I’m not a fan of public proclamations of love. I recently heard of a man who declared on facebook how much he loved his wife then shot her the same day. Real smooth, dude. That ain’t love.
These public proclamations have become a thing to do–like visit the grocery store or take the dog for a walk. Too many people do it without thinking of what it means.
But my wife likes them. Aaaaaaand it’s her birthday. And it’s the ten year anniversary since we met. So, indulge me for 2500 words as I tell you the story of us.
I was twenty-one years old and freshly returned from serving as a missionary. What to do next? Go to school. Check. And get married, of course. That’s what every good Mormon returned-missionary does, right?
No. That’s what everyone else did. I wasn’t everyone else. If everyone floated downstream in kayaks and inner tubes, I’d turn the other direction. Just because.
Sometimes being a nonconformist is just stupid.
It began to dawn on me that my nonconformist-ness might be a bad idea when I met her. I was sitting in my apartment before the semester began, awaiting the arrival of my stellar, totally awesome, totally cool roommate Brandon. He didn’t bother to tell me his older sister was smoking hot! He didn’t bother to tell me that she was the sweetest piece of eye and heart-candy this and that side of the Mississippi!
Dude. Duuuuuuude. She wore no makeup!
And she was beautiful.
For a man who loathed pretense, it was the best presentation of herself that she could give.
I could dig this girl.
You know that feeling you get when you just “connect” with someone? Conversation happens naturally. There’s no awkward pauses. You’re free to laugh, to smile, to compliment, to banter.
I knew this was something special, that this was a person I could spend more time with.
Several days later, our encounter remained in my mind. I wanted another fix, but wasn’t sure how to approach it. It seems fate had a way of winding our paths together again.
The sun had set and streetlights created glowing circles on the street. College students lined the street, laughing, joking, flirting, and making fools of themselves. I walked alone, smelling the summer air and savoring the breeze against my warm skin.
I was thinking of Amber. What did she look like? Okay…so I have a terrible memory for faces. I just remembered she was beautiful and had a magnetic personality.
Someone stopped right in front of me. A girl–dark brown hair. I thought it might be, but….
“Hi!” she said, waving her hand in a large circular arc.
You know that awkward moment when you’re not quite sure if you’re on a hugging basis? Then you do that weird, alternate between a handshake and hug and fist-bump thing?
We totally did that, concluding with a fist-shake-hug-bump that looked like a strange ritual from another culture.
“What’s up?” I asked
“Not much. You?”
Okay….so not everything was smooth as silk when we first met. That magic ease of conversation was gone. No biggie. It must have been a fluke. On to the next gal, I suppose.
“I was wondering,” she said.
I lifted an eyebrow.
“You like dancing, right?” she asked.
“There’s swing club this weekend. Wanna go?”
“Yeah! That sounds great.”
“Pick you up at 6?” she asked.
“Isn’t the guy supposed to pick up the girl?”
“You got a car?”
“Good point. See you at 6.”
Before long, we were spending Friday and Saturday nights seeing movies, going dancing, or studying together at the library. I walked her to her classes and carried her camera bags to shoots for the newspaper.
And I was falling in love. The girl had an emotional barometer–always aware of the needs of others and responding appropriately–an embrace here, a note there, a moment or two of conversation. She could read the affect in a room and knew to laugh and banter when the moment called for it, or to listen with empathy and glistened eyes at other times.
But I wasn’t going to let this happen! I wasn’t going to be like everyone else and latch onto the first pretty girl who showed any interest. What if there was someone else out there? What if someone was a better match? What if I was missing my soulmate because I was too busy looking at this beautiful piece of perfection?
I had to say something. I had to make sure I wasn’t diving headlong into a mistake. I had to let her know that I wasn’t ready to “settle”–that I had to keep my options open, date others, date her, date some more–make sure she’s a good match.
Yes, that’s what I had to do.
So we’re walking and she adopts that tone. you know the one I mean–that “we really need to talk” tone.
Great! I needed to talk too.
We climbed the zig-zagging stairs to her apartment before standing outside her door. Oblivious students jostled one another in boisterous conversation, painfully unaware that my entire future was at stake here!
“So…” she said. “I was thinking…”
“I’m interested in…how do I say this? I want us to…see other people.”
I grinned. It was exactly what I wanted. “Great!”
She blinked. “Great?”
“That’s fantastic! I was thinking the same thing!”
She exhaled, her shoulders relaxing. “Fantastic!” She extended her hand. That was odd. We normally ended conversations in a hug.
I shook her hand and said goodbye.
It wasn’t until months later that I learned that “see other people” meant, “see other people,” or “see people instead of you!”
I’m glad I didn’t get the memo.
I texted her the next day–“Can I walk with you to devotional?”
A looooooong pause.
Another odd reaction. Hmmm. Oh well.
So I went on my happy way. But I could tell something was off. She was quieter–withdrawn. Her smile was absent, except for the sort that didn’t touch her eyes. She was acting. But why?
I found out that weekend.
Another text–“Can we talk?”
I arrived at her apartment.
“Let’s go somewhere more quiet,” she said.
We walked 100 yards or so to a beautiful landscaped garden. A zig-zagged path climbed a hill like switchbacks, punctuated with daisies, pansies, and decorative grasses. We walked in silence, gravel crunching beneath our feet. With each step, my stomach tightened more and more.
“So what’s up?” I asked.
She sighed. “So… I like this other guy.”
I stopped walking. It wasn’t betrayal, by any means. We’d made no commitments to each other. From the beginning, it was understood that we were feeling the waters.
But it still hurt.
“Okay…” I said.
“And he just,” she sighed, “told me he wasn’t interested.”
Outwardly, I groaned and reached to comfort her. Inwardly, I was dancing.
“And…” she said.
“I really appreciated that he was honest with me.”
“And in that same spirit…I don’t want to lead you on either. Let’s just be friends.”
I smiled. I’m sure my eyes glistened and my throat tightened. “Okay.”
She extended her hand. “Friends?”
I nodded, but didn’t say anything. If I let out the words, the tears might follow. I cleared my throat. “Let me walk you back.”
For days, I reeled. I hadn’t realized that I’d made my decision. I didn’t need to date others–she was perfect. She was the one.
The one I’d have to watch fall in love with another.
The logical thing to do would be to give her space–to give myself space. But I’d made a commitment; I’d already promised her I’d carry her bags to a Sunday night event.
“Can I still carry your bag? Friend?” I texted.
“:) Yes please. Friend.”
Hefting the bags, we walked to the Marriott center.
“So, friend,” I said. “If I can’t be your boyfriend. Let me be your best friend. If I’m not the one, then I’ll be the one to find the one. What are you looking for in a guy?”
She smiled. “That’s sweet of you. Let’s see.” She gazed at the sky, watching the birds flit between trees. Her vanilla perfume filled the air, mingling with the scent of freshly cut grass. “I want a guy who will make me laugh.”
I sighed. She’d told me that I made her laugh once.
“And he’s got to love serving others.”
Wait a minute. She told me she loved that about me too.
So what was wrong with me?
“Go on,” I said.
For the next several minutes, she told me everything she wanted in a man–always they were things she said she liked about me.
So what was wrong with me?
It didn’t matter. What mattered was that other thing that was wrong with me. I couldn’t turn off the feelings. I couldn’t stop falling in love with her. I tried. I prayed. I scolded myself whenever I fixated on her beautiful smile or poured over her texts.
I needed help. And in a situation like this, the only fix is a BFF fix.
Kyle Fackrell–my roommate.
Kyle’s tall and skinny with 60% compassion, gentleness, and meekness, 40% total goofball, and 10% rascal (yeah, the dude’s so awesome, he adds up to over 100%). The guy writes music for a living that reflects his own personality–good to the bone and able to probe, discover, and uncover the essence of human emotion. He’s the sort of guy that can look you in the eyes, tell you with such benevolence exactly what you’re doing wrong, make you laugh at your own weakness, and have you walk away feeling like he just told you you’re a saint.
I needed my Kyle fix.
We sat in my apartment, rocking back and forth on the kitchen chairs.
Then Brandon entered. Yeah….totally not okay to have a conversation about how I was falling in love with Brandon’s sister with him there.
Our eyes shifted to Brandon.
“Dustin,” Kyle said, “let’s go have a beer.”
(And no, we did not actually drink beer. From that time to this day, “have a beer” is our metaphore for having a potentially life-changing discussion, also known as “girl talk.”)
“What’s up, D?”
“I’m having a problem.”
“Amber. You know what happened. But here’s the thing–I can’t turn off my feelings for her.”
“So….basically, I just need you to slap me into shape. Tell me to get over it. Tell me to let it go. Cuss me out, for all I care. I just need help.”
Kyle pressed his lips together, studying the surrounding Utah mountains, but said nothing. He slung his sandals over his shoulders, walking barefooted–kinda like a medicine man or a nomadic prophet.
He smiled and nodded–as if God himself just entered his brain and told him what to say.
And I think he did.
“Here’s the thing, Dustin. Do you consider Amber a friend?”
“My best friend.”
“And what happens to that friendship if she marries someone else?”
I stopped walking. “I didn’t think about that.”
“If she marries someone else, our friendship may survive, but probably not.”
“Exactly. When she marries, it would be at least weird and at most inappropriate to have that sort of relationship. So…”
“So she either becomes my best friend. Or someone else’s.”
I stared vacantly at the asphalt. This would end, or it would last forever. And the way things were looking, they would end.
“So what are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m saying you ask for her back.”
“No.” I shook my head. “That would be rude. A-a-and desperate.”
“Best friends forever? Or never again?”
I rubbed my forehead. “No. Absolutely not.”
He remained silent.
“Fine. Fine!” I said.
He slapped my shoulder and squeezed. “I have a feeling you won’t regret it.”
I texted her that night. “Can we talk?”
Her response was immediate. “Sure. I’m at home. See you soon?”
“Sure. Give me ten.”
I walked, grumbling. This was stupid. She said no! I should respect that. But Kyle was right. If I didn’t try, I’d always wonder.
But it was stupid. I wasn’t some desperate wallflower who couldn’t find a date. I wasn’t some clingy ex-boyfriend.
It was dark when I arrived. Crickets chirped in the background and the night was cool. My fingers shook. Heck–my everything shook.
“What’s up?” she said.
I opened my mouth to speak…but what could I say?
Nothing. It was stupid–I said nothing.
“I still like you,” I blurted. “I like you. I think you’re beautiful and I love being around you and every time in the past when I’ve liked someone and didn’t want to I could turn it off and now that I want to turn it off with you I can’t and I’m just blabbering. And I like you. A lot. And I’m really sorry that I can’t turn off my feelings for you but I just can’t. I can’t. It’s…I can’t.”
Our footsteps padded against the concrete, mingling with the chirping of the crickets. She remained silent.
“Well?” I said.
“Go on…” she said.
I sighed and my shoulders dropped. I’d already exposed myself, left my dying heart on the butcher block and given her the cleaver. I might as well keep going. I guess.
(I would later learn that she thought what I was saying was so cute she didn’t want me to stop. So she made me suffer and stammer and splutter. The nerve!)
“I love that you play the piano for me just because you know I like it. I love when you sing–it seems like angels open the clouds to listen. And your totally freaking smart and I’m not going to lie that it intimidates me, but then it doesn’t because I know you never judge me or think I’m dumb.”
For the next ten minutes, as we strolled Brigham Young University campus, I told her what I liked about her, what I loved about her and why I thought she was perfect for me and begged her forgiveness that I liked her so much–that I was falling in love with her.
We reached a water fountain and sat on it’s edge. Mists of water tickled our arms and the backs of our necks. Despite everything that had happened, I felt contentment listening to the rumbling of the water and hearing the girl next to me breathe.
She tapped her finger on the concrete seat. “Well…”
My ears seemed to lift like a hound.
“I’ve been thinking a lot,” she continued, “and…I really like you too.”
“I under– Wait. What?”
“I like you.”
“Like…you like like? Or just like like?”
“I like like.”
I jumped from my seat, shooting my fist into the air. “Wahoo!”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
She laughed some more.
Within a month, we shared our first kiss. And we’ve been smooching every since 🙂
That was ten years ago. Much has changed and much has happened. Sure, my heart may not race when I feel her arm brush against mine, and that giddy-borderline-psychotic race of hormones doesn’t consume my every thought like it once did. But there’s something deeper now–something better. Like my good friend Dale Swaim, when I look at her I know that everything’s going to be okay. When she walks into the room, life is in balance. And every night, when she stays awake so she can hum me to sleep, I know that Kyle was right. That decision to grovel, to beg, to implore–I have never regretted it. I’d do it again. And again. And again. And a thousand times worse and a thousand times more difficult.
I love you, Amber. I adore you. I look forward to forever together.
And now the world knows it 🙂