I smiled today. Really smiled. For the first time in ten days. It was still hesitant when I awoke to a good morning text, but it came more readily as I shared my road trip memory book with Mom tonight. It arrived on Saturday, practically concurrent with my arriving at the conclusion that Charming was worth waiting for, of course. The surprise twist was that, by then, he was having doubts.
My week-long process for analyzing and evaluating the potentially premature end to a thriving relationship, beyond the severance emotions, began with writing therapy that helped me consider which questions I could ask Charming to determine if dating is the right decision. Once I’d sent the questions, I turned inward. No sooner had I clicked “Order” on our road trip memory book than I’d started a new one.
A Year with Charming. It was on my Summer Productivity list. I wasn’t torturing myself with photos and memorabilia as one might think. I continued to analyze and evaluate each weekend together. First, I narrowed thousands of photos down to four hundred, chronologically named, creating a coordinating calendar detailing related info as I went. Then I uploaded a spread’s worth of photos to Shutterfly at a time, designing a layout while leaving room for ticket stubs, placing and cropping photos, and writing our year-long story throughout.
It was a little like torture, but I’d earned it. I got scared, ended our relationship, and knew only one thing: you can’t change another person, you can only change yourself. If we were to get back together, I would consider his answers to my 36 Questions. Still, to find peace about deciding to give the man of my dreams more time to be ready for family life, I wanted to consider the answers he’d already given me while doing life with me for the past ten months.
That’s what creating the Year with Charming album did for me. I’ll admit, in a bit of an end of summer slump I pretty much holed up and worked at the computer for seven days straight (borderline obsessive, I realize). Every major, photographed moment of our time together was shipped out today, a 12×12 book in a thin orange box. I saw beyond the photos and the emotions that snuck in, remembering all the unphotographed moments no one would ever know but us.
Charming’s good at surveys. He completed a Republican questionnaire that came in the mail, then gave me the same questions… about fifteen minutes before we broke up. In the early months of our courtship, we answered 36 Questions from a New York Times study to get to know one another. So, I’d asked him questions about family, timeline, love, life, and me. Two days passed. I was into winter spreads by then. No answers from him.
I kept analyzing and evaluating. I set up a Skype date with my former matron of honor on Thursday night. I needed an objective, outside perspective, and I wanted to uphold our road trip vow not to go another three years without seeing each other. In keeping of tradition with Disney pseudonyms, she’s Mulan. And not just because she’s half-Chinese and not just because she’s a fighter, but because I’ve seen this woman’s character since she wasn’t much more than a girl. Always, she sacrifices for her family and helps others see the right way ahead more clearly.
Mulan and I met on the plane to Spain in 2005. After nine hours, we’d bonded over books and boys and faith. My initial host family fell through, and I was placed with Mulan’s host mother: a little old, grey woman with an earnest smile named Berta. We spent our summer abroad experience living, studying, and exploring together. On our recent drop-in to visit them, she’d told Charming about our only argument in eleven years.
We’d taken a weekend in Portugal. We survived the shaky, tiny plane ride. We photographed sights around Lisbon. We walked and talked. And walked. And looked at the map. And found out nobody wanted to speak Spanish. And tried English. And walked, looked at the map, asked broken questions. Then we had a fight, in the middle of a cobblestone street, said some heated words, found our hotel and never argued again. Mulan is my Spain sister. She’s family.
While we Skyped, she caught me up on efforts considered toward expanding their family. Mulan and her husband had started trying to have a baby in their late twenties, I think, which is reasonable. They’ve experienced fertility issues, heartbreaks, and marital trials along the way that I imagine many others can relate to, like my mom with two miscarriages between PJ and me. Their three-year-old son is an answer to prayer, and they aren’t sure they’ll be able to have another. They haven’t stopped trying to conceive, but they have decided that they want to pursue adoption regardless.
That’s what makes her Mulan. She is a fighter, in her friendships, her marriage, her family, and her faith. The thoughts in my head were silent long enough to hear encouragement and inspiration in the way she’s faced recent challenges. She’s grown. Her marriage and her family have grown. It’s not that my relationship crisis seemed trivial, but rather that a much broader perspective conversely put it into focus after applying the rule of thirds.
I continued evaluating Saturday evening as I read Charming’s answers. I’d turned my Google Form into a survey quiz where certain choices were my acceptable correct answers. Short essays followed. He knocked it out of the park. We were on the same page, after all, about everything that mattered. Our timelines are nearly parallel, and would logically intersect in the future.
By the time I reached his last answer, I was ready to call him up and say, “Is it too late to take that break up back?” In writing, in scrapbooking, in mentoring, in answers, I knew that Charming was worth waiting for. But in that last essay, Charming indicated he wasn’t sure that I should wait, and that he would like to prepare similar questions for me. There was no thoughtful reunion at the halfway point where we first met. There was more waiting.
We simply cannot account for all future variables. We set ourselves up for best odds. Mulan and I had booked flights, made hotel reservations, and mapped our way through Portugal. Irritation and July heat aside, the argument brought to light issues we needed to address in future action, not in present conversation. Inside air conditioning, we saw that while lost, we’d fought our way “found” together, and we were stronger for it.
Mulan couldn’t anticipate her fertility issues. She married the right man for her, a man she would continue to build a life with even when faced with the prospect of no biological children. Though this has put unusual strain on their relationship, it seems both are better and stronger for having endured their storm together.
By Sunday night when I received Charming’s questions for me, I was wondering how this storyline had ended up here. I broke up with him, so it should be pretty easy to undo a week later. I couldn’t account for all future variables. I set myself up for best odds. I knew I needed to sever the emotional bond with Charming in order to see clearly, making a conscious choice to wait. But in those seven days, he was thinking I believed I was better off without him, and that made him do some soul searching.
Last night, we Skyped our reconciliation. It probably won’t feel real until I look into those blue eyes tomorrow and put our road trip memory in his hands instead of mailing it with his hoodie. On the last page, I wrote that these memories were worth cherishing regardless of where our future journeys lead us. On the last page of my Year with Charming album, I struggled more with what to write. It seemed so final. We broke up. Somehow though, it just didn’t seem the appropriate end for the story we were writing.
It was abrupt. It was unfinished. Now, at least, there’s a chance for Volume II. We got a little lost, and we struggled to find our own ways, and if Mulan logic applies, we should be better for it. Stronger for it.
So why not smile? A real one. We’re in this moment for sixty seconds. There is potential for so much more beyond what we can see or feel or anticipate. There will be sunny days, there will be storms, and the sunset is always more beautiful when clear skies are up ahead.