I met Cute W on my first day at Grinnell College. His dorm room was right across the hall from mine, so I was still struggling with boxes and belongings when he strode out and shook hands with my parents. He struck me as an Eddie Haskell right away. People from New Jersey were more guarded, so his friendliness seemed fake. Also, weird. He showed up at our first getting-to-know-you study break with a physics book, and I labeled him a nerd like that was a bad thing. During those first days on campus I was one of several girls on our floor who clung to each other for comfort as we explored the campus and tried to find our places in it. Cute W had arrived several days ahead of us for soccer, and with the jump start and his best high school friend on campus, too, he was blithely comfortable. It was irritating. He was irritating.
Over the course of the year, as I relaxed more and became acclimated to his chipper exuberance, Cute W grew on me. Sometimes he wore a pink polka-dotted pair of shorts that he’d sewn by himself, complete with a “Sewn By Me” tag, and most days he wore a felt beanie-style ball cap that his Grandma had given him when he was little. He called his Grandma for every Broncos game. In high school he’d taken ballroom dancing lessons with a girl-who-was-a-friend because she wanted to learn. “Wait,” we kept asking him, “But you secretly had a crush on her, right?” “No. . . ” Wade would say. “She just needed somebody and I was trying to be helpful.” The rest of us shook our heads, unconvinced.
At the end of the school year, Cute W and I–and a bunch of us–had grown to be close friends. We’d all had one or multiple romantic entanglements, but we heeded our student advisers’ counsel that the people on your floor were absolutely off-limits. What would happen when things went awry and everyone still lived so close? Besides, your floor was your family, so that would be incest. Even if this sort of behavior might have occurred to someone, I sure never considered Cute W an option. Any relationship of mine that lasted longer than a beer buzz continued my high school trend of trying to bring joy to the physically and emotionally impaired. Cute W was not in need of repair. Plus, I always pictured him with the super-cool soccer girls, even as he wasted time on a blonde pre-med girl who, all of our friends agreed, did not treat him well enough.
By the beginning of the second year it was getting to be like one of those romantic comedies where the audience can’t believe that these two idiot leads haven’t figured it out yet. I mean, looking back, it was obvious. During New Student Days, Cute W and I, who were both student advisers, teamed up to bring our charges on a field trip to the health center to claim free condoms. Later in the year I remember studying in his room when a girl stopped by, and I jerked away from him quickly–I’d been companionably scratching his head, puppy-style, and I didn’t want to mess up his opportunities by giving someone the “wrong idea” about our completely platonic relationship. To the clued in, it became obvious enough that two of our girlfriends confronted Cute W about it in October, and he confessed to a crush on me. But then he swore them both to secrecy, certain that nothing would ever happen and any overtures would rock our placid group friendship boat. In clear violation of the Girl Code, they agreed. Because apparently they agreed with his assessment.
I was slower to adapt than Cute W. I think it was December before I figured it out, and then it was my subconscious. I had a dream about him that left me blushing when I joined him later in the dining hall line. Not much later, I realized that I kept angling to sit next to him. I tried to find another boy to distract me. I encouraged Cute W to pursue a mutual friend, thinking that if he was safely attached to someone, I’d get over the whole thing. It was at the last big drinking night before we headed into finals week that I confessed my predicament to a friend, one of Cute W’s confessors from October. She acted quite thrilled about it, but I assumed it was the awesome gossip and all that beer. And she didn’t tell me a thing. Instead, she ran home, called Cute W, and encouraged him to make a move, after all.
And then it was finals week, and our whole group of friends had already staked out our own lounge, complete with a fireplace. I studied very hard, tried to push that cute girl on Cute W, and exchanged completely platonic back rubs with him during study breaks. Cute W tried to bide his time: we all took studying seriously, and finals week would be followed by a six-week-long separation for winter break. He could hold out for the few days that we’d be together, then make a move when we returned, or so he figured. Turns out that he was wrong. But between studying and keeping it on the down-low from our friends until the new year to avoid throwing drama into the post-final-friendship-fest, there were just a few kisses exchanged before Cute W drove me to the airport.
That was about 22 1/2 years ago. Today we’ve been married 20 years. I wrote an anniversary post two years ago that’s a lot sweeter than this one.