Sometimes, in these last few years, I couldn’t help but feel that the mistakes I’d made would haunt me forever, at least in projected marks upon my forehead. For better or worse, as cliché as it may be, the bad times make you who you are as much or more than the good times. But had I never known abject failure, I would have no tolerance for abject failure in another human being.

Shortly after I was born, my father wrote me a note telling me that if he could make for me a world devoid of pain and heartbreak, much as he might wish for such a world looking at me in my tiny, frail state, he would not do it. And for this I am grateful. My father has done his best to protect me from harm all the days of my life, but to create a world devoid of pain is to create a flat space where there should be texture, topography, valleys of shadow and mountains so close to the sun that its heat burns you. Sorrow is the world’s common denominator, its oldest call to maturity, its first precursor to forgiveness. To shut out pain is to shut out living.

And if in the midst of this, in the midst of the bare-faced, nuanced imperfection of your being, someone can tell you whole-heartedly that you are worthy of pursuit, that you are worthy of being treated well, it can give you hope, not just for yourself, but for the race of men. Though you may have countless examples of non-romantic excellence, sometimes it takes romantic excellence to convince you that romantic excellence exists in a form to fit your particularities. Even if you don’t end up marrying the guy. Because it’s real. You know it’s real. You’ve been there. You won’t settle for anything less again.

The first night I met Louis, we were sitting around a fire in our mutual friend Em’s back yard, and Em brought up the story of how he’d carried a girl home from a wedding because she was too drunk to get there on her own initiative. This girl’s fiance was absent, so Louis took responsibility for her. After Louis trudged back, and she threw up on his shoes, he deposited her in her own bed, and she, anxious from the toxins coursing through her small frame, asked that he sleep on the floor next to her in case something bad happened. Louis said he couldn’t do that out of respect for her fiance, but that he would leave her door open and sleep in the hallway if she liked. So it was that our mutual friend Em, the other girl’s housemate, got up in the middle of the night and found Louis curled up in the doorway, “like a big mastiff.”

This odd little story warmed my heart, and I thought, I think I like this dude. Despite the less-than-ideal situation, he didn’t try to pawn her off on someone else. He just took care of her.

We started dating a few weeks later, and I was completely myself with him. We disagreed about some things. I half-expected him to be uncomfortable with this. But he wasn’t. We still disagree, but he reassures me: “If anyone is rude to you for what you believe, I will always have your back.” And then he grins, because I think he likes this idea.

This is one reason I respect him — because he is man enough to consider what I have to say and not be threatened by it. And believe me, he should be this secure in his manhood. This is someone who has personally hunted, and caught, terrorists — a man who will care for and protect his friends without expecting anything in return, who will protect the weak even if he personally disagrees with them. This is a man who does what he says, who tells the truth, who would never use his greater physical strength to impose his will or his wrath upon me, even by insinuation. This is a man who is respected by his peers and has been fair with his enemies.

But he is not perfect. Thanks be to God. And in his imperfection, he understands mine.

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