The summer after Adam and I met, we both went our separate ways, but exchanged emails about once a month. It was in one of those emails that Adam explained we shouldn’t date. He found out he would be deployed sometime that winter and wouldn’t be coming back to school in the fall. I was a little disappointed, but also grateful for his honesty. This way, I didn’t have to sit and wonder about his intentions.
However, that October our friendship started to blossom. Adam was able to visit our college town for a couple days in between specialty training at Quantico and being sent to a Marine base in California for further pre-deployment training. We were able to spend time together (in group settings) and get a better sense if there was any attraction between us. I remember being very attracted to his personality and thinking he was handsome, but wasn’t a fan of his shaved haircut (thanks to the USMC) and worried if he was taller than me (he was, but the no-hair look was deceiving).
Hair or not, I was starting to fall for this guy and our email communication became more frequent, rounding out about once a week. Once he was deployed that January, we knew that his Internet availability would be spotty, at least for the first month while he made his way to his new base. So we began writing letters to each other to pass the time.
But a lot can happen in a month. For me, I had graduated college in December and was looking for a writing job. After searching for a couple of months, I received two job offers in two days, both out of state. I needed to make a decision, and couldn’t take Adam into account. Not only was he not reachable, but we were only friends (though friends hinted there was something more than just friendship between us). So, I decided to move four hours away, knowing that he’d be coming back to finish college in the fall. I took the leap that if we were meant to be, it would all work out in the end.
The next time I heard from him I broke the news that I had just finished my move. Adam was nothing but supportive and excited for me, and we continued to grow closer, now exchanging emails every couple of days. On days that I suspected letters would arrive, I’d race to my mailbox after work hoping to see his handwriting on a piece of my mail. I cherished those letters, and still do to this day. After my husband and children, they’d be the first thing I’d want to rescue from my burning house.
Our emails and letters weren’t just the “news of the day,” but were laced with flirtatious anecdotes and teases. I’d blush and beam with every word. At one point Adam even made reference to his “future wife,” which I promptly called him out on. I said he shouldn’t do that with any girl he had a close friendship with.
That was the tipping point. After months of building suspicion of our mutual feelings for one another, Adam admitted that he liked me a lot, but was also concerned that if we tried to date when he returned at the end of the summer that the distance would push us into something more serious at first than we wanted it to be. We agreed to wait and see what life would bring once he returned from the war.
Meanwhile we continued to write. We discussed world events, faith and books (we discovered we were both reading Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” at the same time). We even had a lively debate about the merits of wearing socks with sandals – Adam thought it was the most comfortable thing in the world and I humored him by trying it out for 30 minutes alone in my apartment one evening. I was not convinced.
Finally August arrived and he was set to return home. In true military fashion the exact date wasn’t known (and was also changed a few times), but in one of our last emails Adam asked for my phone number so that he could call me once he landed in California. I obliged, but nervously awaited his call. It was easy to be funny and flirtatious and interesting when we could write things out, and even hit the delete key once or twice (or 10!), but actually carrying on a conversation just the two of us? We had done it over a year ago in a coffee shop, but had we exhausted all we had to talk about?
When that phone call at last came, the first few minutes were in fact, awkward. But thanks to a mishap I had encountered a couple days earlier that included me trying to changed a flat tire at the side of a highway in a dress, plus some exciting action from the Beijing Olympics, we did just fine.
Then Adam said, “So, when am I going to get to see you?”
My heart flip-flopped.
We made plans to see each other in about three weeks. Adam would be my date to my former boss’s wedding. Yep, a wedding. No pressure involved at all!
The little over a year that we spent getting to know each other as friends was one of the toughest years of our relationship. There were so many unknowns: would we start dating? Would Adam return from Iraq unharmed? Did I wreck our chances of pursuing something more by moving away? Yet, we both look back on that time as one beautiful growth for our relationship. By being friends first, we laid an important foundation for our romantic relationship and saw each other first and foremost as human beings worthy of dignity and respect, no matter what happened in the end. Given the choice, I don’t know if we would have been friends first or jumped straight into dating, but circumstances gave us no other option and I’m thankful for that. The time we took to grow as friends and allow our feelings to grow, is one of my favorite parts of our story. And I still have all those emails and letters to prove it!