During that last week together I wasn’t the only one who figured out that six months apart was going to be way too long. I actually flew out of Sydney a few hours before she did, which meant the six months I’d planned to spend there was cut down to 2 ½ months. New Zealand, where I had originally hoped to spend three months, got cut down to six days (and even that was too long). Two weeks in Fiji got hacked down to two days and then I was back home.

Claudia, meanwhile, had a layover in Rome on her way to Zurich and who was waiting for her there in the airport? The heartbroken ex, by then sure something was going very wrong with his plan to win back the woman he’d so foolishly dumped. He’d flown all the way there, had the big bouquet of flowers and everything, only to find out she’d moved on. (I have to believe she enjoyed that, at least a little!)

When Claudia got home she told her parents about me and then asked them if I could just, you know, come live with them for six months (she’d moved back home after the break up with her ex). Now, these are nice, solid, normal conservative Swiss folks and Switzerland is the kind of place where you don’t hear people inviting you to come on in, put your feet up on the coffee table, open the fridge and make yourself at home (as we’re known to do here in the West). There was no earthly reason for them to agree to take in their daughter’s long-haired, unemployed boyfriend that she just barely met in Australia!

And yet, they did. Further proof there was some kind of divine hand behind all this. (Probably getting a good laugh too.)

About a month after parting in Sydney, I landed in Frankfurt, Germany, where I planned to hop a train down to Zurich to meet Claudia. The plane came in a few minutes early and I was able to catch an earlier train. Everything was looking good.

Except that when I got to Zurich, there was no Claudia. Instead, there was a woman who explained to me in halting English that Claudia had gotten off work to go to Frankfurt and surprise me and arrived a few minutes after I left.

Those six months in Switzerland were a little rough on all of us. Things weren’t always rosy between my future in-laws and me, but somehow we weathered it. A couple side trips to visit my brother, who was living in Hungary at the time, helped keep us all from killing each other, but mostly we just sort of stuck it out.

It was difficult for Claudia and me during that time too. In our month apart I’d managed to reassemble a lot of my defenses and I wasn’t nearly as open again. (I don’t know if I’ve ever been as open and vulnerable as I was in those two magical weeks in Australia.

And it was not your usual courtship, where you meet someone you like, date a few times, date a few more, then maybe decide to live together and try it out. Instead, we were basically flung together, living together under her parents’ roof. During the day while she was at work we were apart, but the rest of the time we were together, trying to navigate all the pitfalls that accompany any new relationship, while dealing with keeping her parents happy.

I also had some real money problems while I was there, but not the kind you’re thinking. When I got back to the States I busted my butt and got a couple of weeks of work in, trying to put together some cash for Switzerland (In the two weeks with Claudia in Australia, I spent more than I did in the previous two months. Them last minute plane tickets ain’t cheap, I’m telling you.) I figured when I got there I could find some work teaching English or something and I could sort of pay my own way.

Then I got off the train in Zurich and got a serious case of sticker shock. A Coke was like five bucks! I about had a heart attack. The money I’d brought was going to last me about thirty minutes.

Claudia was making good money and so she naturally told me not to worry. She’d pay for whatever I needed while I was there, even give me some spending money. I went along with it, but it was hard. I’d been raised to pay my own way. For sure I wasn’t supposed to let a woman pay for me. I felt guilty about every Swiss franc I spent. Every week when she tried to give me more money it would turn out I still had most of what she’d given me the week before. I just couldn’t make myself spend it.

Finally she chewed me out. If the situations were reversed I’d pay for her, right? Well, yeah, but that’s different. Why? Uh…because I’m a man? It got a little better after that but it was still difficult for me. Fortunately I found a few students and managed to pick up a few francs teaching English, which helped me feel better.

After she wrapped up her job the following spring we took off and spent the next six months traveling around the United States. I worked wherever I could get a job and every couple of months she’d head back to Switzerland, where she was evidently so awesome at her job that her old employer would take her back, at the same pay, for five or six weeks. (Those times apart were awfully tough too.)

On about our one year anniversary I proposed. We set the date for a year later, she went home for six weeks of work and then we went back to Australia, where we spent several months hitchhiking around. While down there we also managed to make it to my sister’s wedding in New Zealand and spent a couple of weeks in Tonga.

From there it was back to Switzerland and she went back to work while I studied German and wrote and we prepared for the wedding. We did have time for a few weeks traveling around Eastern Europe and the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia).

On August 29th, 1995, in Winterthur, Switzerland, we had the first of our three weddings. What? You mean most people don’t have three weddings?

Well, by now it should be clear that we aren’t most people. The first wedding was the civil one, only immediate family, in the clerk’s office. Then, a few days later, on September 2nd, we had the big church wedding. (Sometime I’ll have to tell you how they tortured me for that one.) Finally, in mid-October, back in Arizona, we had a third wedding for all my friends and family who couldn’t make the other two.

And that, children, is how I met your mother. We’ll be married 20 years come this September. We’ve had our rough patches, things the romantic comedies and fairy tales never mention, but we’ve stayed together through it all and we grow closer every year. If I could wish one thing for you boys, it would be that you are fortunate enough to meet a woman as special as your mother.

And that you have the courage to take the leap when the opportunity comes.