Updated: Jun 25, 2020
When you get married, if your experience was anything like mine, you'll find there are two stories you'll get really good at telling: how you met and how you proposed. On the timeline of a relationship, these are direction markers, representing the point of where your paths started running together, and a point where you went ahead and committed to that course. In the greater scheme, they're moments you'll remember (and not just because those are the two stories you've got the pacing just right on) but ultimately, they're just blips.
So, if it's all the same to you, I'm not going to regale you about our mutual backstories. I'm certainly not creative enough to come up with a captivating proposal, let alone a story that'll enrapture your inner hope for humanity through love. But I will tell you how to find the right co-driver.
Before meeting my spouse, I met rallying. Less safari special stages navigated by Finnish and French factory drivers dodging their own deathwish. More over-the-road, nationwide scavenger hunt. What had started with some spirited drives when I was in my early 20s in the farm roads up north of Dallas turned into something grander when we met some folks from El Paso who had a glint in their eyes and wanted to take this show across the country.
They devised something called the Dustball Rally, something that they still run all these years later now, and it's like those other rallies you've heard about except with all the roads you've wanted to drive, twice the personality, and a fraction of the ego. I've written profusely about my experiences there (since this site hasn't previously had a formal editing process, nobody stopped me when things got north of 10,000 words.) It's left a profound impact on my life, and not just because I met some folks I can call life-long friends, but because it's the fastest way to divine if someone is right for you.
In a nutshell, the Dustball is a road trip with a fixed starting line and a fixed finish line with about a week separating the two points (some events shorter, some longer, some with roads, and some without). Every morning you wake up, you're handed a sheet with clues on it that'll lead you to where you're spending the night. For a sense of scale, the clues on this sheet have led us on 900 mile marathon days across states and time zones.
I'm not going to say that I'm a certified relationship therapist because I'm Very Much Not. I'm a 33-year-old cisgender straight male, which means I'm more fluent in Chinook Jargon than I am in communicating with my own feelings. But I can tell you that hopping in a Corvette and jetting off across the country at responsible but enthusiastic speeds with just a whiff of a plan put together by someone you just met will spotlight any personality incongruities you and your chosen co-driver have with remarkable efficiency.
With some trepidation, our first trip together left out of Dallas to head to Miami, two-thousand-and-something miles through some desolate and humid locales in the heat of August. Running on a teaspoon of sleep, she was handed a series of riddles several hundred miles long and asked to decrypt them at speed in the middle of nowhere. And she had the solution plotted before we left the launch county. This was a phenomenon that repeated itself day after day. She'd have it down so pat she'd be able to crawl out on to the window sill to take pictures of the cars and scenery we'd pass, hopping back in her seat in time to let me know we'd have a few hundred yards to the next exit.
She got so good at it the next year when we left Dallas for New York that we'd beat the advance team to the next location barely breaking a sweat. By the time we ran the event two years later from Vegas to Vancouver, we'd have rally folks that would fall in behind the Chevy since they knew she had a sixth sense guiding us to whatever hotel had our reservations for the evening.
There's a lot you can wring out of those paragraphs up there in terms of figuring out what works in a relationship - finding someone you travel well with? Sure. Someone who supports your hobbies? Yup. Someone who will casually tell you to go back to sleep in the passenger's seat when you wake up at 140mph at 3AM in either New Mexico or Arizona? Crucial.
But if I can recommend just one thing: find any opportunity watch them excel at something. Watching them shine in the moment will give you a window into the kind of person they are in a moment of stress or passion. Relationships aren't easy, and I can't pretend that I've got the whole damn thing figured out. But being able to call upon that memory is the sort of thing that keep the lights on when life gets weird.
Usually at this point, I'd make some sort of inside joke to try to make her smile and the rest of you could go back to calling me a wife guy on the internet, and I won't steal that from you. But she's probably not going to read this any time soon.
When she's not hanging out of our car in the rain on Route 50 in West Virginia to get some spectacular shot we can hang on our wall, she finds herself working in a public health role at the hospital just down the road. I used to tell people that when an Ebola outbreak comes, she might not be *the first* call, but she's in the top 3.
Used to, anyway. I guess I don't really have to use Ebola as the example anymore.
Since the turn of the new year, she has been on the phone every waking hour with every nurse, physician, admin, radiologist, anesthesiologist, executive, and chaplain trying to, near as I can tell from what I read in the news, stake a tent that'll hold up in a hurricane. For me, it seems like the inverse witticism about war - long periods of sheer terror punctuated by moments of boredom.
I know it's taken a toll on her - she takes the armor off now to disinfect it. But I'll be damned if the minute she's back at work she's not cool, calm, and collected with a map in one hand telling me - without looking up - that if I don't slow down I'm going to miss that turn.
I'm not sure where we go from here. The sun is just setting on what might be one of the longest, coldest nights our country has seen in a century. I'm veering between gallows humor and inexplicably crying on the phone with my mom. But I can tell you that as long as she keeps me by her side, we'll find our way to the next stop.