Tiny Love Stories: ‘The Problem Was He Smelled Really Good’

My high school friends restart a group text. Basic holiday wishes turn to cheering on professional accomplishments and then to art, music and book recommendations. We send memes, pictures, Spotify links. Most of us have not seen one another in nearly two decades, yet we remember the smell of each other’s childhood homes, how NPR was always playing. There is a sturdiness here, not just in our friendships enduring, but in the reminder that we existed before all this — the babies, the career ambitions, the illnesses. And that, so far, we’ve survived it all. — Kathleen Donahoe

Walking out of one of countless oncology appointments that year, I asked my parents how they were coping. Mum looked at me earnestly, and cracked a smile. “Well, if your dad has to have cancer, at least I have it too,” she said. Without missing a beat, my father quipped: “After 35 years, I guess the universe still wants us to do everything together.” I stared at them. They stared back. We burst out laughing. In that moment, I realized that when life deals you a rough hand, limitless love and lots of dark humor make all the difference. — Misha Hooda

Mom and I unknowingly waded into the dating pool around the same time. She as a widow, at 48, and I as a newly out gay man, at 24. Dating (or, rather, possible rejection) terrified me. But I had learned to be courageous from the best: Mom sacrificed everything for a chance at the American dream. She held our family together in the face of Dad’s grueling illness and death. She loved me unconditionally, though her faith branded me irredeemable. She has always found a way to smile. She has a boyfriend now, and I, a husband. — Roberto López Jr.

He was late. His scrubs were wrinkled. His hair had that dent, the one that announces, “I am divorced and fell asleep on the couch.” He looked like he should smell bad. It’s my first day on the job and I’m already going to have to fire someone, I thought. “You are late,” I said, contemplating the H.R. paperwork with my best Jersey-boss-girl attitude. “I always am,” he shrugged, his slight West Texas Tejano accent making it sound less disrespectful, maybe even sexy. The problem was he smelled really good. He still smells good, even after 23 years of marriage. — Laurie Pineda

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