Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Big Decision

Growing Up
My parents divorced when I was about 3 years old.  As many know, having divorced parents can really interfere with feeling secure and safe in the world; it's such an awful thing hearing the mother and the father speak ill of each other and attempt to win over the child's love.  It seems that many have a foggy vision as they search for a spouse; an apparent example is how we tend to place too much emphasis on the physical attractiveness of another, at the expensive of other attributes which may contribute much more to our lasting happiness.  My "dating life" in high school was not very productive.  I had the mindset typical of a guy who wants so very much to be cool. 

Lifestyle Changes
One of my biggest fears has always been going through a divorce myself.  A few years ago I became active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has greatly affected my value of the family unit; since then, my number one goal has been to have a happy family, where such things as trust, communication, respect and compassion are present.  My dating patterns ever since have been much more productive and fulfilling: I have enjoyed taking out girls and getting to know them; some of the leaders of the Church encourage us to get to know a variety of young ladies.  Relationships can be so much freer when they aren't solely based on physical aspects and bring unneeded tensions.

The Mission Impact
I eventually went on a 2 year mission for the Church where I had many different companions: other young men who were also full-time missionaries; for 6-12 weeks at a time I would spend nearly every minute with another missionary; this experience taught me many things.  Here are a couple that are pertinent to dating: learning what types of personalities I have difficulty with, along with what attributes I would most desire in someone that I'm constantly around.  Sometime in the last week or two of my mission (a time when I had a very clear vision of what I was compatible with) I made a list of the attributes I most desired in my future wife.  Here is the list as far as I can recall.
  • Patient/Understanding - Patience and understanding are probably desirable by nearly anyone looking for a mate.  It is typically not very productive to have a hot head who is unpredictable during times of conflict.  I also feel it's rather easy for most of us to close off others' perspectives, and so I appreciate those who put forth effort to be understanding.
  • Open communication/Willing to Compromise -
    It became clear to me on my mission, that it can be very challenging to talk productively about hard topics/conflicts; however, I also was able to see the value in being able to discuss the "tough things."  Furthermore, I enjoyed having companions that were willing to discuss and potentially compromise on decisions. 
  • Let things go/easy going - My absolute favorite companions were able to simply let things go: when someone made a mistake, they wouldn't attack them verbally or seek to punish them for the mistake; my favorite companions were able to move on without making others feel bad.
  • "Different" - This is a hard one to put into words, and I'll try not to water it down with my explanation.  I think I'm drawn to people that are a little bit different than the average bear.  I haven't thought about it consciously, but these are a few possibly reasons: perhaps they tend to be less prideful; perhaps I feel less threatened when I'm around people who are not cookie cutters; I feel freer to be myself.
  • Fun - I like laughing; I also like swimming and dancing.
  • Hard Working - There is no replacement for this quality.  In this life, we often have to do things we may not want to.  Additionally, we need to be willing to stick with things.  I believe this trait becomes very visible when there are kids involved: it's not easy to care for them 24/7.
Dating After the Mission
When I returned home from my mission, I knew dating would be a high priority.  In my past (which consisted of mostly unproductive dating patterns and experiences), I noticed my tendency to lean towards or "settle" for the first thing that came along: some of us (particularly when we're young) tend to get comfortable and attached to someone without surveying our options or having a very clear perspective.  Thus, my biggest worry was that I might get "tricked" or "distracted" and end up marrying someone I would regret.  And since I believe marriage is the most important decision we can make, as it will impact virtually every phase of our life, I definitely didn't want to mess this one up.  Prior to finishing my mission, I made some goals for when I returned home; among these I set a goal of taking at least 10 different girls on a date: this was one way I thought to combat the possibility of a disaster.  When I got off my mission, I didn't waste any time asking girls out.  Considering that I just came off my mission, and that I was weary of getting tricked, I was mostly analytical of the girls I took on dates: rather than feeling much affection for any of the ladies, I was mostly assessing their attributes.  All of the girls I took out were nice, and probably had good standards. 

Many First Dates
Typically I didn't see myself as highly compatible with them, and so I didn't take any of them out on a second date, with one exception: Ma'ila (pronounced my-eela.)  She was the only one I took out a second time.  Apparently she really liked me at first, but of course I wasn't busy getting attached to her, because I was focused and being "careful."  And plus, I had to hit my goal of taking at least 10 girls out . . . The weekend of our first planned date I end up getting sick and had to reschedule twice with her; I incidentally may have appeared to be "hard to get."  The night of our first date was the opening game for the Diamondbacks . . . so that's what we did.  We met a cool couple sitting behind us; after a few minutes, we moved back to sit with them.  We had a good time chatting with them.  Nothing spectacular happened on our first date, but I didn't drop Ma'ila, and apparently she didn't drop me either yet.

Although I saw her somewhat frequently (Sundays at church, Mondays at weekly Church activities, and then any other activity or time we hung out,) I still kept her somewhat at bay (as I would any other lady.) 

A Big Decision
We dated for a few weeks; all the while I continued to take out new girls.  Although I definitely saw us as being very compatible, I didn't see any logical reason why I would solely date one person at the moment.  It is certainly good to get to know multiple people, so why would I limit myself?  I wrestled with myself over this decision and it was a difficult decision to make; it could have easily gone either way, but it felt right to try dating her exclusively.  Of course she accepted my proposal (because, somewhat unbeknownst to me, she had a huge crush on me.)  The best part was a few days later: at about 7pm one night we were about to depart from our date.  I started chewing a piece of gum . . . and I offered her one . . . and then we kind of kissed; neither of us was very smooth, and it ended up being pretty awkward.  Don't worry though: we have since come to enjoy the kisses.

Going for It
During this "exclusive dating time", it became more apparent that (analytically) this girl seemed she would make a great wife & mother.  We dated exclusively for about 6 weeks or so and then we had an interesting talk or two.  We talked about some hard subjects; this ended up being a great point in our relationship.  This communication really helped us to grow closer to each other.  On my mission it was very much impressed upon me how much impact good communication can have on a relationship.  This ended up being a rather pivotal point in our relationship; afterwards I was able to establish more of a connection with her, and let myself get more "attached" to her.  I felt good about my choice and could move on with our life together.  The next couple months were neat; it became clearer this was the girl I wanted to marry.  Ma'ila's sisters (whom I'm very tight with) eventually showed me an engagement ring online that Ma'ila had bookmarked as one of her favorites, which made choosing a ring easy.  Now I just had to get permission from her parents (and of course think of a cute way to propose to her so she wouldn't say no.)

A Special Night
I told Ma'ila's parents I needed to talk to them alone.  We went out to a Mexican Food Restaurant.  Even though these people are my best friends, I was still very nervous about asking them to marry their daughter: I think the world of Ma'ila, and also her parents; I see Ma'ila high on a pedestal, and I'm just Mitchell, an average guy.  After a few minutes of chit chat, I finally said "I'd like to marry your daughter."  And I will never forget what happened next . . . Ma'ila's dad said "Really? That's awesome" and then turned to his wife and said "We were hoping you would."  This melted my heart: here are two of the most wonderful people, and they want me to marry their daughter.  The rest of the dinner we talked a lot about how great Ma'ila is and they talked of when we first met; it was neat hearing things from their perspective.  I still tear up sometimes when I think back to that night.

Her parents spoke of how easy she is to please; she is nearly always happy.  This is one of my favorite qualities in Ma'ila: she has an amazing ability to continuously feel happy; she is content with whatever circumstances she is in.  Ma'ila's job is a perfect example of this: she works with Special Ed kids that are pretty severe, no doubt one of the toughest jobs out there, yet she is so pleasant every time I pick her up from work.  They also said that "Ma'ila will love you for all of eternity."  She has such a capacity to love unconditionally. 

Prepping for the Proposal
As for the proposal plan: the last weekend in July I was invited to go on a campout with Ma'ila's family (by the way, I absolutely love her family; they are some of the greatest people I've ever been around and surely have contributed to who Ma'ila has become.)  The weekend before the campout I went with my dad and stepmom to Mexico (to get my teeth cleaned for cheap) and Yuma (for a wedding reception.)  My plan was to get at least 7 gifts for Ma'ila, and give her one each day during the following week; then on Saturday morning I would take Ma'ila for a walk on the campout and propose to her.  While I was in Mexico I used my great bargaining skills and battled with the Mexicans to get some cool gifts at good prices.  Over the course of the next week, I gave her a random cute gift from Mexico each day, to which she was always gracious (one of Ma'ila's strongest 'love languages' is gifts.)  I felt pretty good about setting her up for the next weekend. 

When I arrived at the reception in Yuma, there was a beautiful surprise waiting for me: Ma'ila's mom brought Ma'ila to Yuma for the reception! (Which apparently was done on a whim: she got Ma'ila out of work early in order to bring Ma'ila and still make it on time to the reception.)  My favorite part of that night was dancing with Ma'ila; I've never had so much fun dancing with someone before: I feel like we're pretty sweet dancing partners (by the way, at one of the weekly church activities, we had learned how to swing dance!) 

The Campout
During the 3 hour drive up to the campout, I was pretty nervous actually.  The campout ended up being such a relaxing thing for me; it was wonderful to be out in Nature and to be with some of the most amazing people in the world.  A funny note: all of Ma'ila's family knew that I was going to propose to her that weekend except for Ma'ila herself.  On Saturday morning (during the sunrise) we went for a walk and read some scriptures; then I told her to close her eyes (because it's time for her "daily gift.") When she opened them, rather than receiving some random item from Mexico, she opened her eyes to me proposing to her!  . . . And she did say yes.

I like Ma'ila 
She has such a pure heart: even when it is hard she is willing to speak the truth.  I highly value her willingness to communicate how she thinks or feels about something.  Ma'ila is able to speak her mind in a very caring, respectful and non judgmental way.  If two people want to do different things, she is extremely willing to compromise (to the point where I have to be careful not to take advantage of it and neglect her needs.)  She also sees the good in everyone; Regardless of others' moods or the current situation, she gives people the benefit of the doubt.  If I'm in a grumpy mood, rather than treating me accordingly, she still sees me as being great and loves me anyway.  Ma'ila has a great ability to recognize patterns in her life that can be improved, and she makes the changes (often quietly.)  Ma'ila is the sweetest person I've ever met.  She gets sweeter every day; and it's not a fake sweetness: she is extremely down to earth and doesn't pretend.

Ma'ila is extremely patient: another quality that makes life soooo much easier.  She doesn't get frustrated nearly ever; if she ever does get slightly grumpy, all one must do is be nice to her and continue living life, and then she'll often break out of it within moments.  Even if she is grumpy, most people wouldn't even notice because she still retains her kindness and is willing to help others.

Ma'ila is so fun; I never thought I'd find a girl that likes swimming more than me!  She is able to laugh at herself and laugh at funny scenarios without getting defensive; her sense of humor is great: I find myself laughing at her pretty regularly; I have come to thoroughly enjoy her laugh. Between the two of us, we have a lot of fun.
Ma'ila is very laid back and able to 'let things go.'  Rather than holding a grudge or retaliating, she just moves on.  She won't pin you if you make a mistake: she'll give you room to allow you to change; this makes for a much more stress free life.  It's unfortunate when someone hones in on your weaknesses/differences (which generally only makes the situation more stressful.)  Ma'ila is extremely easy going.  One of my favorite companions (Elder Michael Acord) from my mission was also very easy going; it is one part of the Polynesian culture I have come to really enjoy.

Ma’ila is extremely mindful of others and willing to help them at nearly any cost; she simply does what is needed. She has such an eye for seeing opportunities to help others.  She is so concerned with fulfilling others' needs.
She is so cute--inside and out--I think she gets a little bit more beautiful each day.  It is also wonderful how much she loves me.  There is nothing better than having someone love you unconditionally..
And Life Goes On . . .
I've only been married to Ma'ila for a couple of weeks, and I can foresee myself appreciating her more and more as life goes on; I think it will become more and more evident how great of a decision this was.  This isn't to say we won't have difficulties: we have very similar core values and plenty to build on, but in some aspects we're still very different (you could say our relationship is very "complimentary.")  The key is that we are committed to get through 'it' together.  It is certainly surprising that I met my wife only 5 1/2 months before we got married; in spite of this, my decision to marry her was not one that was made hastily or on the whim.