Happy Valentines’ Day! And, happy two-year anniversary to me and my husband! That’s two years of being married and two years of being together. No, I didn’t get the timing wrong. We really did get married that quickly.
On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, I sat down next to an incredibly handsome stranger at a restaurant bar. Being in the Chicago suburbs, the stranger wanted to experience deep dish pizza. Several of his colleagues highly recommended Lou Malnatti’s.
Meanwhile, I had been invited to Lou Malnatti’s by a writers’ group at a local college I attended for the first time that night. They liked to socialize afterwards, starting at Lou Malnatti’s bar.
The stranger and I struck up a conversation. Four days later he proposed. Less than three weeks later, on February 12th, 2016, we eloped in his hometown of Nashville.
So, yes. Four Days to Fiancée is an accurate title. But, it’s really not as quick as it seems. The truth is that I spent several years prior to that night figuring out what I wanted in a partner. What gave me the insight and courage to take such a bold relationship step is the minimalist mindset I adopted over the years.
Many people will tell you minimalism is not simply removing the material clutter from your life, though that is a key component. It’s also embracing the values that are most important in your life and then making choices to support those values.
Freedom is at the top of my list of core life values, and ironically enough, it is because I value freedom so much that I was able to agree to marry someone whom I had known less than a week.
When I met my future husband that night, I had already begun taking steps to support my personal ideas of freedom. Thanks to a sabbatical from my position as an associate professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University, I realized that somehow, I had let my life veer off course. I felt imprisoned by my choices and I wanted out.
The first step to my freedom began with purging. By August 2014, I had given up my apartment and sold, donated, gave away, or trashed 90% of my belongings. In doing so, I released myself from the debilitating mountain of stuff I had accumulated over the years. When you move three times in five years and some boxes remain not just unpacked, but unopened, it’s a wake-up call you do not need that stuff anymore.
After I removed the forgotten and unnecessary items from my life, I began looking at everything I owned. Gone were clothes I never wore, but someday hoped to have a reason to wear; shoes I had purchased for special occasions and hurt my feet the one time I wore them, but I thought looked so pretty; books I bought because I wanted to learn about the history of the Olympics, the healing power of food, or the latest pop psychology research, but never seemed to have time to read; and mementos from friends, travels, and experiences that caused me to buy extra shelves and cabinets to hold these memories, and which also took away some of my precious free time because I had to dust and organize them on a regular basis.
I ended up giving away so many of my belongings, one of my colleagues jokingly asked if I had a terminal illness.
Once free from the physical clutter, I wanted even more space. I returned from my sabbatical on August 24th, 2015 and on September 1st, 2015, I turned in my resignation, effective for the end of the academic year on May 31st, 2016.
With the knowledge of impending professional freedom, I then focused my attention on the kind of life I wanted to live and with whom I wanted to share it. Without any physical clutter to take up my time and energy, I waded through my murky past with the help of a therapist, a disciplined meditation practice, a church that inspired me to believe there’s something more out there, and several insightful journaling exercises and self-help books.
I asked myself tough questions, such as why had I not had a successful relationship in the past, what role did I play in failed relationships, and did I even want to be in a relationship.
Once I established that, yes, I did want to be in a long-term, loving and committed relationship, and understood how I had contributed problems to my past relationships and how to be a better partner in the future, I thought about the values I desired in my husband. What sort of person would make me the very best possible version of myself? Anyone who lowered my desired caliber of life would simply not be an option.
Nearly every day for a year, I meditated on this question and what I wanted, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. What rose to the top of my list were curiosity, empathy, honesty, and playfulness. I also wanted someone who made their own physical and mental health a priority in their life since I had taken steps to become healthy again.
I didn’t have a specific “type,” in mind for a partner, but I hoped my husband would be as good-looking on the outside as his heart was on the inside. When I would see someone attractive while out and about, I would say to myself, “Wow! That man looks a lot like my husband.” I also thanked God every day for my husband, as if we were already together. I would write in my gratitude journal statements such as, “Thank you for my incredibly handsome husband, who is kind, compassionate, loves animals, and makes me laugh more than anyone else.”
It was in January, 2016, when a thought occurred to me: What I also wanted was someone who valued the life I was creating for myself and wanted in on the adventure. I wish I knew the exact date I had that thought, but I’m not very good at keeping a daily journal for an extended period. I just remember that the thought felt so real and powerful, I knew it was right for me.
It couldn’t have been more than two weeks later, I sat down at Lou Malnatti’s next to that incredibly handsome stranger. He overhead the discussion I was having with Anne, a woman in her 70s whom I had just met that night at the writers group. She was sitting on his right-hand side. I was sitting on his left.
Behind this handsome stranger’s back, because he was still eating his pizza, I told Anne all about being a professor, my imminent resignation, and writing. I explained my plans to be a professional pet and housesitter and travel all over the country. Then, for some reason we started talking about old movies and I told her I had just been to an Elvis Tribute Spectacular on January 8th with a good friend. It would have been Elvis’ 81st birthday and thanks to my Mom, I am quite a fan of Elvis’ music.
Despite not being a part of our conversation at all, Anne tapped the handsome man on the chest and asked, “Do you like Elvis?”
He sang his response with a southern drawl: I’ll have a blue Christmas without you. Thank you very, much.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” I asked.
“Nashville,” came his response and my immediate thought was, I am not interested in you.
But it turned out I was interested. From the first few hours of our conversation, my future husband spoke about books he was reading and asked me about books I was reading; he told me how he wanted to attend the Olympics before he was 40 and I told him I had attended the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He spoke about some of the challenges he faced in his life and how grateful he was to his parents for their love and support. He teared up when discussing his chocolate lab, Lana, whom he had lost not that long ago, and I told him about my beloved black and yellow labs, Jack and Limit.
We continued our discussion the next night, when we went on a proper date. My future husband and I drove into Chicago so he could take some photographs. We went to the Harold Washington public library on State Street and acted out silly scenes with puppets in the children’s room, played Mad Libs at Epic Burger, and walked around Millennium Park, all the while discussing our lives, friends, and families.
The next day, Friday, my future husband came to visit me at work before he had to fly back to Nashville. The following day, we spent 14 hours on the phone, and on Sunday we spent another 12 hours. Sunday night is when he proposed.
If I hadn’t known what I really wanted in a partner, I don’t think I would have been able to say yes. But through the stories we told each other, the secrets we shared, and the time we spent together, I felt I had a good enough of measure of him. The values I wanted most – I knew he had them. I didn’t need any more time to tell me what I already knew – this was a man who would build me up and support me and help me become the absolute very best version of myself.
My husband and I were overjoyed to find each other, and we didn’t want to wait. We also had no reason to, other than that “society,” would deem our marriage too quick. Neither of us had debt, we were in our 30s, and neither of us had professional or educational aspirations that would limit our future choices compared to if we stayed single.
I was, however, asking my husband to give up everything he had to come be with me on this adventure. He left behind his family and friends in Tennessee and the only home he had ever known for 33 years.
So, of course, I would give him the highest level of commitment we both wanted. It allowed us to be free of our past lives, only we would be free together as teammates and partners.
Everything else seemed secondary. The very few people that I spoke to about our decision to get married so quickly wondered why the rush? How well could I really know him? they wanted to know.
To which I replied – how well can you really know anyone? I’ve known people who dated their fiancés for several years before getting married, only to be miserable and divorced within two years. Several people I know were married for decades before their spouses divorced them just like that! And one woman, who I admire very much, married her childhood sweetheart who was her best friend, only for him to realize a few years into the marriage that he was gay.
So, I didn’t buy into their concerns, because we can never really be certain about anyone other than ourselves. And because I took the time to really get to know myself and what I wanted, I didn’t have to waste any time figuring out whether we worked together. Our values lined up and that is all that mattered to me.
To my husband: I LOVE YOU! These past two years have been the best of my life. Thank you for asking me to marry you when you did, and thank you for being the best friend and partner I could have imagined.