Sunday, June 14, 2009

When Gene Met Grayson...A True Love Story

Our remarkable love story begins in February 2002 in Austin, Texas. My girlfriend, Susie, had asked me if I would find out about the LDS singles’ activities and attend some of the functions with her. She was newly divorced and needed a sidekick to help her learn to re-socialize with members of the opposite sex. Considering I was an expert at meeting men, I gladly obliged.

The first function we attended was the Willow City Loop Bluebonnet Tour.

There were only 7 or 8 of us, who showed up for the activity. I was dating someone at the time, so I didn’t have my Man-Antenna up. Gene, pictured to the far left, wasn’t terribly impressed with me (2nd from the right). He enjoyed talking to me, but thought I was stuck-up.

The second time we encountered each other was at a Single Adult Break-the-Fast Potluck Dinner. Gene asked if I would be interested in going out with him and I said yes. He took me to an indoor football game. Not exactly my idea of a romantic first date, but he had front row seats and the game was very exciting. We talked in the parking lot afterwards for quite awhile, and as we shared some of our past experiences, I got the impression that Gene was still pining after an old flame. I felt relieved, because I was just looking for friends to go out with. I was still in love with my boyfriend who lived in Utah.

Later that night, on his way home, having felt unexpectedly attracted to me, Gene called me from his cell phone. He asked if I’d experienced any stomach problems from eating the nachos at the game. He explained that after dropping me off, he had prayed to Heavenly Father about whether I was “the one”. He immediately felt sick to his stomach and had to pull the car over and vomit. Hearing that I hadn’t felt ill, Gene said he took this as “a sign”.

What?! A sign?!! I pretty much turned my ears off at that point. I was still alarmed that he’d prayed about me, much less that he’d vomited in response. I decided to nip this nonsense in the bud and told Gene that I just wanted to be friends and wasn’t interested in romantically dating him. I didn’t even give him a chance to explain that his interpretation of the “sign” was a “no” or "not now" answer from God.

I didn’t hear from Gene for a few months. I figured he’d been pretty upset with me. I mean, after all, telling a man you just want to be friends is usually interpreted to be the kiss of death for anyone with romantic intentions. Gene finally came to terms with his feelings for me and concluded he would like to remain friends.

From that point on, Gene and I enjoyed a wonderful friendship. We met every other week or so in search of the best burger in Austin. The conversation was always stimulating, and although I never thought we found the perfect burger, I did find a perfect friend. We went out to various cultural events over the next couple of years, always as “friends”, and I began to see how varied Gene’s interests were. He enlightened my mind about spiritual topics, motivating me to do more independent study of the scriptures, as well as broadening my life experiences by taking me to wonderful events, such as the Cirque du Soleil, “Greater Tuna”, a Chicago concert, IMAX movies, museums and more.

A few of my girlfriends commented that they could tell Gene loved me. “I know” was my reply, “but, he’s just not my type.” Of course he wasn’t my type. Gene would never leave me or divorce me or mistreat me. He would never dishonor me or be unfaithful. Gene would never disrespect me. This was a revelation I would come to much later in our relationship.

Gene and I had a special connection – a spiritual connection, I’d say. There I was, sitting at home, the day after surgery, and my phone rang. It was Gene. He said he’d felt prompted to call me, and wanted to know if there was something wrong. How uncanny, I thought. While that same sort of thing happened a few more times, I still didn’t give it much weight until a few years later.

I met a man from Plano, TX on the Internet, and I married him after dating for a year. I had even introduced Gene and a few of my other friends to my fiancĂ© before we married. While Gene was disappointed not only that I hadn’t picked him, but in my poor choice of men, he wanted my happiness more than anything else. I invited Gene to our wedding reception in Plano and he attended, along with several other single friends from Austin.

Within six months, my marriage fell apart. I’d discovered that my husband had been seeing other women and was on 19 singles websites. I was crushed and depressed. My husband had moved out and filed for divorce. I was unemployed and unable to will myself out of bed to face the day.

One morning, my phone rang. It was Gene. He said, “I have felt strongly the past three days that I should call you, but I kept resisting because you are a married woman. I felt the prompting again today. Is there anything wrong, Grayson?” I burst into tears, regurgitating all the ugliness of my discovery. Gene didn’t judge me. He didn’t say “I told you so.” He just listened. And, that is what I needed.

Gene called me every morning and every night for two months. He counseled me about forgiveness and shared wonderful scriptures with me that helped me learn those lessons I needed to take away from that painful experience of divorce. He pointed me to the Savior. He shared his own painful experiences. He made me laugh when I didn’t feel like laughing. But, most of all, he showed me what real friendship is. I didn’t have to go through that pain alone. He helped me carry my burden.

At one point, I thought I would like to give our relationship another romantic chance. I invited Gene to visit me in Plano, which he did, and we had a delightful visit, touring Fort Worth. But, Gene had me on a pedestal, and I was uncomfortable being in that position.

I pursued other suitors and met a man from Martha’s Vineyard Island, who I dated and married the following year. Again, Gene, although disappointed in my decision, was happy for me, hoping I had found true love. And, again, I chose poorly. At one point during my marriage, Gene sent me an e-mail, later saying he’d felt prompted to contact me, but was uncomfortable doing so since I was married. This time, I responded that all was well. But, all wasn’t well. Especially not for my husband, who ended up divorcing me after only 9 months of marriage.

Broken-hearted and mentally bankrupt, I returned to Texas to regain my footing and heal from the hurt. I spent a year in psychotherapy with a wonderful woman, who helped me understand the reasons for my poor choices in men. I learned a great deal about myself. Using the lessons I had been taught by Gene about forgiveness, I set about letting go of the pain and resentment I carried for my husband. In time, I was able to let go and forgive.

It was during this time that I experienced some of my most profound spiritual progress. I immersed myself in the Scriptures. I studied about marriage, forgiveness, eternal life, the gifts of the Spirit, and more. I felt such a calm sense of peace and love come over me. I knew my Heavenly Father and my Savior, Jesus Christ, were close and loved me. I began to feel healed.

Although I had been searching for a job since my return to Texas, I began more earnestly to find a job in Austin, Texas, to be nearer to my son and other family members. I felt the need to contact Gene again, to let him know of my return. I desired to talk with him and renew our friendship. However, it was a few weeks before I mustered up the courage to e-mail him. I had failed again, and didn’t know if Gene would even be willing to befriend me once more. I worried that Gene might even be married or dating someone seriously, which would not have surprised me.

Gene replied with a short e-mail, and we e-mailed back and forth a bit. But, it was two months after our first e-mail before we spoke on the phone. I knew something had changed. He was still that wonderful friend, but he was calmer. I didn’t hear excitement in his voice. I asked Gene if he was still playing softball, and he invited me to a game that following month, in September.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I most certainly didn’t expect to feel attracted to Gene romantically. After all, I never really had before. What would’ve changed? Yet, I was undeniably attracted. I thought my life with men was over, but here was my friend, Gene, just as calm and confident and handsome as I had never seen him before. What was wrong with me? I enjoyed his softball game immensely and joined Gene and some of his teammates for lunch afterwards before heading back to the Ranch.

The next week, another reason to visit Austin presented itself and I called Gene to let him know I was in town. He invited me to the movies, and so I joined him. While the movie wasn’t all that great, being near Gene was. Something had definitely changed. I couldn’t put my finger on it at that moment. We spoke in the parking lot for a while and when Gene asked me a question about my failed marriage, I began to cry. He put his arm around me from the side and let me keep talking, as he stroked the back of my head. It was not romantic or forward. It was a genuine, loving gesture, one that a real friend would make towards another.

Returning to my psychologist, Pam Bailey, that week, I expounded on all my confusing feelings and desires. I explained my past relationship with Gene, and Pam smiled and listened. I told her that I just couldn’t understand why I was feeling such attraction to Gene for the very first time in our relationship. She pondered out loud that I’d spent a great deal of time learning about the unhealthy patterns of my past relationships, and perhaps I’d just recognized a really good man. She speculated that Gene had placed me on a pedestal, and when I disappointed him by marrying someone else the last time, he’d taken me down off that high point. The conclusion rang true inside me. I asked Pam what I should do, and she wisely stated that time would provide me with my answers.

After several more enjoyable outings with Gene, which usually included our resident chaperone and dear friend, Bobby. I finally asked if I could speak to Gene alone. I told Gene how I’d been feeling, and asked him whether he might consider “dating” me again. He confirmed that he had taken me off the pedestal, and we shared how we’d miscommunicated in the past or not provided valuable feedback that might’ve taken our relationship in a different direction. He told me we could try it again, but I needed to understand that he was dating other women. I was elated that the bridge between us was still intact.

It was almost as though I knew where our relationship would take us. I felt such overwhelming gratitude for Gene’s forgiveness, his friendship, his acceptance and tolerance of my past actions, and I felt gratitude to the Lord for allowing my path to cross Gene’s again. My moment of clarity came as I realized I wanted this gratitude, this feeling about this wonderful man, my friend, Gene, to never end.

A week or two later, Gene asked what I thought about him dating me exclusively. The words would not come, so I reached over and kissed him. It was our first kiss. Because I’d had so many candid discussions with Gene over the years, I knew that kissing, for Gene, did not necessarily have serious meaning behind it. While he had been discerning in his past, he was, after all, a man. And as we all know, men like to kiss women. But, his kisses were sweet and tender and loving. To me, they expressed all those feelings I had inside for Gene, and somehow, I knew he was showing me how much he loved me, by letting me get close again.

Our conversations deepened as we began to share those secret thoughts we’d had about each other over the years. And, my love for Gene blossomed. I had loved Gene as my friend for years. But, now I felt something new, something unexpected and exciting – a romantic love. All the pain and suffering, as a result of my own poor choices, had humbled me and brought me to this point. I had learned so much about myself and what I wanted and didn’t want in my life. This man before me was someone I wanted in my life, for as long as he would stay.

So, one afternoon after another fabulous discussion on the front porch of Gene’s house, Gene asked me a probing question, whether I might ever consider marrying him sometime in the future. The answer, while not a direct yes or no, rolled right out of my mouth. “I love you, Gene.” And, Gene replied, “I’ve always loved you, Grayson.”

In March, Gene and I joined my parents and my brother’s family in Rockport, TX for a relaxing weekend in my aunt’s gorgeous vacation home. We were there for Oyster Fest, and it warmed my heart to see how easily Gene fit into my family. My dad acted like he’d found a new best friend, and the two of them got along famously. My father gave Gene a hug before we left and later told me Gene was the first man I’d brought home that he liked. Having my father’s approval, while not necessary, meant so much to me.

Just years ago I could’ve had the kind of man I always dreamed about. In my journal entry, dated October 14, 2008, I wrote,
“…My telephone discussion tonight with Gene was inspiring and encouraging. Gene said he’s always known that he has everything I need, but that when we first met, I might not have everything he needed. He was right. I had to traverse a number of unsatisfying, unhealthy relationships before I suddenly hit my head,like “I could’ve had a V-8!” and realized that Gene has been there all along. He has always loved me….We are equals. He says I’m the only woman he’s dated that he ever felt that way about. He says I inspire and motivate him, which he also does for me. He’s always taught me things which enrich me, as well as the spiritual connection we have. He has always followed through on promptings,calling me when I needed to be called. By doing so, I know that my Heavenly Father loves me and is aware of me….Tonight, Gene also said something else ofgreat interest. He said he’s always felt a desire to take care of me, to nurture me and help me. And, how often have I desired that kind of love? All my life. Six years of knowing this man, and I never really allowed our relationship to progress further than friendship. Yet, it’s good. It’s good to finally be able to see who he is, and to be attracted to this healthy man.”

Regretting the past won’t change it, but it’s only human to look back and think of the time we could’ve had together. After his Memorial Day visit to the Ranch, Gene made a funny comment. My mother is an outstanding cook, and had prepared a delicious barbequed brisket, a fresh squash medley and corn-on-the cob. It was, by far, the tastiest, most tender brisket I had ever eaten. Later, Gene commented, “I just realized I could’ve been eating your mother’s cooking for the past seven years!” He acted mad for just a moment to stress his point, and then he laughed.

What Gene and I both understand clearly is that it took every moment of the past seven years to bring us together. There were things I needed to learn. Paths of people I needed to cross. Sharp edges that needed smoothing. Healing that had to take place. Gene, too, had his own set of personal hurdles to overcome.

I am just so grateful that the scales fell away from my eyes, and I finally was able to “see” Gene with a new pair of eyes. We need each other. We love each other. We deserve each other, and together, we will accomplish all the Lord has in store for us.

Deserve Each Other, Y’all!

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