Now, years later, I wonder if I picked someone unavailable to me so I wouldn't have to try again. I could have the fun of romantic feelings without an actual relationship with a person. After all, I was in charge of the fantasies. I didn't think I had anything left to give, to tell you the truth. When other guys asked me out, which didn't happen often, I had a secret reason for turning them down. As I said to one very nice guy, inexplicably using a baseball metaphor, I was still in the dugout, not the on-deck circle. I wasn't ready to get back into the dating game.
The spring of and summer after my senior year in college were fraught with Big Decisions. I was planning to go to graduate school, and I was stressed about the entrance paper. Basically, I was trying to write a master's thesis before I ever got in. For the first time in my life, I developed horrible insomnia--at one point I think I didn't sleep for three days straight. Finally, something broke inside me and I called my dad in the middle of the night, weeping, "Dad, I don't want to go to grad school."
"Okay, honey. You don't have to."
Things got better then, but not by much. I accepted a job teaching at the private school I'd attended, and I wasn't sure I could handle the kids. (This seems funny to me now, after the years of subbing and having my own classroom and now my own kids, but at the time it was scary.) I was back living in my parents' house and still not sleeping well, and August was coming up soon and I had no idea how to teach and...ACK.
I give you all this background to show you that I was not exactly in the most stable emotional state of my life.
One day my dad told me that one of his pastor friends had told him about a "great young man" who'd moved to our area from Louisiana and who the pastor thought would be a good match for me. I was not impressed, for several reasons: a) Why did the pastor talk to my dad and not me? It was 1996, not 1896; b) He made the guy sound booooring by talking about how stable and hard-working he was, plus he was older than me by seven years; and c) this was the same pastor who'd fixed me up with J., so he didn't have the greatest matchmaking track record in my book.
I shrugged the opportunity off. I actually saw my prospective suitor at a church camp meeting, but instead of going to the restaurant where he was going with a group, I went elsewhere with--you guessed it--my former crush. I wasn't trying to get with him (really!), but I didn't want to date this other guy.
That night my dad and my brother both told me I should give the older guy a chance. The thing that made me pause and think: my brother had never been wrong about the guys I dated. Still, I wasn't ready.
Then my family went on a vacation to the Gulf Shore of Alabama, and we had a nice time in our house on the beach. I swam and sunbathed (a little; remember how white I am!) and rode a Sea-Doo and ate a lot of shrimp. I also watched Sense and Sensibility and by the end of the movie, I was an emotional wreck. I went to my room and cried. Would I ever find the kind of love Jane Austen described? Or was I destined to be alone for the rest of my life?
I just want to point out here that I was barely 21 years old. Afraid that love would pass me by. Oh, it is to laugh, how young I was.
I came out of my room and told my mom, "When we get home, I'm going to go out with that guy." I sort of felt like, "I might as well; nothing wonderful is ever going to happen to me again."
And so I left a message on the pastor's answering machine. A couple of weeks later, I was at a youth all-night lock-in, talking to Justin (for it was he) for about four hours straight. The connection was instantaneous. I was so comfortable with him from the first minute we met. Plus, I thought, "This guy couldn't tell a lie to save his life." Not only did this turn out to be true, but it was also exactly what I needed, after all the mind games and fake flirting I'd been subjecting myself to.
Then later that night, he dressed up as a woman, and I almost decided not to go out with him.
But I think I'll save that story for another time, since this is running so long. (Such a tease I am!)
We kissed on the second date, at a stop light, and he said something like, "I hate to stop." And this is what I said to him: "Don't worry, there's more where that came from."
Shameless hussy! But he took me up on the offer. And it was like fireworks and dancing and chocolate and all my most favorite things.
I was still having intense anxiety and insomnia about teaching school and finding my Purpose In Life. All of that didn't stop immediately when I met Justin, but he was so sweet to me while I dealt with it. The turning point came when one night after a date, he offered to massage my back so I could relax enough to sleep. I didn't think it would work when nothing else had, but I agreed to let him try. He massaged my neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs, and feet for over an hour. As I felt the tension slip away, I drifted into sleep, remaining just conscious enough to feel him carry me into my room and tuck me into bed. I felt so safe in his strong arms.
That's why, only a few weeks later, I responded as I did when he said those three little words. We'd been
Feelings. So we had this whole conversation about possibly spending our lives together without saying anything about the fireworks between us.
Until he started driving me back to the friends' house where I was spending the night. Then he abruptly pulled the car over to the curb, and said, as if he just couldn't stand to wait another minute, "I love you very much."
"I love you, too," I said without thinking--but I knew it was true. I didn't know it, but I had just made one of the best decisions of my life.