Many thanks to Jill, the first reader who asked me to tell the story of the “backup date“! Your encouragement was needed, as every one of these personal posts leaves me wondering why I feel compelled to spill my guts, so to speak, in a public forum. Will hearing this story give anyone hope—or at least a chuckle? My family and close friends have heard (probably ad nauseum) the story of how my husband and I FINALLY became a couple three and a half years after we met at the hallowed halls of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It’s a cliché, but, in our situation, timing was everything. If I had to give a moral for my story, I’d say: 1) Trust the timing (I’m stealing that line from a blogging friend’s book). 2) Listen to your mother; she is rarely wrong.
Flashback to the mid 80s: I’ve arrived at UNC, fresh from a tiny Christian college and intimidated by what I perceive as a “secular state university.” My parents and I had caravaned to North Carolina so that they could help me settle into the dorm where I lived for the first year of my masters program. I did not know a soul in Chapel Hill except for a nice couple from my grandmother’s church in Louisiana. The couple worked for Campus Crusade (now known as Cru); my parents must have told them I was coming to Chapel Hill because Tricia, the wife, left a yellow post-it note on my dorm room door inviting me to come to the next Crusade meeting.
Being an introvert, I didn’t want to go, but my mother strongly encouraged me to try it at least once. Experience had taught me that my mother’s advice, even when it wasn’t what I wanted to do, was invariably good. I’ll admit it: even in my 50s, I still worry about what could happen if I disobey my mother. At 22, I sure wasn’t going to risk it. I went to the meeting.
I knew it was a mistake immediately: for one thing, I was underdressed in my kelly-green shorts, gingham shirt, and minimal make-up. A sizeable portion of the students involved in the campus ministry came from the Greek population (fraternities or sororities). Those girls knew how to dress, or so it seemed to my newcomer’s eyes. I was also older than the other students; it turned out there was a separate group for graduate students. But something important happened: my husband, who makes a habit of introducing himself to strangers, came up and asked where I’d gone for undergrad. Prefacing my explanation with the words “You’ve probably never heard of it,” I told him that I’d gone to Covenant College, the official college of the Presybterian Church in America. He immediately said, “Yes, I have heard of it! I go to a PCA church. If you’re PCA, you might be interested in a new PCA church that’s getting started in Chapel Hill. Right now, we’re meeting in the pastor’s living room.”
[My husband has a different version of this story. He says that he noticed this cute girl whom he hadn’t met yet standing on the other side of the room. Cue “Some Enchanted Evening,” right? I’m not sure I buy that, given how many cute girls were in that room, but I appreciate the compliment.]
Wow. What a reward for following my mother’s advice! I got the details about the next Bible study for the start-up church, stayed for the rest of the meeting, and left Campus Crusade, never to return. Over the next three years, I saw my husband many times—first at the Bible study in the pastor’s living room and later in a Bible study that met at the home of a lovely older couple. Occasionally, we interacted on-campus, but neither of us was the least bit interested in the other. I’m older than my husband. Two and a half years is not so much in the long run, but when you’re a graduate student, you’re not interested in dating a junior in college. From my husband’s perspective, there were scores of attractive undergrad girls at Chapel Hill; why would he be interested in an older woman? Also, I started dating another graduate student—a cute guy from Alabama who was studying classics, loved organ music, and went by the incongruous name of Bubba.
But, gradually, my future husband and I got to be friends. The great thing about not having dated one another was that our friendship became a constant of my life in Chapel Hill. Things fizzled out with Bubba. I went on dates with other people and reconnected with a couple of guys I’d gone out with in college, but nothing took. Meanwhile, my husband kept dating around. He nearly got serious with one girl the spring of his senior year but then broke up with her. By then, our church had grown so much that more small groups were forming, and my husband left our group, which was composed of couples with a few single people, for one that was entirely made up of unmarried people. We saw each other less. At the time, I was self-righteously condemning of his decision to leave our tight-knit group.
A year later, I felt differently. The summer of 1988 had been the loneliest time of my life. I was working for an academic journal while starting my Ph.D.; at the rate of one class a semester, it was going to take a while, but I’d needed to make some money because my car had hit the point of no repair. With most of my friends from the masters program gone, I had moved to a two-bedroom apartment with one of my remaining friends, but she had a full-time job and a full-time boyfriend. She house-sat that summer and was rarely around; if she was in the apartment, she and her boyfriend were in her room with the door closed. I remember gratefully the kindness of my married friends and of co-workers who invited me to parties, but I didn’t really have a social group any more, and I was living many hours from my family.
Guess what I did in the fall? Yep, I switched from my mostly-married-folks Bible study to the co-ed singles Bible study that my husband was in: technically, there were two groups, a guys and a girls, but they got together for social activities, and a group usually went out for lunch after church. And the fall brought to Chapel Hill a wonderful woman who was doing her post-doc in chemistry and joined the girls’ Bible study. Sadly, she is now deceased, so I’ll use her name: Martha Reynolds. What a difference a friend makes in your life! Martha became a dear friend and confidante. My husband, meanwhile, had had a rough summer himself: he had gone to West Africa to work with medical missionaries and had contracted malaria.
Now—this part does remind me of When Harry Met Sally—we really got to be friends. One night at a church meeting, an event called “Suppers for Six” was announced: three couples would have dinner over a period of three months, with dinner at a different couple’s home each month. Although we were merely good friends, my husband approached me after the meeting and suggested that we, for the sake of convenience, could form a “couple” and participate. Sure, why not? Both of us had crushes on other people at the time, so there was no danger of his meaning anything more than friendship by this proposal.
[I’d forgotten about Suppers for Six, but my husband says it was important in our getting to know one another better. Again, his version is different: he claims that he scanned the room for the best-looking single girl present before inviting me to be his partner in Suppers for Six. Hmmm. He knows he’s gonna look bad in the next chapter of this story.]
By now, we chatted with one another on the phone and interacted regularly at church events. Would we have remained “friends” without my husband’s need for a date to the Med School Christmas party?
(To be continued. . . .)
Note to Reader: This is Part III of a series of posts about dating—-make that, my experience of dating—that I found myself writing. “The Dubious Practice of Dating” was first, followed by “Whatever Happened to Casual Dating?” My hope is that Part IV (as yet unwritten) will be the final installment.