Sarah Schmiege – We’re Up
Couple’s Love Song: Prettiest Eyes by The Beautiful South
We fell in love over email. No, we didn’t meet online – this was in August 1999, years before Match.com, much less Tinder. People were still using dial-up connections, when online dating was still new and creepy, and nowhere near as charming or romantic as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan would have you believe from You’ve Got Mail. Rather we were in the same doctoral program, but she was 5 years my senior and we didn’t have any classes together, so we connected over email. I was 22, had just come out to my family, and had just moved from a small town in Wisconsin, where dating opportunities were slim. Jean was 27, a bit more jaded after years of school, and having just gotten out of complicated relationships, was certainly NOT looking for anything romantic. Yet our connection was undeniable. After chatting at a party, we emailed about a mundane topic which quickly turned into multiple, lengthy, heartfelt, and/or trying to be witty emails per day. Email is where we learned each other’s stories (like that her dentist was busted for cocaine dealing or her neighbor was featured on America’s Most Wanted) and each other’s insecurities. I knew I had a crush on her right away, and after a few weeks of trying to gauge “is she or isn’t she,” this shy introvert from Wisconsin did something totally out of character and made the first move. She had a crush on me too, but was initially reluctant, as she was still trying to figure out her sexuality, and knew that if we got together I wasn’t going to be a flash in the pan. In response to my overture, she initially asked for two weeks to think about it, which (a few minutes later) turned into a week, and then culminated in her emailing me a couple hours after I had dropped her off saying she couldn’t sleep and yes, let’s give it a shot.
Soon thereafter we settled on Prettiest Eyes by The Beautiful South, about a couple growing old together, as our song. Three months into the relationship and the love song that resonated with us was about an old man reflecting back on the 60 years he spent with his recently deceased wife, remembering the sum of life’s stressors – things that created the lines on their faces as they got older – outweighed by all the good times they had.
The first years of our relationship were about what you’d expect from two people who have amazing chemistry, no real work or family responsibilities, and no money. Although we claimed (and truly believed) we were SO busy with school, we spent hours laying around, talking, laughing, all while claiming “I can’t believe how not sick of you I am.” Restaurant meals were rare and instead our pattern was to buy a “nice” bottle of wine, some cheese, a baguette, and spread out in the living room on a blanket. Our vacations usually involved carefully selecting our 20 current favorite CDs, getting into Jean’s Geo Prizm, the better of our two cars (“it has a Toyota engine!” she would brag), and driving somewhere we could reach in a weekend. We defied lesbian U-haul stereotypes in that we “technically” waited two years to move in together. We commemorated this next step by enthusiastically painting every room of our semi-sketchy condo (agreeing bright orange was the perfect color for our living room) and acquiring our first puppy, Noodle, the type of dog that only her mothers could love. A year later came Casey, a dog we sort of got for Noodle but who ended up making our family complete at the time.
After six years together in Phoenix, we moved to Boulder as newly minted PhDs. Here we were much more settled and much more serious than we ever were in school. We started our careers, bought a house together, and eventually migrated to Denver to be closer to our jobs. All of this was occurring under the umbrella of the major life event of trying to start a family together. After our best laid plans around this were shot to hell and we experienced five years of infertility, pregnancy loss, mounds of paperwork, adoption meetings, the thing finally happened that made that whole terrible roller coaster worth it: our daughter was born.
So after almost 20 years together, two houses, two dogs, countless meals of wine, bread, and cheese (nowadays consumed sitting on proper furniture), and most importantly, raising an awesome child together, why aren’t we already married? Well, when we first got together, legal marriage wasn’t even something we could contemplate to be possible. And so, it was never a measure or milestone of our relationship. And, we didn’t care about the symbolism of a ceremony if it didn’t confer legal rights and benefits. To us, a wedding without a marriage felt simply like a party. A party where the guest of honor wasn’t even allowed to come. The important thing was that we were together, and knew we’d always be together. We never could have dreamed that legal marriage would come “so soon” (soon being 16 years into our relationship). And then it did. Yet, life gets in the way. We had decided to first get through planning Jean’s parent’s 50th wedding anniversary before focusing on ourselves. Their anniversary celebration, a private dinner with a small group of close friends and family, was exactly what we wanted for our own wedding and inspired us to kickstart our planning. But before we could even translate that experience, Jean’s mom was diagnosed with cancer and was gone two months later. Reeling from that loss, it was difficult to contemplate a wedding without her mom there. But now it’s time. It’s past time. We’ve decided we’re getting married this year, and now we just struggle with how two people who are terrible at event planning and pageantry will pull it off. As Jean says “if someone would just plan the wedding for us, I’d show up.”
So that’s our love story. If you’re looking for something flashy that includes an engagement involving hundreds of rose petals or a quick weekend to Paris or some other Grand Romantic Gesture, then our story isn’t for you. We’re not even technically engaged, unless you count Jean posting “We’ve got some planning to do!” on my Facebook page the day of the Supreme Court ruling (our friends considered this a proposal) or one of us randomly saying to the other “we really need to get married this year,” much in the same way we’d announce that we really need to remember to take the recycling out or to run the dishwasher. But we’re as engaged as any two people can be. Ours is a story of years of being there for each other, never wavering in our commitment, raising a family together, going through all the ups and downs (the lines and the good times), and always focusing on the little things you can do for the other person that you know will make them happy. It’s about Jean carefully checking the menu at any restaurant we plan to go to in order to make sure there’s a good vegetarian meal for me. It’s about me – a wholly mediocre piano player – learning to accompany Jean and her brother – excellent sax player and drummer – on Take Five to perform for their Dad on his 70th birthday. It’s about Jean being willing to give up a job she loved in Denver to move across the country with me when I wasn’t satisfied with my career opportunities here (we ultimately decided to stay put). It’s about me flying back and forth with our two year old daughter every weekend to Phoenix while Jean’s mom was dying so that Jean could still see both of us in light of her caregiving responsibilities and so Jean’s mother could maximize the precious little time she had left with her only granddaughter. It’s about Jean being willing to dispose of dead mice because that part freaks me out and about me being willing to set the traps because that part freaks her out. It’s about whoever is the first to rise being the one to brew coffee and then bringing it to the other in bed. So we’re not You’ve Got Mail or any other cheesy, over-the-top romantic comedy. We’re more like the couple from Up, where the life we’ve built together is our great adventure.