I’ve been promising my blog friend, Christine, from Quasi Agitato, the story of my engagement to my husband M, and since this Saturday is our 11th anniversary, I thought I’d make good on that promise!
M and I met in college. We could have met when we were quite young, as his father used to bring him into my father’s hardware store in the days where I played My Little Ponies with my sister on the store shelves. We could have met during our freshman year when we lived a floor apart on one of the largest campuses in the world, with friends on each other’s floors. We could have met through a mutual friend.
But we didn’t. We met one auspicious day when I, a newly hired Resident Assistant, got lost in the labyrinth of my new residence hall, trying to find the office of our Hall Director to turn in my acceptance paperwork for the following school year. He was the handsome, mannerly, Honors floor RA, who walked with me to my destination. I went back to my hall that night and told my long time best friend, S that I would be working with “a hot guy next year.”
Still, I was seriously dating another Very Nice Boy at the time and so M and I remained respectful coworkers until, two relationships later, we started hanging out to share notes over the demise of our most recent relationships. That sharing quickly blossomed into a friendship. That friendship turned into two college kids drafting lists about what they wanted in a partner. We shared the lists. Turned out we had some overlap. And we had chemistry.
He left sweet notes on our staff message board, including quotes and lines of poetry. Then there was the dried rose in my mailbox, the greeting cards slipped under my door. I had never been courted with such romantic gestures before. We were an item; then we doubted. We were together; then we were uncertain. Whatever issues we had; we couldn’t keep away from each other. We chose each other over and over again.
A year and a half later, M and I graduated college. We worked for a summer in temporary positions and then, since our liberal arts degrees hadn’t netted us any fab job offers yet, we decided to travel for three weeks to Europe. I’ve heard it said that you don’t truly know someone until you travel with them. In our case, I had a suspicion that this trip might be a proving ground for the future of our relationship. During our travels, we certainly encountered all manner of situations that might have revealed serious faults in our partnership.
Indeed, we stayed in some truly crazy places; places only youth or eccentricity finds tolerable. Our first night in London, we arrived with lost baggage (including our travel guides and directions to our youth hostel) and shared one single bunk mattress with a threadbare pillow held together with dirt that we tossed to the ground. Another night, having traveled to watch a friend’s music performance for his Master’s degree, we slept on a single pillow, lying on the concrete floor of a dorm room. It was an experience. He developed an upper respiratory infection; then I got it while traveling in Stratford-upon-Avon. I slept with my head on a table in Warwick Castle, while he prowled the grounds. Two aging English ladies wondered aloud whether I was ok, but I was too ill to raise my head and reassure them.
Finally, we arrived in France, to a hotel we deemed “Tres Nasty” where I had to prop the shower/sink room door shut with a suitcase to prevent myself from having an asthma attack, where I brushed my teeth with bottled water, spitting off the balcony onto the streets below with an expletive escaping my mouth along with the toothpaste, and where we were fairly certain French prostitutes were entertaining their johns in the next room. The toilet on one floor had a light. The other floor had toilet paper. I made M go with me for protection. Our sheets had a burn hole on them and we used our travel sheets to protect ourselves from potential bedbugs, leaving them behind when we left. We still paid our bill but happily, we changed hostels the next day.
It rained every day in Paris, but we still loved the city. We toured the Louvre and museums together; we ate fattening pastries and walked through beautiful streets and gardens. We narrowly missed getting hit by a bus in front of the Place Des Invalides; the woman behind us was struck. That was a horrifying experience.
The Parisians were kind to our faces; perhaps they appreciated my hideous attempts to use my high school French or maybe they just secretly mocked me in words beyond my level of comprehension. We tried not to be those Americans in Paris though we did make an exception to see the Eiffel Tower.
One evening, we thought to have dinner in the restaurant above the Eiffel Tower, Le Jules Verne. I wondered if this was the moment I was waiting for…the romantic proposal in Paris. I figured if M was going to propose, he would do so either that night or in my ancestral homeland of Wales, a subsequent travel stop. Ignorant as we were, we soon discovered that we would have needed to make reservations, months if not a year in advance to get into Le Jules Verne. While that evening was spectacularly beautiful; it was not to be THE night.
M and I continued our journey through Ireland doing the usual tourist things. He made me hand sanitize my mouth after I dangled backward over a treacherous gaping hole to kiss the Blarney stone. We took in the breathtaking beauty of the Ring of Kerry on a bus tour. We got stranded on the Cliffs of Moher without a way back to our hostel, and subsequently walked several glorious miles over the gorgeous Irish countryside. We drank a pint of Guinness together.
And then we went to St. David’s, Wales, a place of spiritual pilgrimage and home to some of the most beautiful cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
We wandered over the cliffs one day, picnicking on cheese, bread, and the most awful wine I’ve ever tasted. Caught too far away to reach shelter during an approaching rainstorm, we huddled under one umbrella, bracing ourselves against the torrent that pelted us from a sideways direction. When the rain finally stopped, we rose to see a beautiful rainbow over the ocean. We walked past a pasture filled with horses to a rocky edged part of the cliff. There M bent down to tie shoelaces that had been coming untied all week. I reached down to help him up, not thinking anything of it, only to have him remain, one knee on the ground, asking me to spend the rest of my life with him.*
Even when you know a proposal is coming, if your partner is really good, they can still surprise you. Though a proposal in Paris would have been traditionally romantic; next to the genuine perfection of the moment in Wales, it would have seemed crass and clichéd. There, in the country where my great-grandparents once lived, we agreed to grow our family by joining our lives together. It was almost like the rainbow was made to order. It was an idyllic proposal and of course, I said “YES!”
Venturing down to St. David’s Cathedral after our walk, we found a copy of “The Art of Marriage” in the gift shop that my Aunt later read at our wedding. In the passage, it talks about how “A good marriage must be created” and about how “A good marriage means being the right partner.” Eleven years in, I’m thankful I reached out my hand when he tied his shoe and that we made a promise under a rainbow to be the right partner for each other, choosing to continue creating our story every day, holding together through life’s rainstorms and the beauty that always follows if you wait for it.
*Incidentally, later that same year, Ben Stiller tried to propose to Teri Polo in Meet the Parents using a similar shoe tying move. He wasn’t as successful…but as her character in the movie was named Pam, it made M and I smile.
Also, if you liked this post, be sure to check out Ten Love Lessons Over Ten Years of Marriage.