Level Up, Friends – 8 Year Anniversary Ashley is Amazing! This phrase was uttered in every conversation I had with friends, family and strangers who quickly discovered that I am quick to share. I knew that she was beautiful when I first saw here but it wasn’t until our first conversation (an entire day later) that I realized how awesome she was. This was January. What followed was a series of advances, pseudo-dates, jealousy, calculated texts, desperate dinner invites disguised as casual friend hangouts and feelings intensifying. It was the courtship of twenty-year-olds from the millennial generation. In April, I asked Ashley to be my girlfriend. Her reply? “Not right now.” I played it cool (lies) and waited an entire month-ish to ask her again. Again she said, “not right now.” I decided that three strikes was too many and let her know that I would never ask her to be my girlfriend again. The ball was in her court. She would have to ask me if she wanted the relationship to progress. This was a huge formality at this point; we had been ‘dating’ for a few months and were a committed couple in everything but name. Still, these labels are important for a reason. It was on June 25, 2006 that Ashley let me know that it was time for our relationship to be “official.” That evening it also became “Facebook official.” Two huge milestones; depending on who you are one is more important than the other. This was a turning point in my life where I can honestly say I became the luckiest boy in the world. I told Ashley I loved her after dating a week. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that I knew I loved her after our first conversation. It was obvious that this was a girl who would either break my heart or I’d spend the rest of my life with. Fortunately, instead of freaking out at how fast I pushed the relationship forward, she returned my affection in kind. If my friend told me a similar story, I would say they were a crazy person (you might think the same of me right now) but I was emotionally vested in Ashley from day one and knew she felt the same…I was pretty sure she felt the same; thank goodness she felt the same. We were engaged 363 days after our first day of being an “official” couple. It would have been 365 days, but I’m a terrible liar and Ashley is great at catching lies. This remains an important lesson: never lie to your significant other—even if it is to hide an engagement ring. There is nothing good that can come from deception and your falseness will create a sense of uneasiness in your partner. Our proposal story takes place in the parking lot of FSU; proving that it’s not how or where you ask but who is popping the question. Ashley and I were married on March 07, 2009. After she graduated from FSU with her master’s degree, we weren’t going to rush anything. She expertly continued her streak of excellence and positioned herself with a job in Jacksonville. I remained behind in Tallahassee for months as I finished my degree. This was a difficult time for everyone’s favorite newlyweds. But it solidified the fact that a piece of my heart will always be missing when Aliera is gone. Aliera was an emotional pillar during my depression-era search for a job. It wasn’t glamorous going on three interviews with a company without a returned call, working for Winn Dixie (again) or applying for countless positions and still not breaking into the industry. Through it all, she remained a positive and shining example of what perseverance and hard work can amount to. Today, we are both successful in our positions and poised to take over the world. I say every now and then that my wife is always right. Other husbands say this too, but they say it sarcastically and mean. As if they can never be right and our told that their opinions are wrong. I say it because Aliera is the smartest, most empathetic and tactical person I will ever know. She doesn’t make a decision without thinking through every consequence, she routinely can predict how people will react, and she knows more about me than I can ever hope to. It makes her decision to be with me all the more spectacular. Through multiple career changes, homes, four cats, friends, additions to the family, two dogs, name changes (for those of you paying attention) and life paths, Aliera and I have continually grown together. I’m not the same person I was when she first met me. I’m better. I have leveled up, friends! Eight years sounds like a lot of time, but these past 2,922 days have flown by. At the same time, I can’t believe that it has only been eight years. I can’t imagine my life without her, and it’s difficult to think of a time where she wasn’t there. Aliera has enhanced every aspect of my world and I can’t wait to see what the next 8, 16, 32, 64 years will look like. Aliera is Amazing! Level Up, Friends!