By Dionne Boldin as told to Tomika Anderson
When people ask about my nearly 10-year marriage to my high school sweetheart, who just so happens to be an NFL player, I love sharing a piece of wisdom I learned many years ago — you can’t possibly be in love until you’ve seen your partner at their worst. Falling in love is easy, but staying in love is an entirely different ball game (no pun intended). If you can see a person at their worst but remember them at their best, that’s a love worth cherishing.
I met Anquan in the fifth grade. We went to different schools and traveled to an event in Washington, D.C., for students who served as safety patrols. Obviously, sparks weren’t flying. We were unassuming kids just enjoying childhood. In high school, we reconnected. We grew up in really small, neighboring towns in Florida where everyone knew everyone else and sports were really big. Anquan was a high school football star and we had friends in common, so we’d hang out sometimes after his games. That's when we realized we liked each other.
I was in my junior year when Anquan went away to college at Florida State University. We stayed in touch and then, as life turned out, I ended up going there too a year later. I liked the school and I’d earned a scholarship to go there. Anquan and I started dating and we stayed together throughout college. We were both kind of introverted, even though he was more outgoing than I was back then, but that connected us in a really special way, especially on a college campus with so many distractions.
In 2003, he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. While he was navigating his first year in the league, I stayed in Florida to finish my degree. After I graduated, I moved to Arizona to be with him, away from everything and everyone I knew and loved (besides Anquan, of course). It was almost literally a leap of faith to relocate my entire life across the country.
Meeting Anquan during our teenage years was a blessing, but we had to make room to grow, both as individuals and as a couple. Eventually, we went in different directions. We were young and had to experience life separately. But we always stayed in touch as friends, and we always believed we were destined to be together. In 2004, we had our first son, AJ. Five years later, we got married in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
One issue Anquan and I have definitely had to deal with throughout our marriage is the question of where our family would live. It was a much bigger deal for us when he was still in the NFL. One year, when he signed to the Detroit Lions after our family had already moved several times — Arizona to Baltimore, Baltimore to San Francisco, off-season in Florida — I’d had enough. I told him, “The next place you move for work, the kids and I are going to stay home.” Our family had done a lot of compromising, shuttling back and forth on planes so we could see each other during the season, but at that point AJ was in the seventh grade and the moves were beginning to be complicated for him socially. Plus, we were all tired, kids included. And Michigan was cold!
There was no argument about it. We'd agreed that once he’d gotten to a certain point in his career, the family would stop moving anyway. So I turned the matter over to him to decide how we’d navigate him playing on the other side of the country, and how and when we’d spend time together. I let him figure it out and that's what he did.
As a 16-year veteran of the NFL and a career wide receiver, Anquan gets a lot of attention, and by default, his family does too. We’re always grateful for the love fans have shown him. But it can be challenging to handle when we're trying to spend time together and our sons have grown up in the spotlight. Anquan’s job has required us to be all in, which means we’ve put certain dreams on the back burner to support his goals. Before I moved to Arizona, I was on my way to becoming a school psychologist, and I put that to the side to support Anquan, then our family.
At times, I’ve felt lost. I didn’t know my purpose outside of being Anquan’s support system and biggest fan. It was all unchartered territory for me and our relationship, and I felt guilty for losing myself while he was living his best life. In fact, there were times when our only commonality was our deep-rooted faith in Christ.
In 2004, we launched the Anquan and Dionne Boldin Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit organization that expands educational and life opportunities for underprivileged children. I serve as director and as I’ve focused on service to others, I’ve discovered happiness through balance and self-appreciation. My days are full with overseeing our nonprofit’s special initiative, managing Anquan’s schedule and raising our kids but I’ve realized I’m more than Anquan’s wife and AJ and Ashton’s mom. I knew I had to carve out time for Dionne.
Making room in my schedule for me did not come easy. I had to be intentional about it, so I started spending an hour a day doing something for myself, even if it was small. Sometimes I’d go for a walk or to the gym. If I had extra time, I’d meet with friends. At first, I felt like I was taking time away from my family. But I learned to move past the guilt of not being everything to everybody so I could feel my best and then offer my best self to my family.
There’s a stigma about football wives, mainly that we’re drama queens and we sit around doing nothing. It’s obviously not true but it’s one reason why there’s a sisterhood among many of us. We have bonds and relationships nobody else understands, like when our husbands join new teams and we have to start all over again to establish homes and relationships. When Anquan transitioned to the Baltimore Ravens, I moved too. I moved with him when he played for the San Francisco 49ers. I moved with him when he became a Detroit Lion. Every time he moved, I moved too and my life shifted.
In 2012, I created a women’s Bible study to connect with other football wives facing the same challenges of holding on to their identities. That group is incredibly special to me. As I purposefully sought solo time and scheduled my hobbies, I was able to bring together other women to do the same.
When I take a step back to look at our marriage, I’m sure the foundation Anquan and I built first as friends has stabilized our journey. Happiness with yourself, your life and your relationship is entirely possible all at the same time, but you need to invest the same love in yourself that you give to your spouse, no exceptions. Self-love is the best resistance to losing yourself. Over the years, I took the time to get to know who I was to stay in love with the woman I am.