A little romance, a few laughs. It's all good.
Real Life Love...
It goes without saying that I adore writing romance. But I love reading it as well. Often it seems that romance is the purview only of poets, songwriters, and novelists. But there are real life love stories all around us. You, dear reader, probably know several couples whose love stories rival that of Darcy and Lizzie, George and Mary Bailey, or Jack and Rose (only without the pesky iceberg). So I offer you stories of real life love.
Alexandra and Mac*
Her niece told her that she would meet a lot of potential matches on the site. The questionnaire that the site wanted her to fill out seemed thorough. Alexandra took a chance and hit the Enter button. She’d gone through with it. She was now registered on OkCupid.
Alexandra is the personification of an “All-American Girl.” A Midwesterner with high cheekbones, blonde hair, and blue eyes, she once told me she looked like her mom who dyed her own blonde locks to dark brown in an homage to Priscilla Presley. I remember thinking that was crazy. Why spoil that coveted look?
But I don’t mean to assign a shallow, stereotypical description to Alexandra. It isn’t the color of her eyes that makes her the “girl next door.” It’s the warmth and humor she flashes from them. It’s her big smile, laughter, and friendliness. All these things give that impression.
Alexandra had a stereotypical Midwestern youth as well. She grew up in a traditional family with several siblings and both parents who were still together. She dated the same guy on and off in high school and college. He was tall and thin. Like her, he was a creative personality. He was an artist and he wrote. They married six years after meeting. She was twenty, he was twenty-one.
Things went well during the good times. Yes, he was a little self-involved and he loved when she gave him her full attention and adoration.
“He wasn’t really the type of person who put a lot of thought into other people,” she explained.
But artists can be like that. It was during the bad times, however, that Alexandra realized what his self-involvement was costing her.
Her father went into the hospital, diagnosed with terminal cancer. Between working two jobs as well as visiting and running errands for her dad, there wasn’t much time for the now twenty-two-year-old to focus on her husband “who had pretty much been the center of my universe for years.”
“When he was no longer my shining star,” she added, “he didn’t handle it very well.”
Less than a week after her father had passed away, her husband thought that a new car her father co-signed for Alexandra before the diagnosis, and was now free and clear, should be his. She refused.
“It was really the first time in my marriage that I stood up to him, really stood up to him,” Alexandra said.
He warned her that if she didn’t let him have the car, he was leaving her. She told him good-bye and filed for divorce.
After he left, things got even tougher due to that self-involvement. Alexandra learned that while she was caring for her dad, her husband had used the car, not to take night classes as he told her, but to party and meet women. And then came her illness. The ex told her during the preliminary divorce agreement that he would keep her on his health insurance plan until the divorce became final. She’d been battling pain that doctors had said was an ulcer. It turned out to be a gallbladder that ruptured. She was in the ICU for six weeks, lost her job, and then learned that he had taken her off the insurance.
The car was sold to pay for her divorce lawyer (filing twice as she had to file a second time after he disappeared to another state) as well as a bankruptcy lawyer. The lowest point was when the police took her in for NOT paying a speeding ticket that the ex assured her he had taken care of. Instead, he used her money to buy drugs. The fine she now paid was three times the original amount.
(As an aside, Alexandra tells me that she’s heard through mutual acquaintances that her now ex-husband has improved quite a bit over the years. I could neverbe that forgiving).
On top of all this, her mother was now diagnosed with cancer and passed away. All this happened over the course of three years.
Needless to say, Alexandra rarely dated after this, but over time, she became involved in a couple of long-term relationships. She found the first attractive for an interesting reason.
“I think I liked him because he had no interest in marriage at all…He didn’t make me feel trapped. That was the big attraction.”
The second one, several years later, had Alexandra thinking about marriage. They had discussed it in a general sense. But there was a problem. He liked to point out when she did things wrong or how to do things better.
Hearing this, Mac said, “Mansplainer.”
It all crystallized for Alexandra one Sunday, when she and this man went to lunch with a long-married couple. The wife was a very animated woman who spoke with her hands. While at lunch, she was gesticulating wildly and almost hit her full water glass several times. Any closer and it would have spilled all over the table. Alexandra’s boyfriend was becoming annoyed and soon would have said something. But she focused on the woman’s husband. He said nothing but, unobtrusively, picked up his butter knife and pushed the water glass out of his wife’s way. That was it. There were no orders, no chastising, no complaining.
Suddenly, Alexandra had what she called an epiphany.
“This is what I want,” she thought. “Somebody who will remove the obstacles in my way just so I can be me. It was a profound moment. I knew [her boyfriend] was not that type of person and he would have micromanaged my life to death…He was not the person I needed in my life.”
Shortly after this realization, Alexandra and her boyfriend broke up.
Now, she was taking a chance on “OkCupid.” She entered a location radius of fifty miles, but the best matches were only at fifty percent. She found herself expanding her search, widening the location radius. At three hundred miles, a man named Mac who hailed from Illinois popped up with a ninety-seven percent match. And the two questions they differed on related to things she could accept.
When I asked Mac why he had decided to go through an online dating, he said he “had reached a point in my life where I wanted more.”
Mac messaged her and soon they began communicating through email (years later, he still has those emails saved). About a month after their introduction, the two began talking on the phone every day. Short conversations but important ones because they found themselves liking one another more and more.
Alexandra said, “Mac wasn’t like any other guy I ever dated…I had a thing for artistic guys” who looked artistic versus an artistic guy like Mac who looked like an Average Joe. His personality sucked her in.
“I remember thinking he is just the nicest person…How can he be so nice and funny? His emails were hilarious.”
Mac also knew spelling and grammar which was important to the writer in her.
For Mac’s part, while they shared a lot of common interests, it was her handle which ended with “the poet” that intrigued him as he is a writer. He also was impressed with how brave she was for participating in poetry slams.
Finally, it was time to meet. Mac took the train to Omaha. Both were nervous but felt it was worth taking the chance because they had hit it off so well.
When Mac got off the train and they hugged, Alexandra thought to herself, “Okay. I’m home…I knew that weekend.”
She, however, was worried about Mac’s reaction to her. She was slowly putting her life together after the bankruptcy, she was living with her sister, and her beat-up car was at a garage, so they had to walk all that hot July weekend. She felt he would think of her as a loser. Of course, that didn’t happen.
The two continued to email, call, and visit each other for several months until Alexandra broke down in tears during one phone conversation. She didn’t want to guilt Mac into anything, but she missed him so much when they were apart. He told her to come to Illinois and live with him. Two months’ later she did.
The two would watch documentaries, go to film festivals, played a lot of games and met other gamers. Mac also noticed that she would find and introduce him to people and places in the area that he had never noticed before.
“She expanded my world,” he said.
A year after she moved in, Mac and she went to celebrate that anniversary with dinner at a fancy restaurant. She had previously thought that he’d propose to her at Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day and that didn’t happen. Now, she was absolutely convinced it would happen that night. When the meal finished, and he still hadn’t proposed, she was angry.
“I was fuming mad. I thought, ‘he did it to me again,’” she said.
Exiting the restaurant, Mac called out to her and said, “Hold my hand.”
She refused. She didn’t want to walk with him, let alone hold his hand. Eventually, however, she acquiesced and when she put her hand in his, the ring box was there.
They married in 2012.
When I asked Mac what made their relationship work, he said, “I think we’re a team. We make our decisions together. We think about things the same way.”
Alexandra added that they accept each other as they are. She likened their relationship to a kite with a string. When she’s the kite, Mac is the string keeping “me grounded so I can do what I want to do. He has my back. It’s unconditional.” And vice versa.
And to those still looking for the one? Mac’s advice was to listen and be empathetic. Alexandra said not to jump into a relationship just to be in one.
She added, “The right one is worth waiting for.”
*Names have been changed.
Adele and Isaac*
Adele is the funniest person I know. She would kill as a stand-up comedian. Her humor is quick, smart, snarky, and often ends with a wonderful bark of husky laughter. We were co-workers for nearly a decade, and our cubicle was filled with laughter and voices singing bad music (Andy Gibb’s I Just Want to Be Your Everything or Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas Don’t Be Late as examples).
But one day, Adele had a shock and the laughter ceased for a while. She learned that a co-worker from another department had been let go. He had gotten into a fight and overreacted. But the bosses weren’t going to stand for his behavior and fired him.
Adele was stunned. This man and she had developed a kind of work-husband/work-wife thing. There was no romance. But he would stop by her cube and they would talk, sometimes flirt. It was nice to have a man who appreciated her, made her feel attractive. She would take extra care getting ready for work, put on eyeshadow and lipstick. They spent time telling stories and joking. The two shared their funny views of life and made each other laugh. He brightened her day. When that was lost, so was Adele.
After learning he was gone, Adele felt depressed and anxious. The next day, she called in sick and spent her day sitting on the couch in a funk, not even realizing how much time had passed. She didn’t even register the bright light of the sun moving across the living room as the hours went by.
Adele had had a few tough years behind her. Her father died when she was only nine. In her teenage years, as the last child living in the house (her sisters were already married with children of their own), she became the de facto spouse, spending time with her mother and taking care of things, often instead of being with other teens. She was happy and willing to do that, but she missed valuable peer time, time to be young.
In Adele’s twenties, she had to watch her mother become ill and pass away from cancer. Then the tech crisis arrived, and she was laid off from a prestigious and well-paid administrative position at one of Silicon Valley’s major companies. So, when she was hired with our company, things were looking up. Even though it was a less important, lower paying position, Adele enjoyed it and had a friend that she could harmlessly flirt with.
“I had something to look forward to each day at work,” she explained.
The man’s company helped pass the time and made her feel good. Plus, she knew she had her space afterward to do her own thing in the evenings and the weekends. Hanging around with him was also something she used to protect herself.
Adele told me, “I think my niece explained it the right way” telling her, “you always fall for people where you know you are not going to get hurt or where you know you can walk away from it.”
After the man was let go, Adele took refuge with her family, visiting one sister’s large family to occupy herself and keep her from feeling anxious and depressed on the weekends.
Eventually, Adele realized that she had been wallowing in one space. Yes, she had a job, had friends and family who adore her (it’s very easy to do). But she wanted a special someone.
“I felt good…but always was missing something. Everyone was coupled up and I would be the ninth wheel, the tenth wheel.”
One of her relatives suggested she join Match.com. She completed the profile and within two weeks, a man named Isaac contacted her. They corresponded a lot on the Match site and then Isaac gave her his telephone number saying that it would be easier to text with one another.
He told Adele, “I won’t call you. And if you don’t feel comfortable, we can continue this way.”
After they’d been texting day and night for a week (including Isaac’s daily text at 7 on the dot telling her to have a good day at work), the two graduated to phone calls. They spoke for hours, often falling asleep while still connected on the line.
Isaac was kind and sweet. He listened to her. He seemed genuine.
Finally, they decided to meet in person. The day before their first date, he called her saying he needed to tell her something.
Adele said, “What, you have a third arm growing out of your back or what?”
Isaac explained that he had a visual impairment and couldn’t drive. She would need to pick him up from the train station and drive.
When she saw him at the train station, she was pleased. He was tall with arresting blue-green eyes. She liked what he was wearing, and he smelled very good.
Laughing, Adele said, “I think back now and I’m like, ‘you crazy bitch, you let some random guy get into your car?’ But, I don’t know why, but I trusted him.’ And I remember him getting in the car, we started talking, and it was like we had been friends forever.”
They wound up at a Starbucks and the conversation continued for nearly six hours.
“He listened, he was kind. Communication was never dull,” she explained.
They also had similarities with their families. They were the only single siblings. They each lost a parent at a young age. And their parents treated their spouses with love and respect.
After going out with him a few times, however, Adele still felt unsure. She was attracted to him, she thought he was cute, but she worried. She wondered if he was someone she could move on with.
“I was kind of scared,” she explained. She would be part of a couple. She felt some of her freedom would be taken away. “I didn’t want to commit yet.”
The other reason was she had been out of the dating scene for a long time. She was a homebody, a creature of habit. She’d get home from work and put on her p.j.’s, watch her TV shows. She said she enjoyed her protective “little bubble.” But now, Isaac was showing her his interest big time and while relishing the attention, she was also frightened.
I asked her if this was a self-esteem thing. Despite her outward confidence and bravado, Adele is actually shy.
Her answer was in the affirmative. She wondered, “Is he screwing with me? Does he really like me like that?”
Eventually, she overcame her worries and the two became exclusive. They enjoy cooking, watching basketball, old movies, and taking beach vacations. He has gotten her into pro-football and she watches his barbecue cooking shows and Walker Texas Ranger, teasing him that “this is the worst acting I’ve ever seen.”
Adele says they haven’t had any major difficulties, just the usual disagreements.
Three years ago, they took a few days off to celebrate her birthday with a visit to the quaint beach town of Cayucas, California. Adele and her family have been going there for many years, and she turned Isaac on to it. They stayed at a hotel with a beach view. The staff gave them a bottle of wine in honor of the occasion and Isaac prepared dinner outside for them. She noticed that he was unusually quiet, pacing a great deal, and asked him what was the matter. He replied that there was nothing wrong.
Later in the evening, when he told her “happy birthday,” Adele let out a sigh.
“I’m an old lady,” she said.
Isaac said, “You’re not an old lady, but I’d like to grow old with you,” and presented her with an engagement ring. She immediately responded with a “Yes, yes!”
They hope to marry this year. She wants the ceremony at a winery near where they live. He’d rather have it in Las Vegas performed by an Elvis impersonator (when asked if he was serious, Isaac replied yes, “thank you. Thank you very much.”).
I asked Adele what she thought each brought to their relationship. She thought a while and answered, “I think we both bring honesty and compassion. We both have had other prior relationships, so we knew going into this one we were going to be truthful and honest and not hide feelings. We are Best Friends!”
She also had this advice to offer. “Go into [the relationship] being honest. Keep the communication open. And be true to yourself.”
*Names have been changed.
Cecilia and Dylan*
Cecilia is a bubbly woman who almost always has a smile on her face and a ready laugh. But like all of us, she’s had tough times. For several years, the mother of two had endured marriage to a man who both physically and emotionally abused her. At age thirty, she made the courageous decision to leave him. While staying any longer would cost her and her children their peace of mind, there was a price to leaving. Previously, a stay-at-home parent to an eight-year-old boy and four-year-old girl, Cecilia now was a single mother with no job, no transportation, and on welfare.
One weekend, while the children were visiting their father, Cecilia felt very alone in her apartment. She longed to get out, to surround herself with people and adult conversation. There was a pizza joint around the corner from her apartment, so she walked over and took a seat at the bar. The handsome employee who came to take her order would change her life. His name was Dylan and the two connected right away. It wasn’t long into their conversation that he said he wanted to take her out on a date. Really liking him, Cecilia suggested that he come to her place for a glass of wine after his shift. So he did.
“And he never left,” Cecilia said, laughing.
She was joking, of course, but, symbolically, it was true. The two spoke well into the night and Cecilia felt a physical attraction that she described as “off the scales,” as well as a budding emotional connection to the man. They spent the night together. Cecilia awoke in the early morning hours, panicked, telling Dylan he had to go, that she didn’t want her children to meet him like this. But “I felt really good about meeting him. I wanted to see him again.” He felt the same way, surprising her by dropping by later that morning holding a big bag of groceries and telling Cecilia he was going to make her and the kids lunch.
The relationship developed quickly, with the two moving in together a few months later and marrying a year after they first met. They were married for well over a decade when the relationship began to deteriorate. Cecilia was raised in a loving and spiritual, but, perhaps, over-protective home. And her life during her first marriage was quite restrictive with her ex telling her where she should be and what she should be doing at any time.
Cecilia started to act on this new feeling of freedom. She said, “I wanted to do what I wanted to do.” And what she wanted was to be a “wild child.” As was common of the times, she and Dylan would party and used alcohol and other substances. But over the years, she began to go out on the town more and more without her husband. As Cecilia explained, part of how you get to know a person is through the time spent together and how could Dylan know the real her if she “was never home?”
As the relationship began to deteriorate, Cecilia was overwhelmed with guilt. She felt that she had crippled her marriage beyond repair and didn’t deserve Dylan’s love anymore. So she decided to ask for a divorce. But Cecilia recalls that both as she was making the decision and later when she was telling Dylan, a voice deep inside her heart was screaming not to do it, that she was making a terrible mistake.
“I looked at him and saw my future with him, and it was warm and it was inviting. It was comfortable,” she remembers.
But Cecilia ignored the feeling because she was ashamed, because she “didn’t feel deserving to be a wife.”
After she told him of her decision, though shocked and hurt, Dylan didn’t fight her. He accepted her wishes and the two parted.
Many years passed, and with it, Cecilia found herself spirituality renewed. “With God’s help,” she says, she was able to eschew her addictions. She made new friends and had another relationship but knew that they were not good for one another and that she had to put it to an end.
One day, Cecilia got a call from the hospital emergency room. Her daughter had taken a bad fall down some stairs and they did not know if her back was broken. As Cecilia rushed to the hospital, she knew Dylan would want to know. She tried calling him over and over, leaving voicemail messages, but never able to reach him. Heading into the ER and her daughter’s cubicle, Cecilia heard a noise and looking over her shoulder, Dylan was there, telling her he raced over as soon as he heard the first message. She hadn’t seen him in years, but time had done nothing to change her feelings for him. “I heard the angels sing. I felt immediately drawn to him.”
It was the same way for Dylan. After waiting several tense hours before hearing that her daughter’s back was not broken, Dylan asked her out. She was delighted, but she knew there were several things that must be done before they started dating. One was making a final break with her current boyfriend. The other was that she had to come clean about her actions during their marriage.
“I lived another life and kept it a secret from my husband. My whole life was a big, fat, ugly secret.”
She was scared but felt he deserved to know. “I wanted to get everything out before anything happened.”
When he arrived at her place for their date, Cecilia got into his truck and immediately began to tell him all the details.
“I spilled my guts and told him everything. He was very quiet and listened to every word I said, and I asked him ‘do you still want to go out with me now?’” He replied that there hadn’t been anyone after her and then told her, “I never stopped loving you.”
He added that the past was the past and they agreed never to speak of it again.
With the benefit of maturity and the knowledge of how precious this relationship was, they moved more slowly this time, dating and keeping separate homes for a year, making sure to have time for themselves as individuals, before moving in together. One Christmas, a couple of years into the renewed relationship, an unexpected crisis arrived. And it was all due to a tiny box.
“We all know what the woman thinks when she gets a little box, right?” Cecilia said. Inside was a diamond ring. She began to cry as she put it on, believing they were now engaged. But Dylan never actually proposed and Cecilia simply assumed. She was thrilled. Eventually, she asked when he wanted to get married and he told her he didn’t. He was happy with the way things were. It hurt Cecilia deeply, especially in light of her renewed religious faith and living together without the benefit of marriage. She recalls praying, saying “He’s everything. He’s everything to me. Please forgive me, God, but I can’t leave him…please work a way.”
“I would never leave him, ever, ever, ever, ever,” she said, “because of the last time–I broke his heart.”
Eventually, Dylan realized how much he wanted Cecilia to be his partner in all things, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and legally, and the couple married on Valentine’s Day, 2015.
When I asked her what the difference was between this marriage versus their first, she said, “The first time, I was never home. I never learned to know about him and he never learned to know about me so this time the love is bigger, the love is deeper the love is better…Our marriage is not perfect, there is no one that has perfection, but I have learned to accept my husband just like he is, with all his good parts and even the bad. I embrace all of him and he does me as well.”
And to those who may feel that love has passed them by, she added, “Don’t give up. If you think that you made mistakes and you lay in bed at night dreaming about this person don’t give up. Because you never know what God has in store for your life. If you’ve had love, don’t leave it. If you’ve had love and you left it, find your way back if you know it’s real.”
*Names have been changed.