Valentine’s Day is often a time to remember how we met and what we saw in each other that led us to marriage and a lifetime together. This week we want to share with you that part of our story, as we tell it in Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
The Beginning of the Dream
“Just call me Yogi.”
“I met a girl named Rosie.”
Marriages are enriched and formed in part by the persons we were when we met and fell in love. This chapter’s purpose is to help you to remember the beginning of your journey together.
Many couples like to tell the story of their first meeting. For some it is love at first sight and for others there is an initial dislike or turn-off that they eventually get beyond. We can’t start with that story because we don’t know when we first met. We both attended the same small high school. Rita was in my sister’s class, one year after me. In a small school, everybody knows everybody, especially among the more active students. My first memories of Rita involve activities in things like the Science Club and as my sister’s best friend. She was just “around” -and I wasn’t interested.
By my senior year I was aware that Rita was interested in me. I remember going on a field trip and she found her way into the same seat on the bus. That was OK – we had a good time – but I wasn’t especially interested in dating her, or anybody else, at that time. My focus was on finishing high school and going to college. I expected that I would marry eventually, but I certainly wasn’t thinking about a life partner at the time.
During the summer after high school, Rita asked me to go to a family wedding with her and I agreed to our first date. I remember having a good time, but for me she was still mainly my sister’s best friend and I didn’t ask her for another date.
During my first year of college, I focused on my classes and dated only occasionally. Rita says that I exuded confidence in everything I did, but I was really very shy. I was never good at small talk and the shyness was worse with women. I asked Rita to go to a party with me on New Year’s Eve, mostly because I didn’t know who else to ask.
After New Year’s Eve I don’t remember seeing Rita again until summer, when she was graduated from high school and I had finished my first year of college. Early that summer we dated a few times. We had good times and that was the beginning of our friendship. I began to see that she was serious and I was getting hooked but I thought I wasn’t ready to be dating seriously. We both had college to finish and the prospect of dating for such a long period wasn’t attractive to me. I suggested to Rita that we stop seeing each other for at least for a while; we were too young to be so serious. I think she knew that arguing with me wouldn’t do much good, so she agreed – with a catch! She asked if we could have just one more date before we went to school in August. I agreed. I think I wanted to continue dating, but didn’t want to admit it to myself. After that “one more date”, she had me and we never stopped dating. I think it was clear to me rather quickly that we would get married. I remember a time, not too long after, when we were riding in the car and talking about something and I said, ” When we are married…” but quickly changed it to “If we get married…”. I wasn’t quite ready to admit it, but there wasn’t any doubt.
Fortunately, Rita knew what she wanted and wouldn’t let go. I might have walked away from the best person to ever come into my life.
During our college years I was in Dayton and Rita in Cincinnati. We saw each other when we could both get home for a weekend or I could get a ride to Cincinnati with a friend. When we were apart we wrote each other a letter nearly every day. We liked to talk on the telephone, but couldn’t afford the pay phone in the dorm very often.
When we were together we were playful and frequently kidded each other. One evening we were goofing around and Rita made a remark about me being either very smart or a smart-aleck. I can’t remember which. My response was to say: “Just call me Yogi.” When she looked puzzled I added: “Smarter than the average bear,” in reference to the cartoon character. “Yogi” became her pet name for me, especially when I was being goofy.
It was great to get the occasional phone call, but letters became the staple of our communication. During the year before we were married, I was in graduate school in Illinois and we didn’t get to see each other very often. I wasn’t satisfied with just letters. I was always inclined to solve problems with technology (the word “geek” hadn’t been invented yet), so I bought two small, reel-to-reel tape recorders (cassettes hadn’t been invented, either) and several tapes. We would tape our letters so that we could listen to each other’s voices. I looked forward to Rita’s letters – I wanted to know everything that was happening in her life – but hearing her voice on tape was special.
At the beginning, I saw the long dating period we were facing as an obstacle, but I look back on it now as the time during which our friendship developed. We didn’t have either money or opportunity to spend a lot of time focused on anything outside of us. We had many, many hours to discuss our hopes and dreams for us, careers, children and the home we would like to have some day.
When I went back to school for my sophomore year I was committed to Rita. She was the person I intended to marry and I no longer had any interest in anyone else. In January of that year, I gave her my high school ring and asked her to marry me. I have vivid memories of my ring on her finger wrapped in fuzzy pale blue yarn to make it fit.
I was slow to develop an interest in Rita, but as time went on it was obvious that we enjoyed each other’s company. I have always been a smart-aleck and Rita appreciated my sense of humor. She is smart and sensitive and very good with people. She also shared my dreams. I knew when I was rather young that I wasn’t cut out to be a farmer, as my father was. I wanted to get an education and a job that would challenge me intellectually. Having children was important to me. My family had a tradition of involvement in the Church and I wanted to continue that tradition. Rita was with me in all these things and we had many discussions about them during our college years.
From the first time I kissed Rita there was a sexual tension and a strong desire. Not only was I a healthy teenage male, I found this female very desirable. We discussed sexual issues, along with many other things. One decision we made was that we would not have sex until we were married. It’s not that nobody was doing it – we knew couples who were hurrying up their wedding to be married before the baby arrived. I believed, as I still do, that it is morally wrong and I wanted to do nothing that would interfere with completing my education. Fortunately, Rita agreed with me and was even more determined than I to wait.
Along the way there always seemed to be people to support us and help us to go in the right direction. My mother encouraged us to pray together and we took her suggestion. It was one of the things that reminded us to continue to do what was right with and toward each other.
The telephone on my dorm floor was just outside Father Matt’s room. When Rita called me he would often answer the phone and question her about who she was and give her a hard time about why he should call me to the phone. While he was kidding, the undertone was always clearly one of caring. He knew us and wanted us to succeed. We don’t know why he remembered this story, but until he died he told this to new students at the university when he found out that they knew one of us. Father Matt also suggested that we have our engagement blessed, and we did.
During Rita’s senior year of college we prepared for our wedding in August. This happened while she was in Cincinnati and I was in Chicago. In October, high school friends of ours were married in Ohio. We were not yet formally engaged so I went shopping for a ring. I was living on a very limited budget but with the help of a friend I found a jeweler and a ring I could afford. On my way to Ohio that weekend I stopped at a florist and purchased a dozen roses, eleven red and one white. I presented Rita the roses with her engagement ring in the white rose. (I’m an incurably romantic geek!)
Rita took care of most of the details of planning our wedding. She kept me informed in the letters she wrote. I finished my Masters Degree the week before our wedding and then we finished all the last minute details together. I didn’t have a lot to do the morning of our wedding. I delivered my car to the best man’s house since we were going to change there to leave for our honeymoon. I was eager for the ceremony to begin. I remember waiting at the altar as Rita’s brother escorted her down the aisle. She was breathtakingly beautiful in her long white wedding gown. I still think so when I look at our wedding pictures. When we exchanged our vows I was eager to make the commitment. I tried to say “I will” loudly enough that everyone in church would hear me.
The reception went fairly quickly for me. We were kept busy greeting family and friends. All the time I was waiting for the moment when we could say goodbye to our parents and get away from the crowd. The thing I wanted most was to be alone with Rita.
It was a special moment at the best man’s house, when I helped Rita out of her wedding gown and we changed clothes together for the first time in our lives. Rita sat close to me in the car as we drove the twenty miles to a small motel. We continued to take my mother’s advice and knelt beside the bed to pray.
Our honeymoon was a wonderful celebration of being together and enjoying the friendship we had developed during our dating years. The added dimension of an active sexual relationship made it extra special and allowed us to start our marriage with growth toward new depth. Waiting was worth it.
We honeymooned in a cabin in Kentucky that gave us all the privacy newlyweds wanted. We didn’t even have to worry about the maids wanting to make up our room. Each morning when we woke up we found new towels and linens on the porch of our cabin but no one ever knocked on the door.
I was crazy in love with Rita. She gave me her entire attention. It was fun to take a paddle boat ride around the lake and walk in the woods. It didn’t matter what we were doing, I just loved to be with her.
We had often talked about what our marriage would be like and were determined that it would be one of the best marriages of all time. On our honeymoon we made three promises to each other. The first was to say “I love you!” every day of our lives. The second was never to leave each other for more than a few minutes without kissing each other goodbye. Our third promise was that we would always go to sleep at night with some part of our bodies touching. It was to be a reminder that we are lovers, no matter what else is going on in our lives. After more than forty years of marriage we continue to live these promises.
During the early years of our marriage I was in graduate school and Rita was teaching. We were a six hour drive from our nearest family member. We made friends with Rita’s co-workers but we still had lots of time just for us. Not knowing many people forced us to rely on each other for companionship and helped our friendship to grow even more.
There was a very heavy snowstorm in Chicago during January of our first year. I had come home from classes and found the roads nearly impassable. Rita was still at school, so I went there, walked into the principal’s office, and announced that I was taking Rita home, whether she liked it or not. I wasn’t about to have Rita stranded in the snow away from our apartment. We just managed to get back home before all the streets were closed and thus were able to enjoy being snowed in for several days.
In those first years of our marriage I worked on a doctorate and found myself moving toward the goals I had dreamed about. Since I was taking courses and spending lots of time studying, I was busy, but my schedule was flexible. It allowed us more time together than another job would have. On Friday afternoons I often met Rita after school and we would go out for beer and burgers with the other young teachers from her high school. I enjoyed the freedom we had to come and go during those years.
We each have our own memories of how our relationship began. So here is my story. During my freshman year of high school I met a girl named Rosie. We quickly developed a friendship that has lasted to today. As our friendship grew, I learned that she had an older brother. While I don’t remember officially meeting Bob, I became interested in him. Rosie didn’t seem to mind. Most teens in our school were not allowed to date one on one until we were sixteen so we hung around in various groups that attended school or community activities. During that time I became attracted to things about Bob. He was definitely cute, extremely intelligent, ranking at the top of his class, was always neatly dressed, and looking back, he seemed very self assured. He had dreams for his life and was determined to get there. I liked what he wanted for his life and realized that it was what I wanted, too. As we did all the normal things teens did then, I found myself more and more interested in him. He didn’t seem interested in me so Rosie and I began to plot various ways to pique his interest. On occasion he would show interest. One night he drove me home from a school dance and another time he slipped a few pieces of candy on my desk. Even though he seemed to most often see me as Rosie’s friend, I was aware of an attraction between us and I found myself falling in love with him. During the summer after my junior year, I asked him for our first date. We had a great time and we saw each other a few times but he was caught up in college preparation. I began my senior year of high school and even dated a few other boys. I thought about him and Rosie kept me posted on what he was doing. He asked me to celebrate New Year’s Eve with him. I didn’t see him again until the night I graduated when he took a picture of me as I gave my graduation speech. Not long after, a copy of that picture arrived in the mail with a note saying he would call me soon. We had a few dates that June and there was a definite chemistry developing between us. We shared common interests and could talk for hours or just be together and say nothing. A casual relationship suddenly seemed to be serious. Near the end of June Bob decided that we were getting too serious too fast and that with college ahead for both of us, we should not see each other. I suggested that we have one more date in late August before we both went to college. He agreed. We saw each other casually the next few weeks and then he asked me for a date. I don’t remember what we did but I do remember that we were standing on the front porch of my mother’s house and he kissed me goodnight several times and then quickly said “I love you” and ran to his car. That was the beginning of the rest of our life together. Whether we were too serious or not, both of us knew that we were interested in a future together even if we didn’t say it. We dated every weekend the rest of that summer and started to dream together about where we wanted life to take us.
We both went off to college in separate cities, promising to write frequently and see each other when we could go home for weekends. It was with great anticipation that I checked my mailbox each day. Being a starry eyed teenager, I was always looking for signs that would tell me that Bob was the right person for me. One of those signs came to me through my college roommate. Of all the people that could have been my roommate, I discovered through conversations that the pastor of her parish was Bob’s uncle.
As we left for college we didn’t make any promises to each other about being exclusively faithful, although it was likely in the back of each of our minds. I went to a few college mixers that first semester. I found myself comparing every boy I met to Bob and no one measured up to him. Eventually I just stopped going.
College life was very busy for me. I took a lot of credit hours that first semester and had work study and another job. Bob was never far from my thoughts but he wasn’t the only focus in my life. I always wanted to be a teacher and I was determined to make that happen. Distance was a mixed blessing. It was difficult to be apart and yet it gave each of us the freedom to accomplish things that we both wanted in our lives. Whenever we managed to get together, there were not enough hours in the day or night to talk. Bob’s dad was concerned about what the neighbors would say when he got home at 2 or 3 in the morning and one of his little brothers wanted to know why he didn’t just sleep at my house since he spent more time there than he did at home.
During those four years, our love for each other grew. I was then and am still now amazed and frequently surprised by the little things he does that show his love for me. It started with the candy in high school, then the wild roses he picked along the roadside, to the roses with my engagement ring, to the Pepsi and Tootsie Rolls in the wee hours of the morning on our wedding night. He made and makes me feel loved and cherished.
Being on scholarships and working to pay college expenses never left us with much money to spend on dates. At home we frequently attended wedding receptions of family and friends or drive-in movies and public dances. On dates at school we roamed through bookstores and furniture sections in department stores. Frequently, we would end up at the Cathedral in Cincinnati for Mass or to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While much of this may not seem exciting by today’s standards, it was definitely part of the dreaming that is part of our relationship.
I looked forward to Bob having his arm around me at the movie, or hugging and kissing as we sat in the car, or merely holding hands as we walked through stores. My students roll their eyes when we are studying dating and marriage and I bring up the subject of sex outside of marriage. Somehow they believe that it was so much easier to not have sex when we were dating. I tell them that we had exactly the same decision to make as they do. We had many opportunities and places to have sex had we wanted to do so. I was definitely determined in this area. Growing up I was taught that it was wrong and I wanted nothing to get in the way of my college education. Another motivation I had was I did not want to embarrass my mother. She worked very hard as a young widow to support us and I respected her and didn’t want to add to the difficulties she faced as a single parent. The decision was not easily made or only made once. We even talked about it the Sunday night before we were married. Having waited that long we decided another week could be tolerated. Waiting made for an incredible wedding night and honeymoon.
During the four years we dated, I did all the dreamy things that a young lover does. When I look back at college notebooks I find hearts with Bob and Rita or Bob loves Rita or Bob and Rita Boeke written in the margins. I remember how my heart would skip a beat when someone knocked on my dorm door or yelled down the dorm hallway that I had a phone call. We began to make wedding plans the summer after Bob graduated from college and I began the countdown when it was 365 days. Every letter that I wrote him had the number somewhere on it. We became engaged in October. I only had to tell a few people when I went back to school before it spread throughout the dorm. Even a few of the religious sisters had heard and stopped to see my engagement ring and ask about our marriage plans.
We never considered not having a Church wedding. I spent the summer preparing for it. Before I knew it I was being escorted down the aisle by my brother. I remember thinking how young and innocent Bob looked as I walked down the aisle. Bob’s uncles witnessed our vows and we were off to a whirlwind reception. The day passed quickly as we celebrated with friends and family, posed for pictures and were congratulated by everyone important in our lives.
In some of our chats before we were married we had talked about what we thought our wedding night would be. I’m not sure any amount of discussion could have prepared me for the intimacy that began to develop that night. We talked and celebrated our commitment to each other. Bob’s ability to do little things for me even came through that night. Having been the nervous, busy bride I hadn’t eaten much all day. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning I was starving and he got dressed and tried to find something for me to eat. He came back with a bottle of Pepsi and some Tootsie Rolls. Both will forever have a special place in my heart.
Our honeymoon was wonderful. We swam, laid in the sun, played scrabble and made love to each other. Each day I fell more and more in love with him. Never before in my life could I remember having been that much the center of someone else’s life. When we arrived in Chicago to live I knew no one but Bob. I was suddenly responsible for taking care of an apartment, planning meals, etc. In a few weeks I started my career as a teacher in a school that I had only visited for an interview. Bob settled in as a doctoral student. We didn’t have a lot of material possessions but liked our little apartment and life together. Those early years were carefree as Bob went to classes and I truly enjoyed being a teacher. We lived away from our families and old friends so our friendship continued to grow and we made new friends.
Having children was always something that we knew we wanted to do. We picked out a boy’s and girl’s name when we dated. As the years passed we had four. Being married to my special “Yogi” was wonderful.
Please share with us something special about your meeting and dating years.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at readabookpress.com.
Retirement can be a time of stress for marriages. Has your parish or group considered an enrichment program for seniors? Check out our program: Aging Joyfully Together.