I have to warn you up front: this is a rather shmoopy post about my husband. It is, after all, Valentine's Day. I will relate a story to help you see why I love Plantboy so much, and it is kind of a long story. Hit "next blog" now if you hate this sort of thing.
After breaking up with The Mistake in 1998, I went through a really difficult time. I was living with my grandmother, most of my friends had gotten married and/or finished college while I had taken my hiatus to be a missionary, and I was just a semester from graduation. I was lonely, rather depressed and my confidence was shot. I found a job on campus and one of my fellow-employees was a fabulous friend named Carrie. Though a few years younger than myself, she took me under her wing and helped me to adjust to life after a mission and an engagement gone south. (Quite literally--the girl he got engaged to three weeks after breaking it off with me lived south.) There was an opening in Carrie's apartment that summer, and I jumped at the chance to begin acting like a more normal college student again.
Carrie had a crush on a guy we went to church with that we will call Metal Plate Face Boy. (So named because of an unfortunate accident during an ultimate Frisbee fraternity tournament in which his zygomatic process was crushed and replaced with a steel plate. Really. He wasn't a cyborg-face or anything, it was all under the skin, and you couldn't tell unless you were really close to him. Keep reading to learn why I was privy to this information.) Not just a crush, but the BIG CRUSH. She knew his class schedule and hung on his every word. He seemed nice enough and was pretty good-looking. He was the kind of guy that all of the nice girls in your ward have a crush on at one time or another, but never seems to ask anybody out.
The problem was that Carrie was rather shy, especially around MPFB, and couldn't even speak to him without stammering and blushing. There was a church picnic that summer and I dragged her to his table in an effort to force her to chat naturally with him. It worked a little bit and I managed to get the ball rolling, conversation-wise, for the three of us. Two days later, he called our apartment, Carrie answered the phone (remember when roommates shared land-lines?), and handed it to me. The Man of Steel had called for me.
There followed the five most awkward moments of my life. He re-introduced himself to me, thinking that I wouldn't realize who he was. We talked for a few minutes and the whole time, Carrie is standing there mouthing and whispering, "He is awesome. He likes you. You have to say yes if he asks you out. Don't you dare say no . . . . "
If I was a really good person I probably would have said no, leaving MPFB with little or no explanation to keep my friend's secret, well, secret. But I am not a really good person, and I was incredibly flattered. I'd been out with friends. I'd been out with boys that I had flirted for months to hook up with. I'd made-out off and on that summer with a boy from work that I had no intention of dating. I'd been set up on blind dates. But I never had been asked on a date, out-of-the-blue, by a man clearly nervous about being rejected. It was very appealing.
We started dating. Carrie was such a champ through it all. I still regret ever telling him yes.
That summer, as the pieces of my life began falling in the right places again, I felt like I was finally moving in a positive direction. My cousin, on the other hand, though just a few months older than myself, was finding out that her husband of less than two years was more interested in an tattooed and pierced 18 year-old at work than with her and their baby on the way. She and I had always been very close, and I spent quite a lot of time with her during those devastating months of heartbreak and anger. I could relate on some small level. My Mistake and her Ex could have been brothers. (No denigration here of my cousin's choices; it was, after all, the Mistake that broke up with me, not the other way around. I would have married my charm-boy too if he hadn't been so commitment-phobic. Praise the Heavens for that.)
As MFPB and I dated more, I opened up and told him about my cousin. His response was almost total indifference. Any emotion he showed was probably more along the lines of if-you-are-upset-then-this-probably-means-no-kissing-right? I missed the signs that Metal Boy just wanted to hang out and have fun. It didn't occur to me that a guy might be only attracted to me, as such a phenomenon had never happened before. I thought a handful of dates meant we were on the road to eternal bliss. No doubt he saw that one serious conversation as an attempt for me to get closer than he wanted to be.
He didn't call.
A couple of weeks later, I cooked for him one Sunday afternoon and goaded him into having a DTR (Define the Relationship) conversation. Poor boy. When he asked me out initially I should have told him, "No thanks. I'm on the rebound and I'm likely to be clingy and needy and read too much into your every action. You seem very nice, so I'm just going to spare you that drama right now." I'm not sure why women undermine their relationships, but we do a heck of a job at it. I basically told MFPB that I wanted him to be honest with me. I didn't want to have him say that he was going to call, and me sit by the phone for weeks, only to run into him on campus six months later and he thinks, "Oh, yeah, didn't we go out once?" He looked me right in the eye, no lie, and said so sweetly and sincerely, "I would never do that to you."
I never heard from him again.
Fast forward to late summer. I was commiserating with a fellow-employee (female) about my frustrations with guys in general. You know, the conversation that women in their 20's have every other time they get together. I told her about the last conversation I had with cyborg face and we soundly condemned him, the lame girl he would one day marry*, his children and his convertible Sebring. Plantboy had just begun working with us, and though I didn't realize it at the time, he was listening carefully to every word we said. It was months (years?) later that he told me he wanted to jump over the counter at that moment and promise--for real--that he would never do that to me.
Not too many weeks passed before we began dating, and I really liked him, but then something happened that taught me in a profound and tender way the depth of his unassuming personality. I was unable to go out with him one night because my cousin was on watch for a premature delivery and at the hospital. She was very ill, and despite being more than 25 weeks pregnant, was still losing weight. I explained to Plantboy about my cousin, just waiting for him to shrug with indifference in the manner of Ironman. Men are just like that, right?
Wrong. Plantboy was genuinely distraught. He volunteered to go with me to the hospital and then asked what I was bringing for a gift. The answer was, of course, nothing, as my whole budget for the month had been blown on a case of Ramen noodles. He volunteered to take my cousin a plant from his house (he had several) and chose the nicest one in the prettiest pot. He discreetly stood aside while I conversed for some time with my cousin, not acting with impatience for even a moment.
When we left the hospital, I related more of her story and his gorgeous hazel eyes teared up as he said, "I don't know what I would do if that happened to me. I cannot imagine how awful she must feel." And though it was many weeks before I would admit to it, on that day I began to fall in love with him.
From that day I was touched by his deep compassion and sincerity. His generosity and his selflessness. His tender-heart and doing-hands. I have seen him give his gloves to a homeless man on a freezing cold street. I have seen him drop everything for a month of Saturdays to help other people move. I have seen him react without hesitation to leave at any hour to give a blessing to someone in need. I have heard the tears in his voice as he has blessed each of his young sons to love and learn from their mother. I have cried on his shoulder for an hour or more at a time without any complaint. He has never wanted to change me, but just knowing him has changed me for the better.
When I was young I read a lot of fairy tales. When my life didn't look like one of them by the ripe-old-age of 17, I became unfortunately and dramatically bitter about relationships, which were always so hard for me to figure out. I felt like the whole thing was a big game in which I was never privy to the rule book. I never expected to have a love like this. Sometimes reality is better than the fairy tale.
Happy Valentine's Day, Plantboy.
* ChrisW pursued a master's degree a couple of years later. One of her roommates ended up marrying the Cyborg, who, by the way, is a very nice guy named Dave. It wasn't that he couldn't nurture, he just couldn't nurture the lump of need that was me in 1998. Sometimes people prepare you for what you are really waiting for. Thanks, Dave.