My relationship with my husband began 6 years ago this November. I still can’t believe how far we have come since then and that we’ve already been married for over a year! It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I wondered if we would ever make it to this point in our relationship.
Thomas and I met shortly after I started college, but we didn’t actually start dating until the beginning of my junior year. For our first date, Thomas took me out for Italian food and frozen yogurt. We laughed, were rained on, and got lost because of my terrible navigation skills. Pretty much from then on, we were totally hooked on each other’s company. It sounds perfect, right?
From the early days of our dating, though, Thomas and I were faced with a long line of intense and unexpected challenges—the bad economy, unemployment, years of long-distance, law school applications, even a stolen car. Don’t get me wrong; a lot of really good things happened to us during that time too. It’s just that for a while it definitely felt like the universe was dead set against us ever being together. Our journey from college sweethearts in Washington State to newlyweds in Hawaii turned out to be a lot longer than just the physical distance of 2,800 miles.
With all the struggles that we went through, I sometimes wondered if both Thomas and I would have been better off if we just let go and pursued other relationships that were easier and more convenient. Looking back now, though, I see how our hard times as a dating couple strengthened our love and formed the foundation of our future marriage. Without the challenges that we encountered, I don’t think that Thomas or I would be the husband or wife that we are to each other today. Our relationship was ultimately defined by the hard times that we endured.
We learned to love each other even when we couldn’t be together
The most significant challenge that Thomas and I faced in our first few years together was the seemingly endless time of physical separation. We were only able to actually “date” each other for a few months before Thomas’s graduation and work opportunities forced him to move out of state. All told, we went through two-and-a-half years of long distance in our relationship, with only a handful of visits throughout that time. It was through these difficult circumstances that Thomas and I really got to know each other. Our nightly phone chats when we were far apart were much more intimate than they would have been if we had been hanging out with a group of friends instead. The stress of our situation taught us a lot about each other’s characters, and we learned to trust each other completely. When Thomas and I were finally able to live in the same place again, there were some new challenges. However, the core of our relationship—the love that had been built up over literally years of conversation—was strong enough to carry us through the many changes that were to come.
We were poor in material means—but we grew rich in love
The economy was really bad during the time we started dating. When Thomas graduated from college, it took a year for him to find a decent paying job, and when he finally did, he got laid off from it only six months later. He was so frustrated and disappointed about being unemployed for all that time. I was also pretty much broke during this period, and that was why we could hardly ever afford to visit. As a result of our lack of funds, we came to appreciate the really simple things about our time together. Dates were cheap and fun, like taking a hike or going to the mall to split a $5 sub sandwich. Instead of expensive presents, we opted to give each other more heartfelt and handmade gifts. These habits have continued even though we can now afford the occasional fancy dinner out. My favorite date nights are still the ones where we just curl up at home with a cheap bottle of wine and a movie. For us, showing love will always be more about being creative and giving time to each other than it will ever be about spending money.
We realized that we had to make choices on behalf of each other and our relationship.
There was very little about Thomas’s and my early dating relationship that was particularly comfortable or convenient. We were both pushed by economic struggles, health problems, and transportation barriers to continually reprioritize our schedules and plans so that we could be there to support each other when necessary. This happened in countless little ways: Thomas making himself available to talk when I was having a bad day or me rearranging my schedule to drive Thomas to a doctor’s appointment when his car was stolen in college. We also had to be intentional about some pretty big life choices too. One choice that I made for our relationship was to turn down an admissions offer and partial scholarship to law school. Although there were a lot of factors that went into that decision, it ultimately came down to choosing to live near Thomas instead of moving farther away, which I would have had to do in order to go back to school. Even though we are married now, I am still aware of the way that my decisions can draw me closer or further away from Thomas. After all the sacrifices both us have made for our relationship, we don’t take any aspects of our life together for granted.
Although I’m not sure I would have said it at the time, I am grateful for everything that Thomas and I had to go through in the years that we were dating. Our journey from dating to marriage was really hard, and we had to have an incredible amount of patience and trust to get to where we are today. I am so glad that we held on through the storms, though, because being married has been amazing so far! If our next several decades together—God willing—are anything like our first six years, I know it’s going to be a pretty crazy ride. I am confident that together the two of us can face whatever life decides to throw at us next.
Photography courtesy of Sara Garcia