At 18, I walked into his restaurant with swagger in each step, dreams in my eyes and sass on my tongue.
Jeff was supposed to be yet another man whom I would tease and watch stumble over my flirtatious overtures.
Instead, he bantered with me and accepted my challenge.
The story of my 15-year marriage will never inspire a big screen movie release, nor will it appear on the Hallmark channel. And that's why my marriage works.
We avoid scene-stealing fights on grand staircases.
No one smashes heirloom vases on the marble floor.
We've certainly never been so overwrought with anger and passion that he ripped off my clothes and ravaged me over the balcony railing while I hit and slapped him.
Nope, our house has a staircase tucked off of a main hallway, very narrow and dimly lit, which is not at all conducive to grandiose declarations and posturing.
Clutter suffocates me and overwhelms my senses, so no heirloom anything resides in my house, and marble floors are too expensive, too cold and too hard for my home.
I prefer to keep my anger and passion separate. A household filled with kids doesn't really afford my husband and I much time to do anything over a balcony railing - assuming we even had a balcony.
Seventeen years ago, Jeff was my waiter in a long-ago closed downtown Naperville restaurant. I was just a cocky teen, hoping to con an older guy into serving me some alcohol.
While I didn't stand a chance of getting served alcohol by my waiter-with-a-law-degree, I did get asked on a date.
As a child of divorce, I didn't want to get married. I certainly didn't ever imagine that I would get married at 20 and have three children before I turned 30.
And then I met Jeff.
We fell in love during the summer of 1995 and were married in May of 1997.
In front of all of our friends and family, we said our marriage vows. However, it was the unspoken vows we made to each other in our hearts that have sustained us.
The ceremony was just a pretty formality and expensive party, more for our friends and family than for either of us.
It was fun, but after a decade and a half of marriage, my memory is fuzzy. Fifteen years later, the specific details simply don't matter.
Any idiot can buy a ring and say "I do." Those words don't mean anything unless they have substance, promise, respect, friendship and real commitment behind them.
Our journey hasn't always been easy. We've stumbled and tripped.
A couple of times, we've fallen so far off course I worried we wouldn't find our way back home, to each other.
But we did. We always do and we always will.
Jeff is my North. Whenever I'm lost, I close my eyes and my heart leads me directly back to him.
He balances my crazy. His calm soothes my chaos. His dry humor diffuses even the most difficult situations.
Our relationship thrives in the space between these lines, in the quiet and peaceful stillness of companionship.
It flourishes in each glance across a raucous dinner table, each time his hand brushes mine.
Marriage is the most difficult thing I've ever done.
If you are fortunate, it will be the most difficult thing you ever do. And the most rewarding.
It is not for the hesitant nor the weak.
I guarantee that marriage will test you and frustrate you.
So stop fretting over all of the silly wedding details. Put down your binder filled with seating charts and check lists.
Take some time to write down all of the reasons that you love him/her. (You should save this list. You'll want to pull it out after your first fight as a married couple.)
Relax and slow down. It is only a wedding, one of the many days in your decades of marriage.
May you enjoy the friends, the laughter, the excitement.
Above all, don't forget to seek out those moments of real connection with your spouse on the day of your wedding and all the days of your marriage.
Those stolen looks and secret smiles and whispered promises . . . those moments will sustain you. Those moments will heal you and connect you in ways no ceremony ever will.