December 23, 2021

December 23, 2016, five years ago today, was one of those days when I said, like so many of you, "I hate dating!" It was the day Cathy broke up with me. I could tell it was coming for about a month. It had become increasingly obvious that her heart was not in our relationship anymore. We attended her ward Christmas dinner together, but she hardly smiled and more or less avoided me. (Can you tell that the smiles in the picture are forced?)

Still, I had some hope that when we met together to discuss our relationship, we would get it back on track. I hoped that we would spend Christmas Eve and New Years Eve together. So, even though I knew things were off, my heart broke when Cathy dropped the bomb.

I thought Cathy's timing and choice of the setting for our breakup conversation was impeccably bad. I let her know my feelings boldly and rudely. (She thinks "quite rudely" might be a better characterization.) In retrospect, neither of us handled the situation particularly well. Does anyone?

I don't think there is ever a good time or a good setting to break up with someone. I understand now that Cathy was just doing the best she could to do what was right for herself and was actually trying not to hurt me in the process. I was just expressing the pain of rejection. I think we both ultimately had regrets about the way we handled things.

I share this story partly because I want you to understand that we were human beings in this dating business. We aren't just a blissfully married couple looking down on you and feeding you a heavy dose of Latter-day Saint idealism about dating from a privileged position.

We know when two people meet, their social lives are sometimes in different places, and they are not always ready for the same level of commitment at the same time. We experienced all of that in spades. We didn't just meet and feel magical feelings and ride off to the temple on our white horse.

We experienced the anxiety and stress of not knowing the end from the beginning, not knowing what the other person would decide, and not knowing what future opportunities we may be giving up if we chose to be together with a particular person. Our path was more winding and complicated. We both had a lot of growing to do in that process.

Fast forward a year, and Cathy and I had re-established a friendship. We had done some things together over that year. We had both dated other people. When I wrote Cathy a letter on New Years Eve asking her to date me for marriage, it felt terrifying. In my mind, she had broken my heart once before, and I was laying it open to her again--just inviting her to hurt me. Does that sound familiar?

For awhile, I even told myself, "Cathy is the one who broke it off, and she is the one who should come back to me if she wants to put it back together." I even said that to my therapist. Of course, life doesn't really work that way. It's not about fairness. If you want something--particularly if that something is love--you have to take a risk. You can't wait for the other person to take it or you may be waiting forever.

Some might read this and think that December 23rd is a bitter anniversary for us. It is not. It is a hopeful one. Every year, it reminds me that when things don't seem to be working out the way I want, there is hope for a brighter day. In my case, that brighter day was the day Cathy chose me in return, in response to my letter.

In your case, a brighter day might mean getting back together with a former favorite dating partner; or it might mean meeting someone new and wonderful. The anniversary of getting fired might be a pleasant one, because you realized it opened the door for a great new career that you wouldn't have considered otherwise. There are infinite additional examples we could choose.

I have sometimes sat and wondered, "Why did it have to be so hard? Why couldn't it have just been easy?" I can't completely answer that. What I know is that the more difficult and winding path was our path. It was meant for us. It allowed us to prove ourselves. As I look back, the difficulties we overcame to be together and to stay together the first couple of years built trust in a way that ease and prosperity never could have. It let us know that our love and commitment was strong enough to survive the storms of life. That's not just something you get by making a list of the qualities you want in a spouse and checking off the boxes. It's deeper and more profound than that.

On December 23, 2019, on the third anniversary of our transition, Cathy played a beautiful rendition of my favorite Christmas Carol in sacrament meeting--as my wife and my Queen. It was a joyful, symbolic moment. But Cathy had already erased the pain of that difficult December 23, three years before, by marrying me. For me, December 23 will always be a day that renews my hope. I am grateful for second chances. I am exceedingly grateful for the blessed life I have now with Cathy. My cup runneth over.

We talk about this relationship transition of ours in: Creating New Love in the Holidays

Cathy's violin musical number, O Come O Come Emmanuel can be heard here: Jeff's Favorite Christmas Song

A more thorough account of our love story is in chapter 20 of our book. Find it here: Intentional Courtship
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