I’m not that into Valentine’s Day–it’s so commercialized, and do we really need someone to tell us when to show our affection? Nevertheless, I thought today would be an appropriate day to tell my love story. (I hope my husband isn’t too embarrassed.) If you don’t like sappy, this may not be the post for you.
At the age of twenty-six, I found myself divorced. I had met my first husband when I was nineteen, still reeling from being dumped by my high school boyfriend of three years. I didn’t know myself very well then, though like most nineteen year olds, I thought I did. I had gotten engaged after less than a year of dating and had married the day after my twenty-second birthday. By our fourth anniversary, we were separated. Our divorce was finalized in January of 2011, and I, newly unattached and having never really dated, set out to find my perfect mate.
Full of naïve optimism, I filled out online dating profiles. I worked to craft the perfect image of myself, simultaneously trying to figure out who I was. My first date was terrible–I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Subsequent dates were better, and some of them led to brief quasi-relationships lasting from a few weeks to a few months. Some led to friendships; others led to crushing rejection.
For two and a half years, I rode the waves of enthusiasm, disappointment, and heartache. I squeezed several dates a week into my schedule, depriving myself of workouts and hobbies and sleep. I tried to be open to chance encounters and not too tied to my perfect guy checklist, but I was wary of settling. At some point, I noticed the rollercoaster wasn’t very fun anymore, and I knew I had to take a step back. I deactivated my dating profiles and decided to focus on myself.
I had taken over leadership of a Meetup group for people who were new in town (I was new myself, having moved about eight months earlier). In a place where I had no long-time friends, Meetup introduced me to lots of interesting people, helped me discover what my new area had to offer, and gave me a social life. In addition to the one I was leading, I participated in several other groups: a hiking group, a ladies’ night out group, a freethinkers group. One evening in May, I hosted a dinner for my transplants group at a highly recommended restaurant I’d had yet to try.
On some subconscious level, I must have recognized at the time that the evening was important, because I remember the details of it quite well. I remember what I was wearing and where I was sitting at the long table. I remember what I ordered for dinner. Three and a half years later, I remember the moment after we’d all paid for our food and stood to leave, when I shook the hand of a guy I’d never seen before. He’d walked in a little late with his friend R., whom I knew from previous events. He sat a few seats down from me on the same side of the table, so I hadn’t gotten to talk to him during the dinner, the table having split into two separate conversations. After dinner, he told me his name, and I noticed his accent, though I couldn’t quite place its origin. He had wavy dark hair, longer than his ears. He was tall and thin and wore a navy blue polo shirt. I told him he should sign up on the Meetup website and join our group. Most of the people from the dinner decided to go somewhere else for drinks, but I was tired and it was a weeknight, so I said goodnight and headed home.
The next day, I got an email through Meetup from Mr. E. He had joined the site after all. We exchanged a few friendly emails throughout the day. He asked me how long I’d lived in the area and which of the local landmarks I’d visited. He was new, too; he’d come to town for a job about four months before I had. Over the following weeks, the emails became increasingly longer, though there were pauses of days or weeks between them. They were never really flirtatious or romantic. I Googled him. He didn’t meet some of my checklist items, so I didn’t seriously consider him as a potential love interest, but I enjoyed having a new friend. I encouraged him to come to more Meetup events, but he was traveling a lot at the time. We stopped communicating for a while.
After not hearing from him for several weeks, I thought of him again and decided to reach out. He told me about his recent travels and suggested we get together sometime. We didn’t make plans, but at some point we exchanged phone numbers and started texting a bit. I was out with a friend one night when he texted me. I told him he should join us at the marina restaurant for a beer by the lake, but he wasn’t free that night. Finally, though, we made plans to have dinner.
In the week or so between when we’d made plans and our scheduled dinner, I saw him at another Meetup event. Once again, we didn’t sit near each other at dinner (If I recall, he was late again and had to take the only available seat at the other end of the table). This time, when everyone went out for drinks afterwards, I joined the group. The bar setting was more conducive to mingling, and I made sure to say hello to everyone there–including E., of course. In the intervening two months, I had forgotten how good looking he was. I was really looking forward to dinner.
I wasn’t completely sure that it was a date, though. I had trouble reading his intentions through emails and text messages. He said some things that made me think this was perhaps just a dinner between friends. I wasn’t even certain that he was straight, honestly. I’d met so many people through dating sites that I had become overly reliant on profiles and survey questions as a means of getting to know someone.
He picked me up in his tiny car and we drove to the gallery where my artwork was displayed. The gallery was open late that Friday night because the Budweiser Clydesdales were in town and would soon be parading down the main street. I showed him around the gallery, and then we walked a block to one of my favorite local restaurants. It was a warm summer night, and we sat at a table on the sidewalk.
We ordered moonshine cocktails. Just as we finished our dinner, a storm came. The wind and rain pushed us inside, and we ascended the stairs to the loft bar area. We sat at the bar and finished our drinks, then moved to a couch. I was so wrapped up in our conversation that I didn’t notice that we were the last people in the restaurant until the waitress started cleaning up around me. (I was also a little tipsy from the moonshine.) He was showing me vacation pictures on his phone when he gently pushed the hair back from my face and kissed me.
From that night on, we were pretty much inseparable. We saw each other the next several days in a row, then a few times a week after that. Our first date was less than two weeks before one of my bar examinations, but I found a way to fit E. into my study schedule. We celebrated the end of the bar exam and our birthdays with a lovely day trip date in early August. We decided to take a longer trip together over Labor Day weekend before I started a new job.
There were two times in our relationship when we almost broke up. The first was during that trip to Charleston. I suddenly felt a strong urge to end things. I couldn’t identify why. In retrospect, I was probably a little overwhelmed at how fast things were moving and was scared of committing. Although I’d long wanted a relationship, too much online dating can lead to a fear of missing out, always thinking of the other options. But on the six hour drive home, we had an honest conversation and really connected. My hesitation vanished. The second time involved a breach of trust. The details will remain private; the important thing is that we worked through it and decided not to give up on each other. Even the best relationships aren’t always easy, but the good ones are worth some effort.
A year after our first date, E. and I decided we could no longer take the half hour of distance between us, so we moved in together. A year later, we eloped. Since then, we’ve continued to learn more about each other, and I hope that process never ends. No matter how close you are to a person, there is always more to discover and understand.
I’ve also come to know myself better. As conflicts have arisen between us, I’ve had to work on my communication skills and examine my reactions. E. has been consistently wonderful–patient, forgiving, encouraging, and nonjudgmental. He inspires me to foster the same qualities in myself. I often ask myself how this man was still single when I met him, and how I could have been so lucky to have him choose me. Sometimes, when you stop looking, you find exactly what you need.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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