Paul and I were friends for 16 years before we realized we were in love. After that, it took us less than a week to decide to leave our spouses for each other.
Wait, it’s not as simple as that. Let me explain. First, we weren’t “friends” in any traditional sense of the word. In reality, we barely knew each other. Our entire friendship had existed entirely within the confines of a burger booth where we both worked at the Oregon Country Fair, an annual three-day summer festival. Every July, the Oregon Country Fair ― or just “Fair” to the over 20,000-member “family” that has been putting it on for the last 50 years.
Temporarily turns a few thousand acres of oak grassland into the third largest city in Oregon.
For the uninitiated, Fair is an arts and music festival born out of author Ken Kesey’s tricksters and the early days of the Grateful De-ad. On the surface, it’s the predecessor of Burning Man ― a glow-in-the-dark, hippie-filled, psychedelic playground. Beyond that, Fair is a place where people go to search for something new in their lives, to find some kind of higher meaning, or to just find something that will shake them out of the complacency of their daily existence ― even if that’s just a good time. Paul and I were relative outsiders to the larger party scene and essentially acted as two worker bees who kept the machine running.
We both stumbled into the experience as teenagers through the vast and complicated local network of underground businesses and social circles that drives the Fair.
We met because we were early risers by nature, a rare find at festivals. I worked the breakfast shift each morning, cutting potatoes at the concession stand while Paul sat on a nearby cooler drinking his coffee and chatting with other people. Later in the day, he worked the grill, frying burgers in the summer heat for masses of hungry hippies and the other people who would come to stare at them. Though working in such close quarters meant we were friendly with each other, with all the stimulation and constant rotation of staff, it was at least three years before we were actually able to remember each other’s names.
Eventually, though, we did When we finally fell in love, it was over that potato table — in one look, held so long and so hard that it stopped a teenage boy who was passing through the kitchen in his tracks.
To this day, I can’t remember what triggered that look — but I do remember the way Paul staggered, nearly dropping his cup of coffee, and the way I held my hand to my throat, which had blushed so deeply it practically burned to the touch.
One of us said something about betraying our cool exteriors. One thought from someplace deep inside my heart forced its way into my head: Maybe it’s Paul. Maybe after a life of trying to make it work with other people, the one I was supposed to be with had been there right in front of me for years. Maybe it was Paul.
We went on about our day ― potatoes and burgers ― but in reality, it was a noxious discovery.
By that point in our lives, both of us were partnered, in our mid-30s with real jobs and heavy commitments.
Neither of us were happy. Worse than all of that, he had children. One thought from someplace deep inside my heart forced its way into my head: “Maybe it’s Paul.” Maybe after a life of trying to make it work with other people, the one I was supposed to be with had been there right in front of me for years. Later that week, with his wife and kids away on an extended summer vacation to visit family for the rest of summer, he invited me to meet him for lunch in a blueberry field on a rural property near his house.
It was the first time we had ever seen each other outside the Fair.
Over the course of the next few days, we laid ourselves bare.
What we found were two ambitious people on the verge of new beginnings — I was about to publish my first book, and he was starting a new business — who were being held back by unsupportive partners, tox-ic friends and an overwhelming sense of duty to how life “should” be lived. But we knew that we had to be with one another in a deep-down-feel-it-in-your-bones kind of way that made it painful to be apart. Even though we had spent a considerable amount of time together over the years at the Fair, we still knew so little about each other.
It seemed crazy to think that we could be in love in any kind of real or lasting way, but everything about being with him felt right, like he had somehow been there next to me all along.
That same week, the first night we spent together, we fell asleep with our foreheads resting side by side and woke up eight hours later without having moved at all.
Hours pas-sed by as we sat in silence, watching a blue moon cross the sky. This was not a thing we could ignore. Knowing that we couldn’t face lives of deception ― that truth is always better than fiction ― and that unhappy parents make for unhappy children, we decided we needed to jump. Fast. Over the next four weeks, as we tried to figure how to do what we were going to do, my psyche and conscience screamed at me. Married men never leave their wives.
I could just hear my friends and most movies of the week telling me in my head, especially if they’re devoted fathers, which he was.
It’s a kind of happiness that isn’t the hard work that people claim relationships are supposed to be, and and it isn’t made up of thrills or highs and lows.
It’s a quiet kind of contentment that arises from a relationship in which both partners are at peace with one another. And because of that, it’s sustainable and expansive, big enough to wrap around the kids who, to their credit, were able to see their parents’ unhappiness together and their father’s happiness with me and take things largely in stride. I’m still not sure exactly what happened that day at the potato table, but I do know that I wouldn’t go back and do it differently.
And all those old couples that have been married for a thousand years? They’re right ― when you’ve met your person, you just know it.
And all those old couples that have been married for a thousand years? They’re right ― when you’ve met your person, you just know it. Years later, Paul and I hold steady to each other and our faith in knowing who we are as individuals and as a couple. We did the right thing, and I know I can always be brave and he will always be there.
This Story Was Originally Published On”huffpost.com“.