Julie and I met each other on one of the first days of our freshman year in college at Ohio State. Were it not for the fact that my roommate and one of her roommates were maintaining a relationship that had started in high school, we might never have met. As it was, I gamely ambled along with Ken from the Stadium Dorm to North Campus so that he could have lunch at Raney Commons with his girlfriend, Christi. We stopped at Taylor Tower to pick her up, and Julie decided to come along.
The earliest memory I have of the young woman whom I would marry just four years later is sitting across from her in the dining hall and wistfully observing how pretty she was. So pretty, in fact, that I immediately put all thoughts of courtship to rest, as I was certain that anyone that attractive had to have a boyfriend. And if that were not the case, I reasoned that there had to be a million guys after her. Why beat my head against the wall? I didn’t stand a chance.
She was fairly quiet during lunch, a vacuum that Ken, Christi and I filled with animated conversation. At one point, I remember picking up a spoonful of red Jell-O and making some absurd comment about it, which caused Julie to smile and laugh. I was absolutely smitten. If the devil had come by at that moment and asked me for my soul in return for a lifetime of sitting across from Julie as she smiled and laughed, I would have signed up without hesitation. I am that shallow. But such is the nature of man when he is besotted with beauty.
Mentally filing away the idea of spending more time with Julie under the category of Incredibly Good Things That Have Almost No Chance Of Happening, I allotted most of my attention that quarter and the next to my classes and assignments. During that time, however, I actually saw Julie fairly often. I was always game for tagging along with Ken, who was always getting together with Christi, who was frequently in the company of Julie. A unique dynamic soon evolved. Julie’s three roommates all had boyfriends, but she did not. I, of course, was unattached. The eight of us tended to eschew bars in favor of much more affordable dorm parties. And so here were three couples and two singles who were suddenly spending a good deal of their leisure time together. If it had been a movie script, our eventual relationship would have been inevitable. But that was far from obvious at the time.
Julie and I are both naturally introverted, a trait that simultaneously attracted and repelled us. Like spinning magnets, we danced around our mutual fondness for quite awhile. There was no doubt in my mind that I liked her very much, but I did everything I could to keep my admiration to myself. Julie seemed to enjoy my company whenever I was around, chatting me up during parties and sometimes making the effort to sit next to me when the eight of us attended a movie. It took a long time for me to work up the courage to actually ask her out. I got my green light one evening when she accompanied Christi as she visited Ken at our dorm. Sometime during the conversation, Julie and I maintained eye contact just a tad longer than social mores would dictate. It was a silent acknowledgement of our growing affection for each other. That’s the sort of subtle permission for which the introvert waits. I committed myself to pursuing her.
A period of great frustration followed. I repeatedly asked her out and was turned down, always gently, yet unequivocally. Still, though, she continued to behave around me as she always had – as though she liked me more than she did the average guy. This went on for a few months until I decided that I could take no more of it and resolved to swear off Julie like a bad habit. The next time we found ourselves at the same gathering, I completely ignored her. I tried to pull the same stunt at a party not long afterward, when finally our stubbornness melted and we allowed ourselves to admit to each other our great fondness. And then we avoided each other for a time because we were embarrassed by that. At long last, we two reticent souls got over ourselves and established a comfortable relationship.
Once that ball started rolling, it just picked up speed. We discovered that we had a lot in common in addition to our introverted natures. For example, we are each the youngest sibling in a family of four boys and two girls. Our parents were married within three weeks of each other in 1952. Many of the stories that we told each other about our families sounded familiar. We shared a similar upbringing and cultural knowledge. I found everything that she had to say interesting. I guess she must have felt the same way about me. We soon became inseparable.
Not only did our parents cheerfully approve of our relationship, they also liked each other a great deal. Several times when we were all together, Julie and I looked at each other in amusement as our parents prattled on as though they had been friends long before we were born. If ever the stars pointed toward a shared destiny, ours seemed to have been foretold. Getting married to Julie was one of the very few things I’ve done when I was certain I was doing the right thing. Tomorrow will be our twenty-second anniversary.
As perfect as that all sounds, however, I do not wish to romanticize our life. I think it does a great disservice to younger people to perpetuate the myth of two people falling in love and living happily ever after. Even as fortunate as we have been (and we have been very fortunate), it has not always been easy, nor has it always been pleasant. Ask anyone who has been married to the same person for a good number of years, and I imagine you will hear a similar observation. Marriage is like a great multiplier. The highs are higher, but the lows are lower.
But there is something else, and it is a reassuring familiarity that is satisfying beyond the mere comfort of routine. It is knowing someone so intimately that a single word, a subtle expression, or even a delicate inflection can communicate a torrent of information. A rich storehouse of shared experiences that can be drawn from to illuminate the present and inform the future. The only way to accumulate that is to live through it, day after day, year after year.
Very early in our relationship, I realized how much more there is to Julie than the prettiness I found so attractive. Her intelligence, her compassion, her sense of morality, her perspective on life, and her sense of humor totally won me over. They still do. It still pleases me as much as ever to see that smile and hear that laugh. All these years later, I’m still metaphorically raising my spoonful of Jell-O and saying silly things, just to make her smile and laugh one more time.
And I didn’t even have to sell my soul after all.
Happy anniversary, Julie.