Twenty one years ago today, I stood before a handful of friends and family in a little church and said, “I do,” to the man of my dreams.
Except, he wasn’t exactly the man of my dreams. That guy I fantasized about for so long was a filthy rich businessman with a professional athlete’s physique. The guy I thought I wanted would give me everything I ever desired. He would spoil me and take me on fancy vacations and bring me roses and bottles of fine wine. He’d hire me a maid and a nanny, and buy me a new car every year.
For the longest time, that is what I thought I wanted.
And then came Donnie, a quiet, boyish-looking artist with a thin, lanky body and barely a penny to his name. We met in the way so many couples do—at college, through a mutual friend—and I only wanted to be friends. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that as an artist, I could never be in a relationship with another artist. I knew myself well enough to know that such a pairing could never work out. Two creative people would be too competitive, and couldn’t possibly be compatible. It would be disastrous. I just knew it.
Because I was twenty years old, and I knew everything.
Boy, was I stupid.
I almost let him go. After college, and a brief time dating, Donnie went overseas with the Navy and I pursued my career in advertising at an agency in Florida. I’d gotten over the notion that two artists couldn’t get along—in a very short time, Donnie had become my best friend, the easiest person in the world to talk to. I loved discussing art with him, and religion, and every single topic that was supposed to be difficult just flowed between us in harmonious conversation.
He’d already declared his love for me, and I cared for him deeply. But how could I be sure he really was “The One”? Wasn’t I supposed to hold out for that man of my dreams? If I worked in the corporate world long enough, would he come along, sweep me off my feet and be the Prince Charming I’d dreamed about since childhood?
Though it was long-distance—and this was before email, Facebook and international cell phones—my relationship with Donnie continued to grow, along with my confusion. He told me point-blank that divorce was not in his vocabulary—if I married him, it was for life. Instead of reassuring, I found that terrifying. I mean, this was 1990, not 1770. If marriage didn’t work out, you split up. How could you make such a huge decision and not provide yourself a way out? That didn’t make sense to me.
It does now, but back then, it scared me so much that we nearly broke up. I still remember that night on the phone, him in Scotland and me in Florida, the pain in his voice as he said he couldn’t keep waiting forever for me to make up my mind about marrying him. And I’ll never forget the pain in my heart as I wept my way through a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream and finally knew that maybe Mr. Right didn’t always show up packaged like a girl expects.
After a couple of decades together, I’m so glad it didn’t. God knew that Donnie was everything I truly needed and wanted in a man. I didn’t need material wealth; I needed wealth of character, compassion and integrity. I didn’t need someone to whisk me off my feet; I needed someone to plant them, finally, on truly solid ground. I didn’t need gifts of roses and fancy vacations; I needed someone who’d build a home with me so happy that I’d never need to go away. Sometimes I look at him, and our beautiful children and it takes my breath away that I get to experience something as precious as this life we’ve built together.
This girl’s fairy tale came true. And we’re living happily ever after.
Kari may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.