When they were 15, Gene and Loren were classmates at the single high school in their county. They often crossed paths in the same “smart kid classes”. In what was likely the only time studious Loren didn’t complete her homework, she asked Gene to tell her the answer to a question about A Separate Peace. Because he found her “too chipper” and thereby untrustworthy, he lied, telling her “Finney got his face chewed off by a beaver.” Loren found this comment, and Gene in general, “irksomely condescending”. But at least they were on speaking terms now, and they continued to see each other around school.
A year and a half later, on the bus heading to Virginia Beach for a geeky band trip, they finally confessed mutual feelings of “like”. Most of us experienced these nervous conversations over and over in our teenage years, an essential part of growing up and growing braver but nothing long term. But for Gene and Loren, as he watched her talk animatedly and discovered a depth in her, as she felt herself open to his charming arrogance and his singular loyalty to her, their whole lives shifted.
They began dating at age 16. Loren didn’t bother getting a prom dress because she already knew a wedding gown was around the corner. She was a high schooler asking for a set of dishes for Christmas.
They were engaged right after high school, living in the dorms while they planned a wedding.
They married at age 19, the summer after their freshman year of college, on a Wednesday that marked their third anniversary of starting to date.
They’ve now been married fifteen years.
Some people come into marriage fully formed adults who need to learn how to meld two distinct lives into one. Gene and Loren freely admit that they had no idea how to be grown up, or even who they were as individuals. So they discovered their interests and personalities together. In the early years, they had little responsibility and even less money; a single scholarship check would feed them for five months. Loren says, “Getting married so young is crazy, but we didn’t know it! We just felt like we could keep a promise.”
A new season found Gene in seminary and Loren at her first real nursing job. Now they had “grown-up money”, but still time on their hands. A trip to Chicago for their fifth anniversary was their first time in a big city, and they both fell in love with the museums, musicals, and new food that made city life zing. They’ve never had the desire to travel anywhere but cities since. They explored New York City, Paris, San Francisco, Boston and London together over the next few years.
Both Loren and Gene had always agreed that they wanted to adopt children, and as they neared year eight of marriage it began to feel selfish to continually postpone adoption for the sake of hanging on to freedom and fun. The process of adopting took over a year, and it was a time fraught with setbacks and uncertainty. They were constantly on edge, wondering when each new development would crumble. In 2011, they were finally able to adopt their daughters Joann and Evelyn from Uganda. Nine months later, they sold their house and moved from Greensboro to Milwaukee for Gene to pursue his doctorate at Marquette.
They say living in Milwaukee has been nothing but good for their family. Kind strangers from both a church they’d never visited and Marquette helped them move in, and became their close friends.
Gene says he never felt like a real adult until he was a father. The gravity of raising their daughters is rich and daunting. They’ve learned to parent as they’ve navigated all the nuances of adult life—together.
How does a marriage like this one last, two children promising a for better or worse they couldn’t have begun to comprehend?
When times are hard, like they were in year three in a big way and like they’ve been in innumerable small ways since, they remind each other that this is the one marriage they get. One or the other of them says so this is where we are right now. How are we going to make it through?
Because their key to staying married is more simple and more breathtaking than you’d guess: Don’t get divorced. It’s as easy and as seemingly impossible as that. What Gene and Loren do that others don’t is lean hard into that commitment, treating it like an immovable wall instead of a helpful suggestion. They bury themselves in God’s grace. And those children, who now raise children, who promised to live together always, now find themselves truly best friends.
They tell me that they never lose sight of the reality that “our girls will be gone in ten years but we will still be here, together.”
They tell me, “We were idiots, but it’s the best decision we ever made.”
They tell me without telling me just how good, not how easy, marriage can be.