Just when I don't think I can be any more nostalgic lately (it's getting intense, guys,) I wake up this morning and realize that tomorrow, Friday the 12th, will mark eight years from the day Dan and I started dating. I know most people don't keep track of their dating anniversary anymore after they get married, but I am "Mrs. Memory-Saver" and cannot avoid the memories and yearly announcement when this day rolls around each year.
Eight years. Wow. It seems like such a long time, but it also seems like not a long time. I know people who have dated longer than eight years before even getting married, so it seems like nothing in comparison. We only dated three years before we tied the knot; I wanted to get married on the exact date (it was a Saturday that year, and that would have been fun) but we pushed our wedding as far back in the summer as we could without hitting the start of a new school year for my kindergarten-teaching mom. So unfortunately, our "dating anniversary" and wedding anniversary don't match up...but that just gives me two days a year to be all nostalgic and start digging though old photos.
Oh man, to be twenty again. Twenty was a transitional age for me. I spent my nineteenth year and half of my twentieth in a whole lot of trouble, waging a war against myself and everything I'd ever believed, tearing apart a long-term relationship I had never truly treated well, and causing a lot of self-harm along the way. I was a m.e.s.s.
Around the time I met Dan (early that spring) was when I was starting to get my act together and getting back to being the "me" I always knew was hiding in there somewhere. This second half of my twentieth year was when I started learning how to truly be happy, no matter what came next. I decided to leave the university where I'd spent my first two years of college and planned to resume my studies at a new school the following January. I signed up for a couple of gen-ed classes at the local community college for that fall, moved into a house in town with a few friends, and picked up more shifts at the restaurant where I'd been employed for close to a year. I felt like an actual adult who was making her own—and the right—choices for once.
Summer came and life was wonderful. I had close friends as roommates and neighbors, my job allowed for lots of free time during the day, and I loved living in town where I could pop over to pick up Japanese take-out or hit up a dollar movie any time I wanted. (I'm from a small rural area where nothing like this was possible, so these were big-deal things for me back then.) The feeling of freedom was extraordinary.
Suddenly, I realized that the small talk Dan and I had been having online (AOL Instant Messenger, anyone?) since meeting was possibly heading somewhere. I needed to spend more time with this guy. We spent a couple of days together in late May and early June leading up to his band going on a small tour through Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. A few days into the tour, I missed him already. We weren't even "a thing," but I had strong feelings for him. The bassist's girlfriend had given me her number the day the band packed up to leave, so I gave her a call. Suddenly, we had an idea. I called into work and switched out my shifts for the next three days.
I woke up early the next morning and hopped in my car with a duffle bag. I drove the two hours to the bassist's girlfriend's house and picked up this girl I'd only met once, and off we went towards Tennessee. Anna and I had quite the adventure that day, driving eleven hours non-stop to Memphis, Tennessee, just hoping we'd end up at the right place.
Luckily, mostly thanks to my amazing map skills (we had no GPS back then,) I navigated us to the right bar and we hid in the corner while the band warmed up. Suddenly, we were spotted from across the room. Dan was so surprised and excited! I made the slip-up comment, "What other girlfriend would drive 13 hours to see you play?" and was teased in return, "Oh, so you're calling yourself my girlfriend now?" Cue the blushing and serious embarrassment. A nod of the head and it was official. No turning back. We spent the whole next day exploring Memphis and stayed another night for a second show.
I returned to Virginia with a new boyfriend and my life was forever changed. I know that sounds cheesy, but it really was. I spent a ton of time that summer and fall visiting him in Roanoke. Two of our best friends met through us and started dating (and eventually married!) so we always had double dates; Nicole and I would drive to their town and then they'd drive to ours, taking turns each weekend or on random weeknights. I eventually chose a school in Southwest Virginia to start at that following spring semester, partially for my own reasons, but partially because I now had a ton of friends—and Dan—in that part of the state. My entire life shifted: new school; new forever friends; meeting Chelsea; my first real job; starting the magazine; our first home together. Everything could have been so different had I not been so spontaneous and fearless in June of 2007, and I am so, so thankful that I was.