Cheers to Thirteen Years


Alvaro and I never made it out of my apartment for our first date, just kept drinking the bottle of wine he brought while listening to music and getting to know each other. No distractions, no phones–it was sincere and sweet. A few days later, he asked me to meet him because he had “something important” to tell me.

I arrived before him at my favorite coffee shop, ordering a double espresso and settling by the window. He had been interviewing for internships that day, so he looked handsome in his khakis, blue button-down shirt and sports jacket. A popular study hangout for nearby med students, it was crowded, but we found a table for two in the back.

Alvaro was visibly nervous as I tried to make small talk, chatting about my new classes and students at the college. Finally, I asked what was up, wondering about this important thing he had to share.

“I just don’t really know how to say this,” he said, eyes darting around the room, his voice low so no one else could hear. He stared at his coffee for a few moments before taking a drink, and that’s when I began to worry. Does he lead a secret life of crime? Is there a fiancé or wife back in Chile? Love children I should know about?

“Okay,” he stumbled, finally making eye contact. “I need you to know something about me.” He paused again to fiddle with the button on his jacket. “I’m a very serious person. I’m not about wasting time. And I know what I want and don’t want, okay?”

I nodded, having no idea where he was going. He continued to rant about his seriousness. Finally, he got to the point.

“I guess what I’m trying to say,” he said, clearing his throat a few times and reaching awkwardly across the table for my hand, “is that I want you to be my girlfriend.”

Not since elementary school had anyone put it quite like that. Be my girlfriend. I laughed because it was so unfamiliar and charming. Mr. Serious didn’t know how to read my laughter. He continued, saying that he thought I was an amazing woman, that we could have something special together.

“I’m not interested in a halfway thing where we see other people,” he insisted. “It’s all or nothing. No in between.”

I nodded again, taking it all in. After years of dating much more casually, the prospect of an old-fashioned early commitment was interesting. Why not see where this goes? The part of the story Alvaro doesn’t like is that I had a date to see a movie with another guy later that week. I canceled it, of course, committed to seeing where this girlfriend thing would take us.

Exactly thirteen years later, this afternoon we had a small celebration of our strange anniversary in the same  place. Well, it’s not the same place, really; what was a coffee shop when we were in our twenties is now a German bar in Alvaro’s forties (I’m not quite there yet, thank you very much). Two-liter boots of beer and pretzels are served instead of lattes and scones, but these same bricks bore witness to the beginning of us.

The space has changed dramatically. So have we. But today over drinks, I laughed with my husband and glimpsed the 27-year-old version of him, the man I was going to fall in love with, remembering what that felt like. I’m still very much his girlfriend, and we toasted to all the things we didn’t know were ahead of us then and the things that will follow in the years to come, committed to facing them together.

Cheers, friends!

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