Most people reel from shock when I tell them about my unconventional love story. It’s not just from the fact that I went on three dates before I became engaged or because I contacted my husband through an Orthodox Jewish dating website. The main reason why people are taken aback is that I married my husband primarily because my parents and grandparents liked him – a lot.
My first date with my now-husband, Daniel, took place at my parents’ house on a Friday night where my father mercilessly grilled him over the Sabbath meal. Daniel managed to stay calm throughout the interrogation, answering each question brilliantly while maintaining a humble countenance. My parents fell head over heels in love with him. That Sunday, my grandparents met Daniel where a second interrogation ensued, resulting in my grandparents’ fervent approbation. Later that day, Daniel spoke about our future together as though it were already a done deal. It seemed the only one who had any reservations was…well, me.
Daniel, on paper, was everything I ever wanted – he was smart, handsome, and kind. We were on the same page, both politically and spiritually. When it came to children, he expressed his intention of being a hands-on father, changing diapers, cleaning up projectile vomit, etc. He laughed at my jokes and I mostly laughed at his.
The problem was I just didn’t feel it. I didn’t have this all-consuming, magical pull that I thought I needed to feel for my future husband. Everything I read about and saw in movies didn’t happen – my heart didn’t beat wildly when he walked into a room nor did my stomach do somersaults at the very mention of his name. I didn’t obsessively think about him or sing his praises to anyone walking within hearing distance. Admittedly, he was a great guy, but I wasn’t convinced he was The One.
Mid-Sunday afternoon, I dropped Daniel off at the airport and returned home. My father greeted me at the door. “Well?”
“Well,” I said, “he told me he’ll call me as soon as he gets home.”
“Excellent,” my father replied.
“Uh-huh. Too bad I’m going to tell him it’s over between us.” My father reeled back as though he had just been punched in the face.
“What?” The poor man hadn’t seen it coming.
When I reiterated my intentions, my father wanted to know the reason behind them. I explained that I just wasn’t “feeling it.” He urged me to reconsider, saying that love takes time and guys like Daniel don’t come around very often, but I was a diehard romantic, and refused to change my mind. My father then called his father to tell him the bad news, and I’ll never forget what my grandfather said: “She’d be a fool to let him go.”
I went to my room and did some heavy soul-searching. Everyone that I loved and trusted, people who quite possibly knew me better than I knew myself, were unanimous in their belief that Daniel was the right man for me – and that was something I couldn’t take lightly.
In the end, I decided to trust them. That night when Daniel called and spoke of our future together, I didn’t dissuade him. Two weeks later, he proposed, and three months after that, we became husband and wife.
To be honest, those first few years were really hard – we became parents before our first wedding anniversary, and being that we were both in our early twenties, there was still quite a lot of maturing and growing up that needed to be done (mostly mine). There were times when I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life, times when I yearned for a do-over. Looking back, that had less to do with Daniel and more about me feeling tied down at such a young age.
Now that I’m approaching my 13th wedding anniversary, I can vouch for the wisdom of my father’s words – real love takes time, and it isn’t necessarily what popular culture makes it out to be. Instead of falling in love quickly and all at once, I fell in love with Daniel slowly and in baby steps. I experienced firsthand the kindness that my family saw in him, from the times he cleaned up my pregnancy vomit without complaint to the times he ran to the supermarket at midnight to satisfy my food cravings to the nights he woke up with our baby to bottle feed him, despite the fact that he was the one going to work the next day, not me. He encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a novelist, his belief in me so great that it buoyed me during my times of doubt. If there’s only one pod of coffee left, he’ll insist I have it. Every time we talk on the phone he says he loves me before hanging up, just in case he gets killed in a car accident, so I’ll always have that as his last words to me.
Honestly, I never did develop the heart-stopping, blood thumping, weak-in-the-knees feelings for Daniel, but I’m okay with that. If I could rewind the last 13 years, I’d do everything exactly the same. I’d marry him again tomorrow if I could.
So while I love Jane Austen’s novels and movies like The Wedding Planner, it’s important to separate fiction from real life, and to understand that ‘Happily Ever After’s’ aren’t necessarily what you’d expect. Some knights in shining armor are disguised as computer nerds or men without hair, or in my case, a chemical engineer with a love of statistics and an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Real life can be messy and harrowing, not to mention challenging in the most unforeseen ways – a person with substance and integrity will see you safely through them. As I often remind my single sister, sexy is synonymous with stability; tachycardia and shortness of breath are not prerequisites to a happy marriage. And thanks to the sage advice of my parents and grandparents, and of course, one very special engineer, I’m now living my own Happily Ever After.
HEIDI SHERTOK is a native Minnesotan, as is evident by both her Midwestern accent and her appreciation of any weather that isn’t attached to the word ‘negative’. She wrote her first book at the tender age of twelve, and after killing off all the main characters in it, she realized that books with happy endings are infinitely preferable to those that leave you with tear-streaked cheeks and empty tissue boxes. Heidi has three precocious children, and has at times been known to hide under her bed from them – not that she’s proud of it. She is the dog owner of a small white dog, named “Whitey”; she’s not real proud of that, either. Heidi has one published novel, “And Along Came Layla”, as well as blog postings on numerous websites, including “The Good Men Project” and “Kveller.” You can contact Heidi at [email protected].