I Heart My Grouchy Valentine
When I was diagnosed with scleroderma at the age of 10, I determined I would probably go my whole life without ever being kissed. I never allowed myself to dream that I would find true love, get married, have kids, or enjoy a life that involved someone adoring me. I resolved that I would be a lonely, eccentric teacher and live with a bunch of cats. This plan was flawed from the start since I am horribly allergic to cats.
My self-proclaimed loveless future was scientifically based on the following experiences:
1. In fourth grade (before scleroderma), I was part of the cool crowd. I was best friends with the “pretty girls” and Michael C. (the cutest boy in our grade) asked me to go to the bonfire with him as his “date” during our school’s overnight camping trip. By sixth grade, the full disfiguring effects of scleroderma had ravaged my body and I no longer hung in the cool crowd, nor did any boy express even mild interest in me. I concluded that my love life had tragically peaked in the fourth grade.
2. In high school, all my beautiful friends dated cute guys. I had plenty of guy friends, but never dated anyone. I had secret crushes on boys, but lacked the confidence to pursue them. Who would want to date a splotchy, red-rashed, deformed, skinny girl? On more than one occasion I sat in an empty car, deserted beach, or vacant room waiting for a friend to finish hooking up with her date and drive me home.
By college, I had embraced my “weird cat lady” trajectory as fact. Then, on my eighteenth birthday, I got a boyfriend. It was a major confidence booster. For the first time in my life, I had someone to hold my hand, tell me I was pretty and dance with me at parties. It was a glorious relationship that lasted all of four months. We came back after winter break and my boyfriend dumped me. He didn’t really even give me a reason, so I assumed it was because I was ugly and deformed. I cried in my dorm room and played the mix tape he had made for me over and over.
Enter my future husband, Dave. I met Dave my first week of freshman year while hanging out at his fraternity. Upon being introduced to him, I recall thinking he was a very grouchy, gruff, and unfriendly guy. Plus, the person who introduced us later told me Dave was the weirdest guy in his fraternity. I didn’t run into Dave again until my first semester sophomore year when we had a geology class together. During this class, Dave observed me being a high-energy maniac and diagnosed me as a nutcase. I observed him behaving like a 90-year-old man trapped in a 20-year-old body, which solidified my first impression of him.
Right before Thanksgiving break, Dave’s fraternity had an “Impromptu.” This meant that the guys had 12 hours to find a date and bring them to Bubs (a favorite University of Illinois bar back then) for cheap drinks and bad food. Dave called three—yes three—other women who were all “busy” that night, before he decided he would call that crazy girl from his geology class. I was not thrilled to go out with this ornery grump, but a bunch of my friends were going, so, I figured, why not? That first date did not go particularly well. Neither of us was wowed. Through a series of events, Dave and I kept running into one another and ended up going out a few more times.
By winter break, Dave and I were officially dating. What had first struck me as pessimism provided hours of laughter and entertainment. Turns out, I found Dave’s dry sense of humor and crazy quirks adorable. I loved that he was the only guy in his fraternity that owned a vacuum cleaner and used it. The fact that he would not eat spicy food, drink hot beverages, and was an only child who didn’t know how to share was amusing. Dave discovered that my high-energy, optimistic outlook was refreshing. We counter balanced one another perfectly.
Dave and I have been together since November 1993. Unless I am in imminent danger of being hit by a truck, he rarely holds my hand in public or private. When we first started dating, I thought this was because my bony scleroderma ridden hands are not enticing to hold. I soon discovered that was not the case. Dave is just not the hand-holding kind of guy. He’s not the guy who says “I love you” very often. If he says, “you look nice today,” I practically keel over in shock. His funny and adorable quirks that I fell in love with more than 20 years ago can be intensely irritating now. My optimistic outlook and goofy ideas that were once refreshing sometimes drive Dave crazy now.
Two careers, two kids, and several near-death experiences later, I find it miraculous that Dave and I are still in love. When you think about it, the concept of marriage is absurd. How can two people, with all their baggage, insane family histories, and personal quirks cultivate a life together? How can they be expected to choose a couch together, much less procreate and make mutual decisions about molding their offspring into functional members of society? It’s madness!
Dave may not be the warm, mushy type. Nonetheless, he is the man who meticulously plans and cares for our family, cooks delicious gourmet meals for us, worries incessantly about me and our kids, works hard for a stable future, and devotes himself to being the best husband and father he can be.
Dave is, hands down, the love of my life. Despite many people warning him that it might not be a great idea to fall in love and marry a woman with a chronic disease, he did it anyway. He saw through my disfigurement and imperfections and fell in love with my soul. This conservative financial planner who never takes uncalculated risks, took a major gamble on me. Our entire world that we built together crumbled when I got sick and nearly lost my life. There were many moments I wondered if our marriage could survive such a traumatic event, but we muddled through together. I know on Valentine’s Day I will give Dave a hippy-dippy, lovey-dovey card proclaiming my love for him and he will give me a ridiculous card with Snoopy on the front. We will laugh our way through Valentine’s Day and enjoy a beautiful home-cooked meal with our son and daughter. Dave probably won’t hold my hand, but that’s okay, because he’s got a strong hold on my heart.
- For the record, the guy who introduced me to Dave and told me Dave was the weirdest guy in the fraternity, turned out to be kind of weird himself. Dave’s not a weirdo. Quirky, yes, but flat out weird, not so much.
- If asked, Dave would never say he “saw through my disfigurement and imperfections and fell in love with my soul.” He would instead say, “Lisa, stop referring to yourself as disfigured. You’re beautiful, but you’re making it sound as if you look like a science experiment gone wrong. Plus, look what a hot man you married!”- For more on this, read Love Goggles.