Relationships change over time. Dating can be a unifying constant.

In early April 2021, my husband Wes and I pulled out the right bottle of scotch and played a spooky game.

The Scotch came from Whitehorse, Canada. We bought it on a bike trip in 2019 and only broke it on the most special occasions (its last casting was in October 2021, in honor of Wes’ late father).

The game was a gift from a close friend. By offering it to us, she either wanted to see us get closer or divorced. Called {THE AND}, it’s a card game with direct and provocative questions designed to inspire honest conversation and connection.

At this time of year, you can imagine the light rushing in, filling our home with an evening glow that we had sorely missed during the confined pandemic winter of 2020. We sat on the sofa by the windows, surrounded by the daylight that illuminated our rock glasses when placed on the coffee table.

The opportunity? We were both fully vaccinated; two weeks after our second shots. The game?! We had “played” it before and it hadn’t separated us yet. That night we celebrated that profound life moment of experiencing a global pandemic coupled with accelerated science and global systems that brought vaccines right into our arms. We felt quite ready for a real conversation.

We drew cards with questions such as “How did your early childhood influence our relationship?” and “What do you still like about me?”

Fortunately, we both had a lot to say. We’re both pretty good at spotting inauthenticity, and the conversation wasn’t rushed.

A theme that came out of that night, as we both toasted this edge of our lives that we found ourselves on – with a frightening and uncertain time behind us and another unknown of life after the upcoming vaccine – was our common desire to always grow.

When I met my husband over 10 years ago he was in the gym. He had run a fast 3-mile loop on an asphalt road next to his suburban fitness center in Sparks, Nevada, but other than that he was no runner. He loved hiking and hiking. He lifted.

At the time, I considered myself a runner, but with hesitation. I had the credit of having completed several half marathons, but I was by no means terribly strong or fast. I also loved hiking and backpacking. I had lifted a weight once in college.

Our first appointments were spent outside. In Alaska, I taught him to cross-country ski (he quickly passed me, annoying). In Sparks, we organized an “adventure race”. We parked his car in downtown Reno, took a public bus back to Sparks, and ran on a bike path the 8 miles downtown. It was the longest race he had ever done. We celebrated with beer and burgers.

When I moved to Reno, he introduced me to trail running. He was trying it more and more, and it seemed like a good compromise, between his lifting strength and his cardiovascular fitness from the hike. Unfortunately for me, the trails he considered flat were not. And like I said before, maybe I had pretty good stamina, but I wasn’t terribly strong.

Still, with the newness of the relationship, I was choking my heart trying to beat out of my chest. Or rather, I waved it forward as I ran, then headed up the 1,700-foot elevation gain trail into the Mount Rose Wilderness that flanks Reno.

“Flat,” he said.

Over time, he became a full-fledged runner. I got in shape.

Fast forward 10 years, and Wes recently got certified as a personal trainer. He begins designing programs for a few close friends and family members who want to be his first test clients.

I’m newly interested in how fast I can go as a runner. I’ve never been before, but life is long and it seems like I’m only getting stronger. Why not see what I can do?

When we were playing this game last year, Wes said we didn’t let the moss grow. What he appreciates about me and us is that we are always evolving in our lives. Yes, we do it in partnership. But we also maintain our strengths and interests individually, and we support each other in our growth.

For both of us, as individuals and as a couple, being outside together has been the backdrop for the rest of our lives. Or rather, he was the unifying factor. There’s hardly any other place any of us would rather be at any given time. We are currently taking steps in our lives to allow ourselves to be outdoors, more.

It’s what drives us both – to get stronger, to go faster – and motivates us, to go further and more connected. Being outside presents us with some of our happiest moments, shared with each other, with family, friends or just alone, admiring the world. I think it’s pretty basic and elementary. But, it’s also romantic, in its own way.

This year, actual Valentine’s Day fell on a weeknight and a friend’s birthday. We are celebrating our “observed Valentine’s Day” this weekend. We’re off the good scotch now. Too many important life moments and not enough booze, I guess. We already have our booster shots, so this date idea is out.

But we will go out together one way or another to celebrate. We might even play the terrifying game.

About Eric Hudkins

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