September 28, 2016
On a summer day in a Baltimore suburb, I met Aaron and Cherisse over lunch to interview them about their marriage. For some reason, I was nervous. A thunderstorm threatened to ruin the photos and I wanted to ensure I could get some great images of Cherisse and her husband. I also hadn’t seen Cherisse in person since we graduated from high school. We spent every morning together for four years in Mrs. McGillcuddy’s homeroom thanks to the alphabetical proximity of our maiden names. Over the years, I kept up with her life via social media. A very public proposal. Marriage. Two VERY cute children- a boy and and a girl. Life. At least snapshots anyway. Was I nervous about hearing something that would tarnish the perfect image? Whatever it was, the tensions settled once they began to openly share the truth behind the pictures. Thank God the rain stopped as we explored the campus of University of Maryland Baltimore Campus (UMBC) where the two met and fell in love.
They two met in the fall of 2004 as freshman attending UMBC. He thought she was “bourgie”. She thought he was a jock.
“When I met her, she had on a Coach wristlet”, laughed Aaron. “We started talking about where we went to high school. She went to Elizabeth Seton [an all-girls Catholic high school]. Hair was long. She was looking pretty and everything like a model. Clearly, I thought guys were on her. I was not going to be one of those guys.”
Cherisse assumed similarly of Aaron upon their first meeting: “He had on basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He said he was on the track team on scholarship. So of course, I was like ‘Yea, you’re a jock.’ I was not going to be one of his girls.”
Despite their assumptions, they began as friends, hanging out with a larger group of seven students. Eventually, Aaron put his assumptions aside and got her number from a mutual friend. “He called me at 11:30 am on a Saturday. In college, that’s sleep time.”
That initial phone conversation was the first of many and Aaron eventually acknowledged his feelings for Cherisse: “One evening, I remember falling asleep on the phone and I revealed the feelings I had about her. I was dreaming and I accidentally said, ‘Why can’t you get out of my head? Why do you stay on my mind?’ We wound up talking from 11 until 6 in the morning.”
The two became serious in college and Aaron staged a public proposal during the Spring of 2008 during his fraternity’s step show. They married November of that year. Yet, they acknowledge that the past 8 years hasn’t been all rosy. During the interview, they reflected on their courtship, assumptions they had about marriage, and tensions they’ve had in handling finances and raising children. This picture-perfect couple has had some rocky times, even contemplating separation and divorce. Just like the thunderstorm that threatened to stop our session, life’s storms have threatened their union. Yet, through it all, they have decided to progress together, working out issues daily and growing in grace for one another.
Thank you Cherisse and Aaron for opening up.
Y: So how did you propose?
A: Our organization stepped. Senior year, I talked to her father a couple of weeks beforehand. We knew that we were serious about one another. It’s not about if we’re going to do it, it’s just a matter of when we’re going to do it. April 10th was the actual day. We had the final senior step show. I invited her parents, my parents and our friends into town. I told my [fraternity] brothers that I wanted to infuse the proposal. In the step show, one of my good friends includes poetry. I had him do a poem about falling in love and wanting to be with a beautiful girl. After the poem, I came down and pretended to start leading a step. I had a box in my pocket the entire time but it came out while I was stepping. The guys who were with me surrounded me and asked whose box it was. They read the name on the box and it said hers. I asked her to come down, but she wouldn’t budge. I wound up going into the crowd to propose. She would not come down.
C: I would not come down. First of all, I asked him not to do it in front of a whole bunch of people. (*laughter*)
A: I wasn’t going to listen to that.
What assumptions did you have about marriage?
C: All happy times. (laughter) Not all happy times but I didn’t think it would get as hard as it has gotten.
A: I thought we were going to leave our parents and cleave to one another. We heard about it and we knew what it was supposed to look like. The actual doing it was difficult. When things got rough, she wanted to go talk to her parents. [I believed that because] we’re husband and wife, we needed to work things out. No- she just wanted to talk to her parents or say ‘I want to go stay with my parents for a while’. But it’s supposed to be you and me.
Finances & Parental Influences
A: Finances were a huge issue. I didn’t expect finances to be that hard. There was a lot of “mine” and no “ours”. I sold cars for a while. That, I think caused our first test to either grow or crumble. The income was strictly commission. If I had a good month, we had money for days. The next month, if it wasn’t coming in, even though my work ethic was the same, the money wasn’t the same. I needed her to slow down on the spending. Maybe we didn’t need that Express credit card or that Victoria’s Secret credit card anymore….or that Coach wristlet (*laughs*). We had credit card debt out the wazoo. Like hold up why do we have a new credit card? I was trying to figure things out. It was cool for a while but I didn’t want to get into the habit of this. She’s tall, she’s 5’,10” so she needs Express jeans because they’re the only jeans that fit her body. My jeans cost $20. I’m still wearing the same jeans from five years ago.
C: (sarcastically) Carpenter jeans with the tab on the side. Stop.
A: But you met me like that, right? (*laughter*)…I was very frugal. I didn’t spend money but I always had money. When I did spend money, I would do something really nice. We like going out to eat so I’d always have money for that. My money was spent on us. Her money was spent on her….If we had a goal together, then maybe we could achieve getting out of this apartment within the next ten years. Lets create a budget. SIx years later, we still don’t have a budget (*laughter*). All we do is make more money, make more debt. Let’s figure out a way to pay some debt off. We got tax returns, 401(k)’s now, maybe we can take a loan out and pay some debt off. Next thing you know something else pops up.
C: My parents have been married for 30 years. My dad is very easy-going. I don’t see him as much of a controller as I sometimes see [Aaron]. Both of my parents have always worked. It’s always been a two income household, like we are. My dad doesn’t monitor what my mom does. My parents aren’t savers. My dad figures he can’t take his money to the grave so he spends it. That was instilled in me. I definitely took a lot of what my parents ideals are into our marriage. That influenced how I figured my marriage would be.
On Maturing as an individual
C: Even though my dad wasn’t controlling with my mom, he was controlling with his kids. I never felt like I could do anything. When I left their household, I didn’t leave him to get another dad. So I figured, I was going to do what I want to do. There was no time for me to grow into a woman or young adulthood. We went straight into a marriage. He really wanted to be on one accord but we were young and we had no kids. I gave him his freedom, and I wanted him to give me mine. I wanted to spend my money the way I wanted to spend it. I was mostly trying to enjoy moving into adulthood. Every time we argued, I said, “You’re not my Daddy”.
A: I just wanted to stick to the plan. I always saw a lot of potential in us working together. I loved the way she carried herself, she was always a leader amongst her peers. If we put our heads together, we could really make an impact in the world. I’m a visionary. I didn’t want her to simply fall in line but if she supported me, we could make this vision work. Every time I tried to strategize or map something out, she’d say, ‘Well I want to do this’. But there was no more I. It’s us now.
How did having children affect your relationship?
C: When I asked him this question in the car, what did you say?
A: It effed us up. It.effed.us.up.
Y: Was it planned?
A: Yes, they both were. But we were trying to get into the groove of things. Finances were a big deal. After being in an apartment for a year, we moved in with my parents for four months. That was really rough for her because of the different dynamics at home. We saved up money and got into our first house.
C: We were paying more in the house so there still really wasn’t much left.
A: Yea and we still didn’t have that huge amount of savings that I wanted or that solidified plan of action that I wanted. We just were still trying to find a way to make ends meet.
C: I think when the kids came along, we knew each other as just Aaron and Cherisse. When the kids came along we got to see parenting styles…I’m much more permissive. When it comes down to it, you do what you saw. I always appreciated that he came from a good home and vice versa. No divorce. I got to see how he parents based on how his parents are. It’s just really different.
A: My parents have been married 41 years. I never saw my parents fight. My mom was the nurturer my dad was the disciplinarian. As I got older, I started to appreciate the discipline that my dad put in place. So if I see a behavior that could be destructive, I put the discipline in place.
C: I feel like I understand [our daughter]…the way that she processes things. She is very emotional. I’m emotional. A big issue for me in our marriage is not feeling emotionally understood. When she’s upset about something and I see the way he deals with her, I don’t like it. I try to tell him from her perspective this is what she’s feeling. A way to make her feel validated is if you say this to her in this tone. That causes a lot of issues because he thinks I’m trying to tell him how to parent. I just don’t want her to not like you when she gets older. I’m a daddy’s girl. I want that for my daughter. I try to foster that between them.
What do you love about each other?
C: I love the fact that you always put your family first and that you see the importance of being present. I don’t have to worry about you being out in the streets or you choosing your friends over me and the children. I love your work ethic. Annnnd….I love….your eyes.
A: The word best friend doesn’t describe her to me. She’s much more than that. She gets me like no other person. She knows what I’m feeling when I don’t know what I’m feeling. She knows what I need when I don’t know what I need. She knows what to say and how to make me feel better. She’s always in my corner and motivating me to do better. I love her for being so in tuned emotionally with me. I love her physical beauty but also her inner beauty. I think they complement each other. Everywhere she goes, people just naturally follow her.
C: I don’t know where he gets this stuff.
YS: Just receive it!
C: I think that perseverance is important for us. Beating the odds because we’ve had that situation where you contemplate the “d” word. I think for us we realized the spiritual impact of that. When you divorce, that’s now what we came from and that’s not something that we want to pass down to our children. We’ve dealt with infidelity, loss of job, lack of intimacy, a lot of things that tear other couples apart. Lots of prayer and spiritual support from other people we’ve been able to overcome those things.
A: I want people to remember that beyond what it looked like, there was a lot of work that went behind the scenes. With that work was a lot of sacrifice. Things that we wanted to do individually…it took the work of our parents, the prayers of our friends. They always found a way to reach out to us at some of our lowest points. We were about to separate. We never did it on our own. There was a community of people who we reached out to. They had our best interest at heart. We didn’t do ourselves. It was real work and it still is real work.
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