Weeks into dating, my boyfriend took me to visit his friend in a hospital.
The friend died during our visit, and I went to his funeral.
Five years later, my boyfriend and I are still together.
"I think your friend stopped breathing," I said to Andrew, my date for the evening.
We leaned closer to Mark's hospital bed as medical equipment beeped and whirred around us. "Can you go get someone?" Andrew asked.
I ran down a hallway and found a nurse, who rushed back with me to check Mark's pulse. "I'm sorry," the nurse said. "Is there anyone I can call for you?"
A shrink for me, perhaps, I thought. What's the protocol when someone dies and you're on a date?
My boyfriend and I had just started dating
Andrew and I had been dating for a few weeks — we were at that stage at the start of a relationship when you're so in love that even going to see someone in hospice seems romantic.
Mark was Andrew's friend from law school. Andrew and I were planning to stop in and see him and then grab dinner at a nice restaurant in Boston. But within half an hour of our arrival, Mark had died.
I sat on a small couch in a corner of the hospital room, trying to stay out of the way. The room filled up with a funeral director, another friend from law school, and a Catholic priest named Father Alex, who noticed how uncomfortable I was and made a beeline for me.
"How did you know Mark?" he asked.
Oh, God. How was I supposed to answer that? We met for the first time a half-hour ago? I'm sleeping with his best friend?
"I'm here with Andrew," I said. "We're on a date."
"A date?" He laughed. "Well, how's it going?"
What was I saying? Someone just died. But until then, it had been a great date. All my dates with Andrew were.
We were both divorced
Andrew was the first person I dated after my divorce. He was going through a divorce as well. I was trying to take our relationship slow, not wanting to mess up as I had the first time around in my marriage, but I wanted to spend all my time with him.
We hung out on my couch and talked for hours, moving only to refill our coffee mugs or wine glasses. Andrew showed up at my house so often that my dog Ronan no longer barked when he walked in. I said yes each time he asked me to get together, including when he invited me to visit Mark, dropping myself even deeper into his life.
The day after Mark died, I made a coffee run for Andrew and Mark's family members while they discussed the pros and cons of certain caskets. I even helped Andrew pick out a suit and tie for Mark to wear.
"So you'll come to the funeral, right?" Andrew asked.
It turns out that when someone dies on your date, you automatically get an invitation to their funeral. But it didn't feel right. Wouldn't that be like crashing a wedding but worse? And what does one wear to a wake when you're hoping to have sex afterward?
Our relationship got stronger
When Andrew picked me up, I slid into the passenger seat in a simple black dress and knee-high boots with little tassels on the zippers. We were heading to a funeral home, but it felt like a date.
I tried to stay out of the way, but when a priest learned that I had gone to Catholic school, he asked if I could be part of the memorial service and read the petitions aloud.
Time and time again, people at the funeral home asked me how I knew Mark. My response was always the same: "I didn't. I'm here on a date."
Like Father Alex, they were curious about how my date was going. Maybe in times of darkness we yearn for signs of love.
I'd worried that going to Mark's funeral would mess up my relationship, but it did the opposite. Though I wished that Mark hadn't died and that Andrew would be spared his grief, the events set my love life in motion. I learned what a caring person Andrew was and how he could be so supportive of others during times of tragedy. It showed me he was someone I could count on.
We've been together for 5 years
It's been five years since Mark died, and Andrew and I are still together. Sometimes I think back to how our relationship started and can't get over that someone actually died on our date. I'd wanted to play by the rules, but it turns out there's no rule book — not in love, and certainly not when someone dies when you're on a date.
There's so much pressure to have everything go right at the start of a relationship, but maybe there's something to be said for having things go wrong. Everything just feels easy after that.
Andrew and I never made it to that nice dinner. By the time we left the hospital, all the restaurants had closed, so we grabbed a large cheese pizza. I knew I was falling in love with Andrew but had been too scared to tell him how I felt. His friend had just died, but suddenly it seemed like the perfect time. Death can force you to live in the moment.
"I love you," I said, holding the warm pizza box.
Andrew smiled and said, "I love you, too."
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