“‘If I ever date again he will be at least 30 years old and a single dad.’ I was 26 when I made that decision after walking away from a six-year marriage.
I was (am) young, but we had lived SO MUCH life in those six years together. With adopting while pregnant, walking through multiple miscarriages, career changes, across-state move, foster care, and hidden marriage dysfunction…I was wrapping up my 26th year as a divorced woman with a lot of trauma.
‘If I find a man who can match my high intensity, who can meet me in the intense spaces my mind and soul travel through, then he must also have been through some stuff. I don’t want someone brand new; I want to build a life with someone who is also being rebuilt from wreckage.’ I knew IF that happened there would be layers and layers to wade through and weave together, taking a lot of work. But I believed it would be worth it.
Then I met Kevin. And I met Kevin at the wrong time, by all the boxes and standards and timelines we give ourselves and each other. Though over the months, I’m beginning to believe I met him at just the right time.
I stood there in the wireless phone store appearing to look at my options phone-wise when really I was just maneuvering my body around so I could look at him. He was charming the older couple he was working with, and he knew it, but he was also charming me from across the store.
While I waited for the employee working with me bring the box out, Kevin approached me to ask why in the world I was switching from iPhone to Android. ‘The cameras are much better on these pixel phones,’ I said confidently.
He shook his head, pulled out his iPhone, turned the camera into selfie mode and said, ‘Come here, this camera works just fine. Let me show you.’
I felt my cheeks flush red and asked if he takes selfies with everyone in the store. ‘I’m not much of a selfie person,’ he said. I retorted, ‘Uh-huh, that didn’t quite answer my question.’
‘You look familiar, where do I know you from?,’ he asked, taking me all in.
I smirked, ‘Ya, you look familiar too.’
He begins listing off all the ways we could know each other, none of them ringing bells. He mentions living an hour out of town and my eyebrows raise, ‘What? Why?’
‘I have three acres, I’m a country boy, I like my space.’
Having grown up in a small town with country boys I sort of felt taken aback. He didn’t fit the mold for a country boy, with his giant diamond earrings and silver chain dangling around his neck. ‘Do you have some kids to run around on that land?’ I threw it out there hoping he’d say yes.
‘Oh ya—’ and then I was called over by the wireless employee I was working with.
My heart raced. ‘He has kids,’ and then, ‘It’s not the right time.’
I walk over to the counter and am the last customer of the day, surrounded by 8 or so wireless employees. By this point every employee is wondering why I’m switching away from iPhone. By the end of the whole situation I walk out of the store with an iPhone, wondering if I should have written my number down on a sticky note for that man or what. I had never handed a man my number without prompting, but this man seemed like one I’d want to risk embarrassment for.
Within the next hour he broke all the rules and risked his job and snagged my number from the system to text me. Lucky him, I was thrilled and didn’t tell on him (until now I guess).
The first two months of what I’ll call ‘our relationship’ was us going to lunch dates and talking about how it’s the wrong time, how we are both a big wreck, how we can’t handle more heartbreak.
‘I cannot introduce you to my kids until I know. They’ll love you immediately, and attach to you, you’re amazing! And I can’t break their hearts too, if we don’t work out.’
I knew meeting his kids, ages 7 and 9, would be a big deal for us all and I wasn’t sure I was even ready. Never did I pressure him to introduce me to his kids, I trusted that when he felt it was the right time, that it would be the right time, and I’d somehow be ready.
Even after we officially began dating-dating, I was fine with waiting to meet them. Of course I wanted to! But I too felt terrified and didn’t want to mess this up.
Then one day he asked me if I’d want to come spend time with him and his boys; he was getting a hotel suite for the weekend in town so they could go swimming. Did I want to come meet them?
‘Are you sure?,’ I asked, really not wanting to put pressure on him. We both knew it was early, we both knew that we didn’t know while feeling like we did know, but not wanting to be stupid.
‘I wouldn’t ask you if I wasn’t sure.’ I knew he was right. Kevin doesn’t fluff.
‘Then…yes! Of course!’ I’m good at being me so I knew these kids would feel (emotionally) safe around me rather quickly. I also knew that I wasn’t some weird replacement for their mom and never would be, and there wasn’t a ton of pressure to like me. I felt confident in who I am and figured they WOULD like me, but I wasn’t about to try to be someone I wasn’t.
The plan was made: while he drove the hour from Portland to where he lived, I’d hang in their suite and work on photos I needed to edit. While I waited, my mind raced thinking through all the things we didn’t talk about or plan. What was he going to refer to me as? How was he explaining me to them? Did their mom know I was spending the weekend with them too? Do I hug them? How much space do I give them? Do I spend all the time with them or retreat away so they have alone time without me and my awkward self? I’m kinda weird, am I too weird? Why did we not talk about all of this? I was suddenly anxious.
I heard the door open.
‘Natalie,’ Kevin called out, ‘Come on up here.’
I closed my computer down, breathed in deeply, and felt the jitters run through my body. More than anything, I wanted these boys to not feel awkward. I didn’t want them to think I thought I was coming in and taking over; I knew I wasn’t their mom and I would never think I’m replacing her. I didn’t want them to think they had to like me right away. I didn’t want them to feel pressure at all; it’s gotta be a whole thing emotionally to meet your dad’s new lady, the one he likes enough to introduce to his big boys.
I walked out of the back room, smiling. ‘Hey guys!’
Kevin formerly introduced us, ‘Boys, this is Natalie. Natalie, this is Jalen and Jordan.’ I went in for a handshake and they embraced me with a hug. That first night was low key, they set up their video games and I sat on the couch laughing at the insults they threw back and forth.
One of his sons and I became buddies immediately while the other was shy at first. Once we hit the pool the next day and threw each other around, played chicken, and they dunked me under…we all got a lot more comfortable through laughter.
Within a week or two they were both running up to me for hugs hello and big squeezes goodbye. We have spent time at the park, splash pads, bowling, in my yard, pillow fighting, eating on the lawn… the summer had just begun and my heart could burst at the way it was going.
My two boys and his two boys all get along, the bigs help the littles, and it’s been beautiful.
About 6 weeks into us all spending a good chunk of time together, the four kids were playing in my living room while I was making dinner. I heard Kevin’s 9-year-old ask me from the front room, ‘So…are we a family?’
I paused and thought through what I should say. ‘Yea, I mean, we consider a lot of people family. Like the Causey’s, we call them brothers and cousins and auntie. And we love you guys like family too.’
He responds, ‘Well I love our family. My heart is so full of love for our family.’
I sucked in a deep breath, ‘Me too, J. Me too. It is a really special thing to have so much love in your heart it could burst. Don’t let go of that, ok?’
He nodded and hugged me right. I kissed his forehead.
I had said I wouldn’t introduce my boys to any man until after dating him for 6 months to a year; I had also said I wouldn’t actually date anyone until January 2020. Here I am.
Nothing in my journey so far has fit into timelines or boxes, I seem to be doing everything wrong, which makes me doubt the boxes should have ever existed because life feels so right.
I hope I don’t have to walk through another intense heartbreak. This last year burned everything my life was to the ground, and the darkest days lasted months into a year. But I am learning to believe that even if this ends in another big heart break, it’s all been worth the risk. It’s been healing and hopeful, redemptive in ways I didn’t expect, revealing to me that I am lovable in the ways I need to be loved.
So grateful for this family, unconventional and unofficial, but family all the same.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie Brenner of Portland, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook and her website. Learn more about her book here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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