Good-bye Girl, was the name of the movie Jim and I watched on our first date—a moniker I could have worn myself.
I’d strung the elastic string of a candy necklace with crushes, adding and subtracting infatuations on a weekly basis. My affections were sweet, shallow, and disappeared quickly on the tongue. Inside, trust and daddy issues jostled with fear, poor self-esteem, and a bunch of their friends.
Yesterday I stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, surveying the vastness and artistry. Terror of tripping into the chasm shivered in my chest the way it always does. And I thought how similar falling in love had appeared to me—an achingly beautiful abyss. I fell into loving my father before I was old enough to be frightened and my heart had fractured on the sharp edges of Dad’s canyons and cutbacks. I’d cobbled myself back together the best I could. I knew a second careen over the cliff could shatter me.
After the movie I didn’t think too much about Jim. My brain was stuffed with other things, another guy. Jim, however, went home and wrote me—the writer—a funny, sweet letter.
The date with the other guy fizzled. I read Jim’s note he’d scrawled across a sheet of notebook paper and tucked into my dorm mailbox. I smiled and stayed clueless.
But our second date—to the Yellow Deli—cleared my vision, much like the first pair of glasses I got that fall. Now I could see that I’d been drawn to Jim all semester. After I spied his girlfriend with my new corrective lenses, my interest curled toward romance. Then there had been flirting, apologizing for flirting, emotional and spiritual bonding. And now I was crazy about Jim, so awash in a cache of endorphins that I lost my toothbrush.
On Valentine’s eve a week later, Jim wrote again, telling me how much he was looking forward to our first Valentine’s Day. He showed up with a card, roses, and a Bible in which he penned, “Whether we spend our lives together or apart…”
My card to him said, “Already I care more for you than anyone I’ve ever known… I look forward to comfortably settling into “us” instead of you and me.”
And still, no kiss. I didn’t think too much about it. He was a seminary student after all.
His reticence, Jim told me later, hadn’t been piety, but fear of coming on too strong. He was a guy whose feet were rooted to the ground, reaching for a girl ten rungs up the hotness ladder.
I thought Jim was the one bending back down the ladder for me. I hadn’t sprung from churchy folk like Jim had. My dad embellished. He didn’t exactly lie. He told people he’d married an “older woman.” My parents were born three months apart. Since I usually possessed the facts, I noticed every time Dad’s truth stretched like my elastic string of boys.
The cord of Jim’s truth, however, held no play. He was the same guy when he was speaking to a group about Jesus as he was out of the limelight. His intellect, spiritual maturity, and innate ability to lead cemented him high on my ladder of appreciation.
Some girls are attracted to bad boys and I understand the draw. I spent a summer dodging eye contact with the carload of hotties Father McSweeny shanghaied to camp. But at my core I needed safety. Mike Smith—the only other boyfriend of any duration—had felt safe because he was 16 to my 18.
At 21 I instinctively sensed I was safe with Jim. His devotion was passionate and solid. He was all in with Jesus and with me.
I basked in the next couple weeks of hand-holding, his arm around my shoulders that made my skin feel alive under all those layers of clothes. Was Jim The One? How was I supposed to know whether this guy—despite the over-the-top toothbrush incident—would last any longer than the others?
February is a short month, but it stretched out long as a cat on a register. Five official dates and dozens of hours of non-dates… and Jim hadn’t kissed me. I was intrigued. Curious. Maybe a little eager. I spent the last eight years slipping behind the screen door before a guy could pucker up, reading aloud the definition of prude, living by Mom’s golden rule—never kiss a guy you don’t want to kiss.
But I wanted to kiss this one.
Near the end of February, I turned the key in my door, stomping my Dingos and two pairs of socks to let in some warmth. Jim hovered at my elbow, smelling like soap and snow. Catholic guys kissed. Maybe Protestants had different rules. Jim followed me into my room, and the door swung nearly shut.
I turned around to say good-night.
Jim stepped into my personal space.
I stared at his winter-pinked cheeks, mussed hair the color of pennies. I liked what I saw. I liked the caffeinated feel of his presence. I liked him.
His warm gaze, zeroed in on me as though he could see all my issues and didn’t care. Bring ‘em on, his eyes seemed to say, as he cupped my face in his hands, and leaned in for the Goldilocks of kisses—not too short or long, tentative or firm.
Jim didn’t know, nor did I—except in hindsight—but that kiss sealed our future.
Without our noticing, God had moved Jim around the chessboard of my life—dodging the rooks and bishops and knights of my issues—winning every part of me, last my physical affection. Kissing had been the harbinger of the end with my handful of boyfriends. They kissed me without earning my trust or heart. This wouldn’t have been a problem for healthy girls and even for a lot of damaged girls. But it was for this girl.
God had set out to fix all the things Dad had broken and Jim would be the person He’d most often use.
I’m so glad Jim’s ridiculous—in his opinion—hope of landing the girl of his dreams gave him the courage to pursue me. I’ve been loved unconditionally, cherished, freed to fulfill my potential. And I have loved him in return with my whole heart.