By Martin Novell, M.S. ’80, and Daina Hulet
Talk, about everything from feelings to dreams, is the foundation of a strong committed relationship. But talk isn’t always enough to move a relationship along or keep a marriage on the right track. Putting thoughts in writing can go a long way toward igniting and maintaining a spark between two people.
Here’s how opening up on paper – and display screens for emails, texts and the like – deepened the connections of four happily married couples who met and dated at Cal Lutheran.
Delaney (Gallagher ’12) and Michael Rodriguez met within days of moving into the Mount Clef dorm as freshmen. There were no sparks between them. Michael was friendly, but Delaney did not like him. Part of the same group of friends, they saw each other constantly.
A few months into the semester, Delaney realized she was having a change of heart. “I wanted him to know I had feelings for him,” she recalls. She slipped a candid, open-ended half-page letter under his door, leaving it up to him to make a move. “He still has it hidden somewhere!”
For Michael, “there definitely needed to be some catalyst for us to get together. I wasn’t really looking…. I was having a good time making lots of friends. The note surprised me.”
In his room when the note arrived, Michael headed straight to Delaney’s room, where they talked, awkwardly. Nothing changed for a while, though there was a new, mild discomfort when they were together in the company of friends. Out on a walk weeks later, Michael suggested, “If you want to be my girlfriend, I’d be cool with it.” Delaney laughed and said, yes.
Apart from each other that first summer, they’d text or chat on Facebook to connect. Talking on the phone wasn’t in Michael’s comfort zone, and Delaney understood. Back at school, they often gave each other cards for no special reason, adding something sweet and personal by hand – a tradition they’ve continued into their newly married life. “I just got a card filled with love quotes from Delaney. I appreciate it a lot – it’s sitting next to my side of the bed.”
Writing poems, personalizing their wedding vows with words of their own, and exchanging loving, thoughtful texts during workdays have all lent depth to the relationship. “For Michael, writing is an easier way for him to communicate,” Delany says. “For me, writing out my feelings takes things to the next level. Michael hears me end phone calls with family with, ‘I love you.’ When I write the same words to Michael, it makes them more intimate and special.”
Aarika (Lim ’07) and Ryan Riddle ’07 met in a religion course, though it was a group project in oceanography that “sealed the deal,” they say. The first summer after they began dating, Aarika went home to Hawaii, and Ryan stayed in California. The three-hour time difference and their work schedules made it hard to communicate by phone.
“We did a lot of emailing and instant messaging,“ remembers Ryan. “It emboldened me to ask questions that might sound boring in person, things I wouldn’t normally ask if I were face-to-face having coffee with Aarika. Being a shy person, I’m much more open on chat and email.”
“By the time we were back at school together, I was comfortable and relaxed with Ryan,” Aarika adds. “We really got to know each other that first summer by writing.”
Writing has continued to play a significant part in their six-year marriage. They stay in touch during the day via chat and make cards for each other on special occasions. During our telephone interview for this article, Ryan found a note he had synched to his current phone, written by Aarika in 2009. “It says, ‘I love you. I hope you’re having a good day. Love you.’ It’s fun to save old emails and texts to stumble upon and read later.”
After making friends in a political science class, Jessica (David ’98) and David Lundeen ’00 would sit together in classes and run into each other at social functions. Things began heating up after Jessica left a message on David’s voice mail with a rather convoluted reason for wanting to go out for a cold Jamba Juice. They began dating right before her graduation.
It was during David’s internship in Washington, D.C., his senior year, that the couple began to buy cards and exchange letters and emails to uncover the more emotional aspects of their relationship. They used the phone mainly to share updates. “If I want to get a thought out clearly, I do it better in writing. I can look at it and make sure it’s what I want to say,” explains David.
David’s career in the Army – three deployments to Iraq, 12 months in Korea – has kept the couple apart for large chunks of time over their 12-year marriage. They abide by their belief that “the secret to good communication, is to keep communicating”; for them that means keeping in touch by phone, plus writing.
“By phone, I know that David’s safe and we pass along information. In writing we have more time to be romantic, personal and emotional,” says Jessica.
When they’re at home together, they text and give each other cards. “And sometimes when there are issues – we’ve talked around and around a subject – I’ll take the writing route to find a resolution,” says Jessica. “It keeps us closer.”
Writing is also becoming a part of their family culture. Their children write and make cards for David when he’s away. Recently, their 9-year-old daughter sent them an unexpected letter from camp filled with thoughts and questions. She asked them for a letter in response.
Jenifer (Larson ’90) and Dave Salzwedel ’90 married at the CLU chapel 18 years ago, and chose to baptize their twin daughters there because their love began on campus. A volleyball player and a soccer player, Jenifer and Dave had lived in the same dorm, supported each other at games, shared classes and generally enjoyed one another’s company. They were such good friends, they even double-dated – though not as a couple.
In their junior year, leaving behind their apprehension about losing the friendship, they began dating. After graduation, Dave moved to San Francisco to play professional soccer, while Jenifer worked in Los Angeles, and the long-distance romance commenced. In the beginning they wrote letters only sporadically, and email was not a real option back then. “We talked by phone, but it was always a nice surprise to get something in the mail. We found that for us there’s a difference between talking on the phone and writing, between verbally showing our affection and sharing our deeper thoughts,” says Jenifer, who signed her cards and letters to Dave, “Always and forever.”
Today, after 18 years of marriage, most of their written communications are brief texts to keep in touch and on the same page about the day’s events. Dave signs off every message he sends to Jenifer with “LUVYA.”
After earning a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in counseling and guidance at CLU and a second master’s in psychology, Martin Novell went on to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. Daina Hulet is a former West Coast editor of Glamour magazine. They have been in a “curated relationship” for 11 years. For more of their perspective on building enviable committed relationships, visit www.thecuratedrelationship.com.