Recently, I was leafing through the February issue of Military Spouse magazine. The article that caught my attention was one about real-life military love stories. What struck me was that almost all the couples interviewed in the stories met when they were very young—in high school or college, typically. These were lovely, but I would’ve liked to have seen one or two tales about people who got together later in life, such as my husband Rob and me.
We met in October 1997 at a joint simulation military exercise called “Unified Endeavor” held in Suffolk, VA. (The joint part is important because that is why I, a lieutenant in the Air Force, and Rob, an Army Captain, ended up there at the same time).
I was 33 years old and tired. Tired of dating, weary of romantic relationships that were close but never quite right. And meeting someone at this exercise was truly the last thing on my mind. Of course.
Meanwhile, Rob had just ended a marriage. They had wed right out of college and, sadly, discovered they weren’t particularly compatible. There were no children. I think Rob was tired, too, but anxious to find a partner who shared his interests and appreciated his many loveable qualities.
At the exercise, I was working in the Public Affairs section, which just happened to be next to the Military Police cubicle. I noticed Rob immediately. He was a Paratrooper and his uniform reflected this status—ironed impeccably with mirror-shiny boots. This is not to say I didn’t also notice his thousand-watt smile. It should be further noted that he had excellent dental hygiene. I know this because he would brush his teeth every day after lunch at a large communal sink in the building where we worked.
It was evident that Rob was shy, frequently avoiding the silly banter that the rest of us participated in. He would busy himself with reading or paperwork instead. “What’s with this guy?” I thought to myself.
On Halloween, I loudly asked if anyone had a piece of gum. Before I knew it, Rob was handing me a stick of Juicy Fruit with a note wrapped around it. Intrigued (and suddenly feeling like a seventh-grader) I unwrapped the note. It was an invitation to accompany him into downtown Hampton and listen to live music at a bar he liked. In Rob’s tiny block print, he stated that Halloween costumes were not a prerequisite, but that as a native of the Virginia Tidewater area, he would like to take me somewhere that night.
Later, when he called my hotel room to make plans, I waffled a bit. Going out with anyone seemed like a tremendous effort. In retrospect, I think I was simply burnt out and didn’t feel I had anything left to offer anyone. Also, Rob’s straightforward, guileless approach made me a little suspicious. Yes, I was a cynical gal
To make a long story short, I did go listen to music at a local bar with Rob that night and it was pleasant, though I’d be lying if I said we fell in love or even serious “like.” As with all first dates, there were plenty of awkward moments. Such as at the end of the night when he tried to kiss me on the cheek but I accidentally turned my head and the kiss landed partially on my mouth (which was open). Yes, awkward.
We dated a couple more times that week in Suffolk and slowly got to know one another. Apparently I did not make it easy. (Rob later told me—with much amusement-- that I definitely had “an attitude” back then).
After the exercise ended, we took turns driving to each others military posts on the weekends—I was assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina while he was an hour away at Fort Bragg. Our romance unfolded slowly and rather chivalrously. The visiting person even made arrangements to stay overnight in Army and Air Force lodging during those weekends. Quite simply, we were on our best behavior.
We spent a lot of our together-time hiking, camping and exploring different cities, staying at quaint bed and breakfast places and splurging on pricey restaurants for dinner. I look back wistfully and marvel at how much free time we seemed to have. Not to mention disposable income.
Our lives have a markedly different emphasis now. Having kids in our 30s has delayed our “empty nest” days significantly, while many of our peers are just beginning to enjoy their much-deserved freedom.
Like all married couples, Rob and I are not without our glitches. Our politics sometimes clash, we have a tendency to be maudlin at the same time, and the decadent weekends at the B & Bs have been replaced with “romantic” activities like walking the dog together. But that Virginia gentleman still charms me on a daily basis.
Looking back, I think meeting later was good for us. Through serial dating (and in Rob’s case, marrying young) we had significantly narrowed our priorities in a potential mate. We were not remotely interested in games or drama anymore and this maturity benefited our relationship. But there have been times when we wish we had been a part of one another's formative years. I only know about Rob’s childhood, teen and college years from what he’s told me and vice versa. I missed the first eight years of his Army career, and he missed a big chunk of my life. Another issue for us “older couples”: Being in our 30s, we felt that we needed to get started on having children right away. It would have been nice to just be a couple for a little while longer.
That said, whatever the pros and cons, this was our story and I believe it was meant to unfold exactly the way it did.
Everyone’s story is unique and special. I love “how we met” stories so please share yours and I’ll feature it in a Feb. 14 edition of my blog!