We hadn’t seen each other in seven months. And even when we were in each other’s company, I hadn’t really talked to him much. Here I was though, on Valentine’s Day, opening a package he sent me. It didn’t seem like something special to most people- a video of our missions trip to Ireland and a tape he made of some shows I could watch since my family didn’t have cable TV.
But I knew something was there because it was a thoughtful gesture. Most guys don’t put that much thought in a present for a girl they aren’t dating. I knew this guy was different.
So 16 years ago, I called a friend from college who lived near where Stephen went to school. Her family was gracious enough to let me stay with them (and of course visit my friend at the same time). So I bought a plane ticket and went to see this guy who sent me seashells from his home and emailed me everyday.
When I told him I was coming, he was clearly excited. He wanted to plan my whole trip- meeting his grandparents and visiting him at school and going to soccer games and hiking and…. I had to remind him that I was visiting my college friend.
So I flew to South Carolina. Met him at a bagel shop and went hiking. We went on our first date at Macaroni Grill, where he just smiled at me the whole time. Ate with his grandparents, who he was living with at the time. Went to his soccer game. Walked in the park. Went shopping, even.
There’s just one thing about all this that was off- I had no idea where we stood as a couple. He never told me he liked me. Were we just friends or more than friends? Were we dating? Was there a future in all this? That is why I had come to visit. I didn’t feel these were things to discuss over the phone.
The night before returning home, my friend and I watched him play in a soccer game. After, we went to Steak n Shake for a snack, and then it was time to say goodbyes because my flight departed mid-morning and Stephen had classes.
Can I just say that goodbyes are always awkward for me? Do you hug or shake hands or just wave? Kick that feeling up a notch and that is where I was as we walked out to the parking lot. He opened his truck door and pulled out a gift and a card.
“It’s just a thank you gift for coming to visit.”
At this point I wasn’t sure what to think. Either he liked me a lot and was too nervous to say anything, or this was a non-verbal declaration. I now know that since he is a man of few words, it was the latter.
In this pivotal moment, I was a little irked though.
“I don’t think I can accept this.”
Stephen’s face was in shock. I don’t know that I’ve seen him that shocked since then.
“I don’t know under what pretense I am accepting this. You don’t normally give people a ‘thank you for visiting gift.’”
“I don’t know what you want me to say. I like you a lot.”
Hmmm. That made things slightly little clearer. He looked like a tortured soul who finally broke after water boarding. So what does this ridiculous redhead do?
“That’s what I needed to know. I like you too.”
And I got in my friend’s car and left him standing in the parking lot.
That whole night, I barely slept a wink. I was leaving South Carolina in the morning with so many unknowns still. And I knew I had been an absolute jerk. Cell phones were still a luxury item at that point, so I couldn’t call him.
My friend dropped me at the airport and left. I had a little extra time before leaving, so I didn’t go through security right away, but I was heading in that direction.Then I heard a man say my name.
It was Stephen.
He came to say a better goodbye and to elaborate on his confession the night before. We sat down at the gate, and he told me that he really, really liked me. That he knew I was special and he was almost for certain we were going to get married someday.
I was pretty much flying before I even boarded the plane.
Awhile ago, I read an article telling women that airplane scenes do not happen. And while I agree with the sentiment, that sometimes we expect too much from our guys and they can’t live up to our lofty expectations, every now and then reality can be better than fiction. It’s okay to enjoy the moment when it happens.
So many people ask how we met, and while that is a great story, the account I just shared is my favorite. It shows just a glimpse of how our lives would be, 16 years and 7 kids later. Sharing his feelings can be like a tooth extraction on a shark, but when he does- he leaves no question as to his love. And sometimes my true redhead tendencies come out in cruel ways.
And I share this with you, dear readers, because I want you to know something this Valentine’s Day: Despite all the jaded nay-sayers who rail on about Hallmark holidays, romance is not dead. Sometimes it is just as awkward and funny and sweet as the rom-com’s make it out to be.