Two days before my wedding day, terrorists hijacked airplanes and attacked the United States. It was September 11th, and my father was on a flight from Washington DC, heading to our wedding destination. I didn’t know if he was safe or even alive. Suddenly, a time that should have been exciting and joyful became scary, tragic, and emotionally draining. Thankfully my dad was okay, but I still felt like my world was falling apart.

Erick and I discussed postponing the wedding. All flights were grounded. If we were to continue as planned, my father probably wouldn’t make it, and definitely many friends and family members wouldn’t be able to come.

Thankfully, my mom had flown in a few days earlier to help with preparations. It was so comforting to have her nearby.  “Do not postpone your wedding,” she counseled as I lay across her lap in tears. “The only people who really need to be at your wedding are you and Erick. It’s the two of you who are building a new life together, and it’s the two of you who will face this life no matter what comes your way.”

We took her advice. We were married on September 13, 2001. My dad did make it, if you’re curious – thanks to the generosity of a soon-to-be aunt, whom I had never met, and my siblings, who drove for a combined total of 24 hours to get him into town just in time. On that day, Erick and I committed to face this world together and make each other a priority no matter what challenges came our way.

And challenges did come. We had no idea what was in store for us: Multiple career changes, seven moves BEFORE joining the military, children, miscarriage, returning to school, months and years apart, combat deployments, training rotations, living overseas, and more.

Today, seventeen years, five months, and one day later, we are still committed to make each other a priority. How do we do that? It’s simple. We date.

My definition of dating has evolved over the years. The ultimate goal is to set aside time together to talk and to connect, away from distractions. It really is that simple. And we’ve made an effort to do that throughout our entire seventeen years, five months, and one day together.

When we were newlyweds with no kids, we would calendar a specific time to go do something fun outside of the house. My absolute favorite date night memory from that time was walking along the Riverwalk near our town in Illinois and sharing a giant caramel apple. Simple. Inexpensive. Memorable.

When we started having kids, our budget was really tight. We couldn’t afford to pay a babysitter, so we started having date night in instead of date night out. We would put the kids to bed and have a picnic on the living room floor while watching a movie. We did this a lot! On special occasions, Erick would splurge by cooking some crab legs for dinner. Yum! My favorite.

We were married for seven years before we finally decided to join and embrace the military lifestyle. Our biggest dating challenge came when Erick headed off to basic training. During that time, traditional dating was no longer an option. Our only communication was through letters. Although we couldn’t see each other face-to-face, we both set aside time to write meaningful, communicative letters. We did our best to share our experiences and our thoughts with each other while also offering emotional support. I still cherish the letters that we wrote during those difficult months.

When Erick finished his training and we moved to our first duty station, we struggled. We had been apart for 18 months. I had been caring for our children alone while working on my educational goals. Though we had maintained consistent communication, we had both adapted to our circumstances. We had changed. We needed to rebuild our relationship while also redefining our roles in the household.

Our first step in rebuilding our relationship was to recommit to dating consistently and intentionally. Again, we spent one-on-one time together to talk, play, and laugh. I truly believe that making an effort to date and reconnect saved our marriage. We had to get to know each other all over again.

While the kids were still young, we collaborated with other young families to keep our dates affordable and consistent. We worked out a schedule where we would watch their kids one night a month and they would watch our kids on another night. I’m still so grateful to the families that introduced this concept to me. It was heavenly to get out of the house for date night again!

Training rotations, deployments, and TDY create constant challenges to our dating commitment. We strive to adapt to each situation and be creative through what I call long-distance dating. When Internet or phones are available, we schedule time to Skype, chat, or text one-on-one. My kids have learned that sometimes Dad calls or Skypes to talk to the family and sometimes he calls or Skypes just Mom for a date. They know that it is important for their parents to have alone time together.

Sometimes our communication is romantic, and sometimes it consists of conversations about the mundane yet important topics of life. When technology is not available, I mail packages that contain fun memories or romantic pictures of myself. I truly believe that our personal communication during long separations is crucial to maintaining a strong relationship.

And when he gets home, we start the cycle again of reconnecting and rebuilding our relationship. Sometimes the changes we experience (especially after long and tragic deployments) are extreme. We may find that we are married to a completely different version of our spouse. I believe this makes dating even more essential to get to know and connect with one another.

My husband, though thoughtful and funny and hardworking, is not the same man that I married seventeen years, five months, and one day ago. And I’m sure he would say that I am not the same woman. But we love each other, and we are happy. I’m certain that this is only true because we have both maintained our commitment to face this world together and make each other a priority.

Today, our dates sometimes consist of dinner or bike riding or exploring our city or even walking the aisles of Sam’s Club. Erick is sometimes too busy to fit in a planned date, so we jump at the little moments when he is free. I sometimes take lunch to his office, and we spend 10 or 15 minutes together eating between his meetings. It really doesn’t matter what we do as long as we continue to set aside time together to talk and to connect. I look forward to planning and enjoying many more dates in the next seventeen years, five months, and one day.

“Dates got you to a place where you wanted to marry each other. If you want to stay married, then keep dating your spouse.” -Andy Traub

Do you date your spouse? If so, what are your favorite date ideas? If not, what do you do to stay connected? We’d love to hear what works for you!

Tera Blackham is an editor here at Pride and Grit. She has worked in politics, telecommunications, education, and has helped run a small business. But her toughest and most rewarding job is raising her four children and supporting her husband in his military career. Tera loves the constant change and adventure that are inevitable with military life. Travel is her passion, and photography is her hobby.

Photo of Erick and Tera by Mary Anne Miner from https://maryanneminerphotography.com
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