Ken and I started dating when I was eighteen. That was six years ago, and the clear memories I once had of our first few days together have softened now. I remember, vaguely, the first time we met as adults: on a cold February afternoon in the heart of Leiden, on the day that I arrived in the Netherlands for my gap year. I remember the first time I really noticed him: when he brought my aunt a cake on the birthday they shared, which I thought was the sweetest and most selfless thing in the world at the time (in hindsight, he might have had an ulterior motive, since I was living with my aunt. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt). I remember the first time we held hands, and how he seemed so nervous to do it that he stuttered when he spoke.
The first few weeks that we spent together have blurred in my mind. I can still see Easter breakfasts; afternoons in the city; meeting his mom for the first time, holding newly-bought flowers to give to her. I don’t remember the order of those memories or, really, how it all felt. But there’s one moment I remember like it was yesterday.
Around the time we started dating in 2012.
Let me preface this by saying that I don’t believe in soulmates. Love is a choice; you can choose your partner well, and, of course, some people are more compatible than others. But at the end of the day, nothing is so fated that it is immune to breaking. And yet, despite my skepticism, I remember the exact moment that I realized Ken was “the one.”
We were holding hands on his bed, a few days into seeing each other. I told him that I wasn’t interested in a real relationship right now; that I wanted to take it slow and see how it went. “Okay,” he said. “But I want you to know that I’m a really loyal person, and I already feel really loyal to you.”
The word he used, in Dutch, was trouw. It can be translated to loyal but, perhaps more accurately, to faithful, steadfast, or true. And for whatever reason, the moment he said it, something clicked in me. I remember looking at him and feeling almost dwarfed by the moment, as though I could feel the shared future ahead of us. It knocked the wind out of me.
He was it.
The six years since that moment have brought a lot of change our way. We spent a lot of it apart, as I was getting my degree in the States and he was starting his career in the Netherlands. I moved around, from Boston to Jerusalem to Oxford and back. For a few months, he lived in California, until a diagnosis brought him home.
Ken carving our names into a lock in Paris.
That diagnosis, too, knocked the wind out of me. Ken and I were spending the holidays with his parents when he started experiencing numbness in his hands. The numbness spread, and he struggled to hold silverware or tie his shoelaces. He was admitted to the hospital and, a few days later, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis — a disease which I knew well, since my mother has had it for my entire life.
On the afternoon that Ken came home from the hospital, we sat on his bed again, holding hands in silence as we both tried to find our words. “It’s okay if you want to leave me,” he said, finally. I felt my cheeks flush in surprise. I had been working up the nerve to propose.
That was the winter I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Ken. I had known since we started dating that we were a good fit. He was patient and funny; a good listener; affectionate and kind. He made me laugh like nobody else, and had supported me every day since we met. But I was eighteen when we started dating, and it was hard for me to imagine life after graduation, let alone life with kids and a mortgage and whatever else lay in the future. Ken made me incredibly happy, but we had fights, like everyone else, and the distance hadn’t always been easy.
And still, when he was in the hospital and we waited for news, none of those things mattered: I just wanted him to be okay. When we got word from the doctors about what it was — a lifelong illness, however intermittent — I was bitter and brokenhearted about the unfairness of it all, but I never for a moment considered leaving. Confronted with the reality of in sickness and in health, I realized that life couldn’t throw me a circumstance that would make me less sure about him. Whatever hell came our way, we’d deal with it together.
The years since then have been happier and more wonderful than those before. After I graduated from college, I moved to the Netherlands to live with Ken. We bought an apartment overlooking the park, in the same city where we met and had our first date. I sing a lot. We take turns making dinner. This year, he split his birthday money into halves so we could both buy new books (and as I write this, he’s reading one of his choices). In the face of what we’ve been through, the little things don’t matter so much; and, at the same time, the little things are everything.
Me knitting, him reading and petting my hair.
Ken is my happiest place. I never laugh as hard as I do when I’m with him, even if his jokes are objectively more terrible than those of anyone else I know (pun city, guys). Every trip I take, whether to the grocery store or the other side of the world, is better if he’s there.
He’s my safest place. Nothing I can go through is too much to share. Over the summer, when my godmother died and I felt decimated with grief, he lay with me as I cried on the living room floor, stroking my hair and telling me he was so sorry, and that I would survive this.
He supports me through everything; carries all our groceries, even when I ask to help; learned to braid so he can play with my hair while we watch TV. He’s home to me. I’m better when he’s around, and feel more secure about my future because I know he’s in it.
So, since I’ve taken you through two of the pivotal moments in our relationship over the last six years, I want to share a third with you. Picture the two of us on a couch in our apartment on a Monday night. I was in pajamas; my hair was a mess, and I’d gotten sick a few hours before (all very romantic). He held my hands as we talked about the future and the kind of life we wanted together. The conversation got clearer and clearer, until our talk of a someday-wedding became talk of a wedding that was someday soon.
“So… should one of us say something official?” I asked. (In both salsa and in life, I’ve never been one to let the guy lead.)
He did. His exact words were, “Sara, I love you. Let’s get married.” And while it wasn’t a question, I assume he knew I’d say yes. After all, I’ve been dead-set on marrying him for years.
Faithful, steadfast, true — for the last six years and, we hope, the next fifty. Ken’s words and my hunch on that day six years ago, came true after all.