[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Jennifer Ryan guest post on the site today. Take it away Jennifer!]
My real life romance is nothing like the suspenseful contemporary bestsellers I write, but it’s a love story that has lasted thirty years, despite the ups and downs every couple faces.
My husband and I met in high school. More specifically, I walked into a pizza place to apply for an after-school job. While I waited for the manager, he walked in, asked if I needed help with a heart-stopping smile. I said no, but neither of us could stop sneaking looks at each other while the manager interviewed me. Needless to say, hoping to work with the cute guy and find out more about him, I really wanted the job.
And I got it! And him. We started dating after a few weeks of fun flirting. I actually took him out on our first date. We both remember it as some kind of exchange our manager set up because I wanted a day off. He was just tired of us kissing in the walk-in refrigerator.
I knew when I met my future husband that he planned to join the Army right after graduation. I didn’t think much about it. As a sophomore, I was looking forward to going to Senior Ball with him. I didn’t want to think about him leaving. I didn’t really understand what his service would mean to him, his future, and our life together.
One day, we were driving to work together and out of the blue he told me that he’d talked to his mom about leaving for the military and asked her, “Why did I have to meet her now?” He didn’t want to leave me. Then he confessed, “I love you.” My fifteen-year-old heart was lost.
You see, he and I grew up in very tumultuous households. We found common ground on so many things, like alcoholism and a need for stability and calm. We wanted to be loved and cared for. I knew I loved him. But hearing him say he loved me, something I had only heard sparingly and didn’t feel from my family at the time, I felt a sense that he and I could make it work because we both wanted it.
Well, time and distance can strain even the best relationships. He left for the military, I started my junior and senior years. We broke up on the phone and got back together when he came home several times. No matter what, we were always friends. We disagreed, but we never fought. So when he suggested we get married right after I graduated high school, it seemed like a good idea. A commitment not so easily broken. Something I think we both needed at the time. We wanted to know that the other person would always be there, even when we were apart because of his job and my going to college.
I flew from California to Georgia where he was stationed and stayed for ten days. We got married at the courthouse in front of a judge, just the two of us. We didn’t tell our families—my parents would have said we were too young (maybe we were, but we believed we could make it) and my father didn’t like him. I didn’t care. He earned more money in the military if he was married. We were saving up to start our life together when he got out. Married with a plan, I returned home to California to start college, thinking our future was so bright.
What can I say, we were young and in love and wanted to fulfill our own needs as well as be together.
But a piece of paper and two gold rings doesn’t change the fact that distance and living separate lives in two different states takes a toll. Frustrated and lonely, he asked me for a divorce.
I had suffered some medical issues and needed to take some time off work and school, so I flew back to Georgia, thinking we’d sign another paper to break the bond we promised to keep when we signed the marriage certificate. But then, he picked me up at the airport, took one look at me, and said he’d changed his mind. All he really wanted was for me to be there with him. He hated the phone calls and short visits we shared because they always ended. So I agreed to stay, because I couldn’t really be a wife if I wasn’t with my husband and the same was true for him.
It just so happened that his time with the Army was ending in a few months, so before we knew it, we were back home in California together. After a week of him at his parents’ house and me at mine, we looked at each other and said, “This is stupid. We’re married and we still aren’t living together.”
Time to tell our families the truth.
His mother was thrilled. Mine was happy for me, but sad I didn’t have the wedding she’d hoped for me. I totally understood, but I had the guy I loved, I didn’t need all the rest.
My father was a different story. I showed him our marriage certificate. He promptly said, “You’ll be divorced in a year.” I pointed out we’d been married nearly a year already. He said, “Well, I guess you’re his problem now.”
You can see why I wanted to be with my husband.
And so we finally started our married life together and immediately got our own apartment. I went back to work and school. He struggled to find work that was fulfilling and dealt with his own issues after serving in the Army, being shot in Operation Just Cause during the Panama invasion, and being deployed overseas for Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
It took us a while to find our footing living together and making a life we both wanted. Money was tight. We moved several times. We both changed jobs more than once. He finally found success and stability in engineering. For the most part, those first few years were good. We were happy and grounded in our love and friendship. We did everything together. Before we knew it, five years had passed and things were looking good.
I wanted to have a baby. Because he’d grown up without a father and several step-fathers who never really took an interest in him, he thought he’d be a terrible father and didn’t want kids. When getting pregnant turned out to be very difficult, he thought it was just the way things were meant to be. He was happy with us just the way we were. But I really wanted to be a mother.
Seven years into the marriage, it finally happened. I was ecstatic. Him, less so. But the second he saw our son, a switch flipped inside him. I saw the man and father I always knew he was on the inside come to life. Our second son came two and half-years later with some medical intervention and a very difficult pregnancy. He took care of me through two months of bed rest and eleven precarious days in the hospital where my health declined rapidly. Things weren’t looking good for me, but there he was, being the best father to our son at home and helping me to bring our preemie into the world.
With our little family complete, we settled into being parents, finding ways to still connect with each other. We always put our relationship front and center. He called me every night on his way home from work. We spent our time on the phone calls talking about our days and connecting with each other, because the second he walked in the door, it was all about the boys. Dinner, bath time, story time, and finally husband and wife time again. We just liked being together, whether it was watching TV, hiking, camping, boating, whatever.
He loved being a dad, but always wished for a little girl. I wanted to have another child, too, desperately (I loved being a mother), but the doctor said it was near impossible. And five years later, when I was one semester away from finally finishing my degree and ready to go back to work when the boys were starting grade school, our little girl surprised us.
So it was another difficult pregnancy, a preemie baby who was perfect in every way, a delayed college diploma for me (but I got it!), and my guy still being the sole breadwinner for our family. I stayed home with our kids because we both wanted them to have a parent with them always.
There have been a lot of changes for us over the last thirteen years since our daughter was born. I started writing, because as a stay-at-home mom I needed something for myself. While I worked at becoming a published author, I found a work-from-home job that gave me the free time I needed for school drop-off and pick-up and to still be there for my kids. My husband found great success as an engineer and climbed the ranks in his company. We were both successful and fulfilled and loving being parents.
When I finally got that elusive publishing contract, it was my supportive husband who coxed me to quit my steady, work-from-home, guaranteed paycheck job and do what I really loved and write full-time.
We’ll celebrate our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary this year. We’ve had our ups and downs for sure. But through it all, our friendship, our ability to talk to each other and disagree with respect and consideration for the other, our commitment to putting our relationship first and still give our kids all the love and support they need, and working through our problems to always come back to the one thing that is always constant in our relationship—we love each other—and that has kept us bound together.
Real life didn’t come with a romance novel’s guaranteed happy-ever-after. We made a promise to each other when we married and realized early on when we did the break-up, get-back-together thing far too much, that commitment wasn’t just a state of being. It took action to stay committed to each other. And a lot of love.
About the Author:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Ryan writes suspenseful contemporary romances about everyday people who do extraordinary things. Her deeply emotional love stories are filled with high stakes and higher drama, family, friendship, and the happily-ever-after we all hope to find.
Jennifer lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children. When she isn’t writing a book, she’s reading one. Her obsession with both is often revealed in the state of her home, and how late dinner is to the table. When she finally leaves those fictional worlds, you’ll find her in the garden, playing in the dirt and daydreaming about people who live only in her head, until she puts them on paper.
The Me I Used to Be by Jennifer Ryan, out today!
An inheritance she never expected…
After serving time for a crime she didn’t commit, Evangeline returns home to discover her father left her solely responsible for the family’s failing ranch, her mother blames her for her father’s death, and her brothers want her out of their way. With her family’s future squarely on her shoulders, she desperately searches for ways to save their home—before they lose everything.
A chance to right past mistakes…
Her only ally, Chris Chambers. The cop who sent her away is positive she took the fall for someone else. And if she helps him track down the real criminals, he’ll clear her record. But the closer Evangeline and Chris get to exposing the truth—and to each other—the deeper Evangeline is drawn into a dangerous sting that will finally bring her justice and pave the way for a bright future.