Three to six months passed. It’s all a little fuzzy because we fizzled more than we split. Josh dated around and scratched whatever wild itch HE had. I dated – I don’t really know if you can call it that. I spent time with other guys. One of them was smart, kind, and quietly funny – not that different than Josh when I think about it – except that he wasn’t Josh. The other was a bit of a wild card. He liked a lot of the same things as me, was enormously flattering, and called me up for late night drives to the truck stop with him and his buddy for coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches and bacon. (Oh, college life.) I liked that he was unpredictable, but in the end, it just never clicked – and I never was sure that he really liked me or the thrill of the chase.
I can’t tell you a lot about the girls Josh dated because I really didn’t want to know them. From what I know of them as adults, though, they were and are perfectly nice women. I’m not sure that he was much different than mister thrill-of-the-chase at that time in his life.
All of that to say, we went on as separately as we could on a campus of 1500 students. You pretty much run into everyone attending classes there at least once every other day – which is one of the things I loved most about it, but it doesn’t make for easy break-ups. My daily routine almost always consisted of a trip to the Student Center. I had Chick-fil-a every Tuesday and Thursday for lunch, and checking my mail on the way to one of my classes (usually in the same building on the same route because I was an English major and lived pretty much in the same few classrooms – the glory of small colleges for girls who dig routine). I opened my mailbox to find a single letter with Josh’s handwriting on the envelope. Heart racing, I ripped it open to find a three page, single-spaced, typed letter.
Because I had class, I put it in my sweet action American Eagle messenger bag and sat through a very long lecture that I heard none of because that letter was thumping loudly inside of my bag. I ripped it out as soon as I exited the building, reading it while I walked my familiar path through the quad, in front of Berry Chapel, Cone Bottoms, and then across the street to my dorm. In it, Josh said all the good things. He said he’d been watching me (in a very non-creepy way), that he liked who he saw me becoming, and that he wanted me back. While the letter was extraordinarily romantic, it wasn’t meant to be gushy or over the top. It was honest and pure and kind and…he wanted to meet and talk.
I’m sorry, what? Here I was praying for him to find the love of his life – who was not me – and now the most romantic love letter of all time lands in my mailbox?! Can I tell you what I did? I very nearly sprinted back to my dorm room, curled up criss-cross-applesauce on my lower bunk cave, and highlighted the sections I needed clarification on and jotted little notes in the margin. Over and over again I read it. Then I blacked out the portions that bared Josh’s soul in ways that no one but me should ever be allowed to read, and I showed it to my best friends. What should I do? The unanimous answer was, “Be careful.” This was because they saw that Josh and Emily could be great, yes, but they could also be toxic.
Man, oh man, how true that still is today. We still get in cycles that send us reeling round and round – me dripping with words and explosions because I am desperate for him to connect and show me that he’s still into me, him wearied from all the neediness and all the words and therefore retreating further into silence. As we have grown, we have learned to be better about giving one another what we need. I try to grant him his silence without demanding explanations. Try…I try. He tries to tell me that he really does like me and why, what he’s thinking and feeling and why. Try…he tries. And when it’s good – it’s glorious because not only are we getting what we need, sharpening one another and pushing one another toward Jesus, but we are also so blissfully different that our chemistry is explosive.
Ultimately, I called him and said it would be okay for us to meet. He offered to pick me up that evening to go for a drive. At our private, conservative, Christian college, there were a limited selection of places to be alone. We, of course, knew every one of them. We found ourselves at the upper dam where I literally peeled myself against the passenger side door, unfolded my letter, and began asking questions. Josh’s presence had always been intoxicating to me. I knew that if he kissed me or even held my hand, that would be it. I would lay out a big fat, “Yes,” to whatever he asked, and I was not willing to surrender my fresh and growing relationship with God for a make-out session in the ‘Stang. To his credit, I don’t think he would have made any advances toward any such thing that night, but I was intensely aware of my own weakness and therefore taking the appropriate precautions.
He listened with humility and responded with grace as I told him, “I’m not saying we can’t get back together, but you’re going to have to pursue me, and I don’t want you to pursue me unless you are sure this is what you want forever. I’m not interested in breaking up again.”
He said something along the lines of, “Fair enough,” and then dropped me off at Flippen-Perrin Hall so that I could go in and digest every word with my girls. Over Mint Oreos, Root Beers, and Ruffles with Ranch Dip, I’m sure I talked until they could not bear to listen to my words anymore. Christen was probably doing homework while Vanessa, Katy, and I sat on the couch and giving “Oooo’s,” and “Ahhhh’s,” and “Nooo’s,” at all the right moments.
Pursue me, he did. He started sending me cards in the mail ever week (one of my very favorite things EVER). He’d get one of the girls behind the counter to leave me a bottled IBC root beer in my mailbox. He smuggled roses into my room with the help of my friends. He took me to Little Rock to see Cats. He took me to see How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and then Chicago. He dropped by to say, “Hello,” and called often and generally just made it clear that he was really into me.
All the while, we still didn’t kiss. It was such a sweet time for us because for nearly four years of our dating life, we had struggled enormously against our human desire to have the sex. I don’t want to get too detailed or awkward with this, but anyone who has ever been in a relationship in which you are smitten with the other will know what this is like. An enormous, God-given magnetism is literally flinging you toward one another but because we live in a world where success is often valued over purity, and we literally felt like marriage at an early age wasn’t an option, we struggled all of the time. More about this next week because I have a lot of things to say about it and the damage this ongoing sin-struggle caused us during our early years of marriage, but for now just know that the sweetness of just being together for that first little bit was a grand gift.
And so was that first kiss, when it did happen. He asked if he could kiss me, I remember. And for two people who had been so enormously comfortable with one another for such a long time, there was a touch of awkwardness that made it all feel new all over again. We never really said that we were Josh and Emily again. We just – were.
See you next week for those last two years pre-marriage, which included a trip to Spain for me, a trip to Peru for Josh, and a middle-of-nowhere wedding chapel between Arkadelphia and Hot Springs.