* Jackie, Assistant GM of UT Dallas Residence Hall and Nightly Back Scratcher & Ben, Engineering Student, Hot Air Force Guy, and Perpetual Dishwasher *
I was young when I got married. Thirteen months later, I still am.
My husband and I found each other the first weekend of college our freshman year. We became friends, running in the same social group all year and getting into trouble together, but it wasn’t until the summer after that something changed for us. On a short road trip to see a friend for her birthday, there was a switch that flipped in the middle of rest stop shenanigans and Disney sing-alongs. We fell in love in a summer of boxed mac and cheese, drinking too much rum and Coke with our friends, and taking long walks around our deserted college campus in the wee hours of the morning.
When we started dating, we agreed it’d be a casual thing. I was his first girlfriend, and neither of us wanted to be tied down when we were eighteen years old. It’s always funny though, how true love finds people. We became inseparable that summer. Eventually, school started and we had to figure out how to be a couple among friends and schoolwork and jobs. We almost lost each other that winter, due to wondering minds and wandering hearts, but thankfully, we figured our shit out and fell back into each other. After that, there was no question. We had two more years of sneaking kisses in the library, a summer spent apart for Air Force basic training, and another summer apart while he was deployed to Kyrgyzstan and I lived on the French Riviera. We had the adventures that we’d always wanted to have that summer, but boy, those were the worst six months of my life.
Then, two winters ago, while I was in New York City with my graduating class, Ben drove down and surprised me on a bridge in Central Park. He asked me to spend my life with him and as I danced around in happy circles on that bridge, everything within me screamed yes.
If the criticism of being in a serious relationship at twenty-one wasn’t already bad, it quickly became impossible. Dozens of “adults” insinuated that we were throwing our lives away (most of them in unhappy marriages themselves). Well-meaning aunts told me I should go see the world and kiss lots of boys before I settled down (never mind that summer in France and the twelve boyfriends I had before Ben). Strangers gave me the weirdest looks when I explained that yes, the sparkly ring on my left hand was an engagement ring, and no, I was not pregnant, thankyouverymuch.
We did it anyways. We’re not the type of people to take anyone’s shit, so with the help of those wonderful people who really did support us, we planned one hell of a party. We vowed our lives to each other on a ninety-seven degree day in July, with fresh flowers everywhere, no shoes on my feet, and all of our favorite people in one place. It was pure magic. It was the best day of my life.
And now, I’m realizing that the part of our relationship that everyone criticized is one of my favorite parts of our story. We fell in love when we were eighteen, at that time of life when everyone is just trying to figure out how to have fun and still pass classes if we’re being honest. We didn’t know what we wanted from a partner, let alone a spouse. We barely knew what we wanted from ourselves. But we figured it out together. In our arguments in the dining hall and the cold walks to each other’s dorms and the late nights just staying up, sharing our dreams, we figured it out. We’ve become each other’s closest friends, and in that, our best partners. These years we’re in, this space from eighteen to twenty-two (and the next few years we’re going to face), these are our most formative years. All of that high school counselor bullshit about figuring out who you are and who you’re supposed to be, that’s real. And that’s us. But we’re doing it together.
We’re growing as separate people, surely. I’m realizing that maybe I am a tiny bit introverted after all, and after four years of a marketing degree, Ben is figuring out that he really just wants to be an engineer. I’m in my first professional job, trying to figure out how to be an employee and a boss at the same time, all the while yearning to quit the whole thing and open my own business, and Ben is loving his so-nerdy-it’s-cute engineer classes at the local community college. But we’re growing into each other too. We’ve been the constant in each other’s lives for the past four years. The only constant. That semester that I got in a fight with my dad the first week and we didn’t speak until Easter, Ben helped me figure out how I wanted to handle the situation. When Ben’s Air Force base asked him if he would deploy to some unknown Middle Eastern county for six months, we made that awful pros and cons list together. And just three months ago, I started a new job in Dallas, fifteen hundred miles away from our hometown of Rochester, New York. Fifteen hundred miles away from our families. Fifteen hundred miles away from everything we’ve ever known. We’d been hoping for a move like this, and it happened and that road trip down here was more fun and more terrifying than anything I’d ever done.
So now we’re here. We’re in this new city by ourselves, building this new life together, choosing each other every day and falling more in love with each other every damn day too. It can be hard sometimes, with the long days and the quick stubbornness we both have, but really, it’s good. At eighteen, we talked about someday getting married and someday moving to Texas and at twenty-two, that someday is now. The best part is that we have a million somedays ahead of us. Someday we’ll live in Austin and someday we’ll build a big Southern house and someday I’ll own an ice cream shop. Someday far away, we’ll have some babies and we’ll raise those babies to be good, kind people. Someday, Lord willing, we’ll be sitting in that big Southern house together with our giant family buzzing about around us, and we’ll think back to when we were twenty-two in our second year of marriage, learning how to do life together.
We’ll think about the warm August nights we sat out on our makeshift patio, talking about careers and music and being in love, and wondered how it could get any better than this. We’ll think about how we went through a lot of really great stuff together and a lot of tough shit too, but we made it work. We always figured it out together and we always will and as we keep growing up, we’ll keep growing in. This process of growing up together and growing into each other is not something to be taken lightly, but it’s me and it’s him and I don’t want it to ever end.
The Info—Photographer: Brette-Ashley Photography / Location: North Chili, New York / Venue: Black Creek Park / Jackie’s Dress: Bella You / Ben’s Suit: Men’s Wearhouse / Groomsmen Ties: Won from Bows ’N Ties / Food: Taste of Texas / Dessert: Abbott’s Frozen Custard / Everything Else: Made by Jackie, Ben, Jackie’s sweet little sister and her kick-ass mom