Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Marriage: The [Way, Way] Backstory

With Valentine's Day around the corner, I've been in the mood to write about relationships and love. [Surprise, surprise!] So, here is the backstory on my relationship with Nick. :)

Since we moved to Iowa City, I've been sharing the story of how Nick and I met and how we ended up together. And while I tell an abridged version--about how we were so different when we met and how much we changed before we knew we were supposed to be together--I always want to tell more.

Change was the biggest thing that brought us back together, the fact that we both changed, grew up, and it was all for the better. And while we both changed, I can only really attest to my own change, the change I so thankfully lived, that I can look back on and rejoice that I am not the same person I used to be when Nick and I first met.

Nick and I met in college, at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. And as I'm sure other people who grew up sheltered will attest, going off to college is like being reborn. You're suddenly experiencing so many things for the first time--the heady rush of freedom, the liberating sense of personal responsibility, and the overwhelming knowledge that you get to decide your own path now. At least, that's how it was for me. I still remember those first few nights, the realization that I could essentially go and do what I wished, without permission, without checking in. It was amazing.

My parents and me on my first day as a student at Moody.

My freshman year was a whirlwind of life as lived out by an 18-year-old experiencing so many things for the first time. The biggest thing was finally being able to date, even though I didn't really go on many dates, mostly just hanging out with guy friends and talking with my roommate about which boys we thought were cute. In it all there were endless possibilities to find a handsome "prince charming" of sorts, since that's what it seemed like everyone did in college. They met their soul mate and rode off into a blissful sunset, painted by the masterful artists at Disney.

At the end of my freshman year with my roommate, Gracie.

After freshman year ended, I went back home for the summer and started dating my first boyfriend, who to my surprise, I hadn't met at school. But he was a cute, Christian guy and all that, so everything was perfect... except not. I realized how wrong it was once I got back to school. Distance is always a good test for relationships. Living close, seeing the other person regularly is easy. Trying to keep in touch over dorm phones and instant messenger is harder, much much harder. That relationship caused me to question so many things, like should I really stay in school? Why not just drop out and get married? What was the point of all this anyway?

At the start of sophomore year with girls from my floor.

Thankfully, God got my attention and didn't let me ruin my college career over one relationship. But the breakup was difficult and messy and the following semester was a slow climb out of a deep pit. I chopped off my hair, deciding an outward change should remind me of an inward one, however slow it might be.

With Rachel, Megan, and Gracie at the end of sophomore year.
Nick in his dorm room during his first semester at Moody.

The next semester, the start of my junior year, I met Nick. I don't remember much about our meeting as it was a quick introduction by a mutual friend and I was already interested in a new guy who was also on Nick's floor. Even at a small Bible college, it was easy to shift from cute guy to cute guy. If one wasn't interested, or things didn't work out, there was always another cute guy to be interested in, especially during my junior year. But now looking back with several years behind me, I can see how God spared me from even greater heartache by causing things to end when they did.

Midway through junior year with Molly and Bethany.
Nick just before the start of his junior, my senior, year.

Nick and I didn't really hang out until another mutual friend invited us separately to see Spider Man 3 on opening night. Of course, being the boy crazy person I was, I was interested in this mutual friend so I immediately accepted the invitation. What I didn't know was that the mutual friend also had a thing for my roommate, so he wasn't totally sold on me. I ended up sitting between him and Nick, and while he wasn't interested in talking as we waited for the movie to start, Nick and I struck up a conversation. Nick was interested in another girl at the time, so we talked about that and what he had been doing to try to get her attention. I remember sitting there in the theater thinking, This is a really great guy! Any girl would be lucky to go out with him. I also found out that he was interested in working at Solheim, the on-campus gym facility where I and several mutual guy friends worked. I told him I'd try to put in a good word for him, and get some of the other guys to vouch for him as well.

Working at Solheim after my senior year with Tori and Juwan Howard.
Nick working at Solheim/playing on his phone. ;)

Not long after, Nick got hired at Solheim and we started seeing more of each other. We got along well and became friends right away. And while I was busy being interested in someone else, he remained off my radar, though working together was always pleasant. We worked at Solheim together through my senior year, and at the start of the year, things began to change. One night a couple of friends were ridiculing me and to get away I decided to go find Nick. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew he was a good person to seek out if I was having a problem. And for me, that was the moment I realized I might like him as something more than a friend.

One of our first times hanging out with friends.

We started hanging out more, especially over Christmas and Spring break, when we stayed on campus to work. After closing time, we'd take long walks through the city or to the grocery store, or to Starbucks, where I got him hooked on delicious passion tea lemonades. In April, we decided to make it official and for the first time ever, I dated someone from school.

Our first date at the Hancock Tower.
Bowling with friends.
At the junior/senior banquet.

If you know Nick, you probably know about his past, which of course affected the present in our relationship. Being the not-so-understanding person I was, I was frustrated by the awkward and sometimes tense moments. I had a hard time seeing past my own insecurities of how people viewed me that I often was not very thoughtful of others. For some reason in my mind, I had built everything up so much and image was everything, whether mine or other's.

Thrift shopping in Chicago.

We dated for a month and by the end, I don't think things felt as natural for us. We were two people who were so different in so many ways and with the pressures of a relationship, I think that caused us to buckle. We also knew as the school year ended that our lives would be going in completely different directions. Later down the road we would each look back at our breakup and feel that we were individually to blame, that neither of us fought as hard as we should have and that we gave up too easily. I always thought it was my fault, that I bought the lies I had been sold by our culture and thus I was looking for something that wasn't real. And I know Nick always felt like it was his fault, but of course I disagreed.
Nick and Jordan during my senior year. I kept a
printed copy of this photo in a collage frame throughout
my time in Denver and after moving back to Iowa.

We parted ways as boyfriend and girlfriend, but still remained friends. It was a little tense at first. People love to talk and we were a source of gossip for a while among our friends. Then there were the guys who wanted Nick to tell me off and treat me like dirt because I had broken up with him. But of course Nick's true character showed through as he always treated me with kindness, despite what everyone said. Sure we had our moments of frustration, but they never lasted long.

At graduation with Megan, Rachel, and Heidi.
Nick got a cute new haircut, after we broke up. (Of course!)

The school year ended and we didn't see each other for three years. I stayed in Chicago for the summer before moving back to Iowa to save money and be near my family. The next year I moved to Colorado to be close to a guy I had started dating, but we broke up two months later. I stuck it out in Denver, telling myself I was supposed to be there, I could do it. It represented some of the best times in my life and some of the worst. I needed it to grow, to get past the silly, ungrounded person I had been in college and to truly become an adult. And that's exactly what happened [read more about that in this post], I made mistakes, I learned, and I grew. Throughout that time, Nick and I remained friends. Sometimes we'd talk a lot, texting and messaging on Facebook, and other times we'd talk only a little, an occasional phone call or life update. I always treasured our friendship, that we could be miles apart and still pick up where we left off.

Nick's graduation from Moody in 2009.
At a basketball game with Margaret after moving to Denver.

In 2011 I was back in Iowa, coming off a very needed intentional break from dating when Nick came out for a visit. We had been talking a lot more regularly over the past months and decided it would be good to see each other and spend time together in person. [Before Nick visited I wrote this, which was to him/about him, but I never told him until later.] It was really the best time. We had so much fun reminiscing and visiting different places around Clinton. Nick even helped me run junior high events for the first night of my church's sports camp outreach. And while it was a fun visit, it was also intentional, to see if maybe we could/should start dating again. At the end, I knew Nick wanted to get back together, but in my heart, I was finally, finally at peace with myself and my life, for maybe the first time ever. Because of that, I wasn't ready to start dating again. So I told Nick that now wasn't the time, and being his usual self, he accepted that with grace, kindness and understanding. And so we continued on as we had, friends keeping in touch across the miles.

Back in Iowa, celebrating my birthday.
Nick with his niece in 2011.

The final few lessons I needed to learn came close together at the beginning of 2012. Actually, they probably came hand-in-hand to show me what I finally needed to see to open my eyes to the truth about my life and relationships. First, I started dating again in January. And while my new relationship started out great, it began to take a downhill spiral very quickly. I was so confused about so many things going on that I reached out to Nick, just to ask him questions and get his insight. Was this normal? What did that mean? He had, after all, always been the person I turned to when I was experiencing difficulties. Second, I took a trip to visit my best girl friend and her husband in Dallas. That trip was like a light switch, finally fully illuminating a truth I had known for years, but never completely understood--why people always say "you should marry your best friend." Even I had said it, but it was more of a nebulous concept than a real life truth. During that visit, I finally got to see what it looked like with two of my dearest friends who were each other's best friends. And when I came home, all I knew was, I wanted that kind of marriage, and there was only one person in the world I'd have that with.

Visiting Jordan and Brandi in Dallas.
Nick with his niece again, around the time we started talking in 2012.

Thankfully things ended in the relationship I was in, though not as soon as it should have. I had the support of some great friends, including one of my best friends who was in town visiting the weekend we finally broke up. She was able to speak truth into my life and help me take the steps I knew I needed to. After that, Nick and I started talking more and I finally knew what I couldn't have known as a free-spirited college kid, that Nick was absolutely the right person for me. He was everything I would ever need in someone, even if I didn't know it. He was my best friend, the person who had always been there. And he had loved me the whole time, even in the moments when I was my worst self. He knew everything about me, but it never changed his opinion of me; he still saw me like Jesus does, whole, valued, purposeful, beautiful.

Hanging out in Times Square during my visit.

It took a little bit for us to finally talk about us--a relationship and a future--but when we did it was mostly thanks to the assistance of my best girl friend. Once we did, we never got off that track. I went out to visit Nick in June, and we finally made dating official for the second and last time. If Nick's trip to Iowa was good, my trip to visit him was a million times better. Everything felt so right, so natural, so easy. It wasn't forced or uncomfortable. We were ourselves and ourselves together. And that was when we knew we didn't want to be apart ever again, and the rest, my friends, is history [which you can read on the blog with our engagement and wedding stories]. :)

The day we got engaged at Wrigley Field in Chicago.


Molly said...

Elise, I did not know any of your story and I'm so glad you shared. It's neat to see how you came thru Moody and continued to grow and live out the first few years of life-after-college and through it all your friendship w Nick became more than a friendship. It became a relationship worth pursuing and committing to for the rest of your lives. Very cool. Hope you guys have a wonderful V-day!

Joseph Ramsey said...

You guys are so adorable together! I'm so glad that neither of you lost track of what was really important, even while being caught up with all the love you had for each other. Hahaha! It's such a sweet story, how the two of you were brought together on a whim. And, now look at you happily married to each other. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Emily! All the best! :)

Joseph Ramsey

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