When fate and destiny call your name, you don't turn them down...
When I first glimpsed Paul Dries, the man who is now my husband, I fell -- and I fell hard. I was 9 and he was 13; he was my first crush, and I knew we would marry someday.
Our families were both at a church camping trip and I connected with Paul, an angelic boy. After enjoying the weekend together, our families became instant friends. Paul and I became really close -- we played sports and games but also took precious blocks of time just to talk.
I am Lebanese American and was raised with all of the traditional obligations that came with my heritage -- things like asking your parents' permission for everything, not making a move not approved by the family (specifically your father and brothers) and putting the family unit above your individual needs, goals and objectives. Every Arab girl knows that to be a "good Arab girl (and woman)" you needed to follow the direction and guidance of the men in your life without objection and that you, as a child, will always be the center of your parents' universe, a weighty responsibility. Indeed, the obligation to, and happiness of, your parents and family will always trump your individuality. I was a loud girl who spoke my mind; I was sports-minded, a tomboy to some, but to Paul, just cute and pretty. I would later find out how important it was to have a friend -- and a lover -- who I could be my complete, uninhibited self with.
Paul's ethnic background is Italian and German, but he grew up "Americanized" -- to my family, he was "the white boy that Josephine liked."
There we were, worlds apart, but so connected from the beginning. My family recognized my crush early on and Paul's mother would constantly hint at our connection.
Paul and I stayed platonic friends until I was 21 -- at which time Paul approached me and said, "I like you... like 'that.'"
My response? "It's about time!"
"I am going to ask your dad if we can date, okay?" He was respecting my culture with this statement.
I was to later find out my dad told Paul he wasn't good enough for me and couldn't date me; he didn't meet my dad's requirements. Remember, for my culture, it wasn't about my needs or desires, really -- it was about who the male authority figure (my father) approved for me. My dad had outlined his ideal man for me -- wealthy, Arab, a man who would come under my father's rule, who would join our family business and, wait, did I already say Arab?
The bottom line is that my dad essentially rejected Paul because he didn't fit the "traditional Arab male husband" he had planned for me since I was born.
I was hurt that my dad said no and fought the situation as much as I could since I'd loved Paul for so many years and always imagined my life and future with him. However, in the end, I acquiesced to my dad, thinking he knew best, yet I still held a candle in my heart for Paul.
Life's path drew us together on more than one occasion, and my deep-rooted love for Paul never faded. He always shared his hopes and dreams with me, and his love for me remained steady.
In 2006, we dated for a couple of months and truly fell deeply and madly in love. Then my family convinced me that it was them or Paul and I chose my family. Our hearts breaking, Paul and I agreed to disconnect (it felt more like tearing out a limb, or our hearts, to be accurate). I was to later find out that Paul then literally fell on his face, crying and pleading with God to give me back to him.
I came to grips with the fact that the "Paul chapter" of my life was over -- little did I know what God had planned for us all along.
This heartbreaking separation spurred me to discover my path to freedom -- to living the life God put me on this earth to live. I was no longer willing to succumb to a life carved out for me by traditions and others.
It took me a couple of years to venture back into dating -- when I did, I compared everyone to the highest standard (Paul) and Paul later revealed that he found himself dating Arab women and comparing them to me.
Fast-forward three and a half years to August 2011, when I joined Match.com. By this time, I'd become quite independent, leaving my family business, creating my own company and living in my own place.
One night, when I checked out my Match.com emails, guess who was my "Top Match of the Day"? Paul! My heart sped up, tears streamed down my face, and I had to open and close my laptop four times before finally believing it was "my" Paul. Not only that, but he was still as handsome and funny as ever, and his heart hadn't gone cold -- it was all over his profile that he was still the amazing and wonderful man that I had always known was the perfect man for me.
The very next day, Paul sent me the sweetest, most wonderful email telling me how much he hoped I could forgive him for any part he played in the situation in years past. He asked how my family and I were doing and told me how much he missed me. But the nicest part was when he said if I could find it in my heart to email him back, he hoped I would, and if I didn't, he would understand. I sat and cried tears of joy, longing and gratitude to God; I knew this reconnection wasn't anything short of God taking His merciful hand and planting Paul into my account as my Match of the Day.
Each email we exchanged over the next two days brought me to my knees again in gratitude to God. Both families had a rough time with our whirlwind romance and didn't make it easy on us. We, however, realized the feelings we'd had so long ago had stayed deep and rooted and so we moved forward with the engagement. Family drama on both sides inspired us to elope on Valentine's Day in 2012. My family had already been giving me the silent treatment and practically disowned me -- eloping didn't really affect things for better or worse; however, things have since rebounded. Indeed, relationships on both sides of the families are on the mend and Paul and I trust they will only get better.
Married life has been blissful -- we truly cherish every single moment with each other; we will be throwing a large celebration for friends and family in August.
This time, love is here to stay.
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