Except for the first couple of months in college, I did not date anyone. I went ON a few dates to required functions, and I was interested in a guy or two from time to time, but generally, I was a girls' girl. I had a handful of guy friends, but being sort of a loud girl (in more ways than one -- all you had to do is see my colorful vintage wardrobe), I wasn't the greatest at making a good impression on many of the guys I knew. I did go through a period of time feeling like I would never get married, and had to fight for contentment because quite a few guys were interested in my sister, or my friends. . . so I'd feel like "when will someone come along for ME?"
Gretchen Meets JoshSecond semester of my Junior year, I was signed up for a dreaded science class. I had put off those classes so long because I was never good at science, and I was afraid of taking them. When I walked in the door, a guy I knew said "GRINCHIN, come sit by me!" He was a loud guy who liked to say my name wrong. Sure, why not, I'll sit by him, I thought. Moments before the class began, the prof came over and told him "Matty, you already took this class. You were in it last hour. You're not in it again!" So all of the sudden, I was sitting alone in a class where you needed a science partner. I saw another table with my friend Heather and this guy named Josh who dated a girl in my dorm. "I can sit with them" I realized, and joined their table. It only took a few minutes before I realized that this was Josh Neisler, a different Josh from the guy who had a girlfriend -- of course I didn't ever get them mixed up after that!
Here are two things Josh told me the day we met: "You're OLD!" he said when I said I was a senior (I was, credit-wise). But I was 20 and he was 19!! Not exactly old. Also, when my long hair got caught on the bolts of my chair and a few strands ripped out, he said "sick. . . " I sure thought he hated my long hair! Well, no worries about having to make an impression on this guy!! Nothing to lose!
I could tell right away that Josh was really smart, and that science was pretty easy for him. Before our first test, I asked if he would mind helping me study, and we sat and talked in the library for quite a long time, which was great! I liked a guy who could really talk! Amazingly, I ended up getting a better grade on my test than he did -- probably because I was so freaked about it, and he figured he could wing it and do fine.
Our First DateA few weeks later, our mutual friend Scott found me outside the library and asked me if I would go as friends to an event with Josh if he were to ask. I told him I probably would. Less than an hour later, Josh found me in the Student Center and asked me to go to the Symphony in Milwaukee. I can remember right where I was standing, underneath the stairway across from the snackshop. I was so flattered he was asking me to something GREAT like the Symphony, something that cost MONEY and wasn't required to attend! When I told my mom about it, she asked me if I was excited, and I told her I bought a new dress for the date! HAHA! I guess so! I still have that dress -- don't wear it, but I thought it was sort of special, so I kept it. Black with little flowers on it, in a very popular late 90's style (I thought it looked 1940's -- whatever!).
The night of the symphony, the guys came to pick us up (we had to drive as a group to Milwaukee), and I could tell right away Josh was anxious. We had to go back to his dorm because he'd forgotten our tickets, so he was ticked at himself. We waited in the car for what seemed like QUITE a long time. . . as they tore apart their room looking for the tickets. Turns out, they were in Josh's suitcoat pocket the whole time. So when he came back to the car, he was furious with himself. . . which translated to me that he wasn't thrilled to be with me! We missed the opening movement, but as the music played, he relaxed a bit, and we were able to whisper a bit about the music. I love Milwaukee symphony, and it was beautiful. The man sitting in front of us told us we were very rude and we talked the whole time, but I am certain we didn't because Josh still was giving me (or himself?) the silent treatment for the most part. We took a picture afterward. . . you can see his smiley face. . . We stopped for coffee on the way home, and he just drank water. Wow. I had been totally willing to enjoy this date, but it seemed like he was killing it in it's tracks.
|I'm so glad I made sure we took a picture! We have it as a record!|
Later that night, I talked to my friend Stephanie about it (she was back working for the school, and I worked as an RA in her dorm). She suggested writing him a thank-you note just to let him know you had fun. That wasn't as forward as a phone call or something, but still let him know you weren't mad or something. She was so smart. That started a series of note-writing back and forth between us. AH. . . those were the days of free inter-campus mail, and it was so fun to go check your boxes between classes to see if he'd left a note! Josh called me a few times as well, and one time, not long after our first date, he told me something I will never forget. He told me that his roommates gave him a pretty hard time about asking me out.
"Gretchen BENZING? Do you really think you can HANDLE her?" they had said to him.
"Wha. . what did you say?" I was afraid to ask. I could only imagine he'd said "no" or worse, an arrogant "YES, I can handle any girl!"
"I said, what do you mean? What's to handle?" he replied. And I knew then and there that he saw me differently than other guys had seen me. What was to handle? She's not too much. Not too loud. Ohhhh. . . I think I started falling in love right then!
Other things we liked to do
Josh obviously got over the bumble on the first date, and we started hanging out a lot more, talking in the library, "studying" together, etc. We didn't eat meals together or go to church together or sit in chapel together, though, which were the typical things dating couples in college did. We generally took it pretty slow, and kept hanging out with our separate groups of friends -- until we really clicked with a mutual friend, Melissa Szydlowski (we called her "Sid"). She was the perfect person to hang out with both of us, because it took off a little pressure from trying to impress each other. We mainly hung out in the Student Center and talked together.
Josh and I would both go to the Nursing Home ministry together on Thursday nights. It was my society's ministry (we had societies with ministry focus in college in the place of sororities and fraternities), but everyone was welcome to join. I was so impressed with how well Josh interacted with elderly people. I really admired how he was good with kids, too. I had not met a whole lot of guys who was good with both ends of the spectrum. It quickly became a requirement for my future husband.
A Dating Couple
Right before spring break, I had some doubts about a possible dating relationship with Josh. We had had talks about moving forward, and he was planning to come home with me for Easter and talk to my dad about dating me. But I was interpreting his easy-going laid-back nature as not being a good leader, and it scared me that I was getting in a relationship I should avoid. I told him frankly right before we said goodbye for break that I was rethinking our relationship, and I was going to think things over while we were gone. He looked really sad, but he just said "well, ok, let's pray together about it." When I got home, I told my mom everything and showed him a letter he'd sent home with me. I can't remember what the letter said, but Mom about cried and told me "I like him." As that week went by, I had a big change of heart. Josh was smart, and didn't call me until the end of the week, and by that time I was missing him big time. I read a passage in Proverbs that said "With-hold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it." which convicted me that I was with-holding my affection from Josh just to protect myself. I needed to do him good, and trust the Lord to guide my steps.
After his Easter visit, where Josh asked my dad if he could date me (Dad gave him a copy of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" in response), we considered ourselves a couple. We felt like we had gone about things in a proper way, talking through whether or not we were pursuing marriage before we started "dating". Josh's family came to visit us right after that, and it was fun to meet his parents and sister Melissa. I had been SO nervous about it, but they were all normal and nice. His parents took us to eat on State Street in Madison, and I remember we held hands in the van on the way there. WOO WOO! (You have to understand that any physical contact AT ALL was not allowed at our school, so holding hands in front of his parents was really our only option).
A Change in Relationship
|From my college scrapbook|
The dynamic in our relationship changed dramatically when our friend Sid graduated. Suddenly, the three of us was down to two. We loved hanging out with Sid so much, and it took a bit of adjustment to just hang out together. We both stayed for summer school, and we started finding out how to hang out just together. It was the start to a new chapter in our relationship . . .
To be continued. . .