It felt odd being back on campus after moving away seven months before. I'd graduated in May, but she was a year behind when we started dating. Always the brainy one, she was graduating a semester early. It felt even stranger to return for someone else's graduation ceremony when I'd skipped my own - pomp and circumstance never meant much to me - but her graduation meant something to her, so there was no way I'd miss it.
I stood in the cold, waiting for her as the snow fell. I'd just stepped off a Grayhound bus & was taking in the view of what had been my home for four years. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. I could barely spot the dorms I'd once lived in as they loomed in the distance, mostly obscured from view by the swirling snow.
She flung open the doors to the Student Union building & opened her arms wide while running toward me. Her face beamed.
Were words spoken? I can't recall. I tend to reflect more on the things that matter: her smile, her eyes, the way there was never any doubt of the body hidden beneath her many layers when she held me tight.
She gave me the sort of hug that makes the world disappear - even if only for a moment.
I began to speak, not really having a map to guide my way through the maze of words I wanted to say. I knew I'd find my way through it.
"If I had a ring..."
I reached into my jacket as if fetching something from a pocket deep inside. "If I had a ring..." I repeated, "...and I asked you..."
"YES?!?!?" she said - though it felt like more of a question than an answer.
"...is that 'yes', you'd say yes, or 'yes' like you're asking me a question?" I grinned, removing an empty hand from my pocket to reach out for hers as I turned to face her. Students were walking past us in all directions - but it felt like we were the only ones there. Snowflakes covered our heads and our shoulders by this point, but I doubt either of us noticed. Our eyes were locked as we stood in the middle of the sidewalk. I touched the end of her nose with the end of mine, looking so deeply into her eyes before turning to look away.
"Rob, what are you saying?!?"
"About the 'yes' question? Or about the asking question?"
"ROB!!!!" She was blushing wildly. Beat red. She'd never looked more beautiful.
"Well, I was just wondering... y'know... what the answer would be - if I were to reach into this pocket..." I reached back into my pocket "...and pull out a ring. Well, not A ring. THE ring... I mean, there's a big difference between A ring and THE ring. If I had THE ring - would I be placing it on your finger? Would you want me to?"
"Oh my God! You don't have a ring!??! You can't! Do you????!! You can't!!!! You can't even afford a pizza!!!!"
That was true.
I'd moved two hours south to Pittsburgh the previous May for a summer internship at a radio station there. I was working for free and living off next to nothing. When the internship ended, I stayed on through the fall, still working for free while waiting for a job offer from one of the many stations across the country I'd been mailing my demo tapes to. The future felt so bright - I had no idea where I'd be moving once I landed a job... but I knew I wanted her to be there with me, so I saved every penny. Many times, after returning from work late at night, I'd be too tired to cook. "Just once" I'd think while picking up the phone to order a pizza. "It's only $7 dollars... eight with a tip." Sometimes I'd even page through the phone book to find the number (I made sure to never write it down). I might even start to dial - but I'd always hang up before anyone would pick up on the other end.
I'd told her how poor I was, but I never told her why.
I was saving every penny to buy her a diamond engagement ring. Funny how I couldn't care less about pomp and circumstance, unless it's for someone I care about.
"Well ok, maybe I don't have a ring in my pocket." I said. "But what if I did? Would that make a difference? Would you say yes if I HAD a ring?"
"Would you still say yes if I didn't? Would it matter if I didn't have a ring - if I couldn't afford a ring?"
"You know that I love you." I said as I took my hand out of my jacket pocket to hold hers.
"Wait. I shouldn't say it like that. It shouldn't sound like some kind of afterthought. I Love You. I love you and I know it. There are so many things we doubt in life... things we wonder about without really being sure. But I love YOU, and I know it."
"I know" she said as a tear fell from her eye.
"So you'd love me even if I was too poor to afford a diamond ring? You'd marry either way?"
"OHMHGOD! You've got to stop teasing me! I don't care! I love you either way!"
"Well then I guess I don't need this..."
My eyes never left hers as I reached back into my jacket. Was I shivering from the cold air brushing against me as I fetched the small box from my inside jacket pocket, or was I shivering because I was nervous?
I removed the box and opened it with the contents facing her. Inside sat a magnificent diamond ring. I'd spent three months shopping for the diamond to set into that ring, and another month with it sitting in my apartment. I'd waited for this moment.
And the moment was perfect as I placed the ring on her finger.
Falling snow swirled around us under an icy winter breeze while the street lights filled the darkness as the setting winter sun faded away. So many students were walking past, though I can't recall a single one... I remember her. I remember the moment. It was perfect. No matter what the future would bring, nothing could take away the perfection of that moment.
...and that's the thing about love. Too many people worry about the ending rather than enjoying what they have at that moment.
Did it end? Yes it did - but that's not the point.
She and I dated for 14 months and were engaged for another 16. I'm thankful for every moment.
It ended because we were too young and in too transitional a period in our lives. She needed stability so she could get a master's degree in geology, and I got sucked into the instability of broadcasting.
But again - that's not the point.
The point is that the ending makes the time spent together no less perfect.
Remember that the next time you feel that spark of something new and spectacular. Don't worry whether or not it will last. The world could come to an end tomorrow for all any of us know. You could walk out your front door and get run over by a bus, and the contemplation of 'will it last' will have been for nothing. You have no way of being certain your own life will last, let alone a new relationship.
Instead, when starting to date someone new, focus on the things that matter. I believe there are five:
Do I respect this person?
Do I enjoy spending time with this person?
Do I have enough in common with this person?
Do I want to get this person naked? (admit it - this matters)
...and last but not least:
Does this person feel the same way about me?
Answer yes, and you've found magic... so enjoy it. Figure out the rest as it comes your way. Figure out the rest together.
I'm not saying you should live recklessly - I'm not saying to rush it - but worrying about the ending before exploring the beginning could prevent a marvelous middle that might not have an end.
How tragic that would be.