A couple of weeks ago several local businesses started advertising a Valentine's Day contest. They asked people to send in their love story, and the best one would win a package of prizes, including a $100 dinner at a great restaurant downtown. That was tantalizing enough for me, so I sat down at the computer and pounded out a short version of our love story and sent it in, fingers crossed. Well, unfortunately, we didn't win. Apparently, the winning story made all the judges cry. But I thought even though I didn't win, I could still post my story on my blog, complete with the photos I sent in for the contest. So here it is: my love story.
Small disclaimer: This story will NOT make you cry; you do NOT need a box of kleenex.
We met about three months after I’d moved to Sioux Falls and about six months after I’d given up on ever meeting the kind of guy I’d be willing to marry. After all, I was 29 and had just moved to South Dakota. Who lives in South Dakota, anyway? If I hadn’t met the right guy after living in Washington D.C., Boston, and Aberdeen, Scotland, there was no way I was going to meet him in South Dakota. Wrong again.
I always hate to admit this, but we met at a singles group. Ugh. Seriously, what could be worse? I thought I was just going to a Sunday school class, but the minute I walked in the room I realized I’d been tricked into going to a desperate-young-adults group. Within minutes the guy who looked like he was wearing his father’s suit was invading my space and working very hard to get my phone number. And that’s when I met the dumb jock. Tall, athletic, very good looking, the center of many adoring glances from the ladies in the room, and apparently dead stupid. All he seemed to be talking about was the movie Fight Club and wanting a man room in his house where he could have a punching bag and smoke cigars. I rolled my eyes and counted the minutes till I could leave and never come back.
After the obligatory mingling, the group was called together for a short lesson. When I saw the stupid guy who liked Fight Club stand up to lead it, I assumed they all must take turns and today just happened to be his. But, he was surprisingly insightful. One might even go so far as to say wise. I didn’t give it much thought, but it did catch my attention.
Two days later the guy in his father’s suit called me up and asked me out – to the Republican State Dinner. Why not? A free dinner and new people on a night otherwise spent at home with my dog. When he picked me up he said he’d had an extra ticket, so his roommate would be there too. In the hotel lobby my date looked around and said, “There he is, over there.” I looked over just in time to see a man rise out of a wing-backed chair, button his jacket, and walk toward us. The dumb jock. Wow, he looked good. And I remembered that he actually wasn’t as dumb as he first appeared. We shook hands and re-introduced ourselves. His name was Nathan.
The night was ridiculous. My date spent the whole evening schmoozing with everyone in the room. I spent the whole evening alone in a room full of politicians who were working rather than enjoying themselves. The only redeeming factor was that by the end of the night Nathan came over and commiserated with me. He was tall, funny, good-looking, and, it turned out, very smart. It also turned out that he was the associate pastor at a church I had been trying to find for a couple of weeks. I went home that night and e-mailed a friend, “You know it’s a bad date when you’re more attracted to your date’s roommate than you are to your date.”
So I started going to his church, and we’d talk occasionally. But the conversations were generally less than satisfying. For instance, I tried to join the small group Bible study he was leading. The bulletin announced that it was open to everyone and had only started a couple of weeks ago. After church that morning I walked over to him and told him I’d like to join. He promptly told me I couldn’t. Quite confused, I pointed to the bulletin and said, “But the bulletin says it just started.” He said, “Well, yes, it did, but it’s a men’s group.” Once again, I pointed to the bulletin and said, “But the bulletin says it’s open to anyone.” He said, “Well, yes, it was, but only men showed up so now it’s a men’s group.” So I said, “Well, now that a woman has shown up, can it go back to being co-ed?” He said, “No.” That was it, just “no.” No explanation, no sympathy. “Okay,” I thought, “so he’s not dumb, he’s just a jerk.”
That opinion was reinforced when he asked me out on what sounded like a date, but which he now claims was obviously not a date. Dinner, seeing a band, just the two of us. Who in their right mind doesn’t think that’s a date? Anyway, we didn’t end up going, but in the process I discovered that he had a girlfriend. Now I was really confused and just decided the guy wasn’t worth hanging out with. Way too much trouble.
Fast forward a few months, and one day after church he stopped me to ask if I’d like to help him start a new small group Bible study. I politely asked what happened to the men’s group, and he admitted that it had folded only a few weeks after it began. Apparently the men quit showing up. I smirked. But he persisted about starting a new group. I was not interested, but to be polite, I said he could give me a call when he wanted to get it going.
Of course he didn’t call. A couple of weeks later he stopped me again after church and said, “Hey, what about starting that small group?” I said, “Sure, whatever, give me a call.” Again, no call. After a couple of months of this, I was amazed when he did actually call and say, “Let’s start that small group.” I agreed, but warned him that I didn’t know anyone outside of church to invite, so he’d have to get other people to come. We decided to meet downtown at Zandbroz on Tuesday night.
I arrived at Zandbroz just after 8:00 on that fateful Tuesday evening to find Nathan leaning against the wall outside waiting for me. Nobody else was there – turns out it was just the two of us. Zandbroz was closed, so we walked down the street to Fat Duck Bistro. (Remember Fat Duck Bistro? I loved that restaurant.) He had cheesecake and I had spice cake and we talked about everything except the small group. Two hours later he walked me to my car and said casually, “So, same time next week?” I said, “Sure, I guess. You’ll invite others?” He made some noncommittal noise and we went our separate ways.
The next week we met again at Fat Duck, and oddly enough, again it was just the two of us. (He has since admitted that he never invited anyone else after the first week, but I didn’t know that at the time.) After much talk and some wonderful dessert (it may have been crème brulee this time), we realized that the restaurant was deserted. Completely. No customers and no staff left in the building. Everyone had kindly let us talk while they quietly cleaned up and went home. We left payment on the table and went home ourselves.
And so it progressed until almost exactly a year after our first evening at Fat Duck, we found ourselves in a little country church getting married. It was a beautiful April day, the apple blossoms were out, and we were blissfully in love. Almost nine years later, we still love our small group and have actually added two new members.
And I thought nobody interesting lived in South Dakota. How silly of me.
Postscript from Nathan: Just so the record is straight:1) I was entirely polite to her, assuring her that she was a valuable member of our church in spite of her tardy request to join the small group. 2) Verily, I invited other young adults to the new and improved small group, to no avail. 3) Christina has shown herself to be a fiercely loyal and marvelously caring wife – though she has done everything in her power to discourage me from constructing my man room. So it goes with being in love with a feminazi.