So as of Tuesday, my relationship with Ryan will be my longest ever. Also, God help him. Though after two years, two months, and a day, I’m sure he’s well aware of the mess he’s got himself into. Actually, neither of us is easy to live with over the long-term (as he would agree.) But anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that my heart-on-sleeve, actions-off-cuff, ADHD-infused life can be a tough act to follow.
We started following each other around in December 2010, not long after I began my conversion studies to Judaism. We met online. On our first (blind) date to the Art Institute, he was visibly shocked when I took off my hat and had forgotten to remind him that I wear a yarmulke. Later that evening, as he stood outside the car having a smoke break in the middle of a spur-of-the-moment trip to see the holiday lights in Sauganash, I clearly remember looking through the window at him and knowing I wanted to marry him.
He’ll tell you it took me some time to stop acting like someone I’m not in order to let the madman I actually am come out. Oh, the voices he lives with, characters that few have met in person. Usually, I have him laughing hysterically. Usually. Luckily, he’s a person who loves to laugh.
I laughed a lot at the irony of our courtship. A staunchly urban blogger tooling around Chicago and its suburbs in a car with a rural-born, suburban-living guy–because neither one of us had a place of our own at the time. I was living with then-friends after the Great Recession knocked me out of my communications career and my apartment. He was living in a house shared with friends after divorce from an alcoholic madwoman. We took the slowest way possible between points A and B up and down Chicagoland, as we hit coffee bar after donut shop, sharing intimate details about our lives in the very wee hours of the morning.
We spent a romantic weekend in (my already beloved) Cincinnati two weeks after we met. We moved in with each other four weeks after that.
Sometimes, we miss the meandering. There are moments when take to his car and head to nowhere in particular, reliving the romance of him behind the wheel, me in the passenger seat, and a box of Munchkins in between.
This is also how after a decade in Chicago I finally discovered Illinois. For the first eight years of my Windy City life, my primary means of transportation was public transit, which made sense considering I am a transplanted New York native and a former public transit planner with no idea whatsoever how to drive. Partnering with a man who needs his car for work in the suburbs changed that a bit. Sure, I still commuted to work and some fun on the ‘L’ and bus. But I quickly learned that groceries for two are much more easily brought home in the trunk of a car.
Living together in Chicago was the first time in Ryan’s adult life past mortuary school in the early 1990s that he was a city mouse. (Yes, mortuary school.) He’s from Louisville, a tiny town at the border between Central and Southern Illinois that pronounces its ‘s’. Until we met, I had never been south of I-80. But he had a car and we missed the way we got to know each other.
I have since become very enamored with lazy drives up and down I-55 and I-57 and across I-74. Sometimes chasing Monical’s pizza locations. (French dressing on bland pizza FTW!) Sometimes enjoying old downtowns. (Hello, Galesburg and Champaign-Urbana.) Sometimes deciding once was enough. (No thanks, Quad Cities and Savanna.) Finding the hands-down best Culver’s in the country (at the Effingham crossroads.) Me waiting for werewolves to appear from the cornfields at night on the Pigeon Forge-like, spooky dirt road Ryan grew up on, so far in the middle of nowhere that even aliens wouldn’t bother abducting you unless you drove 45 minutes back toward the highway.
So far, the highlight of our south-of-Chicago travels has been visiting with a former biker chick and Outlaw biker at the rectory where they live next to the defunct church they’re renovating beyond the wind farm outside Odell, then chasing the remnants of old Route 66 up into Dwight for dinner. But that was in January and the year is still young.
Living in Chicago taught me how much there is to like in the suburbs, which came has a big surprise to a former suburbs-sneering New Yorker. Living with Ryan has taught how much I live my entire state, from Chicago, up and down.
Especially with him it. Ryan, I love you. Get the car out.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.