I sat across from him, nervous as ever.
Somewhere between small talk about the weather and what our favorite classes in college were, I knew I'd have to be upfront and honest with him before this could ever go any further.
"Listen," I started off, inhaling another slurp of my pumpkin latte. "There's something you should know about me."
Uh-oh. I shouldn't have started out like that.
Now he's probably thinking I got fired from every job I've ever had or I'm really a fugitive on the run or something.
"Yeah?" he asked, hesitantly.
I sucked in my breath. I could feel the nervousness trembling in my bones.
I looked him straight in the eye and said, "I was married before."
Now, it may seem like stating you were married before is not a big deal.
But for me, at the time I finally started to get back out there, it was.
Men between the ages of 25 and 29 viewed dating a divorced, just turned 24-year-old (who had to move back in with mom and dad) a real deal-breaker.
It felt being divorced was like wearing a red, neon sign on my forehead that said, "Run as fast as you can."
I was used to guys telling me it wasn't a deal breaker, but it always ending up being one.
Because I was so young and already divorced, men viewed me as either having too much baggage and thus not worth the time and effort, or as someone who just wanted to fool around and take a break from being serious.
Neither of the two were correct.
Sure, divorce comes with baggage.
But after three steady years of late nights spent alone, Friday nights at the bar, nonchalant flings, hanging out with that guy who dumped me on New Year's Eve and countless nights trying to put myself out there, I wanted to try to rebuild my life.
I finally wanted to be in a solid, down-to earth, loving relationship. It wasn't too much to ask for. In fact, it was what I deserved.
As soon as I told him this, he looked at me, smiling, and said, "Everyone has baggage. That doesn't bother me at all. What's in your past is in your past. I want to get to know you now."
Cue the moment I began to fall for him.
So, more than a year later, here I am.
For some weird reason, I'm thinking back to that moment and realizing how different my life is now, as opposed to how it was back at the time I bore someone else's last name and lived in a different zip code.
I think about all the differences between the two.
As obvious as the differences between the grooms are, there are also differences just in general.
With talk of getting engaged sometime this year to having an October wedding within the next two, I know this marriage will be totally different from my last for the following reasons:
1. It's not about the wedding. It's about the marriage.
It was all about the show of it. Not to sound conceited, but it was about having pretty flowers, bridesmaids who looked perfect, walking down the aisle to the right kind of music, a gorgeous cake and sitting at Starbucks sifting through wedding catalogs.
Maybe the fact that he was living 20,000 miles away from me during the planning had something to do with it.
The wedding always focused on the wedding aspect, not the "I'm about to spend the rest of my life with this man" part.
This time around, I don't even need the wedding, the fancy bouquet, the glistening diamond ring, the right music or the right anything.
All I want is him, by my side, forever. Everything else is extra.
2. Everyone is supportive.
Although, to be fair, my parents had to watch their 18-year-old daughter walk down the aisle and move halfway across the globe for two and a half years just three weeks after graduating high school. Not a great situation.
They were still supportive of me and my dreams.
But supportive of the groom? No. Supportive of the marriage? No.
Why? Because they saw what my blinders refused to recognize. They saw we weren't meant for each other.
We didn't compliment one another. We didn't exude happiness the way a couple in love ought to.
This time around, my family and friends want to clone my current boyfriend. "Does he have a brother?" often comes into play around my coworkers and friends.
3. I understand what marriage is about now.
Everyone matures at a different rate. At 18, I'd like to believe there was a part of me that was wise beyond my years.
But looking back on it, I was a complete moron at 18.
I was foolish. I was motivated by emotion, not logic.
I had to learn real quick what it meant to stand on my own two feet without any help from mommy or daddy, and that lesson was tough to learn. At that age, I looked at marriage as something you just naturally did.
To put it bluntly, I believed once you get married, suddenly all the rules change.
It isn't about you individually anymore. It's about your identity as a couple.
Now at 25, I've learned that yes, marriage needs to be about compromise and compatibility. But you also can't get lost in someone else's identity.
In marriage, you need to be able to grow with the person beside you. This time around, it's more than sharing a joint bank account.
It's about constantly learning, constantly evolving and constantly being open with one another to make a marriage survive. It's about learning to be together without expectations of what the other person should automatically be doing.
4. It's not about convenience. It's about a conscientious choice.
With my first marriage, we got hitched because he was stationed 20,000 miles away from me while I was still in high school.
What was better? Being apart for another two to three years, or me packing up and moving in with him once I graduated high school? The latter, to us, was the better option.
In hindsight, was it really? No.
The choice to get married shouldn't be for any reason other than you want to start your life out with someone. It definitely should not be because it's easier to do so than deal with a long-distance relationship.
This time, it's about wanting to share every horrific, glorious and exciting moment with the man I love.
5. We've lived together first.
As the old saying goes, you need to test drive the car first before buying it.
As cliched as it sounds, that analogy couldn't be any truer if it tried. Living with someone helps you pick up on each other's quirks.
He needs to do the dishes before he goes to bed. Does that bother you or not?
Does he leave his dirty socks on the bathroom floor? Do you leave your bra drying on the bedroom doorknob after a shower?
You learn about your compatibility and figure out how to divide tasks between the two of you, like who takes out the trash, washes the windows and folds the laundry.
When you live together, you learn what each other's habits are.
Marrying someone you've never lived with before is literally like buying the car without a test drive.
It's not a good idea. Trust me.
6. He's the one.
I remember my ex and I driving back from a short road trip we took together. Metro Station was blasting through the speakers, and I looked over at him and thought, "He's the one."
Do you want to know what my reasons were for thinking that?
He was the only other person I met who liked strawberry-flavored milk and Peanut Chews (my favorite candy), and he was upfront with what his interests were.
As I said, at 18 years old, I was a moron.
But at 17, I was just a straight-up fool. My lists for thinking someone was the one were very immature, shallow and irrelevant.
Fast-forward to 25.
Taking into account all I've learned, I've realized discovering the one isn't based on one specific act, or even a list of similar interests. It's discovery based on a series of insignificant acts.
It's the way I saw him show an autistic boy how to make his very own commercial. It's the way I see him strumming my dad's guitar because he knows my dad's fingers hurt when he tries to do it himself.
It's the way I see him never give up on his dreams. It's the way he looks at me, consistently encouraging me and believing in me.
It's not about what we have in common. It's about all the things I see him do, and how he is.
It lets me know he stands out from the rest.
I can't describe what it's like to love the one. You just do.