“Hey, so I was wondering if you’d like to go to dinner with me.” Michael’s voice on the phone sounded excited and rushed and I was fairly confident he was pacing whatever room he was in.
I, on the other hand, was paralyzed in shock and bewilderment on my bed in the sorority house.
It was our sophomore year in college.
“Who is it?” one of my roommates whispered, probably after seeing my face revert to an awkward shade of tomato.
I answered Michael. “Um, sure! Dinner is good,” I blurted haphazardly into the phone, trying to sound normal.
But I didn’t feel normal. I felt like I just agreed to go on a date with a boy – and boys, to be sure, were currently on my “no” list. I’d written off dating entirely after my senior year of high school, and I’d held pretty steadily to that standard up to this point.
But at least, I figured, this boy seemed like a nice one.
Last year, he’d agreed to carry my large, mysterious trash bag full of something out to my car at the start of Spring Break. The trash bag exploded in the parking lot, resulting in an avalanche of stuffed animals. (They travel with me. Don’t pretend you don’t also have a teddy bear or something. I just happen to have a million.)
Michael had laughed then, and asked me if they had names. (Of course they did.) Unhesitatingly, he’d picked them all up and brushed them off, cars whizzing past.
In that parking lot moment, I had decided Michael was nice. And comfortable to be around. Even if he was a boy.
“Great!” Now, on the phone, I could hear the smile in his voice after I agreed to dinner.
I panicked. My mouth got dry. Then I turned to my roommates. “It’s Michael,” I finally whispered.
One raised her eyebrows and smiled. The other silently squealed.
But I didn’t. I was trying not to faint or hide under my covers.
“So, what’s your favorite place to eat dinner around here?”
I was sophisticated.
“Erm,” he chuckled. “I like Moes, too, but how about somewhere nicer?”
I blanched. My mouth had lost the ability to speak without croaking, but somehow we settled on a place called Transmetropolitan in downtown Athens. A pizza place.
It ended up being a great date, I was surprised to admit.
We ate pizza and pasta, then went back to his apartment to watch Chronicles of Narnia while wolfing down Junior Mints.
I made sure to sit on the edge of the couch the whole time, on the entirely opposite side from Michael. I was practically perched on the arm rest like an awkward parrot. He didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he didn’t seem to notice. He was actually ENJOYING himself.
Why is he so calm? I wondered. We’re on a date. A DATE. (!!!!!!)
After he dropped me off with that big, goofy grin I’d later come to fall in love with, I answered my roommates’ questions about the evening.
“It was a great date,” I admitted. “He even bought me junior mints because he didn’t have any chocolate at his apartment.” This was a big plus for me. Because chocolate.
“But…” I continued explaining, my brow furrowed in bewilderment. “I just don’t think it’s the right time. I don’t know why. I don’t want to be any more than friends right now.”
I prayed about it a lot in the days that followed, and I felt certain about my decision not to date him. I couldn’t explain why. It just wasn’t the right time.
And when I told all this to Michael, he shrugged his shoulders with a small smile. “Welp. If you prayed about it, then I can’t argue with The Lord!”
He said this good-naturedly as a joke, but there was tangible disappointment in his voice. I wanted to jump into a nearby bush and stay there a while. But I was also relieved, because boys, in my 20 year-old opinion, made things too complicated.
I wasn’t ready for it.
A few weeks later, I got another call. “Hey!” Michael’s voice.
My stomach dropped.
“Hey,” I croaked. Hadn’t I totally disappointed him? Why was he still talking to me?
“So, I was wondering. Would you come to my fraternity date nights with me? You know, just as friends.”
“Um. Just as friends?”
“Yep. I had such a great time with you, I’d really like to hang out with you as friends.”
“Okay. But just as friends!”
If someone were to tally the number of times I repeated the phrase “just as friends” in the year that followed, well, we’d have a lot of tallies.
And so I went on his Christian fraternity’s date nights. Over and over and over.
And every time, I double-checked: “Just as friends.”
He’d agree every time. And every time, we had fun.
But I was stubborn. Like a donkey, or something.
Fast forward to that summer. We both signed up to work at a Christian sports camp in Colorado, literally by coincidence. Neither of us knew the other had signed up or had been hired.
But I quickly figured it out when we showed up at training together.
I was set to shovel snow away from the buildings (we were living at 9,000 feet above sea level), and Michael ambled up next to me and started helping.
“You don’t need to help. I’ve got this,” I said forcefully.
He wasn’t deterred. “Well, I want to help you!”
Gosh, I thought. This guy! Do I need to say “just as friends” again?
But somewhere deep in the pit of my stomach, I was glad he was there next to me. I was a little homesick.
And so we shoveled.
He worked the first half of summer, and I spent the first half of summer at home in Georgia.
When the last half of summer rolled around, I flew out to Colorado in a pit of nerves. Being away from home wasn’t natural for me. I was scared. But I was also excited. I could tell I was right there in the exciting, albeit painful stage of truly growing up.
I arrived at camp.
Then I saw Michael. And I stared. And stared. And stared.
He was really…handsome. And, dare I think it? REALLY ATTRACTIVE.
He politely greeted me with a friendly hug. “You’ll love it here,” he assured me. “Best summer of my life.”
How is he so confident? I feel like I’m going to pee in my pants. And who are all those girls looking at him and smiling at him? Don’t they know he likes me?
Does he like me, still?
He went home, and I worked at camp. It was hard and awesome. I grew more than I think I’ve ever grown in the span of six weeks.
But still, by the end of the term, I couldn’t stop thinking about that goofy-grinning boy. Goofy-grinning man, more like it.
I couldn’t fall asleep without thinking about him, and I couldn’t talk without talking about him. (Sorry, Jaime.)
But by the time I got home, I was utterly confused.
God, I prayed. I like this boy. I do. And I’ve been telling him ‘no’ for over a year now. I’m sorry I’m so all over the place, but, if this is something You want for us, could You do something about it?
I wasn’t about to call Michael myself and profess my love because, honestly, couldn’t he get mad about that? Say something like, “Well it TOOK you long enough. Sorry. Too late.”
So I didn’t call.
Instead, he did.
The day after I prayed for our maybe-relationship, Michael texted me. “Want to go on a walk?”
And we went.
Three months later I decided I wanted to marry the man.
And I don’t think we’ve ever said the phrase “just as friends” ever again.