Love is Love
I have always held a deep adoration for February 14th, Valentine's Day.
When I was a little girl, every year for Valentine’s Day, my dad would buy me a box of chocolate covered strawberries and a gold charm for a bracelet. I loved this tradition so much that the first Valentine’s Day after I was married when my dad didn’t buy me strawberries I gave him hell for it.
You may have heard that February 14th is just a Hallmark holiday and that it’s just a day industries are able to profit from. There’s always that one person among the bunch posting their, “I love my significant other every day of the year so I don’t see what’s so special about today” opinion. I’ve always viewed it as a celebration of love rather than a day reserved exclusively for couples. I’m married and my valentine this year is my son rather than my husband and my husband’s valentine is our dog. He’s taking her on an extra long walk that day and I’ll be taking my son to a trampoline park and for frozen yogurt. Like most things in life it is whatever you make of it and I just love love so that's exactly what the day will continue to be for me. A day to celebrate love in its purest, simplest form. Hallmark holiday or not, I’m all for the cheese that is the pink hearts, filled chocolates, rose petals, and candlelit dinner reservations.
Since my husband won’t be receiving a candlelit dinner for Valentine’s Day (sorry Cole) and has instead requested an Xbox night paired alongside a cold Busch Light and reverse seared tomahawk steak, I decided to spend some time reflecting on what our love means to me and what it represents in hopes that it encourages you to do the same.
For those of you that don’t personally know Cole or myself, we are high school sweethearts…of sorts. I always feel a sense of guilt referring to us that way because it partially feels fabricated and not entirely true. When you think “high school sweetheart” you think of those people who started dating in junior high, got married shortly after they graduated, and had babies. Happily ever after. That’s actually the case for my brother and Cole’s brother and it’s a heartwarming thing to watch happen to two people who found each other so young like Cole and I did.
Our story looks a bit different, though. When asked how long Cole and I have been together I never know how to quite give an answer that feels like it does our story justice, while also telling the truth. It doesn’t feel like saying, “We’ve been married for two years,” carries the same weight that the truth does. When I was 12 years old and Cole was 14 he asked me to be his girlfriend over a game of twenty questions. That was back in 2009. We were such babies!
It’s bittersweet being high school sweethearts when high school wasn’t the sweet part.
High school was really hard for both of us. Together and as individuals. We dated so young and were so deeply in love with each other that things felt like a real life soap opera. If you were around for Cole and Shannon round one…God bless you. We were some romantic, dramatic and passionate little babies. We were practically writing odes and sonnets to each other in study halls and sneaking out under the midnight sky to go for long strolls under the streetlights. It was truly like we were living a romance ahead of our time, but we both trusted it so wholeheartedly. We inevitably broke up due to being so young. For that I'm so thankful because we both had a good deal of growing up to do. We dated other people. We lived with other people. We lived in separate cities. We’d cross paths every few months but could never quite figure out how to align the paths back up. I actually remember one of Cole’s old girlfriends calling me one afternoon and telling me she knew there was never going to be enough room in Cole’s heart for anybody besides me.
When we finally got our lives aligned and did the growing up that we both very much needed to do, the reconnection was seamless. Now we’re married with a sweet little boy who will turn three in July.
High school was the dramatic, crazy, movie-like part of our lives that drew people in and everybody seemed to want to know a piece of our story. Adults, kids, teachers. It’s upsetting now living in the same town we grew up in because I know that those same people remember parts of our story that we may find ourselves wishing we could forget from time to time. I know there may be skewed views out there of who we are and who we are with each other because of how they knew us at 15 years old. It wasn’t that perfect, cookie cutter high school romance that people envision when they hear we’ve been together for so long. We had shared the highest of highs and lowest of lows together for ten years before we even said “I do.” We lived, what felt like, a whole lifetime together before we had really even begun. Being high school sweethearts puts you on this incredible wavelength together through life that’s indescribable. Your lives are truly fused together and everything connects you.
I am still thankful for our lives apart, though. It makes you really understand the weight of the gratitude you feel being together. You know what it’s truly like to live without the other and that makes you so much more eager to pick that person every single day. And that’s what marriage is. It is picking that person every single day, not because you have to, but because you want to. It isn’t something that once you find it, and it’s yours, it always will be. It takes consistent work and a willingness to have hard conversations and an eagerness to sacrifice and taking the time to be understanding of the other. I see couples end because they were too stubborn to have that one conversation that they needed to have in order to heal. That’s the key I have found to marriage. Have the conversation. Always, always have the conversation. It’s how we have lasted as long as we have.
We’ve been told a few times by friends close to us, that have seen our story play out, that they wish it could be as easy for them as it is for us. I am always quick to tell them we struggle too. I think it’s important that people show some sort of transparency with situations like we are in. There have been years at a time where we had to do nothing but work on resentments we held towards each other because, meeting at 12 years old, there’s a lot that happens before you get married at 22. We didn’t meet in college and get to pick and choose what we shared with each other about vulnerable, immature days of our lives. We had to live those awkward times together and essentially grow up alongside each other. It gives you a different perspective and is actually pretty unique.
I love our life now and I’m so thankful every single day for the man I married. It feels like he was hand picked for me by somebody that knew exactly what would compliment my soul. I’m also equally thankful the man I married holds so many of those qualities today that I fell in love with 12 years ago. He has continued throughout our life together to have a steady voice of reason and fierce protection and loyalty to those he loves. I’m also equally thankful that I’m not the same person I was when I was 12 years old, but that I still view the love we share through a movie-type lense because it’s been such a romantic ride and deserves to be seen as such.
So, to my high school sweetheart, I love you.
I love you because when you were 14 years old you taught me what love could and should be. You encouraged me to embrace the wild of who we were. When you were 14 and everyone told you this was puppy dog love that would fade you chose to ignore them because what you felt in your heart was true. I love you because you’ve always encouraged me to be any version of myself at any time and loved each and every one of those versions bigger and better than the one that came before it. You encourage everyone around you to show up as the best version of themselves. I'm so thankful that I've been able to have you burn me CD’s with ADTR songs on them and also get to watch you tuck Slade in at night. I’m thankful I’ve been able to watch you wrestle your last high school wrestling match at states and also kiss you at the altar. I’m thankful I got to wear your #87 football jersey and also wear the wedding ring you bought for me. I’m thankful I got to ride back roads in your 2002 Chevy Tracker with you and also drive the car you bought me to get us groceries and go on family vacations. I’m thankful I was able to be at your prom and also your wedding. I’m thankful we have passed notes to each other and written wedding vows. I’m thankful to have had you as the guy I cried to when my friends were bullying me and the guy who held my throw up bag on hour 11 of labor while also wiping the tears from my eyes and chanting at me like a high school football coach, “You got this Shirey!” You held my hand in the high school hallways and now hold my hand at every doctor appointment. We used to sleep under the stars and now we go to bed together every single night.
There’s something sweet about driving the same roads you did as teenagers and still eating at the same places you had your very first dates at. Some might call it anticlimactic, but I call it home.
We are still so young. In the grand scheme of this thing we call life we are only just beginning, but I feel like I've lived a thousand lifetimes already with you. I have loved every version of who you have been and I will love an infinity of versions to come.
Happy Valentine’s Day to everybody out there who is choosing to celebrate whatever version of love you have in your life. It truly is the one thing that you get to take with you to the grave and makes life all worthwhile. Love comes to our lives in many forms and fashions and never goes out of style. Celebrate it in whatever form it finds you because life is too short to spend your time worrying about anything else.
Love is love.