Katie and Nathan

December 25th, 2010

She had a list.

Most women do. You know, that list that outlines what they’re looking for in a partner? He has to have perfect teeth, a 401K and a good relationship with his mother. Maybe a dog. He should never curse, and always iron his clothes. Flossing wouldn’t hurt, either.

Katie’s list wasn’t like that.

There was the optional part of the list, which included dark hair, an accent and green eyes, but other than that, the list was solid.

#14: Likes sunshine.

#34: He will feel comfortable talking about poop with me.

#40: Likes mullets.

#42: Will sing me “The Glory of Love” and the “Top Gun” song.

Her list makes me giggle. But it also makes me cry.

#7: Wants to be 100% in love.

#15: Is tolerant of children with special needs.

#23: Looks at me when I talk.

#25: Has integrity.

#29: Says, “Hi, beautiful,” every time we talk on the phone.

#44: Will look at the stars with me.

#50: Will choose to live his life with joy and will challenge me to be a better person.

The list had 53 items on it, and Katie told me Nathan ended up fitting every single one of those items (except the dark hair and accent part). This really made me start to wonder what I should be including on my list. I’ve made tons of them in the past, but when I look back at all the superficial and empty things I had on them, it’s no wonder I ended up so darned confused.

Katie was confused, too – before she met Nathan. She spent five years in an on-again-off-again relationship that taught her only one thing – what she didn’t want. The day she heard Nathan speak at a Greek Christian Alliance meeting on campus, she turned to her friend and said, “I didn’t know guys like him even existed.” He was respectful to women, he was kind, he didn’t use profanity and he shared her faith.

Little did she know that once, when she shared with a group at a Greek Christian conference about the ways in which her faith had changed her life, Nathan was listening. He developed a crush on her instantly.

So here were two people who never officially met, but who were both completely taken by each other’s words. Neither knew of the other’s crush, college graduation was drawing near, and they would each go home, to cities four hours apart.

Nearly a year later, something remarkable happened. They both ended up at the same dinner gathering in the same city. They started talking. They exchanged email addresses. They emailed for two months, dated for six and were married nine months after that.

“I knew during our two months of emailing that Nathan was the one.  I knew immediately because when my previous relationship ended, I made a list of 53 things I was going to wait for in a husband, and told God that I was not going to settle and would wait however long. Nathan came two months later. I knew what I was looking for, and Nathan was very obviously it for me.”

Nathan knew fairly quickly, too. It was as obvious as the nausea on his face.

“On our first date,” he recalls, “I had so much energy and excitement from getting to be with her, that I decided to take a run around the park after eating. I came back and threw up right in front of her. She rubbed my back, and I knew then she was really nice.”

It was a good thing Nathan was so generous with his, um, feelings, early on, because that night was just a drop in the bucket compared to some of the struggles the couple would face throughout their marriage.

Not long into their marriage, Nathan changed careers, and they moved from Kansas City to Madison, WI, where he went to school for his Ph.D. Right before that happened, they had their first child, then had another child shortly thereafter.

“Since moving to Madison, we have had two of the roughest years of our seven years of marriage,” Katie recalls. “We moved to Madison with a five-week-old, knowing no one, Nathan started school, we were trying to live on a fourth of what we were making prior to our move, new state, new apartment, Nathan had a really rough first semester, we were so lonely and Nathan worked all the time. The second rough year was the year Sophia was born. She was sick, I had pretty severe post partum depression and anxiety, and, over time, all the stress began to negatively affect our marriage.

“There was a time when Sophia was about seven months old that I was ready to give up. I thought, ‘Is this too hard?’ And a little voice in the back of my head said, ‘No, don’t give up, keep going, this is worth fighting for.’ So I did. I remember coming home and talking to Nathan, and us both agreeing that things were getting bad. We called my parents and asked them to take care of the girls for a weekend, and we went to a hotel and talked things out, tried to make a plan of how to get our marriage back on track, and remembered why we loved each other. Things definitely began to get better after that, but we really had to work at it.”

When you’re young, and you watch a lot of Disney movies, there’s this unfortunate glamorization of marriage. It looks like all it takes is a man, a white horse and a glowing sunset. For so many of us, we inherit the false idea that love is all it takes to make a relationship work. Katie and Nathan can tell you it takes a lot more. For them, faith is a big part, too.

“I think things get skewed when the media and movies make love look like this great, easy thing,” says Katie. “I have learned that love is not always how you feel – it is a choice you make. There are times when I feel totally in love with Nathan, but there are also times when I don’t feel that way. I feel tired or blah or angry or sad. I have learned that feelings cannot always be trusted, and I try my best to show Nathan love no matter how I feel.”

Nathan does the same.

In fact, during that rough patch when their second child was sick and Katie was having a tough time, Nathan still chose love.

“Every Christmas we write out 100 reasons why we love each other,” he says. “The year Sophia was born, we did not get to do that, so I did it for Katie’s birthday the following August. Those eight months from Christmas to her birthday were bad. She had post partum depression, and was angry and being kind of mean to me. I did it anyway, though, because we are both committed to making this work.”

Nathan has a list of his own when it comes to what he loves about Katie.

“She is gentle, compassionate, loves to help people, gets excited about the little things in life, is a good nurturer, an excellent mom, encourages me, believes in me, trusts me, works really hard, is creative and really cute,” he says. “An important bond between us is our faith, and it helps that we both realize we are not perfect, and do things that are hurtful to each other, and when that happens, we ask for forgiveness, and that fosters healing.”

“Nathan cares about how I feel and what I think, and he is present when he listens,” Katie beams. “He opens car doors for me to this day. He brings me tea in the morning. He challenges me to be a better person, and is an awesome leader for our family. Most nights I go to bed thanking God he is mine. Although marriage is hard work, it seems not so hard with him. I think he totally rocks.”


Erica and Mike

December 16th, 2010

He’s a food snob. She makes caramel corn with high fructose corn syrup.

She’s never been married. He was married for 30 years.

She knows no strangers, and he is soft-spoken and shy.

She prefers movies where there is fighting and things blowing up, and he cries at Cinderella.

They are perfect for each other.

Erica and Mike met in 2008 at a boundaries and relationships class. Mike, who was recently divorced, signed up for three classes, and Erica was in the last one he attended.

“I did not want to be stuck in a room with 70 people I had never met before for two freakin days,” she recalls. “Mike came up to me and started yelling, and said, ‘You’re just like my ex wife.’”

“There was more to it than that,” Mike rebuts. “I said, ‘You’re a type A personality, just like my ex wife.’ And she said, ‘You’re a crazy little white man.’”

“We’ve been together ever since,” Erica laughs. “Before I met him, I made a list of everything I wanted in a man, and it was very long. There were only two things he didn’t hit – tall and black! We were both praying every day that we’d find someone, but I’ve always been single. I like my job and I’m happy, so I was okay being alone the rest of my life.”

Mike was praying that his ex would find peace in the world, and that his daughter and son would find happiness, but admits to having given up on finding love.

After just two dates, however, they knew their prayers had been answered.

“I was dating several guys at the time, and called them all and said it was over,” remembers Erica. “They all laughed and said I was crazy and there is no way I’d settle down with one person. I’m an indigo. We have a different DNA strand than everyone else. One thing the experts say is that we only mate with one person the rest of our lives. You’ll know it when you meet them, and that’s it – you’re done. Mike is my soul mate, and I believe God put us together, because I wouldn’t have put us together!”

Erica’s mom gave her seal of approval.

The twist, however, comes from the fact that her mom is no longer alive. But like any opinionated mother, she found a way to make her feelings known.

“My mom is a pervasive spirit,” says Erica, “and she smells like sandalwood and patchouli. She kept coming to Mike’s apartment.”

Though Mike was totally baffled, he can’t argue with what happened.

“It was a guy’s apartment,” he says. “If it smelled like anything, it smelled like meat. Then all of a sudden it smelled like patchouli. No matter how many times I washed my sheets and towels, the scent was still there. It seemed we got her blessing.”

Perhaps Erica’s mother was happy that Mike had learned a lot about relationships after his thirty-year marriage ended.

“I had a lot of therapy before I started dating again,” he admits. “A lot of the things I did in my first marriage and the mistakes I made…I’m attempting not to make them. A marriage is a partnership. There isn’t just one person who screws it up. You can’t make someone else behave a certain way. I try to be cognizant of my part in everything, and respect her making her own decisions.

“When I was living alone, it was all about me and what I wanted. I didn’t have anyone to share it with, and found that very hollow and lonely. Now that I have someone to share it with, I don’t feel less freedom or independence. I just know there’s someone here who loves me.”

Erica had to ask her guy friends for relationship advice.

“The best advice I got,” she admits, “was, if you’re going to love him, you need to love all of him. Even the stuff you don’t like.”

That’s how James Earle Jones showed up.

“When we got together, I noticed that every time he repeated something I said, he’d use an obnoxious, screechy voice,” Erica says. “When I would repeat things he said, I’d use a dumb guy voice. These were very hurtful habits to both of us, so we decided that when imitating the other person, we’d use James Earl Jones’ voice. Silly, but not hurtful. It seems to work well for both of us.”

It’s compromises like this, coupled with a hearty dose of good fun, that seem to be the glue that so tightly binds this sassy couple’s relationship. That, and the fact that they are both crazy about each other and truly enjoy one another’s company.

“When we’re apart, all we want to be is together,” says Mike. “We like walking, talking, being on the couch and snuggling. I don’t sit in my armchair and read my paper. I sit, with Erica next to me, playing with her hair.

“She takes really good care of me. I don’t ask her to, but she does. I always tell her how beautiful she is, and remind her I love her. She gets foot rubs. Women need attention. You can’t forget how special they are. You have to appreciate them for the things they do for you.”

Erica gives Mike pedicures, cuts his hair and brings him into the key decisions she makes in her life.

“I want him to die to get home every day,” she admits. “He went out with his friends not long ago, and texted me that all his friends wanted to find women to take home, but he wanted to come home to me. THAT is what I want to hear.”

Whether it’s in a James Earle Jones voice or not, it seems like something Erica will be hearing for a very long time.

Just as Mike wipes away a tear from hearing Erica talk about how much he means to her, he tells me how much he’s looking forward to retirement.

“Then,” he smiles, “we can be together all the time.”


Lou and Bee

October 11th, 2010

They buy bananas together. He holds the left side of the cart, and she the right.

I see them one day at Whole Foods, and he proudly tells me that they have the best bananas around.

“They’re organic,” she chimes in.

I watch as they walk away, and can’t help but smile at how adorable they look. He, in his khaki pants, pulled up to the top of his hunched-over chest, and all five feet of her, shuffling along in checkered pants and pearls.

Whether in the grocery store or in my apartment building, they are always together. Always smiling. Most of the time, he is asleep in whatever chair he is sitting in, and she is reading a book, or looking out into the garden. Every time I look at them, I think they look like the kind of couple who has a lifetime of stories to share.

Today, I decided to ask them.

Lou and Bee have been married 72 years.

They met while playing basketball at the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association) in St. Louis.

Lou recalls an immediate attraction, book-ended by a sad realization.

“She didn’t want any part of me,” he says.

Bee was involved with someone else at the time, but recalls Lou being quite persistent.

“He said when he saw me, he knew he’d marry me, but I never knew that,” she laughs.

His persistence paid off.

They dated just five months, and were married January 8, 1938.

Lou was in the service for 27 months, not long after they were married, and their first child was born when he was away. He wrote Bee letters all the time, and she kept every one of them.

They never argue. Bee says Lou would just clam up anyway, so there was really no point.

Lou says there really wasn’t ever anything worth fighting over.

“So much of it is simple respect,” he adds.

They have always spoken so sweetly to one another. Lou takes care of her. In fact, Bee has had a few falls, and her health has gotten a lot worse, so they have learned to share their lives with one other person — Bee’s caregiver.

She comes a few hours a day – enough time to allow Lou to have his daily breakfast of scrambled eggs, an English muffin and fruit at First Watch (“Their breakfast-type food is so good,” he remarks), and then volunteer at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

They used to meet a couple every Saturday for lunch, but not so much anymore.

Instead, Lou keeps a careful eye on Bee, who mostly stays on the couch, staring into a garden she once used to watch from a much closer angle. But she doesn’t let it get her down.

“Everybody’s got something,” she says. “You don’t get out of this world as easy as you got in.”

But, then, you don’t always get in or out of this world with a partner like Lou by your side.

“If you’re lucky enough to live a long life like we have, and live it together, you have nothing to complain about,” Bee says.

I think for a moment about what she said. About being lucky to travel through life with the same person – for more than 70 years. Someone who sits next to you on the couch and stares out into the garden with you, even though he could walk out there and get a closer look. Someone who drives you around the city on architectural tours, and makes you bagels when your hands are shaking too much. Someone who knew, the day he saw you, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life talking to you. Someone who has neck arthritis, but still turns to look at you when you speak.

“We manage pretty well,” Lou shrugs.

Sure sounds like it to me.