My Happily Ever After

The following story is derived from parts I wrote for Love through the Eyes of an Idiot.

I met Margaret in February 1992 at a Bible study. We talked. She looked young for her age; she was a little older than I had originally thought, but I didn’t see how that mattered, because we were still part of the same generation, spoke the same language. She was studying to become a physical therapist, renting a room in a friend’s house, and putting herself through school by working at UPS. Moreover, she seemed completely and undeniably normal, no debilitating past, no extreme neediness, no spiritual crises, no psychological disorders, no indication of any desire to “just be friends.” And her hair was dark, and her eyes were blue-grey, and her nose was flecked with tiny freckles, and her name began with M and R, all things I loved in a woman.

She was wonderful and perfect, so naturally I had completely no interest in dating her.

But I had been here before. The girls I was most attracted to had always ended up hurting me, and terribly so. It may not have been their fault, but I still did get hurt, over and over and over again. I was sick and tired of that pattern, and I knew I wanted to break it.

So I asked for Margaret’s phone number, and she gave it to me.

I waited a couple weeks before I called her to set up a date. Unknown to me, each day after school, she raced up to her room to check her answering machine. No messages.

Until one day, I did call, and I asked her if she’d like to go out, and she said she would. We went bowling, and I sucked at bowling (almost as much as I sucked at rollerskating), but Margaret didn’t seem to hold it against me. We had fun anyhow. Then we saw a movie together at the theater down the street. Then we went out for a late dinner at Bickford’s, not fancy, but comfortable.

I was developing some sort of bony prominence on one of my wrists, probably due to my poor posture at the computer at work. I wasn’t really concerned about it, but I was curious. And since she was studying physical therapy, I showed her my wrist.

She gently held my hand, so delicately, so tenderly examined it.

I stared into her eyes and wondered if I could fall in love with this woman.

I wrote to a friend, telling her about Margaret. But, I said, “I’m not sure I’m ready. I mean, sure, I thought I was, but just meeting her brought back many memories… I found myself longing again for the relationships I’ve had most recently, which of course isn’t fair to Margaret.”

I had been under stress, obsessing over my feelings, desperately wanting to put the desires of my past in the past, but not knowing how to do it. I was falling asleep late, waking up early. Unknown to me, I was on the fast track to a major depression.

My friend eventually wrote back and said, simply, “Stop looking for a catch, and I don’t think Margaret is a mistake.”

Before that could happen, though, I answered my own questions easily enough.

Margaret and I went out with a bunch of Margaret’s friends. We all stopped to eat at a restaurant. As I sat across the table from Margaret, I noticed out of the corner of my eye one of the waitresses, a trim, fit, fair-skinned beauty, wearing a skimpy white outfit barely one notch above a bikini. I kept my eyes trained on Margaret’s face. Good boy!

As I recall, Margaret asked if I liked the way the waitress was dressed. I shrugged my shoulders. Truthfully, she was probably fun to stare at, if I could do so with impunity. But I wasn’t about to date a girl like that, and I certainly knew enough not to let it distract me from my date with Margaret.

That night, I drove Margaret and her friend to the friend’s house, where we had all met up to go out. Before Margaret and I parted, we sat in the car and talked. I turned off the engine, because we had been sitting there for so long.

Time to say goodbye, I asked, “Can I kiss you?”

“Yes,” she answered.

And I leaned over and kissed her, a long, deep, passionate kiss.

Then one morning, not too long after, at 3 AM, we were parked on the street near the church. I was to drive her to her job at UPS, because she worked the early shift at 4. She didn’t want to go into work, but it was how she was supporting herself, at least for the time being. She coughed and said she was also afraid she might have pneumonia, so we prayed that she would get better.

Unknown to me, she was thinking in the back of her mind how in love she was with me, and that if I were to ask her to marry her, she would say yes. A crazy thought, maybe, but not idiotic.

In the middle of the conversation, out of nowhere, I said, “Will you marry me?”

She replied, “Yes.”

“That was easy,” I said.

She beamed.

Where was the wooing? Where was the longing? Where was the unrequited love? Where was the conflict, the angst? Where was the fighting for her affections? Where were the desperate pleas for attention? Where was the catch? There was none. We were simply two people, both looking for a committed lover, and when we found each other, we decided to get married. That’s it. No suspense. No romance. No fanfare.

My father agreed to officiate at our wedding. He also counseled us on what we could expect as a married couple. I took away from those sessions some invaluable rules for a successful marriage, from a man who had actually made his own marriage work:

“You will fight,” he said. “No marriage is free of fights. Fighting is normal. Just make sure you fight fair. Don’t make it personal. Don’t tell your spouse what’s wrong with her. ‘You know what the problem with you is?’ Don’t do that. Instead, focus on expressing your own thoughts and feelings.

“Don’t hit below the belt. Some couples dig up old wounds, old hurts that they can blame on the other person. That’s not fair. This fight is about today, not about what happened in the past.

“And never shout, just to get in the last word, and then storm out of the room, because that cuts off communication.

“Foster communication. Always know that you can discuss issues with the other person. Don’t judge each other. And be willing to give up what you want in order to give the other person what she needs.”

Finally, he said, “Remove divorce from your vocabulary. And always promise to love each other, unconditionally. Not, ‘I’ll love you if…’ but ‘I’ll love you,’ period. Because once you do that, you’ll have the safety to work through anything else you encounter.”

Unconditional love, I realized, is the First Amendment of marriage.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government. Even if the government infringes on our other rights, it is said, we the people can still take action to have those infringements rectified, as long as we have our First Amendment freedoms. The First Amendment represents the freedoms that protect all our other freedoms.

In the same way, if you have unconditional love, that gives you enough safety in your relationship to work out all the other stuff that pops up. All I needed was someone I could trust to love me unconditionally. And Margaret was that someone.

Margaret and I held our wedding at a local church the afternoon of September 11, 1993.

Doesn’t that suck, having your wedding anniversary on 9/11?

Hell, no! We were husband and wife years before the date had anything to do with terrorism, and long after the twin towers have been relegated to a footnote in classroom history textbooks, we’ll still be celebrating our marriage on that day.

In other words, we have dibs! Bad things happen somewhere in the world every day, and I refuse to give up the celebration that day represents for Margaret and me. So the terrorists will just have to find another day of the year for their thing.