When people find out that I’m married, they don’t hide their shock. Sometimes they correct me. “My husband works at the hospital,” I say. “Oh, my girlfriend works at a hospital, too. What does your boyfriend do?” No. Three years ago, three months after my 20th birthday, and two months after we became a “Facebook official” couple, my husband and I eloped. I’m always asked about how he proposed and I don’t have an answer.
Our brief engagement began with more of a challenge than a question. He was in the Navy, in San Antonio, and I was in Vashon, Washington, interning on a small organic farm. We were Skyping, as we did every night, consumed by one another. I must’ve have said something charming because he said, “I’m gonna marry you.”
And I said “I’m gonna marry you first.”
And he said, “You won’t,” like a dare.
For the next week or so the notion of marriage kept manifesting in our conversations. My trip ended, and I flew back home to New Jersey. He finished his training in Texas, and was stationed three hours from me in Connecticut. He drove to see me every weekend.
One afternoon, there was an email from him in my inbox. I began to read: “Hey, if you’re serious about this marriage thing…” What followed was a plan for us. A school I could enroll in near his base. How soon he could get out of the barracks so that we could get an apartment. How quickly I’d have to move up there before the semester started. It was happening. That afternoon, I sat on the floor of my mom’s room and said, “Mom, me and Femi are getting married.” She laughed. Two weeks later, we were exchanging rings.
I don’t tell people this when they ask me for details. Even without the details, many immediately seek reasons to invalidate our love for each other, because we’re young and because we’re black. So I tell them the parts that romantic comedies are made of. I tell them that I’ve had a crush on him since I was fifteen. I tell them that when I was 16, I used to pretend to shop at the Wet Seal across from the store he worked at in the mall, hoping he’d notice me. I tell them that because we had teenage attention spans and lived an hour apart with no licenses, we fell out of touch. A year later I went to college 600 miles away and had a boyfriend. He joined the Navy and had a girlfriend. I tell them that after I dropped out of college (and my relationship) and he and his girlfriend broke up, he had a dream that we were in Target and I was helping him find the mystery item he was looking for. I tell them he had another dream that we were in a car and I kept telling him to put his seatbelt on. I tell them that after he woke up, he reached out to me for the first time in years, and it sparked a Skyping frenzy of infatuation and impulse.
All of these things are true, but none of them matter. What matters is that we work. I’d be lying if I said that getting married wasn’t a huge culture shock and adjustment. It still is. Until then, with the exception of dorms and barracks, neither of us had lived anywhere but with our parents. And despite being drawn to one another, there was a lot we didn’t know about making a life together (or making a life at all, for that matter). We had this selfish idea that we were soulmates, that we were both tailor made by the universe to push forth the narratives we each envisioned for our individual selves. We’re not. We’re real people with needs and wants and insecurities and boundaries that sometimes clash with the other’s. We learned quickly that marriage is an intricate dance of giving and taking, of sacrifice and forgiveness and compromise and acceptance. A merging of wills. We know that love is a choice, and we always choose each other. Growing up is hard no matter the circumstances. We’re doing it together, always evolving. We’re in our 20s, and in a time that we’re told should be centered entirely on ourselves, we must work to maintain a constant of compassion, affection, and understanding for one another.
Many think it’s foolish for us to have committed to that so young. But from where I sit, it’s Sunday night. My husband is rocking our son to sleep. I can smell the homemade pasta sauce that’s been slow cooking for about an hour. When our son is in his crib, Femi and I will drink a glass or two of wine and I’ll shamelessly hit on him (I always do when I’ve had wine). He’ll edit his photos and I’ll creep around the internet. We’ll eat. The Leftovers will come on, and we’ll argue about who gets to put their head in whose lap to get their dreadlocks played with. I can’t imagine a better kind of Sunday.
We’ve changed so much since our marriage began. We look at the people we were and laugh. But who I am today still wants who he is today, and I want who he’ll be tomorrow. That part stays the same, among other things. I still remind him to put his seat belt on. He still comes up with master plans for us. When people ask me how he proposed, I don’t have an answer. It wasn’t a question. It was a challenge. Marriage always is. And every morning we rise to it, and every night we spoon.