Sheikh and Courtney met in New York City in June 2009 and all summer they exchanged daily emails from work before meeting up and wandering the city together. Though now they are married and living together in Seattle, when they need to unwrap a thought, they still send each other an email. This is one of those emails Courtney wrote to him last week.
Sent: April 9, 2017 11:01 PM
The other day, you told me you thought we had chemistry. I agreed. We were on the couch and we had just put our daughter to bed. You had never said that to me before, at least in those words.
Remember in the first months of our relationship, in July, we went backpacking in the Finger Lakes? We had unloaded our things in an empty wooden lean-to and had scrambled down a ravine to the stream to fill our water bottles so we could make our dinner after a long day of hiking. We had both wandered a bit in our own direction, and suddenly dark menacing clouds rolled over the treetops, blocking the end of day sun. The woods around us became invisible in the black darkness and I could barely see my own hands. The clouds unleashed a pummel of freezing rain, and I was immediately drenched and cold.
And alone. I realized I was completely disoriented, without any idea where you were or which side of the stream the lean-to was on. Lightning struck, and I tried to see you in the momentary light. Nothing but shining trees. I called for you and there was no response. I moved in one direction down the stream, thought I might be walking away from you and turned around, thinking it best to stay in one place. Then I heard you calling for me, made out your figure as you walked through the water toward me. As our eyes adjusted I only saw your face, your eyes. We embraced and held each other close. We kissed. Lightning struck again in the distance. That was some chemistry.
We’ve had lots of moments like that in the last seven years – we’ve been lucky. But we’ve also worked at it. We’ve shared hundreds of romantic dinners and leisurely walks but also had big arguments, when we both dug in our heels and had to dig them back out and admit our weaknesses and forgive each other.
People warned us that having kids would change everything. I had seen images of frazzled parents in movies, caricatures of people who had sacrificed their identity for their kids’ needs. There never seemed to be any time for their partners or for themselves. When I became pregnant I vowed this would not be me. Our baby would not sleep in our room and we would go on regular dates and we would regularly work out.
We loved Mimi from the moment she was born, but could not have anticipated the rupture her birth would also bring to our relationship. Sleep deprivation and our singular focus on her in those early weeks exacerbated our personal struggles, unearthing challenges we had never before had to deal with. For me, this was made even more difficult by the juxtaposition between where I was – how unraveled my spirit and body felt – and the overwhelming feeling that I just wanted to have happy, easy days with our new little family. A video we could replay on a clicking reel, full of sunlight and laughter. Instead it was winter in Seattle and everything felt cold and gray.
Slowly we found ways to rebuild. It was so important that we learned how to explicitly ask for what we needed – space, time, affection, greater respect. We went on dates – I specifically loved the one where we worked out in Seward Park together and then grabbed a quick dinner – burgers, maybe? We learned how to spend time together as a family, reading or walking or playing with Mimi on the living room floor, lying on our stomachs and lifting our chins and making all sorts of goofy sounds so she would learn how to pick her head up, too. Through everything, we were both committed to refocusing on the elements that have defined our relationship – trust and empathy and being strong individuals and good conversation and humor. And chemistry.
A few weeks ago, when we were on vacation in Fes, Mimi was napping in our hotel room and we were sitting in the adjoining library overlooking a 200-year-old terrace. We were cozy under a wool blanket and watched the rain come down on the garden below. We spoke occasionally, but mostly listened to the rain. I felt our chemistry in that moment, and accompanying it was the deep satisfaction of having you by my side and gratitude that we have found our equilibrium in this new stage in our lives. The chemistry will always be there, but our journey has made us more deliberate in how we approach ourselves and each other and our daughter, and that makes me confident we have the tools to deal with the next big thing, whatever it may be. And that’s even sexier than chemistry.
What do you say to getting a babysitter next weekend?
*Featured Image: Helen Frankenthaler’s Robinson’s Wrap (1974)