Maria and Ramiro

November 3rd, 2010

Maria has the sweetest smile.

She’s always walking around the office smiling at everyone – even on rainy days. In fact, if she isn’t smiling, my day always feels a little off center.

Lucky for me, that rarely happens. On average, I’d say Maria smiles 98% of the time.

Now I know why.

Maria has a happy and fulfilling relationship with her husband.

It’s not something I think – it’s something I can see. I can hear it in the way they explain how they met. I see it in the way he saves half his meal for her, or how she nudges his shoulder, then lets out a little giggle when he passes her the plate. I can feel it in the gentle way he plucks pictures from his memory – like how pretty he thought she was the day he first saw her, and how, even though he wouldn’t see her again for two years, he never forgot her face. My favorite part, though, is how he can’t stop smiling when he tells me the story – like it’s just now happening for the first time.

Maria didn’t see him that day in 2002, when he showed up for a church concert. But she did see him in 2004, when he came to a small group she was facilitating for professional single people.

“There she was again!” Ramiro smiles.

Sadly, Maria was seeing someone.

“In that moment, he was really respectful,” she recalls. “He never talked alone to me. He only said hello and goodbye – until I broke up with my boyfriend.”

Ramiro, who was friends with a woman Maria also knew, heard that Maria was now single. And even though this friend (who had a crush on him) was the one to reveal the news, he couldn’t help but exclaim, “That’s excellent news!”

And then the instant messenging fest began.

“I had all the friends from the small group in my messenger list,” she says. “So I added Ramiro in. This friend who told him we broke up, she always said wonderful things about him, how nice he was, how good he is with his family, how he pays attention to details. I always thought that was the kind of person I wanted. But she liked him, so I didn’t try to pry. In the small group we didn’t talk, but got to know each other through messenger. When I saw that he would sign in, it got me happy!”

Not long after, when Ramiro’s female friend realized he had his sights set on someone else, he was able to devote more time to cultivating the relationship he really wanted – the one with Maria.

Still, he didn’t really know he was doing this. Not even when he knew she took the bus all day, and asked if she wanted him to send a driver to pick her up, and when she said yes, he showed up – with chocolate! He didn’t know it when he invited her for coffee, and they talked for hours. And after he dropped her home, he called her, and they talked several more hours!

He didn’t know this because he had sworn off dating. He had a bad relationship he was still nursing. There was no room for more.

But he found himself talking about Maria a lot. He told his mother how pretty she was, how she went to the same church, how she’s a leader, how she dedicates herself to her studies.

And his mother said, simply: “She sounds like the perfect girl for you.”

Suddenly, he realized she was right.

Some days he would wait in his office until 9 p.m. just so he could pick Maria up after her classes. He even surprised her at work with Oreo cheesecake – with a big bottle of milk – because he knew how much she loved milk!

One night at dinner, he said, “I like you. I just wanted you to know that. I would really like it if we were more than friends. You don’t have to answer now, but I thought it was the right thing to tell you, so you know what to expect from me and know I’m not playing games.”

Maria, who had also had some bad experiences with dating, wasn’t thinking of starting anything new.

“I didn’t want to date,” she admits. “But then Ramiro showed up in my life.”

She remembers once, when she accidentally burned him with her coffee, and he told her to kiss him on the cheek, she felt butterflies.

So two months after getting to know each other as friends, Maria and Ramiro tossed aside their fractured hearts, and jumped in with both feet. Four month into their courtship, they were already talking about the future.

“We wanted to lay out our plan for the future,” Ramiro says. “So we started going to counseling at church.”

They’ll be married 5 years next week. And in that time, they have learned so much. Like how love is a choice, not a feeling. And how you want to give things to the person you love without expecting something in return. And how love transforms over time (and how that’s nothing to be afraid of).

“A friend told me long ago that if you want a charming prince, you have to be a charming princess,” Maria says. “You need to be the person you would want to be with. One of the things I love about him is he accepts me as I was, and as I am right now. Other boyfriends wanted my hair a certain way or for me to wear heels, and I was feeling like a trophy and it was not right. Ramiro loved me as I was, in my happiest and worst moments.”

Ramiro has learned a lot, too. Like how not to ask Maria why she’s crying.

“Sometimes I just want to cry,” she says, “and I don’t know why. At the beginning, he though he did something wrong. Then he learned to just hug me and let me cry.”

Ramiro has also learned that if you want big results, you need to have a long-term mindset.

“You have to put effort into a relationship,” he says. “It’s a journey. Many marriages fail because things are wonderful, then they wear off, and the real stuff is there. Finances, decisions, life choices. You have to talk it over, and if there are things that are deal breakers, you better find that out while you’re dating.

“It will never work perfectly. You have to compromise every day, in every thing. You need to talk things out and not make assumptions. There will be rough patches, but you need to have patience.”

I look at the two of them, sitting across from me, sharing their meals as well as their wisdom, and I think that they both have a lot of patience.

Ramiro agrees.

“For what matters, yes.”