Warning: Corniness, cheesiness, and lots of pictures ahead
Today marks five years since my boyfriend and I started dating, and I’m trying to figure out how it has been that long.
It doesn’t feel like five years. Sometimes, it feels like five minutes. At other times, it feels like there wasn’t ever a formal beginning to our dating years, and that they just began before we were even born. That we just always were together.
But reflecting back to five years ago, there was a formal beginning to our dating years. And I laugh and smile and shake my head a little to think about how it all started. How different we were back them, and yet how similar we are now.
This could get long, so I’ll give you the TLDR version of this post now: It’s been five amazing years! Happy anniversary to my best friend!
Alex and I technically first met at the beginning of March 2010 through Facebook. Both of us had been accepted into the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and had been added to the freshman’s official page. He messaged me on Facebook, saying he wanted to get to know students at the Cronkite School. We instantly started talking, mainly about the contrast between Arizona and Washington state, where he lived. He asked what day I was going to orientation, to which I admitted I hadn’t signed up for a day yet. He suggested I attend the one he was flying out to, and, wanting to at least know at least one person when I went for orientation, I agreed and signed up.
And so, officially, the two of us met on March 26th, 2010 at the Cronkite School’s orientation. It wasn’t until a year or two after we started dating he told me how he’d been scared to come up and talk to me on that day.
We were in the First Amendment Forum on the second floor of the Cronkite School during one of our breaks when we recognized each other from our Facebook pictures and introduced ourselves face-to-face, finally.
People have asked us if it was love at first sight. I don’t know if that’s an accurate description for it. I think meeting for the first time is best described as simple eye-contact and a wordless understanding, even if we didn’t fully realize it at the time:
“Oh, there you are. Where have you been?”
During orientation, the parents and the students were separated from one another but were reunited at lunchtime. Alex, our new friend Casey, and I got a table and waited for our moms, taking turns to get plates. They all eventually came and found us when Alex was up by the food. And without knowing that Alex and I had already been in contact, without knowing that we had spent the morning together with Casey goofing around during orientation, my mom saw him from across the room and – with that weird and freakishly right intuition of hers – somehow thought in that moment, That is who my daughter is going to end up with.
Imagine her surprise when that same guy came back to the table, sat down next to me, and I introduced him to her as my friend Alex. When she and I were driving away at the end of the day and she told me we’d be dating soon, I told her she was crazy.
As usual, however, she ended up being right.
After we parted ways that day, Alex and I proceeded to message over Facebook quite frequently as we approached and eventually surpassed graduation. During our light-hearted yet brutally honest conversations, I was struck by how different he was from any other guy that had ever taken the time to talk to me. He didn’t try to impress me or brag about past achievements. He wasn’t constantly talking about himself. He was interested in what I had to say. He had a gentle demeanor that I found very calming. He was intelligent – to this day he is probably one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.
Somehow over the course of the several months we were apart, our numbers were exchanged and we switched from Facebook messaging to texting. I remember that he allowed me to give his number to him on my own free will; never once did he ask for it. He was so casual in giving me his that it just felt like the natural thing to do, to switch to texting. Somehow, he knew I was incredibly cautious.
I worked full time at a cancer clinic that summer and I was miserable. I got through my nine-hour days by texting him whenever I had free time. I loved hearing from him. I loved hearing what he had to say about political issues and about life in general. I wanted to hear from him so much that I started rationing my texts so that I wouldn’t look like a ditzy girl desperate to talk to any guy who noticed her. I checked my phone so much that summer, just wanting to hear back from this guy I had met once yet somehow knew so well. Someone who – while knowing next to nothing about me – understood me perfectly.
Finally we got to ASU. We’d counted down to the day together and laughed when our dorm rooms turned out to be literally right across the hall from each other’s. I was in 228 and he was in 227.
We were psyched to be at school. During the few days we had to ourselves before classes started (and between our duties of helping people move in as per our Sparky’s Welcome Team gig for which we had both signed up) we hung out in my room or in his. We talked. We built a fort under my bed (it was ridiculously high up). We went down to eat in our dining hall together. We dragged out Apples to Apples and held court in the lounge area with a bunch of other freshman. We visited new classmates’ rooms together to introduce ourselves.
Wherever I went those first few days, Alex was with me. It was one of the nicest feelings in the world, knowing I could look over my shoulder and see someone there who was looking after me. In a new place where so many freshman guys were happily scoping out the competition and eagerly approaching any girl that was on her own, there was one, solid person I somehow had no trouble trusting. I felt safe with him. And for me to feel safe around guys at that time was no easy feat.
Most of those days before school officially started, we had to listen to a few
aspiring musicians fellow dorm dwellers living around us who were dragging out their guitars and playing really loudly for the whole floor to hear. We laughed about this, thinking it was rather douchey to seek attention that way. At one point when we were hanging out in my room, Alex jokingly brought his own guitar over to mess around with chords. I was scrolling on Facebook and he sat on my bed, quietly playing snippets of songs here and there.
And then, out of nowhere, he starting singing and playing my favorite song.
I’m pretty sure I stopped what I was doing and choked up right then and there. Over the summer at some point, we’d discussed favorites, favorite songs among them. Somehow, he’d remembered that my favorite song was and is and will forever be “Conviction of the Heart” by Kenny Loggins. And he was playing it for me. Not for an audience of freshman, not to make him seem cool to anyone else on the floor. For me.
Our classes started on August 19th, a Thursday. The day before, on August 18th, we had to go to a mandatory freshman orientation gathering in the stadium and then we had the option to go hike A Mountain and whitewash the giant A. Alex (wisely) opted out of hiking and painting, since it was roughly 110 degrees out. I (stupidly) climbed it with two people who would come to be two of my very dear friends – Alex’s roommate Dylan and another girl named Jane. I nearly passed out at the very top due to the heat and my low blood sugar, and they had to drive me down the mountain. I made it back to our dorms downtown and rested in my room. Alex came to check on me, and we watched stupid YouTube videos in my dorm room for a while, intending to spend our night that way.
Then somehow during the evening as we sat in my room laughing over cat videos, we found out through somebody running and yelling down the hall that all freshman were required to go to a comedy show. So the two of us walked over to the building together, grumbling and complaining. We sat in the back of the room by ourselves, irritated that our night hadn’t gone as planned. The comedy show, as it turned out, was the best thing we had ever been required to go to. We laughed hysterically throughout the entire thing and were sad to leave when it was over.
While we were slowly walking back to our dorm, we were talking happily about the show when, suddenly and yet very cautiously, Alex reached out and took my hand in his. It was an instinct of mine, back then, to get away from anybody who got close to me. So at once I yanked my hand away from his and jumped back. I was another foot or so away from him before I could even think about what I was doing. At once, of course, he knew to back off.
We walked in dead silence back to the dorms, got in the elevator together without a word. When we got out on our floor, I turned to him and said, “I think we need a fort meeting,” referring to our awesome fort we had constructed a few days before. So we turned and walked toward our rooms, eventually going into mine. The second I closed the door, before I even turned to him, I was saying the words, “It’s not you.”
Alex sat on the floor, so I did, too. I told him no. I told him that wasn’t ready. I told him I was scared. That I had been through too much and I didn’t want to involve him with it. That I was so incredibly, emotionally, spiritually messed up to consider dragging anyone else into my mess.
“And I’m sorry, because I really like you, but I can’t,” I ended, not looking at him. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know what you’ve been through,” was his gentle response, “but…I want to be there. With you.”
I broke down then. I told him so much that night. Everything. Things I hadn’t even told my therapist. Looking back on that night today, I am stunned how I simply threw caution to the winds, how I blindly, instinctively trusted him.
And he just listened. He took my hand in his and I willed myself not to yank it away. He just held it and listened and I was crying by the time I was done. I told him I was sorry. I told him to run. I told him to find another girl, because I was mentally screwed up and deserved nobody, least of all an incredible guy like him.
He lifted my chin very gently with his hand so he could look into my eyes. And he said the words that, though I didn’t know it then, he would say often throughout the next few weeks and the next few months as we learned to trust each other completely, words that would melt me each time, words I eventually repeated back to him and words we still say to each other now during rough times:
He said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
That night began with me yanking my hand away from his as we walked back to campus. It ended with us kissing while sitting on the floor of my dorm room.
And the five years since have been the greatest of my life.
The first three years we were both in school – and for the fourth year when Alex worked full time and I was finishing up college – honestly blend together in a way. There are so many wonderful memories from those years: Visiting Long Beach in Washington, the day we saw Gypsy and the few days after when I brought her home, walking around campus together hand in hand, making food in his apartment in downtown Phoenix and hanging out with our huge group of friends in the dorms freshman year, and eating junk food at my mom’s house and play-fighting over radio stations in the car, and – eventually – graduation. Those years weren’t without trial, but they were truly fun and carefree, in a way.
This fifth year was when we were thrown – maybe even more like dragged – into the scary grown up world.
In October, we moved in together into a 800 square foot, one-bedroom apartment which was a huge adjustment as we are both introverts and need our own space a lot of the time. We set up a joint account and figured out budgets and grocery shopping and meal planning and a system for cleaning and laundry and the electric bill and the Internet bill and our car insurance bills and our health insurance bills. We dealt with the stress of working full-time and still having to make dinner and clean and feed the kitty and maybe go on dates every now and then.
Our conversations changed drastically this year. Sometimes I catch the things we say to each other and wonder how in the hell we arrived at adulthood: “Good, you’re home – can you take out the garbage?” and, “Crap, our electric bill was too high this month,” and, “What are we doing for dinner?” and, “Can we just go out? I don’t want to make anything,” and, “Can we afford to buy a new coffee table?” and, “Look, I got us a new vacuum from Fry’s,” and, “Wait, our friends are getting married??” and, “Wait, our friends are having kids???” and, “Can’t we go back to playing underneath that fort?” and, “Can we just not adult anymore today? Or ever?”
Lest you all think our five years have been all sunshine and rainbows, this fifth year has brought some of the ugliest arguments and interventions and fights I never imagined were possible. Life has a way of ravaging relationships sometimes.
But these five years – particularly this last one – have shown me that among other things, love is knowing that come what may, the two of you are in it together. Love is taking the hard times along with the good ones.
Love is forgiving mistakes and holding each other to high standards and lovingly calling the other person out when they need to be brought back to Earth.
Love is knowing you are supported 100% of the time. Love is having someone rooting for you always.
Love is communicating with a single glance. Love is being honest every second of every day.
Love is making it a point to kiss each other goodbye every single morning (even if the other person is still asleep) and kiss each other good night (even if the two of you don’t ever go to bed at the same time).
Love is doing the dishes and filling the Britta filter and making dinner and folding laundry and cleaning the kitty litter box and giving unexpected flowers and writing handwritten notes and trying to understand the importance of football.
Love is many, many more things about which I could write forever. But today of all days, I remember this: Love is remembering how it all began.
Alex, happy anniversary, baby.
I didn’t realize I was looking for you until I found you.