I Married My High School Sweetheart, and It Wasn't All a Teen Rom-Com Happily Ever After Montage
When I tell people I married my high school sweetheart, they always do the head-cocked, sweet smile, Awww…thing. I have clearly made them happy with that news. It fulfills some kind of fantasy ideal of marriage for them. Boy meets girl, girl falls in love, boy and girl get married and love happily ever after. I can tell they are playing the movie of our story in their heads. I nod back to them, yes, it is sweet, that’s just what it is.
What I don’t tell them is this fantasy pairing of my husband and I comes as much from trauma and emotional abuse as it does puppy love at first sight. That part doesn’t fit into the fantasy, I don’t want to be a downer. Who drops that kind of information on strangers?
We grew up in a small town with a small high school, so of course we were going to meet. There was no way not to know everyone in the school. Hell, I was related to at least ten people in my grade.
He was older than me only by a year, but when you are in high school, that’s a lot. He had a car and a job. He was basically a grown up. He was popular and played sports, check and check. I honestly couldn’t believe my luck that he liked me. We bonded over theater, of course. Isn’t that how the movie goes? He’s a jock who secretly likes theater, she’s a theater nerd who brings out his true self. Actually, it wasn’t really like that. There was so little to do in our school that being in plays was just another thing to occupy the time between sports seasons.
It became clear rather soon that we both came from homes where screaming and belittling were the name of the game. I was terrified of my father. My mom once yelled at him as he was raging about something insignificant and screamed a question at me, that I was, “too scared to spit.” That has always stuck with me. “Too scared to spit” always comes back to me when I think of my childhood. I walked on egg shells constantly, never knowing if he would fly off the handle or lose control of himself. When I let it slip to my then boyfriend, now husband, that I was in a constant state of anxiety when I was at home, he said he understood the feeling. I was shocked by this. He was popular and an athlete, his home life had to be great right? Friday night football games with the entire family and pizza after?
His mother had left their family when he was young, and while he still saw her on weekends, he carried the memories of her wild mood swings, rejection of him, and obsessive-compulsive disorder like scars on his body. His father had moved on to another woman who openly despised, belittled, and neglected my husband in favor of her own children.
So, we did what teenagers do, we found solace in each other. Our escape from the reality of our home life became each other. We created a place that was free of the adults that caused us so much anxiety and sadness. We saw in each other all the things our parents didn’t or wouldn’t see. He saw the potential and specialness in me that no one ever had. I saw his worth and value. Yes, sometimes that behavior leads to toxic relationships. Sometimes teenagers go the route of the drama queen with, “you don’t understand me like he does!” Cue the door slam and thumping music to drown out parent voices.
For us though, it was true. My husband’s gentle nature calmed me. I learned that men weren’t something to always be afraid of and nervous around. I showed him that women could love and accept without judgment.
Sometimes people say you marry someone like your father or your mother. We did the opposite. We learned through each other that we wanted the photo negative of our parents. I knew my children would never fear their father. He knew his children would never feel rejected by their mother. Now that we do have children, we realize how easy it is to just love them and enjoy being in their presence. That was always something that seemed difficult for our parents. It made me fearful before I became a mother that I wouldn’t be able to love them the way you are “supposed” to. But that fear melted away and I realized I am not my dad.
High school sweethearts are cute, sure. But my story wasn’t the quarterback and the homecoming queen having their picture taken in the backyard by the proud dad and the beaming mom. It was the anxious girl and the rejected boy, longing for love and learning how to love themselves and each other.
I don’t want to ruin people’s ideal of high school sweethearts, let them have their fantasy. Fantasy are fun and help us get through the reality of life. I know the truth about my love story, and that truth has created a foundation of trust and love that I have grown my family on. And that’s not a fantasy.