How I Met My Husband

I think  Joan Wickersham is my muse.

Wickersham is an American writer – most famous for her memoir, The Suicide Index – who also writes regularly for The Boston Globe. An essay of hers about how married couples communicate sparked a post of my own entitled The Private Language of Marriage some months back. And now she’s published another essay about marriage – How We Met – in which she describes the universal fascination we all hold with the story about how couples meet.

In Wickersham’s own case, her initial meeting with her husband was a total dud. They met at a party; she was friendly, he was aloof. They didn’t speak again for 18 months. She also recounts the tales of other couples she knows, some of whom experienced the proverbial “love at first sight,” others who met via a personals ad (“I like to walk in the rain” apparently turned out to be a big draw.)

As Wickersham points out, the reason we’re all so fascinated with the “how we met” narrative is that it’s always about something deeper. These stories are, as she puts it, “fated yet random… Behind every “how we met’’ story is the unspoken question: What if we hadn’t?”

What if, indeed?

Like Wickersham, my husband and I also got off on the wrong foot. We first spoke during a graduate student reception at Stanford University in the autumn of 1993 where we were both pursuing our Ph.Ds in political science. It was one of those horrible affairs where the faculty mill about and speak with one another jovially, while the grad. students hover over in the corner by the food, stuffing as many cheese cubes into their mouths as can decently fit while downing the cheap red wine that’s on offer.

Despite having been at Stanford for over a year at that point, I didn’t actually know my husband, who was a couple of years ahead of me in the program. I was pretty much a hermit at that point in my life, rarely emerging out of the dungeon (yes, that’s what it was called) in the basement of the political science department where they stuck the first and second year students in one giant, communal “office.” (I use this term generously.)

But at this party – where I, too, undoubtedly came out of seclusion in order to gobble down some cheese cubes – I was first introduced to my husband via a mutual friend. He made a joke about something – I no longer remember what – which I took (mistakenly) to be misogynistic. I left that meeting with two thoughts about him: a. he’s cute and b. too bad he’s a jerk.

Fast forward a few weeks, to our second meeting. This time, it came at my initiative. I was putting together a dissertation committee and someone suggested that I consult with the “jerk” who was to become my husband, as he’d assembled a very diverse group of scholars for his own committee. I remember thinking “Ugh. That guy?” when his name came up. But work was work, and I decided to put my first impressions behind me. So I asked him if we could meet for coffee to talk dissertation committees.

Somehow, because of scheduling conflicts, coffee morphed into dinner. We met at an Italian restaurant in Palo Alto. We were in the middle of talking about god-knows-what scintillating aspect of political theory when he turned to me and said something about my eyes. Suddenly, I became aware that what I’d been thinking of as a business meeting was actually…a date.  “Oh my God! I’m on a date!” ran through my mind as I tucked into the lasagna. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What I learned from that date many moons ago is that you should always give people a second chance. The first time I met my husband, I thought he was a loser. That was just so wrong. (He was cute, however, so I got that part right.) I also learned that you always need to be open to suggestion in life. Because sometimes even when your head’s stuck in a book (or a dimly lit basement office, or an Italian restaurant menu), your future is sitting right before your eyes. You just need to open them long enough to see it.

And finally, I learned – over time – that the “What if we hadn’t met?” question is an unfathomable one for me. My husband – who is now also my best friend – technical advisor – father-to-my-kids – fellow consumer of DVD commentaries all rolled into one – might, for want a cheese cube, be just another stranger I once met at a party. As a die-hard control freak, it’s nice to know that once in a while, fate really does matter.

OK, your turn. How did you meet your husband/wife/partner (past or present) and what did you learn from that experience?

Image: paneer, cubed by chotda via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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32 Responses to How I Met My Husband

  1. Lynn C says:

    My Much-later-to-be husband and I got off on really bad terms. Not just “classified as jerk” but “had to literally be dragged apart by friends because we were going to KILL each other.” For months after our first meeting, if he came into a room, I would leave. And the bad thing was, we had a ton of interests in common, so we were always bumping into each other at social events.

    Eventually, I decided to stop letting him chase me away from things I wanted to do, just because I didn’t want to talk to him… and when my mother attempted suicide, he was the only one of my social group I could find. And he really helped me; which was odd. I hadn’t been expecting it. All I knew about him was that he aggravated me, so when he offered a shoulder and an ear… I wouldn’t have taken it if I hadn’t been so desperate.

    After that, we were friends for a few months, then he left college because of some complications with his family, and I didn’t see him again for almost 2 years. When we did finally bump into each other again, the chemistry was completely different. We were dating exclusively within two weeks, and married just over a year afterwards. We’ve been together now for over 14 years.

    • delialloyd says:

      Ah, Lynn, so your courtship was more Sound of Music like, then. (Pathetic sign of my current state of mind that all things devolve to Sound of Music references. Hazards of having a 6 year old daughter, I suppose…) But what a great story. All’s well that ends well!

  2. Lisa says:

    Delia! I did not know you were at Stanford. I’m a dope! My father taught there all his career, in the English Department, and was at one point the Dean of Graduate Studies. And I’m dying to know, which Italian restaurant?:).

  3. Hilary says:

    Hi Delia .. loved the story .. but pass – as don’t have .. happy memories though .. and as you say you never know what or who is going to come along .. Cheers to some happy thoughts .. looks like more memory joggers from Lisa above .. enjoy the week .. Hilary

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Loved this. I enjoyed both of those pieces by Joan Wickersham, too, since I’m a Bostonian and old-fashioned newspaper reader. But… I will also take a pass on the how you met, not because its not a happy story (love at first sight in a college taproom), but because I don’t find it as interesting (maybe told too many times) as I do all those other ones out there!

  5. amy says:

    What a great story! Gives me hope. I have not met my husband; am slogging through dates. It gets pretty depressing so posts like these are encouraging! Thanks Delia.

  6. Sabrina says:

    Ah. My husband started at the same law firm I did, only two weeks later. When he was introduced, I had the very clear thought “Too bad he’s so good-looking because no one who looks that good could be a nice guy.” As the only two unattached new associates, though, we ended up hanging out (hard to have a social life when you are working nights and weekends) and I discovered he actually was a nice guy. And that thought survived getting dumped three times before we decided it was real. We celebrate our 25th tomorrow.

  7. Oh, though currently not in love this has made me decide to stay close to the cheese cubes.*smile* Love this!

  8. Daryl Boylan says:

    My first meeting with husband-to-be started out on a remarkably sour note so far as I was concerned. This was many, many years ago at the height of one of the worst recurrent American political nightmares, and he, ever happy to play devil’s advocate, got me very angry. I wondered what had happened to the taste of the friend who brought him. I was surprised when some time later I got a call for a date, which I promptly refused, as I did several other times. He was nothing if not persistent & I eventually agreed to meet him for a quick drink, as I said that I had a dinner date. He smiled & replied: “You’re lying.” (He later became a skilled trial lawyer.) One thing led to another.

    • delialloyd says:

      great story @patricia-love the “persistence wins out” theme. @daryl-as I know the man in question (ahem!) tihs is far too plausible. Lucky me you stuck it out!!

  9. Patricia says:

    Great post – and I love to ask this question at parties because people just love to share the story…

    The minister I worked for after Graduate school told me about this guy who had been in his first youth group and had just moved to town. The teasing went on about fixing up a date for me for months. The education director saw him at church one morning and raced him into my little office for an introduction…I was helping a child with a problem…I invented a singles Halloween Pizza party for a couple weeks away, on the spot and sent him away.
    I tried to get 12 more singles to participate, but I was too late and on Halloween day HE called and asked if he could bring his parents – I said sure and we switched to a nicer restaurant instead.
    He said nothing all evening. I talked to his rather quiet parents.
    He invited me on several bike rides, and deserted me on the route. I finally said if you can not talk to me, don’t keep coming around…About a month later he called and came to my house and started out the conversation with he believed in zero population growth. After 3 hours of talking he invited me to his house for pancakes…I went; there by the phone was his list of topics and his outline of his discussion.

    We went to Mt. St. Helen’s and the muffler went out on his car….saved – too noisy to talk

    The reason I married him was because he was trying hard,he was a very good designing Green Architect, and I promised my Father 5 things as he was dying and one was to marry this guy…

    Tom claims he fell in love at first sight when I was serving communion one Sunday.

    It has been a good 34 years and we share life with 3 precious daughters.
    There you have it!

  10. Jenny says:

    Nice! I love these stories, and people are mostly willing to share them.
    Sigh. I haven’t met my “how did you meet” partner yet. It would be nice to have one of these stories of my own – it could be the queue for the ATM, the guy sitting next to me on the tram, the fellow looking in the same section at my favourite bookshop. But could it be soon, please?

  11. delialloyd says:

    that’s right, Jenny. You never know. Happy hunting!!

  12. Jennie says:

    Several years ago PBS did a piece on American Love Stories and invited people in inter-ethnic relationships to contribute their stories. Mine is at http://www.pbs.org/weblab/lovestories/stories/Greater_Horizons/story32869.shtml. Or just google PBS love stories alaska village romance. It was written pretty early in our marriage – we have two kids now and have moved to an urban town to have better educational opportunities for them – but still reflects how we have worked together to make our relationship work.

  13. delialloyd says:

    great story, jennie. thx for sharing. esp liked the part about the ‘pausing’ – while more pronounced in this case, I have often observed that sort of conversational difference within couples and wonder how they manage it.

  14. Mara says:

    Delia:

    you already know how I met mine, don’t you?. You was here by that time. Long time ago, by the way…;)

  15. Mara says:

    Did you both meet “in the autumn of 2003” for the first time?

  16. delialloyd says:

    @mara-yes it was and I do remember. And yes, we did!

  17. stofnsara says:

    I gate-crashed a party at his house. Against my will.

    A housemate who I was finding exceptionally irritating insisted that our group of girlfriends ‘make a turn’ by her running buddy’s house party (so she could ask him a favour). I was grumpy (and I am bossy) and initially refused, but eventually she wore us down to waiting in the car outside while she ran in to ask the favour. When she didn’t return we begrudgingly marched in to find her and we were amazed to find a party full of interesting, eclectic awesome people. And swing music playing on the record player. Stof was the host. I think I fell in love with the party before I fell in love with him.

    Lesson: not to let grumpiness (combined with bossiness) deprive me of some of life’s most splendid and important experiences.

  18. Cecilia says:

    Great post and great story, Delia. I love this and can see myself quoting this to my son in about 20 years: “Because sometimes even when your head’s stuck in a book (or a dimly lit basement office, or an Italian restaurant menu), your future is sitting right before your eyes. You just need to open them long enough to see it.” I like that behind all these stories is something that can be learned about love and choosing love.

    I met my husband after having resigned myself to the fact that maybe I would never get married (a bit melodramatic, looking back, since I was only 29 at the time). I met him at work 2 weeks after I arrived overseas for a year-long fellowship. It was a case of “love at first sight” though for several months I thought he couldn’t speak English and just assumed he would never be interested in dating an American. I also knew that he had a son…lots of roadblocks that I thought would make a relationship impossible but sure enough, here we are today, almost 10 years later. I guess my lesson to others is go with your instinct and to go after what you love.

  19. delialloyd says:

    Love this story, Cecilia. And the moral which is that we should all go after what we love. Congrats on 10 fine years!

  20. Erin says:

    That’s a great meet-cute! I wasn’t bowled over by my husband either. We met in a Spanish language class in New York City. I didn’t think anything of him at all, but the other women swooned over him and his accent (he’s from New Zealand). I thought it was all ridiculous. Well, I don’t speak Spanish and I married him – so I guess it wasn’t so ridiculous afterall!

  21. delialloyd says:

    I love the kiwi accent! Great story, Erin…

  22. Erin says:

    Feel free to come over and swoon over him anytime!

  23. delialloyd says:

    well I may just take you up on that, sister!

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