This love story begins with a blind date and low expectations. After all, I’d been on a few blind dates before and come away with nothing but the strong desire never to be fixed up again. But my friend Lillian talked me into it. She said he was taller than me, cute and employed – a good, solid start. And she and another mutual friend, Gary, agreed to come along and serve as a kind of blind date air bag, in case it crashed and burned.
So there we sat in the restaurant. Me and the two mutual friends. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for my blind date to arrive. At the “ten minutes late” mark, Lillian and Gary began to get nervous and fidgety at the unspoken possibility that perhaps I was being stood up. I, on the other hand, wasn’t nervous at all. The blind dates I’d had in the past had trained the high expectations right out of me. I figured, worst case scenario, if the guy didn’t show up, I’d still get a free meal because my fixer upper friends would feel sorry for me. So I was covered either way. It sounds jaded, I know, but dating can do that to a girl sometimes.
Finally he rushed in with explanations about a meeting that ran long, blah, blah, blah. Our friends introduced us, and he was cuter than I expected. Then he asked how long I’d been working as an editor – only he got the name of the newspaper wrong and instead mentioned my company’s competitor. So five minutes into the blind date, he’d racked up two strikes: he arrived late, and he assumed I worked for my professional nemesis. The rest of dinner was pleasant enough, but he mostly talked business with Gary, who was also one of his colleagues. And I talked mainly to Lillian who’d gotten us all into this thing in the first place.
Dinner ended and, in the absence of any real sparks, the blind date was ending with it. But then Gary had these college basketball tickets and the game was just about to start. “Why don’t we all just go to the game,” he said. So we went, partly because we didn’t have any reason not to and partly because our friends were trying so hard to give us a nudge.
We found a parking spot on campus on a steep, rain-slick hill. I hesitated as we began to walk down it because, having come straight from the office, I was still wearing a pantsuit and high heels with no traction. The last thing I needed was to slip and end up sprawled spread-eagle on the pavement in front of this guy I hardly knew.
And that’s when it happened. A short little exchange that turned the whole course of events. Seeing my hesitation, Tom held out his arm and said “Do you want to hang on to me?” And I said, “Yes, because if I go down then I’m taking you with me.” And he laughed, not a fake, blind date kind of laugh but a real laugh. And then I laughed, not a “God I wish this was over” kind of laugh, but the real thing. And somehow, in that brief moment, the evening shifted into a different gear. During the game we talked more freely and we joked and laughed. That date led to a second, a third and, almost two years later, it led to vows at an altar.
Our blind date was nearly twelve years ago. I can still pinpoint the beginning of our relationship to that exact moment at the top of the steep hill when we laughed and locked arms to walk down together. Laughter gave us the start. And, for us and lots of other couples, it’s the glue that keeps us going.
Sure, love and passion are great, especially for Valentine’s Day. Everybody wants love and passion. But so much of day-to-day life is like that steep, rain-slick hill – hard to navigate, scary, sometimes treacherous. And if you don’t walk it with somebody who can help you laugh, even through your missteps, you’re toast. You’ll never make it.
Over two years of dating and almost 10 years of marriage, Tom and I have been through job changes, house moves, miscarriages, the death of my only brother, and three new babies who have taught us what life is all about. On Valentine’s Day, I’ll certainly be grateful for the love and passion, the commitment, the loyalty and friendship. But more than anything, I’m thankful for the laughter – the every day, get-ya-through-anything laughter. And I hope that on Valentine’s Day 50 years from now, we’ll still be laughing.
This column was originally published February 05, 2008, in the Northwest Arkansas Times.