When Gratitude Requires Hindsight
Growing up, my parents and grandparents enjoyed recounting their stories about how they met. My grandparents lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn and became childhood sweethearts in grade school. They were inseparable, until World War II called my grandfather into action.
My grandfather dutifully served, but he refused to talk about the war with us. As a result, none of us knew exactly where he was or what he did. He would always say that he sat in a ship somewhere in the Pacific. He joked that the sun from the Pacific was so hot that it burned off all his hair, hence his baldness. Shortly after he returned from the war, my grandparents married and started a family, like so many others from the Silent Generation.
My parents are both baby boomers and attended Virginia Tech. They met while waiting outside to enter into a science class. My dad was a sophomore while my mom was a freshman. My dad was clearly spitting some game as he was able to convince my mom to go with him to a frat party later that night. When I got older, I heard the full story. My dad actually showed up a little tipsy for the date as he decided that he needed to pre-game beforehand. But clearly, my mom didn’t mind too much. My dad rocked a sweet ‘stache at the time, so my mom probably figured that my dad was a hot commodity.
But the craziest part of all was that they decided to get married in college. When I was a kid, I didn’t think much of that detail. They were adults and in love, so they got married. But after going through college, that detail astonishes me. There is no way I was mature enough at that time to enter into marriage.
So anyway, I’m sure many of you are thinking, what does this have anything to do with money or gratitude?
I’m getting there! Hold your horses.
My False Expectations
My perception from childhood was that finding a spouse would be quick and easy. I expected to meet my future spouse in school or in college. Then once I met “the one”, we would eventually marry, buy a house with a white picket fence, and then start a family and have two perfect kids.
That’s the American dream, right?
Well, I graduated high school without meeting any potential spouses. In fact, I think only three couples from my high school ended up married. I wasn’t sure if that figure was high or low. According to marriage figures, only 2% of all high school sweethearts get married. Even crazier, less than 2% of high school sweethearts who marry graduate from college.
Since I didn’t meet my Kelly Kapowski at Bayside High (any Saved by the Bell fans?), I figured I had to meet her when I went to college. I mean, tons of people meet their spouse in college, right?
No Wife In Sight
Well after four years of college, I still hadn’t met my future wife. Clearly, my story would not be the same as those of my parents and grandparents.
I can’t even remember the number of weddings that I went to right after I graduated college. It was probably around a dozen weddings, and I remember feeling envious. They were starting their checklists of spouse, house, kids, etc. And there I was sitting on the sideline.
For the record, going to weddings single can be a drag. I never came across desperate single bridesmaids portrayed in the movie Wedding Crashers. Instead, I was always placed in the weird mish-mash table as seen in the Wedding Singer. Although, I always managed to enjoy myself.
Moving On With My Goals
Since I had no spousal prospects, I decided that I still wanted a house with a white picket fence, so I bought my own home at 23. To cover all the bills, I rented out the additional bedrooms to a few guys.
I had a blast living with those guys, and I was even the best man in one of their weddings. I wouldn’t trade those 8 years of sitting on the couch all weekend long, watching football, playing video games, and not having a care in the world.
To me, it was better than college. I spent a lot of time with friends and was making money simply by applying concepts that I learned in college. I had money to spend and was accountable to nobody.
Life was great.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still hopeful to meet my future wife. But I was no longer in a hurry, as I was enjoying the lifestyle that I was living. I finally reached contentment in the season of life that I was in.
So when I met my wife, I was not looking.
I had been teaching Kindergarten Sunday school with a friend, and my wife walked in one Sunday to be my summer substitute. She was back from college and loved helping out with the kiddos on her breaks. I remember seeing her and instantly hearing the word, “DONE.” I knew in that moment that she would be my wife, although we exchanged around 5 words total that day. However, even my wife picked up on the vibes. Later that day, she told her mom that she had met someone at church who wanted to marry her. Clearly, I don’t have a very good poker face. But when you know, you know!
We didn’t get married soon after our initial meeting. She was still in school, so we didn’t live in the same area for most of the year. But we learned about each other through many, many emails. We would casually see each other on her breaks from school as well. We found out crazy details like we had lived 7 houses down from each other for 9 years, but had never interacted. Although, she did sell Thin Mint cookies to my mom (that went in my belly) when she was a girl scout.
We hadn’t met during those 9 years because there is an age gap between us, so we never overlapped in school or in any other circles.
Dating My Wife
While my wife and I met in 2009, we didn’t go on our first date until the end of 2011. Unfortunately a couple days after our first date, my wife’s mother passed away from cancer. My wife was in a whirlwind. She was trying to cope with the loss, care for her special needs sister and family, and decide whether to enroll in law school. We had to have important discussions right off the bat because once we started to date, we planned on marriage.
Talking about money is always such a touchy subject, especially when you are first dating someone. So, we danced around finances for a little. But soon enough, I assured her that she didn’t need to pursue a successful career in order to make a lot of money. She was confused because she didn’t think government workers made much. Little did she know that I had made wise financial decisions over my adulthood and was reaping the benefits.
I explained my housing situation, about how I had had roommates over the years, which helped pay down the mortgage tremendously. We had to get into some nitty gritty details. When it came down to it, I let her know she would have the ability to choose exactly what she wanted to do, whether that was continue to care for her sister full-time, go to law school, or anything else.
At that point, she felt relieved. In that moment, she said she wouldn’t be going to law school. She lacked passion for that field and would only be pursuing it for the paycheck. She confessed that she had certain expectations for herself, but they essentially dissolved when she learned that we would be financially stable without her salary.
We married in 2012 (if you are wondering, we had a 3 month engagement after 6 months of dating). Over the past five years, my wife has been able to stay at home. She takes care of her sister full-time while also raising our son (born in 2015) and is truly thankful. While there are days she dreams about working outside of the home, she relishes the opportunity to be with our son every day. Plus, my wife’s sister is grateful to have my wife as a caregiver. No one treats you better than family!
Of course, if my wife and I had some how met right after college, there is no way that we would have been able to live this type of lifestyle. We would have needed two paychecks to cover the mortgage, especially since we live in a high-cost area.
So while I envisioned finding my spouse much earlier in life, I wouldn’t change any parts of our story. I am grateful to have been financially-minded from the start. I’m thankful that I waited for “the one” instead of jumping into a relationship solely to check it off the list. Even though I would have written my story differently, my life has far surpassed my expectations. I couldn’t have come up with a better story myself. I can’t wait to share with my children and grandchildren how we met, how valuable patience is, and how God provided all along the way.
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