Sixteen years ago, my husband and I went on our first date. We couldn’t have known that evening that we were both also partaking in our last first dates. And yet, here we are. Sixteen years. Three babes. And a whole mess of beautiful life between us. 

A few years ago, in honor of our “date-a-versary” as we’ve coined it, I wrote about all of the things I couldn’t have known. About how I couldn’t have known when we were 19 and 21 that he would be such an outstanding father. I couldn’t have known that he would truly be the one who was going to be there and stick around and so-much-more-than-just-stick-around in sickness and in health. I couldn’t have known all of the future we would go through—together. 

But on December 14, 2001, I started dating the man who became my husband. And given all of the advice out there, I figured we’d be dating for the rest of our collective life. Because that is what you are supposed to do, right? Date your spouse. 

But the truth is, I quit dating my husband. 

Dating is amazing. When you’re in it, or if you’re in that stage right now, there’s a loveliness to it. 

Dating, while sometimes blissful and romantical and exciting, is also a total mindscrew, often times filled with questioning what the future looks like, and often times, having your own room to retreat to. Dating sometimes means spending holidays apart. It can mean that you are not totally sure if the other person is in it to win it. It can mean feeling like you always need to say the exact right thing. Like you need to constantly wear deodorant. Like showering is a must. It can mean that if the going gets tough, one of you might get going. And it can mean that you always have an easier out. Dating, at times, can feel scary. 

And I can definitely say, my husband and I are not in that stage anymore.

We know each other, perhaps, better than each of us know ourselves. At this point, my husband and I have been through the highest of the highs—babies, degrees, career success, vacations, and going to Costco together. But we’ve also been through the dark times hand-in-hand—losing loved ones, losing a pregancy, postpartum hormones, financial burdens, three premature infants, one in the NICU, cancer, and trying to figure out where the freak all the socks go. We are not dating anymore. 

It took us several years to get to this. And the realer life got, I think, the further we floated from the safe shore of dating. The point where, if you want off the boat, you are welcome to get off without much issue. But after knowing each other for 16 years, we are no longer in the stage of rainbows and unicorns. 

This might read as a cautionary tale, something like, “Don’t get into a life with someone.” It might sound like my husband and I have lost the romance and the spark. And it might sound like I’m bitter. 

But truly, I’m better. I’m a better person because I stopped dating. Because when I was in the dating world, I constantly held back who I really was. I was critical of every part of myself. I often placed my value on who I was with or how much he seemed to like me. I just wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. 

But now, I know that I’ve come into my own person who I love and adore. While going along beside a person I love and adore. 

It was when I realized that I was not looking for another person to complete me . . . I was looking for the person with whom I could be completely me. One who welcomed my strengths with praise and my weaknesses with help. One who would know that I am going to have bad days and so will he but at the end of those days, we will still have the other . . . even if we were totally at our worst. One who I know loves me through ages and stages. One who loves and respects me for being my own woman instead of forcing me to be his. It was then I realized that marriage is not just a hubba-hubba-hot-n-heavy soap opera—it’s a mutual bond full of love, respect, and the commitment to gift that person your poop should they need it.

This man that I am in-step with, he has seen me push children out of the parts of me that were once purely sexual. He has seen me go from full-voluminous hair to bald. He has held my hand as they wheeled me back for a ten-hour surgery. And he has sat in front of me and listened as I struggled postpartum. We’ve made memories together watching our children take their first steps, we have celebrated as our parents have remained healthy, and we have become a piece of each other’s stories. I am more of myself now than I have ever been and I can only hope he feels the same with me. 

Our last first date was truly the best decision I’ve ever made. And I so loved getting to date. And then be engaged. And then get married. Each step along the way has been better than I deserve. I can’t imagine how life would be today without this perfect-for-me man to do life with. But we’re done dating. We’re to the point of belonging to life together. And there’s a true comfort in that.

Yes. We still go on dates. We still kiss (and stuff) and flirt and dance. Oh, do we dance. We still laugh. And laugh. And laugh. And we still are in as much love as our love gets. We still roll our eyes at one another. On occasion, we find each other highly irritating. We have friendly arguments over loading the dishwasher. We parent together. We support each other in our endeavors and encourage each others’ personal growth. But we are done dating. Not because we don’t believe in romance—but because we do.

I love him more now than I ever could have known. I suppose that’s the beauty of starting it all out with dating; one day you’re just holding hands and hoping he feels the same way you do and then one day, all of a sudden, you see the person who you want to have a whole existence with. 

Tonight, we’ll eat a nice dinner at home with our boys. We’ll dance in the kitchen. And we’ll probably do a little cuddling. And while it’s not wildly different than our first date of eating dinner (at Macaroni Grill) and watching a movie, we are two very different people now than we were then.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Ashli Brehm

Ashli Brehm = Thirtysomething. Nebraska gal. Life blogger. Husker fan. Creative writer. Phi Mu sister. Breast cancer survivor. Boymom. Premie carrier. Happy wife. Gilmore Girls fanatic. Amos Lee listener. Coffee & La Croix drinker. Sarcasm user. Jesus follower. Slipper wearer. Funlover. Candle smeller. Yoga doer. Pinterest failer. Anne Lamott reader. Tribe member. Goodness believer. Life enthusiast. Follow me at http://babyonthebrehm.com/