Someone at work asked the question that elicits a long story full of odd explanations: “How did you and Neal meet?” (It’s a timely question, because we are both celebrating our anniversaries this week.)
There’s the short answer: “We met online.”
But that only tells 1/100 of the fascinating story, so there needs to be more.
The longer answer is interesting and just weird. I used to be a regular blogger, back in the 20-aughts when blogging began and was less commonplace. I read dozens of blogs and, longer story shortened, met Neal in the comment section of one of these blogs. One day, that blog became boring and less interesting, so I dug into the blogroll in the guy’s sidebar and discovered a very interesting blog by some guy who claimed to be a writer.
Wait a minute…this is the guy from the comments! He’s pretty funny and seemed open to feedback on his story, so I commented. And he replied. And I responded. And thus our friendship began.
I say friendship because that’s how it all started–no romantic inclinations or overtures. We began emailing regularly (using weird lines from movies and TV shows as the email subjects) and progressed to calling on the phone. Neal was finishing grad school and right after graduation was dealing with some pretty heavy things (death and disease of family members). We spent a lot of time on the phone to discuss these things and life in general.
We finally decided to meet in person, and my friend Misty warned me that I’d end up pickled in a barrel in Neal’s basement. I was excited about seeing Duluth in person, because I’d heard so much about its wealth of natural beauty. We went up the North Shore to Grand Marais, where it proceeded to rain, causing Neal to worry that I wasn’t enjoying my time on the volcanic rock on the shore of Lake Superior. He was wrong and learned that I love walking in spring rains, in fact I was still in love with spring rains and would often rush out to dance in the first real spring rain each year. (“Real spring rain” means one that smells green and earthwormy and is completely full of all the essential spring smells.)
This meeting was a bit weird for both of us, because I think we were feeling out the boundaries of the friendship. Was there something more there, perhaps? But no. Neither of us felt the other was his/her type, so we moved along and continued the friendship. (To be fair to both of us, we definitely weren’t each other’s idealized physical type.)
We had a blast walking in the rain, strolling along sandy beaches, and just hanging out. We talked about everything: literature, nature, astronomy. It was odd to find someone who understood and also enjoyed the feeling of smallness in a vast universe, who read and could discuss the same things I’d read, who wanted to hike in the rain without talking or stopping–just taking in nature. Odd, but I took it as a sign that I’d found a great friend and we moved along.
We continued to talk on the phone regularly, email less regularly, read each other’s blogs, and visit each other. I was vehemently anti-dating anyway (another, much longer story), so I encouraged Neal when he’d consider dating someone. I’d give him suggestions about getting up his nerve to talk to someone or ask her out, even though he never acted on my suggestions.
Neal was my best friend, so any time the thought crossed my mind, I quickly removed it. I didn’t want to lose such a good friend if a romantic relationship went sour, and these things so often do when romance enters the picture. When offered the choice of losing a good friend while gaining a short-term romance, I firmly chose the friendship each time.
Then one day during a regular phone call, Neal asked a question that surprised me: “Have you ever thought about the two of us dating?”
And my answer frustrated him: “Yes.”
That was all I responded at first, because it was the truth and I didn’t know how to continue the rest of the sentence that should follow. “Yes, but I don’t want to lose my best friend”? “Yes, and I want to see if we can make this work”?
We started talking about the fact that we both had considered it, but neither of us made a specific move toward “Yes, we should start dating. Now.” It became a weird limbo move as we chatted about our thoughts, but with neither of us making the next move.
Here’s the thing about our phone calls: they often took place fairly late at night. This was still in the stage where I only needed about four hours of sleep a night (believe me, I’m making up for that in my old age), and Neal often had later-morning classes to teach. The talk-around continued for quite a long time, until Neal finally pushed the issue to the forefront.
“So. What do you think about the two of us dating?”
Ah, this was a completely different question, now wasn’t it? And now I had to answer the real question instead of a work-around question he had originally asked. This led to another discussion, because we both had similar fears. Here’s a person that we can and do talk to about anything, so…what if adding the weight of romantic entanglement crushed the friendship? Neither of us wanted that to happen.
But we both realized that any time we worried about something or were really excited about something, we each immediately wanted to tell the other about it. And, really, wasn’t that exactly what people looked for in a spouse? Shouldn’t that be an immense plus, along with the fact that we could and did talk about anything and everything? We decided to take the plunge and hope it worked out.
Obviously, it’s been working out. Twelve-and-a-half years ago, Neal and I started dating (and some friends and family asked, “What took you two so long? We figured it out months ago!”) and then we got married.
But that’s another story for another time, isn’t it?
For now, it’s important to say that Neal is still my best friend. We still talk about anything and everything, without running out of things to discuss in the 11 years that we’ve been married. Whenever something good or bad happens, Neal is still the first person I want to talk to and the first person I turn to for help or consolation or a high-five. I don’t even want to consider where we might be if we’d decided not to chance it, because I can’t imagine being married to anyone other than my favorite person in the entire world.