Fall, in Love

golden leavesLast year around this time, as we scuffled through the fallen leaves covering a local park trail, my now-husband Steve recalled an article he’d seen about the process by which leaves change colors. The brilliant orange and yellow and red hues of autumn are always present in the leaves, the article asserted, though we see them only in the fall. In spring and summer they are masked by chlorophyll’s green. As the production of chlorophyll wanes, the bright, varied colors that were always underneath emerge to glow against the steel grays and robin’s egg blues of an October sky. The writer likened this process to the presence of God in everyone, using it as a metaphor for a kind of true spiritual beauty that all possess, even when it’s not readily apparent.

That’s a lovely idea, and the writer mostly got the science correct: carotenoids, the pigments that produce yellow, orange, and brown, are present in leaves year-round and revealed in autumn; the compounds called anthocyanins that make leaves turn red, however, are manufactured in the fall in response to a combination of light and an abundance of sugars. In any case, the process put me in mind of a slightly different metaphor. Continue reading


Steve Speaks: From the Other Side of the Table

Fiancé Steve chimes in with his take on our first meeting (and makes me blush).

You’ve heard from Sandee about how we were introduced through a mutual friend and became acquainted on Facebook before meeting in person. Indeed, Steve R. told me about Sandee on February 21st (isn’t e-mail archiving great?), and I contacted her that evening. We traded a few e-mails, scrutinized each other’s Facebook pages, learned what Google seemed to know, and set up a brunch date for February 24th.

We’d agreed on a nice restaurant in her neck of the woods, so I had plenty of time to reflect during the 45-minute drive in. As I motored along the interstate in light Sunday morning traffic, I tallied up what I knew about this woman. Steve R. had introduced her as smart, adventurous, really nice, and single. Excellent qualifications! He never mentioned her beauty, letting the photos I saw on Facebook speak for themselves.

Driving through gray, tree-bristled mountains, I mused that one positive sign was her active outdoor lifestyle. She hiked, ran mud runs, backpacked and mountain-biked—things I also enjoyed doing in the beautiful forests surrounding us. She held an academic position, which meant we’d made some similar choices, had some similar experiences. College professors always seem to have plenty to talk about, even if it’s only commiserating on the elegant dysfunction of so many academic departments.

I’d found an essay she’d written, so I knew she was skilled at expressing herself with grace and humor. And I knew she was witty—in one of her first e-mails, she implied Steve R. told her I had a Marie Osmond doll collection. What a great icebreaker! It poked fun at those red-flag oddities most Internet daters eventually tell stories about.

I knew she was comfortable in her own skin. I’d read with interest (bordering on awe) about her nude modeling on Valentine’s Day. Mind on the road, Steve, this is your exit!

I obediently followed the directions of my car navigation system to the restaurant, arriving early, as I usually do. (My Navy captain father instilled an almost obsessive attention to punctuality and efficiency, and academia has not quite beaten it out of me). By the time I sat down in the restaurant, eyes on the door, I’d catalogued a fair bit of knowledge about the woman who would soon walk through it. Things seemed promising.

However, I’d also endured six years of mid-life dating. I’d discovered how someone looks “on paper” does not necessarily translate to real-world compatibility. I was getting much better at restraining my optimism. I was hopeful, but not confident.

She walked into the restaurant.

The sun did not illuminate her hair like a halo from behind, nor did the camera switch to slow motion as she crossed the room, unfurled her scarf and tossed her hair. I didn’t look into her eyes and see inevitable love.

I saw a beautiful woman, a friend of a friend, someone willing to spend part of her day with me.

I don’t remember what she wore. I don’t remember what we ordered. I don’t even remember what we talked about. I do remember the time passing far more quickly than it usually does, the awkwardness of a first date melting gradually into the easy conversation of a pair of like-minded individuals. Once the bill had been paid, the waiter was more ready for our date to be over than we were, so we headed outside and sat a bit longer in the rare, warm, February sunshine.

For too long, I’d been a daydreamer, and I tended to let my mind skip to the future so quickly that I failed to savor the present. I’d often made the mistake of anticipating what might be rather than fully enjoying what is. It was so much better to enter a first date with no expectations other than “maybe I’ll make a new friend.” It allowed me to see what was really there before me: I had, indeed, just made a new friend. And without all those expectations and imaginings occupying my head, there was time and space simply to let things unfold.

I e-mailed her that evening to ask her on a second date.

Dinner celebrating our first dating anniversary, Seattle

Dinner celebrating our first dating anniversary, Seattle 2014

Will YouTube Marry Me?

Everyone’s first question, as soon as you sport a ring on your finger, is “How did he propose?”  The available answers seem to grow increasingly complex: a quick internet search reveals choreographed dance routines with professional performers, day-long scavenger hunts where the couple’s friends pop up with clues, private rooftop dinners accompanied by string quartets or even salsa bands. Websites abound offering guidance on creating the “perfect proposal,” and there are event planners whose sole focus is designing not weddings but “proposal packages.” The “Plan Your Proposal” button on one such site leads to a menu that not only strongly encourages hiring a pro to document the event but also includes a “Book a Flash Mob” link and an “Ask the Expert” option, where you can “run your proposal ideas” past a “proposal expert” and get a response in three days.

Um, how exactly does one qualify to become a “proposal expert”?

Bold public proposals or creative, extravagant approaches are genuinely romantic when they fit the couple. My brother proposed to my sister-in-law in front of a crowd packed with friends and members of an organization that had changed his life; they were the very people who’d encouraged him to live large and dare initiate the relationship in the first place. ❤ And if you’re a professional actor wooing a producer, it makes sense to stage an actual live lip-dub street production to pop the question! But so many “big” proposals seem less an outgrowth of a couple’s personal history than a product of growing social and market pressures to manufacture a “perfect” but artificial moment. After all, most of us aren’t professional performers, and how dreamy is it, really, to purchase someone else’s pre-packaged idea of a romantic gesture, or, for that matter, to tell not only your friends but also a roomful of random flash-mob dancers that you want to marry Susie before you tell Susie herself?

Somewhere along the way, proposing marriage has become a kind of competitive spectator sport. The big proposal now rivals the big wedding. Full of flash and splash, scripted and staged, it’s a public performance of your commitment, recorded for posterity. Because, of course, someone is always there filming these über-events.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

Continue reading


Kiss Me, Karma

One year from today, lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I will don a wedding dress, pick up a bouquet, and walk down the aisle to marry my mid-life love Steve. Those last few stately steps will total just a few yards, but it’s taken me nigh onto forty-five years to stroll, saunter, sprint, and sweat my way to that moment.

I figure it’s my own fault. And not just because of a few questionable decisions made and frequent detours taken along the way, though those have certainly played a role. No, when I was young and particularly dumb, I inadvertently threw the universe a karmic challenge. And the universe, I think, felt it had no choice but to teach me a lesson.

The summer I was eighteen, I worked part-time as a student assistant in the Math and Science division of Gainesville College, then a two-year community college located in northeast Georgia. My father Garry had taught chemistry there since the year before I was born, so I’d grown up conducting science fair projects in his lab and selling Girl Scout cookies to his colleagues. Even before I enrolled as a student for my freshman year, I’d become acquainted with many of the department professors: the married Mayhews, environmental biologists always dressed in Birks and khakis; the mustached John Hamilton, an A&P prof who seemed to burst with kinetic energy; lab coordinator Linda B., whose bold laugh echoed down the terrazzo-floored halls. Once I started working in the division office, I got to know more about them: mathematician Dee Fuller always had a joke at the ready, and ex-Marine Dr. Rogers, geologist, department chair, and dead ringer for Ernest Hemingway, could shift from stern to smiling so quickly you thought you’d imagined feeling intimidated.

I particularly admired Christy Gregory, a tall, willowy math professor who’d painted her office bookshelves periwinkle. A color aficionado myself, I appreciated the pop of purple and the streak of independence it implied. Still, she puzzled me: obviously smart, beautiful, friendly, and genuine, Professor Gregory remained single. For my romance-obsessed teenage self, that equation was harder to understand than any that required solving for X.

Then, one afternoon, not long after she’d celebrated her fortieth birthday with a cake and cards from the staff, I was tending the front office phone while several faculty members chatted by the counter. Professor Gregory came in wearing a million-watt smile. After dropping off a handout for me to copy, she turned to announce she was engaged: she’d been active with the singles group at the local Methodist church, and she and the pastor had fallen in love. She was getting married!

I’d like to say I felt pure joy, that the only thought in my mind and thrill in my heart was for her happiness. But as my mouth smiled and said “Congratulations!” my brain was seized by that naïve self-absorption that is the special purview of the young. Oh, my god! it exclaimed in horror. I hope I don’t have to wait until I’m forty.

And as hugs were passed all around, the universe nodded sagely: Hey, kid, no problem. Happy to make alternate arrangements.