The lesson I learned about myself on my first Valentine’s Day with a partner

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Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone. 

It’s a very specific, sort-of-made-up holiday that tends to favor those in love and fans of cheesy gestures of affection. 

I have never in my life been one of those people. Sure, I was a self-admitted hopeless romantic but I usually kept my romanticism where it belonged: cheesy boy-meets-girl rom-coms. I’m not someone who has been counting down the days until a cute boy puts a ring on it with a secret wedding planner scrapbook under my bed since I was 16, nor did I want to be. Which is why it might seem fitting to say that Valentine’s Day was just never my holiday. 

I don’t remember getting a single card when I was younger and I honestly couldn’t tell you what my young adult (and very single) self thought of the holiday. 

I didn’t have a boyfriend until just before my 22nd birthday and, as luck would have it, he was a fellow Valentine’s Day hater. Although for him it largely stemmed from the fact that it was also his birthday, I only mildly minded that we didn’t celebrate the occasion during our two years together. My only other serious relationship afterwards didn’t fare much better. Although not a VDay hater, my then-boyfriend was going to be out of the country. Oh well! Although we did have a small celebration beforehand, it seemed that my destiny was clear: Valentine’s Day was just not for me.

I spent the next several years single AF, as I like to say. I dated, sure, but there was never anyone special to call my own for the five years between my last relationship and the man who has now become my life partner. 

I was never sad about it, though.

Deep down I did house some insecurities about my dating prospects and seeming inability to find love, but I brushed it aside to celebrate this holiday in different ways. I hung out with girlfriends, went out dancing, had dinner with cool married friends and even babysat one year. It was NBD, as they say. 

But this year something changed.

The obvious change in my life, of course, is that since my last Valentine’s Day I have met the person that I plan to be with for the rest of my life. I never imagined that my love life would transform into its own mini rom-com, but it did. Since meeting my now-life partner, I have learned a lot about love, relationships and life in general. 

I’ve learned about the importance of generosity in dating. I’ve learned about moving in with someone, how to unite our finances, why fighting is totally normal (and that making up afterwards really IS the best) and a million other little lessons that can only come when you suddenly become part of a couple. 

To my surprise, even my career has benefitted. Not only have I found my #1 fan (who has already done more to support me and my work than I could have previously imagined possible) but I also have a newfound courage to take more chances and seek new heights with my writing. And I know that much of this I couldn’t have done without the encouragement I receive from home. 

The one unexpected thing, however, is how my perception of Valentine’s Day has suddenly changed. 

It’s not that all of a sudden the day had meaning simply because I was in love for the first real time in my life (because, um, gross?) but it’s that out of nowhere I had expectations about this day. 

Whereas before, in my many years in bad relationships and even more years as a single gal, the day knowingly meant very little, now it had some kind of *meaning*. But what, exactly? 

I’m not proud to admit that I spent the better part of the week before Vday worrying that my boyfriend wouldn’t get me flowers, something which is particularly important to people from a culturally Russian background such as myself, and subsequently feeling ridiculously silly for putting such expectations on him. 

We had talked before that I wasn’t that into this fake-ish holiday, and I was relieved to find out he wasn’t either. But as the day approached, deep down that hopeless romantic I always knew I was started to come into my real life. She wanted to be surprised. She wanted to be wooed. And she wanted it NOW. It was hard to keep her at bay as I argued within myself whether or not I actually wanted to bring any of this up with Adam. Do I tell him now that maybe my opinion of Valentine’s Day had changed just a little, or do I keep silent and risk being disappointed when the day actually came? 

Eventually, I chose to open up.

After all, one of the major strengths of our relationship up until this point was our ability to be totally honest with one another. As cheesy as it sounds, we were totally one of those couples who *told each other everything* and quite proud of it, actually. 

But I was still afraid he’d judge me for my change of heart. On the one hand, I was a rational woman who knew that a single day in the year does not make or break how devoted he is to me and that being pressured into showing that devotion simply, well, CAUSE was silly. Yet on the other hand, I wanted to feel *special* in a way I never had before. 

When I actually brought the subject up, however, he pretended to have a mini argument with me about why this was so important. It wasn’t until days later that I realized he had pulled the wool over my eyes in order to actually be able to surprise me with a lovely dinner and the roses I’d always wanted. 

I was thrilled to celebrate the day with him, and a bit early to boot, in a way I had never been able to do in the past. 

In the end, I realized that it’s not that the day itself became more significant because I was now part of a societally acceptable pairing that would be welcome at any restaurant in town. The truth is that stressing about Valentine’s Day plans – and subsequently being surprised anyway – helped me to understand just how much outward opinions of this day had come up to confront me this year. 

And maybe I’m still understanding the bits and pieces that make me who I am, and certainly all of the parts that make me who I am in my relationship. Thankfully, the lessons I learned this year are ones that I can take with me for years to come. 

Sure, those lessons include that I secretly want to do *something* a little more special than usual on this day… but then again, hadn’t I always done something special with people that I cared about? I’m just lucky that now that list of people includes someone who also happens to be the kindest, sweetest, most generous and incredible person I’ve ever met. 

That’s certainly something to celebrate, isn’t it?

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How my boyfriend got me to eat healthy again (and visa versa)

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Sometimes it takes falling in love to remind you of some of the things that are important to you. For me, that something was healthy eating.

I have quite a complicated relationship with food. After a lifetime of being overweight, losing 90 pounds with Weight Watchers in college, regaining most of it shortly after and finally getting a gastric bypass in 2009, I’m finally settled at a weight that I am happy and comfortable in.

Unlike many people who have had weight loss surgery, I’ve been able to maintain (most of) my 100 pound weight loss. I did it largely thanks to embracing healthy eating and starting to exercise (kinda, sorta, sometimes, maybe… okay, I’m still working on this!). Mostly, I went back to the kitchen and taught myself how to cook healthier meals.

For a while, I was what I called a “flexitarian” – a part-time vegetarian while I focused primarily on trying to actually find vegetables that I enjoyed eating. It took many years but I’m now happy to report that I eat a varied diet full of leafy greens, healthy fats, whole grains and plenty more things that are typically found on the Good For You list.

But what also happened over the many years since I initially lost weight and forced myself to eat better is that I went from an 80/20 approach to healthy eating to… well, a lot less than that.

You see, as I gained more and more experience as a food writer and editor, my culinary tastes became fancier and a helluva lot more complicated. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy kale and quinoa anymore, but that now there was just SO MUCH variety and so many new dishes to explore that I kept on exploring – even if that dish wasn’t what anyone would call “healthy.”

I was mostly happy with my diet, but at the same time I also knew that it wasn’t my ideal. My weight is about 15 pounds higher than my Goal Weight (ugh) and I noticed that I was eating a lot of meat and animal products and, often, eating a LOT more of them than veggies.

That’s where my life was in April of this year: I had a vague goal to lose a little weight and to go back to focusing on eating much healthier, but I didn’t really have a huge push to do so.

Until I met Adam the vegetarian.

He told me about his food preference early on. In fact, we talked about food for at least half of our four hour first date, and I liked it that way. I discovered that he had become vegetarian just over a year ago, and that he was what I would call a “transitional vegetarian” (also: lazy vegetarian) who still largely depended on meat substitutes and tons of cheese pizza.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pizza, mind you, but part of my journey into the food world meant that I fell in love with clean eating – meaning I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. Faux chicken and bacon is just NOT the way to go, in my opinion.

I know that many people who go vegetarian or vegan tend to depend on these meat substitutes for the majority of their protein needs, especially early on, but I immediately wanted to get Adam away from that mindset. Or at least steer him toward some other options as well.

And so it began!

Slowly but surely, exploring healthier eating with him made me go back to my healthier eating habits too.

I would estimate that, by the time we met, I almost never had an entirely vegetarian or vegan meal (unlike when I was eating at least one of those a day, about six years ago). These days, things are MUCH different.

As we got closer, fell in love (pause for “awwwwwww”) and moved in together shortly after, I realized that keeping my meat-heavy diet just wasn’t an option. The only solution? Going semi-vegetarian again.

After Adam chose to go pescatarian with me during our Whole30 experiment, our house became pretty much veggie-only. It never made much sense to me to cook one meal for him and another for me, so I don’t.

Instead, he’s remained pescatarian-ish (with a LOT less fish than during Whole30) and I’ve remained flexitarian-ish.

When we go out to dinner, I let myself off the hook and order chicken or steak or pork if that’s what I really want. But more often than not, especially in the last month, I find myself still sticking to our pescatarian way of life.

Just as we share our healthy meals at home, I’ve found pleasure in sharing our meals at restaurants too. If he orders the Thai tofu with broccoli dish, I might order the spicy scallops with brown rice. When he goes for the Buffalo shrimp appetizer, I opt for the mussels and French fries. We ask for a side Caesar salad to share, and dinner is set.

Now that he’s accidentally pushed me back into the healthier eating habits, I’ve been feeling much better. During Whole30 and before, I couldn’t resist a good chicken quesadilla or scrumptious carnitas tacos. These days, while I still sometimes indulge in those things, I don’t find myself going for meaty dishes quite as often.

And for Adam? Well, there’s no more “fake” chicken strips as a go-to lunch in his freezer. Instead, I make us a brown rice and lentil dish or veggie frittata. 

While I can’t exactly speak for someone else (even my life partner), I’m pretty happy with the way we have inspired each other to eat better. Sure, we still indulge in pizza once a week. And yes, brunch almost always consists of an ooey gooey French toast. But more often than not, our meals are on the healthy side. They include real ingredients, plenty of vegetables and definitely *lots* of love.

It still surprises me that falling in love is what reminded me how important it is to eat (mostly) healthy. But boy, am I glad it did! After all, I’d like to stick around for a LONG time to enjoy my life with him. And if that means a lot more veggies and a lot less meat, I’m cool with it.

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Why is it so hard for us to accept true generosity when we date?

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I wrote this piece in a bout of excitement, elation, love, wonder, guilt and generally feeling both really happy and a little down on myself. It’s been a month and a half since that moment, but this still rings true. Enjoy!

Tonight, as I lay in his arms, I asked my boyfriend if it was okay for me to get out of bed because I was inspired to write – inspired by the love that we share, the special gift that he shared with me that evening and the constant flow of kindness I experience from him.

“Of course,” he immediately replied, and my heart fluttered with happiness even further. He’s the most loving, supportive and generous man I have ever met, and I knew he would practically kick me out of bed to ignite the creative spark that suddenly rose in me.

But behind the happiness that I so adore lies one very troubling question: Why is this man’s constant generosity something that I value so highly? Why is it that this is the first relationship where I value myself enough to accept it so willingly? And why did I not demand the same kind of treatment of former lovers?

It’s possible that I never before knew what true generosity meant.

Previous boyfriends treated me well enough. I’ve never been abused or neglected – much – and they were nice enough, sure. But there was always something missing, always some sort of withholding. And I was very much used to that.

My first love was a sweet buffoon and he was kind enough, but I wouldn’t call him generous.

At first, he withheld his time from me. He would show up constantly late for dates, avoid calling me his girlfriend and was perpetually afraid to introduce me to his friends and family. Even worse, he held back the one thing I really needed from him – verbal confirmation that he loved me. He was generous in his physical strength, in helping to take care of the house mostly, but his generosity was somehow never fully realized. And so it didn’t last.

My second serious relationship – with the person who I credit for helping me learn to be assertive about my needs – didn’t go much better. Although he taught me how to stand up for myself and demand what I want in a relationship (“After all,” he always reasoned, “I can’t read your mind”), he wasn’t truly generous either. A huge part of him was always holding back emotionally, and I knew it from day one. We weren’t going to last either, and I told myself it was all going to be okay somehow.

Up until I met this wonderful man who I know is going to be my husband one day, I never expected dates to be generous to me. Sure, they would be nice with flirty texts, taking me out for drinks, treating me generally well. But generosity wasn’t a word that I really ever thought about in the dating world. I expected men to devote their time or money to me, but I never felt overwhelmed by either – and certainly not the two of them together.

And now I find myself in a completely unpredictable situation.

Here I am, with a man who is generous in every way I could have imagined – and plenty of ways that never would have occurred to me. His time, his money (not that this is a good measure of anything), his love, his devotion, his empathy, his understanding, his support. All of it pours out of him as if it was nothing. And it’s unending.

It comes easily to him. He doesn’t even think of it. It’s just there for my taking, and my taking feels odd to me.

All kinds of weird thoughts creep into my mind. Why is he so generous to me? What have I actually done to deserve this? How can he keep this up when I am SO not worthy of all of this? When is he going to realize that I am not all that? And then, the worst: What is wrong with me that it’s so hard for me to understand this man’s generosity? Why is it so hard for me to accept that he loves me and would do anything for me? How is it that I’ve been so messed up about men in the past that I obsess over how generous Adam is and how great/guilty that makes me feel?

Ultimately, the question of generosity comes down to me: I’m the one who has trouble accepting it. And it’s because I am the one who allowed myself to be trained by former boyfriends to not expect it much.

Having so much of it makes me nervous. And what’s even worse, what now also makes me nervous is that someday it will go away. His generosity is quickly becoming something that I am getting used to and (even worse!) addicted to. I still don’t understand how he’s so generous, but every minute of it makes me love him even more, makes me crave it, makes me want to burst with the excitement of (finally) having it.

I never allowed myself to accept generosity before.

I never allowed myself to expect it or demand it or even think it’s okay for me to have it. But now that I do, I understand how difficult it is to date today. We have a serious generosity problem, and it begins when we settle for less than we are worth.

We allow men (and women) to ghost on us. We allow them to go on multiple dates with multiple other people. We allow them to never call us, to take forever to ask us on a second date, to keep us guessing about their affections. It’s never enough and both parties are left frustrated and unsatisfied. I know this because I’ve spoken to friends on both sides of the aisle – male and female, gay and straight.

And I think I understand why now. It’s because we have closed ourselves off from believing that true, honest generosity is something to want in another person. We spend our lives browsing through apps hoping to find the perfect mate, whether for the night or for a lifetime, but we never allow ourselves to be generous with our hearts.

It’s much easier to swipe right on a dozen people, strike up conversations with half that, and maybe get a coffee with a few of them, than to truly open up to a single person. Just as I trained myself not to expect my former boyfriends to be generous, I trained myself to not be generous with with my dates either. The truth is that I was part of the problem too.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t see a lot of generosity growing up. Or maybe it’s because I had a fondness for dating emotionally unavailable $&@!%!@&$@^$ (and not just those that I was in serious relationships with, but those fleeting, short ones as well). Or maybe it’s just that online dating makes it really easy to be closed off in many ways. But now that I have what feels like a real, genuinely generous partner in life, I simply can’t get enough – and I try to be just as generous with my love.

Still, I can’t help but to keep asking myself over and over and over again: Why was it SO EFFING HARD for me to accept this man’s generosity? And why did I never learn to demand it for myself before?

After all, don’t we *all* deserve someone who’s going to be incredibly kind and loving and GENEROUS to us? I’d like to think so…

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How early is it TOO EARLY to travel in a (fairly new) relationship?

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After dating for just over two months, Adam and I made a pretty monumental decision: we sent in our applications to get our passports renewed.

You see, mine was due to expire and his had already been expired. I can’t quire remember exactly when in our relationship we had initially talked about it, but by the time we got there it seemed like the most natural thing. So one Saturday a couple of weeks ago, we went to the local CVS to take our passport photos. I had already filled out both applications, we signed them and away they went!

I cheered today as I realized that the government had cashed my check – it means that the passports are on their way to being processed and soon we will be able to travel internationally together.

When talking with some friends about it all, I realized that this might be deemed as “too soon” by some people’s standards.

Inevitably, the question comes up: how early is simply TOO EARLY to travel with a significant other?

How long should two people be dating before they can take a trip together? How serious do they need to be before spending a significant amount of time together somewhere new, possibly somewhere that they simply can’t escape from each other?

For Adam and I, it didn’t take very long.

While we’re about to get our passports and are planning an out-of-the-country trip, the truth of the matter is that we took our first mini-vacation about two and a half weeks into our relationship. It was a mid-week trip that was about the equivalent of spending the weekend together. We drove to a new city, rented a hotel and spent a couple days exploring before ultimately going home.

It might sound like an incredible leap of faith to go somewhere new with someone I barely knew, but I had no doubts that I was making the right decision at the time. In fact, it was on that trip that we decided to officially commit to each other (“Are we boyfriend and girlfriend now?”) and it was a HUGE step in us falling in love.

That trip holds a really special place in both of our hearts, but I know that some people said “WHAT?!” in their heads when they heard that I was going away with the boy I was dating less than a month.

I’m sure those same people would also be shocked to know that we’re soon taking a week off with my parents, spending a week in New York City with all of my friends in two months and then another week in Chicago meeting all of his family and friends for Christmas. You know, NBD – NOT!

But the biggest shocker of it all might be that international trip we’re planning at the end of November. A trip that comes in just under 7 months of dating and includes a wedding in an exotic location.

To be honest, I probably would have been one of those people right now, judging my relationship and wondering if it was moving “too fast” and whether committing to travel plans well beyond how long we’ve been together is a bad idea. In fact, I can remember not even a few months ago telling a friend that the general consensus of advice seems to be that you should never plan a trip further ahead than the months you’ve been together.

Yet here I am, not even at the three month mark, and already planning how we’re going to spend our seventh, eighth and maybe tenth month anniversary. In fact, we might even have half-seriously joked about where we’re going on our one year anniversary.

Yes, I know this might sound crazy. But the more and more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s just exactly our kind of crazy.

Ultimately, nobody can tell me what’s right in my relationship except me and my partner.

As they say, nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors. It may be a cliche, but it’s been said over and over for a reason. And to be honest, I’ve never been a huge believer in normalcy anyway.

While the slightly more rational person in the back of my mind might be cautioning me a little right now, I know that in my relationship, we are far past the “is this too soon?” stage. Every step we have taken has been miles ahead of what someone else might expect. But that doesn’t make it wrong or weird or speedy. It makes it part of what makes me and Adam an “us.”

As I look at the leftover passport photos and giggle about what kind of new bathing suit I’ll be buying for our November trip, I sure as heck know one thing: it’s not too early for us.

In fact, it feels like we’ve been waiting for this for a LONG time.

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My life turned into a rom-com cliché and I’m okay with it

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I have a confession to make.

Just over two months ago, I was single AF.

Like seriously… I haven’t been in a serious relationship since 2011. Not for a lack of trying, necessarily, but it just hasn’t been in the cards for me lately. I’ve dated – a LOT, in fact – but with a few notable exceptions, I haven’t really found anyone that I wanted to spend more than a couple of evenings with.

The guys were always pleasant enough. Unlike most of my fellow single females in New York City, I never had any insane dating stories. I always joked that it was because I had an amazing screening system (mainly my ability get a good sense of people from an online conversation, I guess?) and am the luckiest girl on the planet.

No, seriously. Really, really lucky that I haven’t run into anyone that made me pay on the first date, suggested something totally disgusting or who just was horribly awkward or boring AF. Instead, my dating life was pretty average.

The journalist in me could always keep a first date going for hours. In fact, I half suspect that several of the guys I’ve gone out with in the past were fairly disappointed when I declined their invitation for a second or third date. But I liked learning about people, and always had a pleasant time – perhaps something that ultimately gave some people the wrong impression of my true interest in them.

But anyway. Dating was fine. Nothing special, and frequently frustrating, but ultimately just fine.

And then I moved back to Southwest Florida, where I grew up, at the end of April. It was a little bit of an unexpected move at the time, but something that I needed after 12 years of living in NYC and five years of being single and kinda hating it more every year.

In fact, I had taken a dating hiatus through a large part of 2015 and, after “getting back out there” in October and November, decided to take another one in December. So when I packed my bags into the back of a van and drove the 1,250 miles back home, I didn’t exactly have very high expectations for a social life.

My plan in coming here was to take a year “off” to find myself again, to focus on some personal writing projects and to just figure out exactly what my next steps in life would be. And, because I only have a couple of friends here and no other semblance of the kind of life I was used to leading, I decided to get back out there on the dating scene after my five month break.

I had pretty low expectations, to be honest. Dating in NYC was its own very special kind of crazy, but I was used to it. I was used to the endless texting before setting up a date, I was used to the “let’s get drinks” question and then taking a week to coordinate our schedules, I was used to meeting emotionally unavailable men (my specialty) and I was used to coming out of a date feeling like the guy was “too nice” but just not for me.

It was frustrating, but it was familiar.

And then I met Adam.

When I say that I “went back out there” upon moving back to Florida, I mean that it really didn’t take very long. I officially arrived back on a Friday and, by the next Tuesday, I had reactivated all of my online dating profiles: OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble. After all, how else do young people meet other young people these days?

Adam was one of the first people that I swiped right with on Bumble (cause Tinder sucks, just as it did in NYC, and OKC took too much time). Immediately, I liked him. He was cute, a little nerdy and just my type – even had an adorable photo of his dog as part of his profile. So I started a conversation asking about Moose (what I learned his pup’s name was), and from there it went.

We switched to texting not long after, and on Saturday, I was meeting him for an afternoon coffee. Just a week after moving down here, I was going on my first date in Florida and my first date in months.

The date lasted four hours, followed by just as great of a second date and then a third date that lasted another seven hours and ended (finally!) in a kiss.

I. was. HOOKED.

Flash forward to two months later, and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world more than ever. Adam turned out to be absolutely everything that I had ever been looking for in another human being, in a boyfriend, in a partner-in-crime for life.

He is generous when I don’t feel I deserve it, he is kind when I feel like I am being needy and he is sweet on a daily basis.

The love and support he has shown me in these last couple of months has been far beyond my wildest dreams. Really.

When I dreamed of the kind of relationship that I wanted, I couldn’t have dreamed that it would EVER be this amazingly wonderful. When I saw friends enter into happy unions and wanted the same for myself, I never thought that I would get it in spades and then some. When I thought about what I hoped my future love would have in terms of physical, mental and emotional qualities, I never ever imagined that I would find exactly what I always wanted. And more than that, I could have never planned to meet the literal man of my dreams in freaking SOUTHWEST FLORIDA.

I say that with incredulous shock primarily because neither of us fits in very well down here. First of all, we’re not old or Republicans (hah! quite the opposite, in fact). Secondly, neither of us enjoys the various outdoor (and indoor) activities that are popular down here. And with the exception of him loving the weather down here and me preferring the four seasons, we seem to have more in common than is probably realistically possible.

And that’s how I realized that I ended up in what must be some sort of rom-com cliché movie: the girl that moves back in with her parents to “find herself” only to find the love of her life instead.

But that’s exactly what happened.

So here I am, a mere two months into a relationship, and already planning far ahead into the future. I find myself almost rolling my eyes as I think “you find it when you least expect it” and “when you know, you know.” Yet that’s how my story went, and I couldn’t possibly be happier that it did.

The best part? My new love feels just like I do. For the first time in my entire LIFE, in fact, I don’t have to guess if he cares for me. I don’t have to fight for him to devote time for me over his friends (thank you, boyfriend #1 for that trauma) because he prioritizes the “us” as much as I do. I don’t have to live with the knowledge that he’s going to eventually leave me to move somewhere else or isn’t ready for something long lasting (oh, boyfriend #2, you messed up fool) because we talk about our future all the damn time.

And I mean that. It’s our future. It’s my future, and his future, and what we both want – and what we want together on top of it all.

It feels wonderful.

It’s nice waking up with him and knowing that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Hopefully never, if I have any kind of say in it (and I do). It’s nice feeling comforted and loved and supported in everything that I do. In fact, as I write this, he’s just made me tea and given me some breakfast. Now he’s patiently keeping himself busy until I finish my daily writing for the day so that we can get lunch and go on with all the other things we had planned to do today.

Because, for the first time ever, I realize that a great relationship isn’t about second guessing myself or wondering if he loves me as much as I love him. I know that he loves me just as much as I crazy love him. And with his love and support, I feel stronger.

So much for my “finding myself” year, huh?

When I set out to figure out my next steps in life, I never thought that my next steps would involve building a life with the amazing person I was meant to meet in the unlikeliest of places.

But let me tell you… It’s much more fun this way.

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