“Max was just so intimidatingly real.” – The Start of Me and You, Emery Lord
A few weeks ago when I read The Start of Me and You, I stopped myself on the page with the above quote (note: it’s from an ARC so it might not be in the final book but I hope it is) and thought: Hm. This reminds me of something. And then Emery leads into how Max is “not glamorous or idealized or complicated” and a light bulb went off. When I first met James, that was exactly what it was like. I always tell the story that I didn’t like him in college, but then after he graduated and I went off to a different school for my junior year, we reconnected and decided to meet up. We went to school for two years together, had many of the same classes, but never even had a cup of coffee in our cafeteria together. (No, we just shared awkward moments in the newspaper office and later, a grocery store.)
The first meeting didn’t feel right to me. Why? Because he was just so nice. He listened to what I said, he shared stories about his family with me, and he was generally curious. Sure, he smoked and his hair was long and in need of some product but he had a nice laugh and a great smile and didn’t chew loudly or anything embarrassing like that. As far as “first dates” go, I should have had no complaints but I was sure I didn’t want to go out with him again.
Why is it so hard to admit things are actually good?
My heart was confused. When I was forced to switch schools, a part of me thought I would get back together with my serious boyfriend from a few years before. I was sure if I had never gone long distance, we could make our relationship work and now I wasn’t as far. Everything about wanting him, being with him, and feeling disappointed by him was filled with such intensity. It was LOVE. It’s this all-powerful thing and it’s supposed to be loud and conquering and make your heart hurt, right? I was sure he and I were meant to be. This huge passionate love story that would end with a beautiful happily-ever-after. Surely, all the crying and “fighting” for him all happened for that very reason, right?
I think it’s really hard to come down from something like that. Reconcile with yourself that sometimes putting your all into something doesn’t work out. That maybe not all love stories are drowning in drama; that the chase should never seem never-ending. Your heart should not always be bruised. The happy moments should outweigh the difficult ones. And sometimes all the hope and all the effort in the world does not overcome all the cracks.
This is why I can totally relate to Paige’s “a-ha” moment. I invested four years of my life alternating between being a complete puddle vs. silly in love all to end up (kind of where we had started) getting very upset in the aisle of a dollar store. Then I re-meet this guy who I totally misjudged and it felt so easy. Too easy. Is this what love is all about? I’m still not sure but I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself and I went out with him a second time.
I never went on another date with anyone else again.
Today we’re celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary and as I write this, I’m realizing the difficult parts of our relationship didn’t pop up until later. Not the difficult kind of moments where I doubted we would make it or anything but moments I never would have predicted based on how easily we fell into a rhythm with one another. Love does not shield you from unexpected surprises or loss. It can’t protect you from hurt, but it can help you heal. It forces you be flexible and compassionate with one another, even when you might not understand it or necessarily want to be. As a couple, we’ve certainly been tested and I know those days are not over. But I can say that I have never loved harder because of those times. I read so much about focusing on your “baby family” before saying “I do” and I stand by that advice. That bond is the foundation of your commitment. You have to believe in it and each other when the going gets tough.
But the good times, man, they are good. Whether we’re splitting a pizza or a dozen cookies, or he’s playing a video game and I’m reading next to him on the couch, I’m so incredibly lucky to be married someone who (mostly) understands my crazy quirks and encourages me to push harder and be better. He also still deals with me when I’m hangry or super exhausted. He will randomly tell me that he is still so crazy about me, I’ll tell him to shut up, but secretly I love it. It’s likely we’ll never foresee who exactly is going to make a huge impact on our lives. Like Max for Paige, or me with James — the newspaper editor I once yelled at and then totally wrote off. Maybe the best things do happen when we place the least amount of pressure on them.