History is littered with high school sweethearts who never go the distance because simple math says they shouldn’t. Yet, here Eric and Carrie Sonstegard are today defying those odds and celebrating 25 years of a fairytale romance.
They met when he was 16 and she was 13. They stayed true through high school, went to the same college and got married in the absence of any real drama. They were soulmates who “hit the jackpot,” but they also did many of the right things to establish and sustain a relationship built on respect, sacrifice and love.
“Most people have that one person who is perfect for them, but the odds of meeting them as young teenagers are 50,000-to-1,” Eric said. “But every once in a while, it happens. Someone hits a royal flush. We just happened to hit a royal flush. Is it going to happen for most people? Probably not, but there aren’t a lot of jackpot winners, either. We were just lucky.”
Luck might have been a factor in other ways, too.
Their first encounter at a church youth group was a bit of good fortune. But by Eric’s account, her willingness to give him the time of day 30 years ago was just the beginning of his blessings.
“It didn’t take long for me to notice her,” he said. “She had blonde hair and blue eyes and loved to talk. She had a spirit about her that was easily recognizable as soon as you met her. I’ve never been exactly sure what she saw in me back then. She certainly could have been dating lots of other guys. I, on the other hand, didn’t have any girls beating down my door.”
Eric spent most of his days at Carrie’s house through high school even though they attended different schools. They both stayed close to home to attend California Lutheran University. Eric wanted to be a police officer, Carrie a teacher.
He graduated in May 1993, married Carrie in August, and enrolled in the Police Academy in September.
Eric and Carrie quickly came to find they had a compatibility that was rare regardless of age. She is strong where he is weak, is the handy one around the house and loves to shop. He avoids shopping, handles the finances and stays level-headed.
The keys to it all, Eric said, are having two equally driven people who respect each other and balancing things they do as a couple versus things they do separately.
“It’s the key to our relationship,” Eric said. “We have a perfect mix in that we love to spend time together, and we spend tremendous amount of time together doing all kinds fun stuff. Then we also do things with our friends. There’s never this resentment. It’s a perfect mix.”
That perfect mix has a destiny feel to it. And from the perspective of their family and friends, fate might have intervened but Carrie and Eric are living a fairytale of their own making.
“They’re like one person,” friend Laurie Robinson said. “They also have their own lives and they’re extremely mature in how they deal with everyday situations. They have each other’s back.”
The fairytale isn’t just for appearances, either.
Eric and Carrie have lived it and they have raised three tremendous children in daughter Hannah (21) and sons Garrett (19) and J.R. (15) who took notice.
“I’m definitely not someone who believes in fate, but I think this is one instance I’d say that happened,” Hannah said. “I truly believe they are two pieces of a puzzle and belong together.
“One of the things I admire most about them is not only that they have such an amazing relationship, but they’re best friends first and tell each other everything. I aspire to be in a relationship like them.”
Carrie’s selfless approach is the backbone of the relationship. Eric’s belief is that sacrifice is such a big part of her, she might not even know it’s there.
Carrie found a passion in teaching kindergarten as Eric ascended to assistant police chief. That same success could have easily been hers, Eric said. Instead, Carrie did what she loved and chose a path that afforded her maximum time to raise a family.
“I always thought she was the more talented superstar,” Eric said. “If the roles had been reversed, she could have been a district superintendent. She could have been the Director of Education for the entire country. She is that driven, that intelligent. She always wanted to be around for our kids.
“I talked to her the last couple years about being a principal. She loves to teach little kids. She loves to teach kids how to read and all that. She’s like a saint.”
That same selflessness shows up in all kinds of ways, Hannah added, but Carrie also has leadership skills and is relentless in accomplishing her goals.
“She’s incredibly outgoing,” Hannah said. “She’s so kind. She is truly one of the most caring people I know. She cares about everyone in the room. She cares to their needs before her own. She’s a nurturer.
“She’s also a natural born leader. She can command a room in a thoughtful way. People respect her when she does. They want to hear what she has to say. She’s also an incredible overachiever and will do whatever it takes to get the job done to the best of her ability.”
Carrie and Eric are a few short years away from having an empty nest at home, which can be a point of anxiety for parents who spend the better part of two decades focused on their kids.
Not for them.
Carrie and Eric have worked hard to find the right balance between investing in their children and investing in themselves. They are eager for the extra time together.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” Eric said. “We’re thrilled. Some people are like, ‘Oh, I’m going to hate it.’ We love it because we love to travel. We’ll travel to go see our kids wherever they are. I hesitate to say we’re best friends, but we’re good enough friends that we’re looking forward to it.”
Like every chapter before it, the next one could be Carrie and Eric’s best yet. Their future is full of possibilities thanks to their fairytale past.
“They were meant to be,” Laurie said. “They will make it through anything. They will stand the test of time.”