“Do you want to sit outside?” my then boyfriend David asked. A combination of the delta breeze and a much too large cup of frozen yogurt made the heat of this particular summer evening bearable, so I agreed and we wandered around the corner to a small set of stairs just off one of midtown’s main streets.
A handful of months prior, on our first date, David told me he had previously been engaged to be married. He introduced the topic by acknowledging it was a little early to talk about previous relationships, but he assumed I had been in at least one.
“Actually,” I drew out the word with a big gulp, looking straight ahead. “I’ve never dated anyone before.”
I peeked at David out of the corner of my eye, taking in his stunned face. “Well,” came his slow, methodical response, “that makes what I’m about to tell you a little awkward.”
Poor guy, if I had known he was using that as a lead up to tell me about his ex-fiancé, I might have saved my news until after he had finished talking.
He went on to tell me he felt I should know this because, while he “really liked” me (his exact words), he was committed to avoiding a rebound relationship.
Inspired by his bravery, I further admitted he was currently taking me on not just our first date, but my very first date ever. I think he found that revelation more terrifying than brave, but to his credit, instead of walking me home and never calling again, he suggested we keep seeing each other.
So, there we were, sitting on stairs in front of a closed boutique with our frozen yogurt, months into a new relationship. One party had zero dating experience; one party had more experience than he cared for. Both parties were awkwardly fumbling through the get to know you stage with a commitment to the kind of open communication established with those first confessions.
I perched on the top step facing forward, while David made himself comfortable a few steps below, choosing to face sideways with his back against the railing so he could look up at me. In the interest of taking things slow, we left plenty of space. I don’t remember exactly what he said to make me smile so much that evening, but I do remember one seemed to be constantly forming on my lips.
“I like your smile,” he quipped as he took a bite of vanilla yogurt, a small smile of his own starting. “It’s pretty and it lights up your whole face.”
Emboldened, and in the mood for some cheesy romance, I felt my smile grow even wider as I replied, “I like your blue eyes. They’re piercing, and they are the first thing I noticed about you.”
This began a string of hours where we traded compliments and observations back and forth; a move that cemented our openness with each other. As the night wore on, we shifted on the steps, eventually landing on the same one. The physical space between us shrunk, and a safe space between us formed. A space where we could be vulnerable and love well with words. I sighed as I nestled my head on his shoulder. I knew our fledgling relationship had taken a monumental step forward, despite our best intentions to play it safe.
My mom leafed through the wedding program mock-up I handed her, studying the text I had written with a careful editing eye. For the better part of a year, she had helped David and I plan our wedding long distance. Now I sat with her in the living room of my childhood home with my wedding a week away. We assembled paper cones for a petal toss, the wording of the programs the last thing we needed to finalize.
“Are you sure this is all you want to say? I thought you and David would want to talk about each other.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, tying sheer grey ribbon into a bow. “I wrote about how we met and told a little bit of our dating story.”
“I meant more like letters, so everyone can read why you love each other and want to get married,” she clarified.
I understand why she made the suggestion. When David asked for my parents’ blessing to propose my mom asked what he loved about me. I didn’t witness the conversation, but I’m told his answer made her cry. He’s good with his words.
I can be somewhat prolific with what I say, but David speaks with a quiet steadiness. He’s consistent, not showy.
I thought about this, and I smiled.
“I already know why he loves me; he tells me all time. It doesn’t need to be written in a program.”
While pregnant with our oldest daughter, David and I took one of those multi-week birth courses—the kind that go over all the painstaking details. We faced our journey into parenthood the same way we face everything else as type-A planners. Prepared.
A big portion of the course centered around coping mechanisms to help us persevere through labor. We were asked to identify a place we loved and could imagine visiting as an escape, a favorite picture or comfort object, songs we would like to have playing, anything that would allow us to relax as much as possible.
I had no idea about the rough labor and delivery ahead of me. However, I did know myself well enough to understand mentally “escaping” to a beach would not be helpful in any way. A dancer since the age of three, I requested music from Swan Lake play in our birthing suite, but mostly I knew I would need to hear David’s voice. I asked him to talk to me.
As the adrenaline waned, the pain set in, and his own words ran out, David borrowed words from someone else. He grabbed a book he had pre-selected and began to read out loud. He read himself hoarse through 21 hours of labor, keeping one eye on the page, one eye on the clock, and his hand on my back. His voice carried me through the epidural that barely took the edge off, the panic around our daughter’s decelerating heartrate, and the moments where my life hung just as much in the balance as hers.
His voice continued to carry us through the jarring transition of two becoming three; when lovers turned into parents and all of a sudden everything seemed uncertain and hard. His voice directed us in prayer, suggested others to speak with when we couldn’t solve our problems on our own, and served as a constant reminder to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
We rediscovered the safe space we created during our dating days, our hard-fought ability to be open with each other. Once again, vulnerability found a home with us. Once again, we loved each other well with our words.
The other night after we put our daughters to bed, David suggested we spend the evening snuggled up with a movie, and even agreed when I asked to watch the live action version of Beauty and the Beast.
Right about the time Gaston ties Maurice up and leaves him for the wolves, David started whispering to me. Sweet nothings—the kind compliments that always feel like the most important somethings—spoken softly as he buried his face in the top of my head. I uncurled myself from his arms just long enough to look him in the eye.
“Do you know what night I think about a lot?”
Without having to say anything more, he knew exactly what I meant.
Ten years, two babies, and a busy legal career have filled our lives since that night in midtown. These days, entangled by young children and surrounded by a pandemic, soft words often serve as our only lifeline to romance. The one tie we have to those days long ago when our friendship began and love blossomed quickly. They have turned into a haven, one of the truly redeeming aspects of our marriage—an example of how he loves me best.