Us in CA June of 09

2451 Miles

My divorced sister got me onto, as she and her 24-year-old daughter were on it. “It’s just a fun thing. Distractions are good for you right now,” she said.

So in June of 2008, I signed up. I lurked for a while, unsure of what the rules were and of what I wanted. I was 44 years old, had a full-time career and two small kids to raise. Did I really have time for a personal life?

I stuck my toe in the water around July and started "dating". I was more curious than anything else. I met a few men toting steamer trunks full of emotional baggage behind them, a few married men (who told me at lunch!) and a few nice men who wanted to meet my kids right away (Not Happening!)

I realized then that I wasn’t going to settle for just anyone. I wasn’t filling an empty space with a person. If the “right one” was out there for me, I had the patience to raise my kids and wait. And if he wasn’t, I was laying a foundation of investing in them and me that would hold me tight. But, admittedly, I did hold out a tiny hope that just maybe…

The OKCupid web site has several personality tests, and I took one. One night, in August of 2008, a glass of Cabernet in my hand, I wondered, “Who on this site is the closest personality match to me?” and searched the entire United States instead of limiting it to my location in Florida. Steve’s profile came up as an 84% match. Although it had no photos, it was well-written, funny, and mentioned cars, wine and Monty Python. Okay.

So I emailed him about his profile, knowing he was in California but thinking “A car freak pen pal.” He responded and a back and forth banter ensued. I offered a pesto recipe I share with no one. He replied that, but for the 2500 miles between us and his differing opinion of Keith Olbermann, we could have a fabulous romance. I shot back the pesto was on hold. It was clear that intellectually we could keep up with each other! Then we started instant messaging. That was followed by our first phone call that lasted three hours, and another the following night that was four hours. Every time I hung up from a conversation with him I wondered, “What the hell was that?”

One night, he sent me to another dating web site to see his picture. Despite it being a less-than-flattering “arm's length shot” I found him attractive. I read his profile there, which ended with “Bonus Points if you have long hair, green eyes, and can change your own oil.”

I nearly fell off my bar stool. See, I have all three…

Then he told me he’d met his ex-wife in a newspaper personal ad in the spring of 1990. I’d met my ex-husband the same way, during the same month.

By the beginning of September 2008, despite the distance, we both came to the conclusion that we needed to meet in person or it would be something we’d always wonder about. So, after agreeing that if we met, had lunch, and it was a disaster, he’d drive back to San Diego, and I’d stay at the hotel alone, (but laughing at the idea, because it seemed too far-fetched), we agreed to meet in Las Vegas in mid-October. I’d never been there, it was in a novel I was writing (more on that later) and it was drivable for him.

Through September and early October we talked a lot. Asked all the right questions. Shared opinions. Had more strange commonalities appear (He lived a few miles away from me when we were four; his sister lived in Madison, Wisconsin near a cousin of mine; his sister was a real estate agent and another of my cousins had a house there to sell; his mom was born in December, like mine… and the list went on).

It was all going amazingly well. But the night before I was to leave for Las Vegas, I nearly lost my nerve. Here I was getting on a plane, going to meet someone I “barely” knew. Or did I? We knew each other’s stories: his failed marriage and why, and mine. Details about his kids, and mine. His history. Mine. What we knew we did not want in a partner. We didn’t seem to be able to find a topic that was off limits. Even politics, where we are not a match. He’s far more conservative than I am in some areas. We challenge each other.

So it wasn’t really a surprise that when we met at the Vegas airport, it was, sounding corny here, Magic. From the moment we laid eyes on each other. I’d come to terms with the idea that, if the weekend were just that – a really good weekend, but I’d never see him again, I was okay with it. But after less than a day together, it was pretty apparent to us both that this was so much more than a fling. And the distance just didn’t matter.

I went to Las Vegas again the following month on business and Steve drove back up there for two days. This time he met my boss, who asked, tongue in cheek, what his intentions were. Steve laughed. We had another great weekend together that ended all too soon.

A week or so later he invited me to Wisconsin to meet his whole family at Thanksgiving: his teenage kids, his parents, three of his four sisters and their significant others and kids. I balked.

My friend Evelyn, who had coached me through the initial decision to meet, said, “Just buy the damn ticket!” I found a $250 round trip and also discovered that the airline would credit me if I didn’t use the ticket. So I had a Plan B if I chickened out and I bought it.

But I didn’t chicken out. I flew to Milwaukee and we saw my dad’s brother and wife on the way to Steve’s sister’s house, which was SO important to me, as my dad had passed away in 2005. That holiday weekend was one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever had. I spent a lot of time in observation mode, figuring out the relationships and watching how Steve treated people. I like watching him interact with others because there is a calm/steadiness to him that is infinitely appealing. Oddly, I never felt like I was unwelcome, or a stranger the entire time I was there. As he said, “You fit.” And his sister has horses (I’ve been riding since I was nine and she let me take one for a short ride).

During Thanksgiving his kids and I also really got to know each other in person. I knew no other way than to just be myself and not assume there would be instant rapport. After all, this was new to them, too. But once again, just being me was enough and by the end of the weekend, I was "in.”
He visited me in Florida for the first time right before Christmas in 2008 to go to my company’s Christmas Party. There, he met some of my friends. The kids were with their dad that weekend. I did that on purpose, being cautious about longevity. After all, the relationship was only four months old. To me, Steve meeting my boys was a very big thing and I wasn’t going to rush it. Snuggled up on my red couch one night watching a movie he asked, out of the blue, “Can you ever see yourself getting married again?”

I replied, “Yes. I still believe in it. And I have no idea why.”

He told me later that if I’d said, “Absolutely not” at that point, he would have paused, because he hadn’t given up on the idea either.

In January of 2009 I flew out to San Diego the first time. I met some of his friends and he showed me around town and we went to the Wild Animal Park. I remember looking at him in his kitchen one night as he was pouring us some wine and thinking, “What is this?” He looked up at me just then and I knew I was deeply in love with this man. He’d figured out this was happening before we’d even met each other in person, but emotionally he was way ahead of me, so he waited for me to catch up, hoping he wouldn’t scare me away.

He says forcing things makes them break. Then you have to fix them twice.

In April, Steve came to Florida to meet my boys. I'd not told them about him until after Christmas, as I'd promised they would not be introduced to anyone I was dating unless they were important. It was time. Not because I felt pressure, but because if felt right. The boys were on their best behavior at first, but after a long day at Epcot, Steve got to remember what a 6-year-old’s meltdown looked like!

Steve came back out in June and the boys relaxed a bit, watching him though, to see his reactions to their perceived misbehaviors. To say it went well was an understatement.

My mom and siblings have a family reunion of sorts up in Maine each July. I invited Steve, to reciprocate meeting his family at Thanksgiving, but also knowing all families have quirks and this would give him insight into who I was: the youngest of four kids very spread out in age, very close to my mother and still very much missing my dad. That is my big regret in all this: my dad not getting to meet Steve, as he would have been blown away. At the "tribal meeting" he fit right in without even trying. And my mother was all smiles.

And I wasn’t always sparkly, as he calls it when we were together. In October of 2009, my house was burglarized on the day he arrived for a weekend we'd planned months in advance. I discovered all my jewelry boxes missing while he was on his cell in my kitchen. When I opened my bedside table drawers, found them empty and realized what was gone, probably forever, I let out a wail. Steve was behind me in seconds, wrapping his arms around my waist as I cried. He told me later, “If I never hear you make that noise again, it will be too soon.”

There were so many moments over the last 18 months with him that I can recall wondering “will this make him bail?” Dealing with my ex’s shenanigans, a burglary, my emergency surgery, meeting my kids…

This didn’t falter.

We have somehow managed to see each other once or twice a month (thanks mostly to Southwest Airlines), with the exception of one seven-week expanse that made us both impatient and miserable. "Never doing that long again," we agreed.

On New Year’s Eve 2009, a little over 16 months after we met and right after the ball dropped in New York, we were sitting on my red couch when he asked me to mute the TV. I did and looked at him. “What are you doing for the rest of your life?” he asked with a smile. I froze. For once my monkey mind was empty. Then, realizing I wasn’t capable of speech, he said simply, “Marry me.” And the only word I could get out was the right one. “Yes.”

I don’t think there is only one person for everyone and neither does he. But when something happens like what’s happening here, it just feels like it’s meant to be. So many things seemed out of our control and in our favor. Why I have found the love of my life now, I’ve no idea. I don’t think back and wish we’d met sooner, either. We are different people now than we were when we were younger. Everything that each of us has been through has shaped us and made us the way we are now.

I’ve had friends who see us together and comment on the “aura” around us. At first I laughed. I wasn’t ready to hear it. Now, it’s something I know is there. A connection that lets us be who we are: no facades. We’ve seen each other angry, sad, happy, at 4 AM, amongst friends and family. By ourselves and with our kids.

We are building something very special. Like Paul Newman said about his relationship with Joann Woodward, “equal parts lust and respect.”

Oh, and about the novel I wrote. I started writing it in June of 2007. I self-published it on in November of 2008. And some of the things in the book began happening to me after I wrote it. That I cannot explain and I don’t want to try.

But, I think it’s time to finish the sequel.

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