Today marks (as near as we can tell) the fifteenth anniversary of when PJ and I first met. We met during the new teacher training workshops for Ph.D. students at the University of Tennessee in 1994. We first saw each other a day before that — we both thought that we were supposed to attend a workshop about the Writing Center; it turned out that the letter telling us to go to that workshop had been sent to all of the new Ph.D. students mistakenly. But we didn’t actually meet until the real workshops started.

In 1994, I was definitely a shy, quiet kid who didn’t know how to start conversations with strangers. (I’m still shite at small talk and being friendly with people I don’t know, but I’m slowly getting better at it.) So, it’s clear that PJ made the first move towards friendship. In retrospect, I don’t know how he had the patience to cultivate my friendship that first year. I’m lucky he did!

We soon started going out to dinner from time to time, going to the gay bar, Trumps, and watching The X-Files at his apartment on Friday nights (I’ll never forget how scarily dark the staircase in his building was — it was an awful way to follow a really scary episode of X-Files.) We also had a class together that first semester, a seminar on Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot. Slowly we got to know one another and became really good friends.

Near the end our first year in the grad program we decided to move in with one another the next year. UT had cheap apartments for graduate students and married undergraduates. That fall our friendship developed into something more, and by the end of 1995 we decided that we wanted to try being together romantically.

This picture was taken around the time that we started this new phase in our relationship. (This was one of two times between 1994 and 1999 that I tried having longer hair. It didn’t really work. I still like the idea of having long hair, but I don’t think it was the best look for me.)

We were in grad school until 1999. We were relatively poor, so most of the time our traveling was limited to visiting friends or family or attending conferences. (Twice we went on vacation: once to Charleston, South Carolina, and once to Washington D.C.) PJ has several good friends from his undergraduate days, and we routinely visit some of them (and would like to see others more often!). The picture above was taken during one of those trips. This next one was also taken during a trip to visit some of these friends in Arkansas in 1998; it’s one of my favorite pictures of us:

So often, you take a picture and you don’t really remember what you were feeling or thinking when it was taken. What I remember about this photo is touching PJ’s foot — petting it, actually. Being with our friends in Arkansas has always meant being free to just be ourselves and to be together. I’ve never felt weird or inhibited or judged by them about our same-sex relationship. They’re totally welcoming and have always welcomed me into the group of friends. Taking this picture was one of the moments that I felt all of this. I felt happy and content and loved and accepted. So, I love this picture for everything it represents to me about us and our friends.

A year after this picture was taken, we both graduated from UT, and we started a second phase in our relationship. The important marker for this new phase was that I moved to Ohio to start my new job as an assistant professor. PJ stayed at UT as an instructor for a year and then moved to South Carolina to take a visiting position at a small college. After a year there, he was offered a tenure-track job in Michigan, which meant only a 5-hour trip by car to see one another. As that was my third year in my position, I had a quarter off to work on my research. I mostly spent it visiting him and then finding us a place to live together — after a little drama, my department decided in February of that year to hire PJ as an assistant professor starting the following September.

All together we spent three years living apart. They were incredibly difficult years for both of us. I’m pretty sure we made it through them in large part because I started seeing a therapist. Being away from PJ (combined with the stress of a new job and other issues) caused me to go into a slight depression. I also needed to sort out some of my emotions about various people I had known and situations that had  occurred in my life. My therapist was a lot of help, but ultimately what helped the most was PJ and I being able to live together again.

With our domestic reunion a third phase in our relationship began. We now both had tenure-track jobs, and two years after he moved to Ohio I earned tenure. He went up for promotion and tenure two years later, giving us both permanent positions and general stability in our material circumstances.We bought a house and acquired two of the world’s most adorable kitties.

Being together again and our material circumstances also meant that we were now able to travel on an international scale. Since PJ moved to Ohio, we’ve visited England (thrice), Spain, France, Canada and Italy. We’ve also been to Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Antonio, and New York City multiple times.

This picture was taken during our first trip to Pentwater, Michigan, where our friend James’s family has a summer home. (We were in the middle of seeing some dunes when this was taken in Silverlake, MI.)

James took the picture in Michigan above. He also took this picture of us in Paris:

I guess this is the point where I mention that James was my partner when I first met and then decided I wanted to be with PJ. Our relationship was all over the place for the rest of the 1990s, but by the time I moved to Ohio we had started to work out how to all have a sustainable friendship with one another. Going into therapy also helped with this. My friendship with James is very important to me, and I’m thankful that PJ and he have both been able to think outside the traditional box that would prohibit exes from being friends, though it took a lot of time and work to get there. (And now that our three-way friendship has become a foursome, so to speak, with the addition of James’s partner, NP, I hope that our friendship will continue to grow.)

One of the many ways that I’ve grown under PJ’s constant pushing (I suppose I mean that — at various times — in both the best and worst tones possible) is to want to see more of the world. By nature and nurture I’m more of a stay-at-home kind of guy. PJ isn’t. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable traveling and to welcome the opportunity to see the world. Our recent trip to Italy was the first time that I felt completely relaxed in traveling. When I see this picture of us, that’s what I remember — how relaxed and happy I feel here.

Now I look forward to our trips, and I only regret that we can’t travel even more. We’re now planning our annual trip to NYC in December and thinking about a trip to Chicago in January (the thought of how cold it’s going to be keeps giving us pause about it, however) and to Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany next summer. I really want to go back to Canada again soon. I’d love to stop by Pentwater again whenever James and NP invite us to do so. And I’d like to go someplace in the U.S. I’ve never been. And we’ve got to get back to England before too long. And I feel Mexico and South America beckoning to us.

It’s been a wonderful 15 years. Just as we’ve changed physically from skinny twinks to middle-aged professionals since 1994, we’ve changed as people too. I know that I’m a better person for having spent these 15 years with PJ. I’m definitely happier for it. I don’t believe relationships are fated or destined or pre0rdained, which makes me feel all the luckier for having stumbled into this one. I’m looking forward to the next 15.

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