It was spring. 1997. We were driving… I remember crossing the University Bridge during this conversation.
“So, my lease is up at the end of August…"
“Oh, really? You think you’ll renew it or find somewhere else?"
“I want to find a place with YOU. I mean, I practically live with you and Leanne now. But what if we got a place together?"
“Oh… Um… No. I’m not going to live with a man until I’m married.
I couldn’t. I mean, I guess I might live with my husband before we were married,
but I don’t ever want to live with a boyfriend. I wouldn’t want to
go through a breakup where it’s also a housing rearrangement.
Too much for my nervous system!"
That was the end of that conversation. Until two weeks later.
“So… Getting engaged? Would that mean, like… I’d give you a ring?"
I whipped my head toward him. “What? Why are you asking about that?”
“You want to get engaged before we move in together. So I wanted to see what it would take.”
That wasn’t what I’d meant at all.
But when he took me ring shopping, I was so enamored of the idea of being engaged, of having a wedding… I did love him, but we’d only been dating a few months, and there were already… a few problems. I’d have waited.
But he was ready to move.
When he put the ring on my finger one afternoon, between bites of sandwich, I stepped onto a conveyor belt that took me to an amazing apartment 2 blocks from Green Lake, a shared sofa, and a special needs cat we adopted together.
The next spring, I started thinking about plans for the wedding we’d both said we wanted to put off for “at least 2 years.” Two friends and I went to a gorgeous bridal salon across Lake Washington in Kirkland. I put on a beautiful silk gown and stood in front of the three-way mirror.
Whatever my friends and the consultant said about how that dress looked, I don’t remember. I didn’t hear it. As I looked at my own image in the mirror, a vision washed over me. I saw myself at my wedding.
I looked at my groom… He wasn’t there.
This vacant, going-through-the-motions expression occupied his eyes in the spot where I wanted to see love, devotion, and excitement.
I went home from that dress shopping trip and took my ring off.
I said to Kurt, “I do love you and I know you love me. And I got really excited about a wedding. But I don’t want that ring back until you are actually ready to marry me, however long that takes you.”
It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done: I pulled the plug on a dream that I’d held as long as I could remember and that would’ve continued happening, if I’d just kept my mouth shut.
I was terrified he wouldn’t ever be ready.
I was scared he’d change his mind. I was scared no one else would ever propose to me. But I had to give that ring back, because it didn’t mean what I wanted it to mean. It didn’t carry the heart of my dream.
I held out for the real thing. From him.
Although it was the riskiest move I’d ever made at the time, I’ve spent the intervening sixteen years taking risks like that - and bigger - for the sake of the love I really want. We keep growing together, asking more of one another, building our capacity to give each other more.
We learn to speak more truth. And to hear one another more deeply. To open more, sexually and emotionally. To give each other more freedom, even as we learn to help each other feel more safe.
I feel like I’m with a new man… again… Over and over.
Most recently, there’s a chapter of deeper emotional openness. He’s learning to fall in love in a deeper, more vulnerable way. We’d never have come to this place - I’d never have known to ask for what I asked for or how to receive it when he stepped forward to give it - if we hadn’t taken all the steps in between.
All those steps started way back when. He was persistent and persuasive on what he desired: to live together. And when I got clear on it, I was clear and resolute in what I desired: for him to work through his fears about marriage so he could consciously choose it and propose from love.
It took him 18 months. Thanksgiving weekend, 1999, he dropped to one knee in a snowy field we were hiking across in Winthrop, Washington. “We’re good together. You make me better. I want to see where that goes, for the rest of my life,” he said. I could feel it.
On July 15, 2000, we promised not, “till death do us part” but “so long as this is the place I can learn what I need to learn.” Today, there’s more to learn than there was back then. There’s still no guarantee we’ll always do that together, but after all the times we’ve called one another forward, I can’t imagine learning better anywhere else.
Life rewards courage... Perhaps nowhere more richly than inside a relationship.