Twenty-nine years ago today, I fell in love with Tom.
I didn't realize I was falling in love. I thought I was just having fun.
I was 22 years old and 5 years deep into a dead-end relationship with someone else. A relationship that I knew was dead-end but still couldn't break loose from - I still loved him for some reason only hearts can understand.
The night I met Tom was a rare Friday night off for me ... yet Old Boyfriend opted to go out with his friends instead of me. Strike 3.
Strike 1 was when I discovered he cheated on me a few years before. Strike 2 was... well there were a number of things it could have been between Strike 1 and the night I met Tom.
I didn't realize it was Strike 3 at the time, though. I didn't know meeting Tom that night was a turning point. I wasn't looking for anyone else. I didn't expect anyone else.
So how did it happen? How did Tom woo me away from this longterm relationship when others had tried but failed, and I had accepted the fact that I might be single the rest of my life?
It's still mostly a mystery to me. A blessing.
Maybe it's because he answered questions. I'm nosy inquisitive and before our second dance was over I knew how old he was, what year he graduated from high school (I thought he was younger than me!) and where he was from (he talked funny!)
He was a gentleman - I was alone so he invited me to sit at his table with his friends and offered to buy me a drink. (No thank you. I'll buy my own. I didn't want to "owe" anyone.) He was there with the wife of a friend, which seemed strange, but meant his friends trusted him to take their wives dancing. Trustworthy is good. (This particular friend was a cop working nights.)
He was sweet but not pushy - he walked me out and gave me a kiss on the cheek. That's all. He didn't ask for a phone number, but he did ask what I was doing the next night (going to Gilley's to hear Alabama) and if he could meet me there. (Seems safe enough. Okay.)
He met me there, just like he said he would. (A man of his word.) He danced with me. (I like to dance.) He held me close, maybe even kissed me on the dance floor during the slow, romantic songs. Old Boyfriend didn't believe in public affection beyond holding hands, and I thought that was okay... but when Tom held me close, I liked it! In between dancing, he talked. He told me a lot about himself. A lot. But he also asked about me. And listened, interested in what I had to say... in what I thought. Not fake interested - I could tell the difference.
He walked me to my car. He asked for my phone number - that's all - and I gave it to him, gladly.
I had gone on other dates. I wasn't going to sit around moping on my nights off if Old Boyfriend didn't want to be with me. I just didn't expect to fall for anyone else - so it surprised me when I couldn't stop thinking about Tom, hoping he would call me.
The next two weeks, before he asked me to marry him and I said yes, are a blur. He moved slowly, like you would with a shy animal; one false move in those first days and I would have skittered away. But he was persistent. Confident.
There was a movie, a Pat Benatar concert, a kids' birthday party, the Renaissance Festival, Mario's Pizza and stargazing in Galveston. He hooked me with his fun spirit, gentleness, energy, corny romanticism, passion... with his smile... and proceeded to reel me in with small gestures, like leaving an "I'm thinking of you" card on my doorstep to find when I stumbled home after my night shift. I liked knowing I was on his mind when we were apart. I liked him showing me I was on his mind.
I met his friends - you learn a lot about someone by the people he surrounds himself with. I introduced him to my friends and family, watched to see their reactions and his - you learn a lot about someone that way, too. His photo albums told me he was close to his family and that he loved adventure... they were filled with images of his parents and eight brothers, one of him coming home from a summer spent hitchhiking across Canada, dozens of his time in Alaska with the Coast Guard, riding his motorcycle, camping, rappelling... so gutsy, so adventurous, so independent and fun! (Why aren't you taken yet? I asked him.)
There was one big hurdle he had to clear: jealousy. Old Boyfriend was the jealous and suspicious type, way before I tired of his neglectful, cheating ways and starting going out on my own and with other people. I had been an engineering student, one of only a handful of women... I worked with guys at the chemical plant and had many male friends... I was constantly having to reassure him, defend myself, and I admit that sometimes I lied - not because I had done anything wrong, but because I knew it would make life easier.
And it had pushed me to cheat on him, too. We had a relationship that brought out the worst in each other, not the best.
So, no matter how much fun I had with Tom, I wasn't going to put up with jealousy from anyone anymore. I even told Old Boyfriend I had met someone. So when one of those guy friends (actually an old boyfriend) called and asked me to help him shop for a birthday present for his brother, I said yes. And afterwards, I insisted he stick around and meet Tom that evening.
Tom was warm and friendly. No sign of insecurity, machismo or jealousy.
So here's what it boils down to... Tom made me feel important, attractive, interesting, and fun. He was trusting and trustworthy, polite, self-secure but not too serious. He could laugh at himself and act silly. He was a man of faith in a quiet, solid way. He made me a part of his life and wanted to be a part of mine.
Old Boyfriend lost me, not just because he cheated on me, but because he made me feel insignificant and unattractive. He spent time with me as a last resort. He took me for granted.
So why was I still with him? Who knows. I think it's just because I was waiting for Tom.
(How do you celebrate a 29th anniversary of the day you met? Tailgating downtown with your son and daughter, watching a football game on TV, walking the dogs, eating boiled shrimp and jalapeno potato chips, rocking on the front porch at dusk, listening to music, laughing at the cowardly cardinals trying to work up the nerve to fly to the bird feeder, and arguing heatedly about the chain of events of the first two weeks of your life together. Oh, and now watching a movie.Happy Anniversary to Us.)