Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.
Jenny and I got a night out at a Valentine’s dinner at our church. It was fun, but it followed the rigorous and stressful negotiations that involve finding childcare. A number of people on our “list” had other plans, and when we finally did find someone, Ellie entered intensive negotiations to have her moved to a third home for the evening. The fact that this added an extra 20 minutes to our evening didn’t seem to faze her.
In honor of Valentine’s Day—and the lovely Bride with whom I celebrate it each and every year—I want to write a true love story. I’ll try not to make this long, but posterity demands some record of the love between the former Jenny George and me.
I fell in love with Jenny when I was on a date with a different girl.
It was my junior year at Southern Adventist University, about six months after Jenny and I had parted a final time, following one last epic hitchhiking trip through Wales (the details of which would take up a whole blog, so I’ll summarize: Betwys y Coed, Mount Snowdon, Harlech Castle). I had returned to Tennessee to finish my teaching degree; Jenny was in Africa, volunteering at a dental clinic in Cameroon. Our connection was a deep, abiding friendship.
That’s why I was on a date with the other girl.
Jenny’s brother, Johnathan, worked at a Taco Bell near my college. I probably ate there with my friends three times a week (the value menu was decidedly cheaper than our cafeteria). Every time I saw John, I would ask him, “Have you heard from Jenny yet? Have you written to her?”
He always stammered and said something about losing her address. I always grabbed a pen and wrote it on a napkin for him: Jenny George, Clinique Dentaire Adventiste, Cameroon, West Africa. Only the zip escapes me now. This must have happened six times. I was clueless to the fact that my weekly letters to her were anything more than trying to live her African adventures vicariously. Jenny was the best kind of friend: the kind who wasn’t going to break my heart, because I had no intention of risking that friendship on a romantic entanglement.
So I went out with Leslie when I got the chance.
I had harbored a secret crush on her since academy—she didn’t go to my school, she went to Jenny’s, although she was three years below Jenny’s grade. When I saw my chance, I asked Leslie out for coffee and cake at an International House of Pancakes (my cousin, Donnie, had a name for my dates: “cheap and deep”).
We had a great time, sharing stories and talking about our grand ideas. I felt so comfortable with Leslie that I finally revealed my Grand Truth of Dating: romance was a great way to lose a good friend; that’s why I never dated my friends.
Leslie wasn’t impressed. “I just think that’s a bad idea,” she said. “You’re eliminating a group of people that could be the best options for you. Romance is nothing without friendship.”
It wasn’t the first time that one of my grand ideas had crashed and burned under closer examination. As I drove Leslie home, I remember thinking, “She’s right. She is so right.” Then two words echoed in my mind: “Jenny George.”
It would still be eight months before Jenny returned from Africa. It took another three months for me to get up the nerve to ask her to consider taking our friendship into the realm of a serious relationship. Eleven months later we were engaged; nine months after that we wed; 12 ½ years later our love is vivacious.
Instead of dooming our friendship, I think romance enhanced our friendship and grew slowly and enduringly throughout the course of our marriage. Jenny would probably say that I am more romantic with her today than I was in the first days of our relationship. (Part of the explanation lies in the fact that I have to compete with two handsome boys for her affections, no doubt.)
Five years ago I saw Leslie at Jenny’s academy reunion. She is married now, with a little boy of her own. We spoke cordially about our experiences since college, our families and our shared friends. I was never able to bring myself to thank her for the romance that my date with her had engendered—a lifelong romance, only not with her.