My boyfriend of several years asked me to marry him on a snowy Valentine's Day in 2007, and though it's hip to scoff at the cloying pink Hallmark Holiday, I thought it was old-fashioned – innocent – that he had carefully chosen that day to seal our fate.
A few weeks later my sister was in town visiting me, during what would be my last few months in my very own apartment, decorated with feminine knick knacks, flea market-finds, and perfectly positioned throw pillows – items that would all but disappear a few years later, when I would find myself in a disheveled three-bedroom home with busy young children.
My sister and I were getting ready to go out for dinner and drinks. I remember the joyful, carefree expectation we felt; the fleeting way we only experience in our twenties, unmarried and without children.
I'm sure music was playing as we did our make-up and relived the proposal for the thousandth time – a luxury one can only truly enjoy with a sister.
My boyfriend and his friend were to come over soon so we could all walk to the many bars that lined the streets near my city apartment. I was sitting on my big, slouchy yellow couch, one we still have today, though instead of clean, pristine slipcovers, now you'll find Goldfish crumbs, old pretzel sticks, and stickers poking out from beneath its faded cushions.
There was plenty of room on the couch to the left of me, the spot one would assume the next sitter would take.
My boyfriend arrived, smiling, proud of his newfound fiance status, and sat down next to me. In the small spot – the spot to my right, which had about 6 inches to spare. The entire left side of the couch remained empty.
I didn't think much of his choice at the time, as I was used to being as close as possible to him, but my sister, ever so astute, pointed out his choice late that night.
“And he picked that spot! That tiny spot next to you!” She called out later that night, as we were lazily getting ready for bed, removing our makeup, having a late-night snack.
My face likely warmed with its characteristic pink blush.
I knew what she meant. He chose the spot where we would be pushed next to each other, where his hand could easily rest on my knee, and I could lean into his freshly-pressed shirt and inhale the cologne I had bought for him that Christmas.
My husband and I recently celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. We have two children 5 and live in a roomy home in a quiet neighborhood without any bars and restaurants within walking distance. The nights you'll find us dressed up and primed for a night out after the sun goes down are rare.
I wonder, sometimes, in the midst of our now familiar, sometimes hurried, sometimes tiring, family routines, would he still pick the small spot? Does he still prefer to be as close as possible to me?
That initial, stomach churning excitement of dating, a proposal, and a wedding have transformed to a more subtle layer of warmth and comfort. The butterflies have been replaced by the quiet pleasure of knowing someone so well, and being known so well.
We share that singular feeling of starting our family, our life together. The joy and the overwhelming responsibility of it all.
Last night, after we finally managed to tuck our son and daughter into their warm beds, my husband and I watched a movie together. It was cold and dark outside. Four pretty red velvet Christmas stockings dangled from our fireplace, as another Christmas just behind us.
We ate dinner on our laps during the movie, laughing and talking at times, both of us wearing well-worn sweatshirts, me without a trace of make-up, my face freshly scrubbed.
I was curled up on my favorite, now dented spot on that old yellow couch, sipping a beer, and my husband was sitting on the chair across from me. I could tell he was tired from another long day. One of those exquisitely wonderful and exhausting family days.
I walked over to him and sat in what room was left on the chair, squeezing myself in right next to him. Unflinching, he easily put his warm arm around me and I hugged him close, inhaling his familiar, masculine scent, a scent I think I could pick out blindfolded from a dozen people.
As I traced his black Saturday night stubble with my un-manicured finger, I was relieved to realize that though our circumstances have forever changed since that evening years ago as a hopeful young couple, I'm infinitely grateful we can still welcome each other into the small spot.