Ugh, feelings.

They aren't my style. I always imagined feelings were something akin to rhinestones—sparkly and colorful, but serving no real purpose except to draw attention to oneself. And also: tacky.

At some point growing up, I developed the belief that feelings were weak, and to show or feel them was something to be embarrassed about. So I built up a nice fortress to contain my feelings, locked them inside and left them to their own devices. The most I ever did in therapy was poke and prod at them through the barred window. Caged and ignored, my feelings became sickly and feral.

Tino gave this to me a couple months into dating. He already knew me perfectly.

Tino gave this to me a couple months into dating. He already knew me perfectly.

Enter Tino. He's already given you the rundown of how we met, so I won't go into detail. When we first started dating, I wasn't sure I had the capacity to be in relationship. Most of the time I couldn't even decipher my feelings for him. When I tried to peek inside my fortress, it was shadowy and stale inside, and I could only get glimpses of my feelings scuttling through the darkness from one creepy corner to another. It was like Alien, people.

I showed Tino my fortress, pointed out the thickness of the walls and noted the heavy lock on the door. It's useless, I wanted to tell him. Just be on your way. But he didn't run away. Nor did he try to forcibly bust down the door. Instead, he sat down, leaned against the wall, and waited. And waited.

But as he waited, he also acted. He earned my trust by the way he listened to me—really listened, without just waiting for his turn to speak. He inspired me with the way he tended to other hurting gay Christians in our area and formed a safe space to explore faith. And he attracted me with his infectious smile and romantic notions of what a good relationship could do and how it could serve not only the two people in it, but the community around it. 

With time, the door to my fortress would open up, and a feeling would peek its head out. Tino would see it, engage it, and honor it for what it was. And when it ran back inside he didn't go chasing it down. He'd just sit against my wall and wait some more. Sometimes he'd pace, and occasionally, he'd discover a hole in the wall and call into it, getting at my emotions when I least expected it. He has made me cry before with just a gentle stare.

That, to me, is what made me fall in love with him. Not because he was attractive (he is) or because he had a good sense of humor (he does). And not even because he loved Jesus as much as I do (and probably more). It was because he refused to give up on me, even as I tried to push him away. That's what I've wanted in a partner: someone who's all-in, even when the relationship is effort.

We have more than our fair share of fun times, but that's the icing on the cake. The real joy in the relationship comes from our shared values and our shared commitment to each other. It's a sense of being anchored. It's the feeling that someone will pull me back if I start to drift and rescue me if get stuck upon a rocky shore.

The weekend we met and first spent time together, the word that kept coming to mind when I thought of Tino was "teammate." I remember it clearly because it was such a strange word for someone I had just met, and not in the least bit romantic. But that's what marriage is, isn't it? A team of two agreeing to take on the game of life together.

That fortress, however, is still in me. Walls don't crumble that easily. There will be days ahead when the stones are thick and the height insurmountable. But I've planted a little garden along the wall, and I keep the grass neat. It's there that Tino will wait, a space set just for him. It's there we will reconcile. It's there I will love him all over again.


David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland. Follow us on Twitter: @daveandtino