“I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to love him.”
-paraphrased from Notting Hill
So inevitably, the question posed to me and my wife at some point – alone or together – is just how we met. Because to know us is to know two fiercely independent-dependent people. How in the world did all this collide, fusing together into a nearly nineteen-year long love affair and marriage?
Well sit back, I’ll tell you. Think of this little story as a romantic comedy, if you will. I’ll let you decide who plays who in this little tale of action, passion, determination, and love. Ready? Here we go!
Back in 1994 I moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh. I wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular – I hadn’t retained any friendships from college or high school, so moving out East was only me, myself, and I.
The second day of work at my new job, I was in a meeting with other “trainees” for middle management. Yes, that’s right: I took the first job offered to me as a college graduate, so you can shut up now. Anyway, in waltzes two “older” trainees (as in, higher on the seniority list); a man and a woman. The woman looked cold as ice on the outside but had that fiery demeanor that you knew if you uncorked it, her full Irish wrath would just burn you to a crisp.
And yeah, was she hot. On many, many levels. For young men, the looks is the hook. For me, the intelligence behind the beauty is the catalyst. This woman had both, and I was smitten.
She had Irish and German blood in there, mixed with a slight Pittsburgh accent and attitude. Green-brown eyes and intelligent to boot.
Did I mention she was extremely beautiful? Yeah….hooked.
It is at this point in our story that my eyes, for the first time, fixed on the woman you all will know as my future wife. It was also the last time I would ever see a beautiful woman, because she? WAS IT. (And make no mistake, she still is.)
Of course, I made a complete ass of myself during that meeting, too. I have no excuse – at the time, I was a person in a lot of pain inside, so I typically covered with caustic sarcasm and snide remarks. And I flirted. A lot. Yeah, I was “that guy.” Not exactly a great catch.
She, on the other side, was dealing with her own issues.
So OF COURSE in the tradition of all good romantic comedies, we absolutely ABHORRED each other from second the first.
Ok, back story now set. Let’s switch scenes, shall we?
Now, there was another trainee in my store branch that I became acquainted with. (I can’t say “friend,” we really weren’t.) As in, we knew names and covered each other when we were being lazy at work. (Hey, it was retail management, not exactly rocket science.) She also happened to be a friend of the mystery woman. So of course, she was fed reports of my idiot behavior and humiliatingly failed attempts at a social life in a city I barely knew (except for the hockey team) and lived all alone.
So my coworker knew my birthday was coming up and decided to set me up on a blind date. As was told to me later, she also set up my mystery lady on a blind date that night and would be there for her for moral support.
Yeah, you can see this train wreck coming a mile away, can’t you? Remember, “romantic comedy” here. Because tragedy is not the subject of this movie.
We were each set up with the other. Our mutual friend thought it would be funny to have two people who didn’t like each other meet up. She wanted to see fireworks, and not the fun kind.
We’ll skip the stereotypical looks of disgust and swearing from both individuals during the reveal. I mean, that’s a staple of these movies, right? To be nice (and fair), she bought me a beer. I, in my attempt at elementary schoolyard manliness, promptly challenged her to a game of pool; I was eager to show my male superiority by conquering this woman at a game I was good at.
Or …so I thought.
(Obligatory flashback: I spent a lot of my non-existent downtime in college alone at a nearby bar, shooting pool solo and throwing darts. I had no scale of ego, so I really thought I was good. That, and winning $100 when I was loopy-faced drunk during a frat-boy showdown really wasn’t good for my head. In hindsight, that is.)
Listen, I’ll not mince words: she handed my butt to me after stomping on it for about 15 minutes and running the table. AT EIGHT-BALL.
Attempting to assuage my now-wounded (ok, “mostly shredded”) pride, I suggested darts – another game I was good at. I actually brought my darts with me, as I’d figured if the date hadn’t panned out, I could at least get a game in.
Well, this game took longer because I wasn’t as good as I thought and she’d never played. Our “benefactor” for the evening, had, of course, gone missing – we saw her floating around on the dance floor with various guys. My date suggested a great way to pay her back: dedicate a song to her from several of the drunken old barflies at the bar. Yep, that totally felt good.
My walls reduced somewhat and her defenses relaxed, we started chatting for a while after the darts game and found out we had some things in common after all, including our mutual dislike (read: simmering hate) for our corporate employer.
She drove me home – our “friend” had disappeared. And on the spur of the moment (at the time, I thought I was an idiot) I asked the lady out on a ‘real’ date. Hey, I was lonely and getting my behind handed to me was preferable to sitting at home watching reruns of Mighty Ducks 2 on HBO.
She accepted. You could have scraped me off the asphalt.
And thus it began. Our dates were pretty intense affairs – low on the entertainment (though I did drag her to Forrest Gump and Lion King) but extremely heavy on the problem-sharing. Seems we found we were both wounded people and talking just seemed to help. We were frequent late-night table squatters at Eat-n-Park, often talking from early evening into the early morning. Sometimes, we unloaded on each other that would put the lobby scene in the Matrix to shame, and then right our ship with a kiss.
After a fashion – two months – I began broaching the topic of marriage. She was hesitantly receptive.
I proposed twice, about a month apart. Both times she turned me down, we’d talk it through, and our budding relationship moved forward.
In December – five months after our first date, we were on one of our late Saturday night dates: go to movie, then to late-night drama improv at University of Pittsburgh, then to Eat ‘N Park until 3 a.m. This time, I did the unthinkable…..near the end of the improv session, when questions are called out to the troupe, I raised my hand. Taking the floor near where we sat, I told everyone that though I had only known this lady for a short time, and though we started off on the wrong foot, and though she still kicks my butt in pool….I wanted her to do it forever. And I spun down to my knee and proposed on the spot. I’d bought a sapphire ring she’d admired and that was her engagement jewelry. (Gals, I know diamonds are your best friend and all, but I’m not being cheap – she dislikes diamonds.)
We made the front page of the student paper on Monday.
Oh, and this time she accepted. We married nine months later in September; our honeymoon wouldn’t come for another three years.
Now, at this point, I cannot say it was all roses and sunshine and lollipops from then on out. We had some serious problems our first few years, many of which were both our faults and issues. Some of it has been from baggage from years past. Some has been from old filters we’ve not removed – filters put in place over our hearts due to past hurts, childhood experiences, emotional/physical traumas, and so on. These filters sometimes twist what we hear from those whom we love, and send us on a different angle than intended. In part, communication within the marriage relationship requires tossing out those filters and putting in new ones that are directly related to our spouse. It’s an ongoing process; I’ll let you know when it’s over.
Long story short, we’re still here. (Think “Eighteen Years Later” as the Epilogue header of the movie.) We’re more in love with each other than I ever thought possible. It’s humorous to tell people we know that we hated each other with ribald passion in the beginning, considering they only know us “in the now.”
Every year, on our anniversary, we watch One Fine Day. Because that movie is a humorous representation of our relationship (well, aside from kids) pretty well.
I’ve been told we’re an inspiration to some, a model of good marriage to others. I can’t take credit for that: I mean, we still have our moments – I’m sure our neighbors in the past can attest to that – but by and by, all in all…it’s a VERY good partnership-relationship-friendship indeed. All credit really goes to God.
I don’t foresee an end to this, and don’t want to. My life has felt complete for the last eighteen-and-a-half years. Each day, I look to immerse myself anew into the depths of this woman who not only enraptures me, but has saved me from life ever dull.
And that, dear reader, is our story.