He must be an idiot, I thought to myself. No one is that happy all the time, and if they are, they must be stupid. There’s too much going on in the world for anyone to have such a sunny disposition.
I was 23, coming off a difficult first year of law school where I struggled with my academics, sense of self, and a dead-end relationship. Despite my mediocre grades, I had somehow secured an internship with a prestigious organization, and the caliber of the other interns wasn’t helping my already-flailing self-esteem.
Walking into the banquet room at the swanky hotel where the interns ate lunch, I started having flashbacks to high school, desperately searching for a friendly face. I saw him look up and flash a huge grin, which was all the encouragement I needed. I immediately sat down next to him and discovered that his smile was characteristic of his enthusiasm – for God, law, duty, his county, water polo, the Marine Corps, and life itself.
To him, everything was an exciting adventure, and he was happy. Happy! I hadn’t felt happy since I started law school. So I wrote him off, decided he must be an idiot, no one can be that happy all the time unless they are missing something. Maybe nothing bad had ever happened to him?
We stayed friends over that summer, and after both our relationships ended (for unrelated reasons), I discovered that maybe his bliss wasn’t ignorant after all. Instead, I saw a man of intense feeling, strong beliefs, and a natural (and justified) tendency toward pride. He was incredibly gifted with intelligence, drive and leadership ability, but had been humbled publicly on multiple occasions. Learning about his life, I questioned how he could possibly remain so happy, because the experiences he related would have shattered me. I never forgot his answer – “I choose to be joyful, not because there aren’t bad things in the world, but because I trust that God is good. I choose it.”
I didn’t realize you could choose to be joyful despite circumstances. I mean, I had read about it in the Bible, of course, but didn’t think that mature people were happy. I had always thought maturity brought seriousness; a gravity of personality weighed down by the reality of a broken world. I thought I wanted a partner who felt the way I did, and would dissect his own inner thoughts and feelings about every little issue, like I did. He could have been like me, self-focused and morose (at the time, I would have said introspective), instead of rejoicing in the adventure in front of me.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that his seemingly happy-go-lucky attitude was actually a sign of his maturity. But his maturity didn’t mean that he didn’t know how to be serious – I saw him face challenges, fail (sometimes publicly), but instead of giving up, I saw him accept defeat with humility and grace, get back up, and succeed, always rejoicing. His example of joyful leadership is so unique, I have yet to see another man like him. Not only that, but he is also the first and only extrovert I ever dated.
And through it all, I realized was that there was only room for one morose introvert in a relationship and having a joyful extrovert as your partner-in-crime is a lot more fun. More friends, more parties, but somehow less small talk. Maybe opposites really do attract.
I remember talking to my best friend and saying I wasn’t sure I wanted to date him, because we would probably end up getting married, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. She asked me why getting married to him would be a bad thing, and I couldn’t come up with a reason.
Now, eight years later (and six years married) his enthusiasm and adventurous spirit has inspired me to do things I never would have done otherwise – join the Navy, land on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean, climb untold mountains, go on a pilgrimage to France, sing in front of hundreds of people, have my first baby while living on my own in an AirBnb 300 miles away from my husband, and meet all the neighbors.
As I look at my oldest son (and eagerly await the birth of his little brother), I see the same joyous and adventurous spirit that definitely didn’t come from me. They say life is an adventure, but I never believed it until I met him.