(Note: My wife interjects occasionally in this post to offer her perspective. Her words are italicized.)
I don’t know how many times it happened while I was in university, but I would meet a girl I liked and very soon thereafter would find out she was already seeing somebody. Or perhaps, sensing interest on my part, the girl in question only said she was seeing somebody. Cue awkward silence. Attempt graceful exit, from both the conversation and the room.
To be honest, it was frustrating.
Let’s just say that by the time I met the woman who would become my wife, I had what you could call a brief to non-existent history of dating.
And it was something I felt quite self-conscious about. No surprise, since my usual train of thought at the time would consistently find almost any reason to confirm what my insecurities were enthusaistically telling me.
[Speaking of insecurities, the “future wife” is of the opinion that one of two things may have been actually happening. 1) Girls may have been interested, but such interest was misinterpreted because of said insecurities. Or 2) Because of the shy, insecure guy my husband was at the time, those traits that made him an incredible catch were kept hidden. Then again, maybe those women were just clueless. Regardless, they lost out and I won the jackpot!]
So it’s not that I wanted to be single, but the combination of my own shyness and the apparent lack of opportunities meant that by my late 20s I felt like a confirmed bachelor. A little early for such a conclusion, I suppose. I did, after all, have single friends within the same age bracket.
I think of a couple of girls who were actually possibilities. One wasn’t a Christian. She was a fellow grad student in the same department at the university I was attending. We got along and hung out a few times. Went to a couple of movies. But the truth is, I wanted someone who would share my faith, especially if it was going to be a serious relationship.
The other was a single mom of a little girl who was separated from her husband. Again, we hung out a number of times. Went to movies. We really got along. She even bought me a bookcase as a birthday gift. I met her through the church I was attending. I think if she had been legally divorced (you know, not still married), I might have pursued the relationship. I’m pretty positive my interest would have been reciprocated. But I couldn’t reconcile trying to move the relationship further while she was still married. And we never got close enough for this to be an actual conversation.
I kept hearing that oh-so familiar voice in my head: “Hey Derek, welcome back to the Friend Zone. I’d show you around, but you know the place pretty well.”
Add to all this: fear. One of the reasons I found attempts at moving beyond friendship so difficult and nerve-wracking at the time was the insecurity I had over my lack of relationship experience. Sad, I know. I didn’t want anyone–especially girls I was interested in–to know how much I didn’t know. Or to know how much I thought I didn’t know. I don’t know. Know what I mean?
As it happens, there was the internet. And there were chat rooms, places where people could meet based on interests–interests which most often consisted of wanting to meet people. All of this was quite new and intriguing at the time. It was social media before there was social media. Facebook didn’t yet exist. The iPhone was still a dream in Steve Jobs’ brain. That’s where I found myself.
I’ve mentioned more than once how my time in Ontario was not the most positive period of my life. One reason was that I was really, really lonely. I felt emotionally isolated. I was vulnerable. With the availability of chat rooms and nascent social media programs like ICQ, I’m ashamed to say I allowed myself to go in directions that were not especially honouring to God.
However, sometimes God acts to redeem such a situation not only when you least expect it, but when you don’t expect it at all. And that’s what happened next. That’s when I met the woman I would eventually marry.
So, yes, my wife and I met online in a chat room. She was living in Vancouver at the time and I was in Hamilton. After initially meeting in the chat room, we graduated to email. Then to phone calls. We heard one another’s voices! That’s when it began to be something significant.
[Looking back, I am still astounded that of all the thousands of chat rooms out there, and considering that the chat room we met in was neither a Christian chat room, nor a Canadian chat room, the odds of us finding one another were astronomical. I am still amazed, twenty years later.]
Turned out, both our families were in New Brunswick, and not very far from one another. She was also a Christian and was currently working on a degree at Regent College. She was smart, funny, and, you know, beautiful. I was, shall we say, enamoured. I couldn’t believe my luck.
[I couldn’t believe my luck either. Smart, check. Sense of humour, check. Serious about his faith, check. Able and willing to grow a nice, full beard, check. Didn’t seem weirded out by the fact that I liked fine dining on fine china and crystal, classical music, and intellectual discussions, as well as hunting, camping (real, rough camping, none of this RV park, running water, or electricity nonsense) and hiking through places that most sensible city-bred people find deeply objectionable, check! Furthermore, he was not at all intimidated by the fact that I was a strong-minded, opinionated woman, nor did he shy away from sharing his own contrary opinions, when they existed. He evidenced the fruit of the Spirit in all that he said and did. Oh, and he had a great and very contageous laugh. I have often wondered how every other woman who ever knew him missed all of this!]
But of course in the end I believe it was a God thing, that he was at work behind the scenes. We each even had friends who were brother and sister. They did some mutual reconnaissance on our behalf. I guess we both checked out.
[I often point this out to any young woman who has heard our story: before we met in real life, we had references!]
Having met on February 24 of 2001 (yes, we recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of this occasion!), we made arrangements to meet in person in the summer when I would be in NB on vacation.
Our first date was a picnic she had prepared and going to see the movie Shrek. As a Christmas gift that year, I had our movie tickets matted and framed.
[We went to a matiné and I truly believe we were the only adults there who were not parents.]
It was going well. So well, in fact, that I was planning to propose on New Year’s Eve of 2001. Except instead I spontaneously proposed on the phone before the Christmas holidays. I guess I couldn’t wait! When I asked if she would marry me, she said, “Absolutely.”
[Here’s a riddle: He asked me to marry him on December 10th. I answered him, “Absolutely!” on December 9th. And yet I answered him after he asked. How is this possible?]
That, obviously, is only the start of our story. There was much more to come. Wonderful as it was (and absolutely continues to be), it hasn’t always been easy. You don’t always know what life will bring. We’ve had plenty of adventures and misadventures. And yet 20 years later I am profoundly grateful that my Lord, seeing my aching, lonely heart all those years ago, brought her into that chat room and into my life.
[Answer to the Riddle: We were living in different time zones. He asked me after midnight in Ontario, and I enthusiastically responded in British Columbia, before midnight.]