this sucked royally and that he would heretofore be replacing his name with “douchebag” — that it might be refreshing to see that I could feel that way about someone again.
The feeling of being so swept up that I had no choice but to say yes. this came out of nowhere and surprised me and was exactly what I needed to begin a new chapter— one in which I’m not quite as scared to be vulnerable with someone, a time to stop overthinking every little move out of fear, to do the things I want to do when I’m ready to do them. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d put on hold, for some excuse or another. In terms of love, I was and still am deliberate in waiting for something that feels worth it — but in the meantime, I realized I was passing on so much that has very little to do with my relationship status. While I was waiting on a love that moved me like that, I was waiting on life to happen to me. Going to that wedding and meeting Steve and falling in … whatever that was… was the beginning of saying yes. It was the beginning of listening to my active, energetic spirit and letting her call the shots. It was a reminder that I can trust myself – a reminder that I’m all I need to be me right now. I started taking some risks. I went on that trip to Europe by myself last summer and it was amazing. I started saying yes to things that, sure, one day, will be great to do with the love of my life, but for now, that person is me – and we are having a damn ball.