Sunday, September 7, 2014

Longer Together Than Apart

Today marks 16 years since Eric first asked me to be his girlfriend. This is a big day for us, not only because it commemorates the official start to our relationship, but because as of today, we have officially been a part of each other's lives for longer than not. I have known (and loved) Eric for more days of my 32 years than days that I haven't. And that is pretty cool.

Sixteen years ago today, it was September 7, 1998. Eric was a high school sophomore, and I was a junior. I had just turned 16 years old, and Eric was still fifteen for a few more months. I wore crop tops to show off my naval piercing and Eric was considering frosted tips in his hair. The boy band 'N Sync was just about to hit it big (and would give us "our song" a couple months later). Suffice it to say, it was kind of a long time ago.

We had the day off from school for Labor Day, and I invited Eric to join my family at the beach. He agreed, and as we walked along the Gulf, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I played it cool (I think...) and casually said yes, but inwardly my teenage self was screaming HE JUST ASKED ME OUT HE JUST ASKED ME OUT HE JUST ASKED ME OUT WE'RE TOTALLY GETTING MARRIED OMG. Just like that, in all caps with no punctuation, because 15-year-old Eric was fiiiiine.

We dated through high school, going to proms and homecomings and football games and band competitions and graduations together. We dated in college, cheering for the Gators and dancing the night away in night clubs. We dated and got engaged in graduate school in Washington, D.C. under the glow of the illuminated monuments on the National Mall. Nine years after Eric first asked me to be with him, we exchanged vows in front of friends and family in St. Petersburg, Florida. Since then, our journey together has continued to adventures in New York City and new beginnings in Jacksonville, Florida, with the joyful addition of two beautiful children. To say we've enjoyed a charmed life together would be to put it rather lightly.

Sometimes it can be hard to believe how wonderfully it has worked out for us, considering just how young we were when we first started dating. We were just kids. How did we really end up here?

You're just not supposed to actually end up with your high school sweetheart. That just isn't what is supposed to happen. The person you date in high school is supposed to just be someone to have fun with, until they inevitably break your heart and teach you valuable lessons about life and yourself as a person and that sort of thing. That's just how it works. And really, over the course of our relationship, I suppose Eric and I did do all of those things for each other. But somehow, while we were inadvertently teaching one another whatever valuable life lessons there were to be learned, we never really parted. We were always there, learning and growing together.

Sure, we broke up at the end of high school and beginning of college. The reason why? Because you're not supposed to actually end up with your high school sweetheart. That was really it. You just don't find your soulmate at the age of fifteen. So we tried to go our separate ways and live our separate lives, but we were just drawn back together time and time again. It took quite a bit of up-and-down, back-and-forth before we settled back in together, but once we did, we didn't look back. It was onward, together, for the rest of our lives. Somehow, we had found our soulmates at the age of fifteen.

Eric came into my life at the time when I needed him most. When we met, my entire world felt like it was upside down and Eric was the one who kept me rightside up. He was a calm, logical, level-headed, reassuring presence when the rest of my life was anything but. And even with all that seriousness, all that gravity in our relationship, we just had fun together. So, so much fun. On our very first date, we went roller-skating and we laughed together until our faces hurt. And now sixteen years later, I still look at that man beside me on the couch and see that skinny kid at the roller-rink and feel that soreness in my cheeks thanks to the unwavering smile he still puts on my face.

I don't know how we got so lucky as to find each other so early in life, but I'm so glad that we did. Eric is my very best friend and I love him completely. I am so thankful that we have had so many years together, that so many of our memories are shared memories, that I have had him by my side for so much of my life. And of course, I look forward to the rest of my life with him still to come. Sixteen my grandfather would say, that's a "great start." But there is still so, so much to look forward to, and the teenage girl in me is just as giddy about it now as I was sixteen years ago today.

Thanks for asking me that great question, Eric Ryan. I love you.

16 years of happy memories!

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