Nine years ago today, I went on a first date. I was standing on the front porch when he pulled in the driveway, and I ran barefoot through a crunchy layer of leaves to be wrapped up in him. I was the original Haver Of No Chill and I have no regrets, because I can still remember the way he smelled that first day. I will forget my own name before I forget the smell of Kenneth Cole Black on his skin.
We ate mediocre pasta at the restaurant where I waited tables through college, had a cup of coffee in a tiny shop that no longer exists, went back to my house and watched a move that I remember absolutely nothing about. I’ve only seen it that one time, and I could not for the life of me pay attention to it. I just kept looking over at his profile and thinking, “This is it. This is my whole life.” But you don’t say that on a first date, so I just kept staring at the television screen and trying to focus on John Cusack.
The movie ended and he had been awake since 4am, so he went to our guest bedroom to sleep and I wandered our house. I paced the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom. Talked myself down, talked myself back up, talked myself in circles. Finally talked myself out, and went to my bedroom. I was sitting there reading when he knocked on my door.
I told him to come in, and he opened the door and just stood there looking like he was going to throw up. I panicked, thinking he had driven two hours just to come get food poisoning. But he sat down at the end of my bed and said, “I don’t even know what to say here, honestly. I just think—are we on the same page? Because I think this is it.” And I remember exhaling like I had never actually completely let go of my breath before, and the world cracked open in front of me.
Is this a thing that happens? Do people just know? Is it this simple? I’m ready. I’m not ready. I’m ready. I’m terrified of the fact that I’m ready.
Yeah. We’re on the same page.
And that was it. We sat on my bed for awhile, silent and staring off into space, trying to process the fact that we were actually talking about forever on a first date. He went back to the guest bedroom and I lay there staring at my ceiling until I fell asleep. The next morning, I went out to the living room and there he was, sitting on the couch reading with a cup of coffee. I remember having the weirdest sense of deja vu, like I’d seen the whole thing before. I poured my own cup of coffee, curled up on the other end of the couch and picked up a book, and there we stayed.
There were about a thousand things that he and I couldn’t have known that day, sitting on the couch. And that’s the funny thing; I think most of us get prepared for the possibility of meeting someone with whom we can build a good life. But nothing can really prepare you for a great love. A great love is a whole other animal. It’s vibrant and alive, heart beating—and it also has teeth.
The honest truth is that, in moments over the past nine years together, the sharp teeth of great love have sunk deep into our flesh and torn out chunks that might have killed us both dead. We have scratched and clawed our way out of graves that only we know the depth of. There are seasons of our life, years at a time, that I refer to as “really ugly,” only because there is no socially acceptable way to say how bad it actually was.
Yet, underneath the whole thing is a steady pulse. The heartbeat of great love. It is the rhythm with which our life moves. We feel the expansiveness of the thing. We stretch and flex and move with and around each other. There is space and elasticity, enough to accommodate both of us equally, as well as all our shifting. We are new in every single season, both of us. That is the nature of our beast. Our thoughts and questions and dreams and hopes and plans are ever-changing, and there is room for all of it. I still can’t believe there is room for all of it.
Sometimes I think about what it would be like to have a good life instead of a great love. Because although I believe it’s possible to have both, it seems as though most of us fall a little harder on one or the other. I think about some of the men who had my affection before Josh and I crashed into one another, and I think that maybe we would have had a good life together. A house in the suburbs where we live for more than two years at a time, at least one person in the house with a long-term career, a couple of kids, church on Sundays, a schedule that can be put on a calendar, an idea of where our life is going. Those are things I always thought I’d have, not because I particularly wanted them–just because that was my only real frame of reference for what constituted a good life.
I think I could have had a good life with a number of good men. But Joshua—he is my great love. And if I could go back to that first Saturday, reading on the couch with coffee, I would still take a great love with him, teeth and all, over a good life with anyone else. I would take this exact life with this exact man all over again.
I see it now for what it was, that first night. I see it now as an invitation into something wild and unpredictable, something that is never going to resemble anything conventional. I see it as a portal into everything I had never planned on, everything no one could have prepared me for. Blue pill or red pill. Good life or great love.