Stories of Love: Riverbend is For Romance

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I didn’t want to do a long distance relationship, let alone date or marry a man in the military.

I was a 21-year-old college student having a great time enjoying that time of my life, open to potential relationship possibilities. But in the same town. Being 21, I was also thinking about the future and getting engaged, the life that I wanted for myself with someone else; where we would live, the little things that would make up our life together, having children, etc. I pictured this very predictable, but very sweet and simple life of getting married and settling down in the South, buying a little house, enjoying time with friends and attending the usual social events, doing Grove weekends in the fall and baseball weekends in the spring (I’m an Ole Miss alum, hotty toddy!), visiting with family (we’re all very close), being married a year and then having kids (2-4, depending on how we felt after two), and living in the same place. This little dream wasn’t exclusive; it could fit any actual outcome. But not the military life.

And what did I go and do? I dated a man in the military and had a long distance relationship with him for five years (some of which we were engaged and married for), and I married him, thus becoming a military spouse where my life played out exactly opposite of what I pictured!

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Riverbend 2008. The reason an Ole Miss girl doing summer sessions and looking for a fun weekend out of Oxford found herself in Chattanooga at the same time as a native boy found himself in town post-graduation from West Point and on a short leave before reporting to his first duty station of his commissioned Army career. A guy friend from Ole Miss, G, was home in Chattanooga for the summer and attended Riverbend every year with his buddies from high school, and invited me to come visit and go with him and his then-girlfriend and their group.

I’ll never forget the night I met Erich for the first time. I was running late getting into town and I hadn’t even changed my clothes (I was going to do that when I got to G’s house), so I was that person holding up the group! The group was at Chili’s to eat and get drinks, and then head downtown for Riverbend. I literally raced in, right past the group (as they saw me dash by), to the bathroom to change and touchup my makeup before even heading over to greet everyone and make intros to people I didn’t know, and Erich was one of those ones. It was quick, our first meeting, and we didn’t even particularly spend a lot of time getting to know one another and hang out that night. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a “love at first sight” encounter, but all through the weekend hanging out with him amongst the group, I remember thinking how fun he was, how kind and welcoming he was, how genuine he seemed, and yes, how attractive he was. We just had fun. I was intrigued.

I decided to go back to Chattanooga the next weekend for the last few nights of Riverbend. Best. Decision. EVER! That single decision completely changed the rest of my life and the journey that I would go on for the next eight years, up until today.

Driving to Chattanooga from Oxford, I was looking forward to him being there and part of the weekend plans. He was fun, a great guy to hang out with and one of those people that you just don’t quickly forget, as a romantic love interest or not. We paired off a lot more the second weekend, and it was apparent that there was definitely an attraction there between us. I was very reserved about showing that I was interested, while he did everything right. Perfect gentleman and the perfect balance of chasing after the girl but not being pushy or overwhelming.

As a girl in a time where dating can be hard and playing games the unfortunate theme, it felt really nice for a man to show his interest and want to get to know me so freely and easily. Nothing he did was dramatic or exceptional, it was all just so simple and natural. He made me feel special with courtesy, made my heart beat a little faster with the flirtation and the way that he was purposefully trying to pursue me, and made me look a second time at him again and again with just being himself.

Driving back to Oxford on Monday morning to get back for class, he texted me after getting my number from my friend and told me to call him if I needed to talk since I was leaving so early in the day. I don’t know if he thought I really would, but I so did! And we talked the entire way, all 4.5 hours back. And we talked and texted every day after that. A few weeks later on the 4th of July, I found myself back in Chattanooga for a big holiday lake weekend at his family’s lake house with all of his Chattanooga friends. I didn’t know what would happen between us that weekend, but I knew that I was excited to see him again! We literally had fireworks as our flirtation blossomed into a real summer whirlwind romance and from then on, our lives and our futures became forever intertwined.

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Now I bet you’re wondering about the military thing. The reality was frightening and the hardest part would be the separation. I never thought I would marry a man in uniform and be a military spouse, moving around. I didn’t seek it out or want to go down that path. A few months after we met, I tried to break things off. I say tried because while I did tell him honestly that I didn’t think I could do this (meaning the relationship), nothing actually changed between us. We didn’t have a title, but we still talked every day, still texted every day, still planned trips (because remember, we were long distance — me in school in Mississippi and him at his first duty station in Oklahoma).

I didn’t plan on dating a man in uniform, but I so couldn’t help falling in love with the man. And falling in love with the man and choosing to make a life with him was worth it all, every second spent apart, every obstacle, every hardship…Everything.

After 10.5 months of dating, he proposed on Easter Sunday at his family’s farm, just the two of us, with both of our families waiting for us! We tied the knot after a lengthy engagement of almost 2.5 years because of a deployment and while we could’ve gotten married before the deployment instead of waiting, he wanted us to plan our special day and experience it on our terms. So I waited and it was worth it. And I waited time and time again between visits while we were still long distance, across oceans when he posted to Germany and I had to wait to join him, through another deployment, through training rotations, long days and nights at work, and everything in between. And it was worth it.

After a very successful career in the active Army and a well-loved journey as a military family, my husband decided it was time to retire and transition into the civilian world. It was time to come home and plant roots. I never imagined that I would love our military life so much, but it was very bittersweet to leave it behind. Coming home has meant so much more after being gone and never knowing what our future would be like, and settling in Chattanooga has been a dream come true; our family and friends are here or very close by, we bought our first home, and our first baby is turning a year old on the 28th! Life is good.

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It’s been a crazy ride and nothing like I originally planned, but I wouldn’t change a thing! Love can’t be planned or fit into a perfect mold and neither can people. With loving him, I had to throw all my old ideas out the window and be open to the dynamics of a military relationship. And I did. He was and will always be worth it.

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