We were on a cruise liner traveling from Greece to Italy during our sophomore semester abroad in college. Around us, other tourists stared out at the frothy Mediterranean, and a jumble of languages competed with the slosh of water, the hum of the ship engine, and our fraught dialogue.
Joseph and I had been dating for over six months when we arrived in Italy with one hundred other classmates, and our relationship had felt strong and mature. But over the course of the semester, we found ourselves unusually awash in conflict—miscommunications and disappointments that often churned into uncomfortable arguments like the one we were now having on a crowded ship deck. The real problem was that we had so little time or space to ourselves, and the setting for this particular argument only augmented that issue.
Exhausted by school and travels, I felt us both at a tipping point. Struggling to express myself, I dramatically said to Joseph, “I don’t think you can ever understand me,” and ran away. A moment later, I stood in the ship stairwell feeling both embarrassed and desperate. I knew I was being dramatic, but I also knew that our whole relationship was at stake in this moment. I told myself if Joseph didn’t follow me—if, in his own desperation and confusion he simply gave up on understanding me—then we would be over.
As the ship rumbled beneath my feet, Joseph opened the door from the deck and found me standing there. His expression, rather than irritated or angry, was tender. Hope loosened the tightness in my chest. We agreed to take a break because I knew I needed time to sort through my emotions. Three days later, back on our campus in Rome, Joseph asked me if I wanted to pray together. Afterwards, I thanked him for his patience and asked him not to give up on me, on our relationship. He promised he would not.
I wouldn’t say that I knew after this episode that Joseph was the man I would marry. Rather, it was that this was the first of many moments throughout our four years of dating that showed me that Joseph would stay—that he would be understanding and willing to work through things—even when it was difficult. Throughout our early relationship, I was very afraid that his love would one day dry up, that he would eventually tire of me and my flaws, that life in its difficulties would show us that our love lacked a real foundation.
Looking back, I know these fears stemmed from the flaws I had seen in my own parents’ marriage, as well as from the dreary platitude that the honeymoon period always ends. At nineteen, I wanted proof that the love Joseph professed for me would stand the test of time. When I brought these fears to Joseph—repeatedly, throughout our courtship—he told me that the only proof could be in living out our relationship. In other words, we had to learn to trust each other.
But it was his calm perseverance, his willingness to always do the work that our relationship needed, that earned my trust. While we both eventually learned better communication habits, Joseph was always a patient listener, keen to hear me through all my hopes and worries. He was dedicated to our relationship, finding time to take me out on dates even as he slogged through twenty-one credit hours in a semester, plus a job.
He was honest with me about who he was, trusting me to love him even with his mistakes. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer the summer before our senior year, he was there for me, sitting with me in the hospital waiting room while my mom was in surgery, making my family laugh at corny jokes, listening to my fears throughout that summer, loving me and the people I loved in simple ways.
More than four years into marriage and two children later, we are both still learning what it means to persevere in love. When I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety after giving birth to both our sons, Joseph showed me the same kind of dedication he showed me after that boat ride from Greece, revealing by his support and patience that he would not give up on me.
With a toddler and an infant screaming for our attention, it can sometimes feel as impossible to find time alone as it did during our semester abroad. But knowing I have a spouse who is willing to put the work into our relationship is half the battle; I know, whatever troubled waters we sail through, I can go to him and we can work it out.
When I think back on my fears in our early relationship—my desire for indubitable proof that Joseph would always love me—I know I was in some ways looking for a sign. I imagined I would know Joseph was the one because something would tell me we were somehow meant to be together, destined or designed.
What I didn’t realize was that the proof couldn’t be in a single instance, at least not for me. I needed to see his love in action day by day, through the joys and trials of life, from the slow unraveling of my fears, to the gradual intertwining of our lives. To put it simply, I knew Joseph was the one because he kept choosing me, and choosing us, no matter the obstacle.