On the ferry: November 28, 1997

Love is not something I thought I could have.

A friend recently asked for stories that could restore her faith in romantic love. Here’s mine.

My dad was married four times, with some, um, overlaps. My parents were married for a grand total of nine years and divorced when I was a baby. My mom was skeptical about male fidelity, and brought me up to feel the same way. I never had hopes for a long happy marriage, though I always knew I wanted kids. On some level I figured I’d do it solo, like my mom.

When I was in college I realized my fundamental distrust and suspicion of men was not serving me well, and went back into therapy to unlearn it. While in grad school I noticed that I still had a kind of gut-level perplexity every time I saw a guy kiss his girlfriend on the street. Why would he do that, I wondered. I realized that I still didn’t really believe men were capable of love, so whenever I encountered men who seemed like loving people, I stopped seeing them as men. It struck me that maybe this wasn’t a great mental habit, so I started really tuning in to romantic movies or books or TV scenes or even real-life PDAs, and just opening my heart to what I was seeing in the hope it would shift my deep internal belief system.

Around that time, I took a trip to Vancouver for a Thanksgiving visit with one of my best girlfriends. While I was here I spent a day hanging out with my friend Rob: that day was twenty years ago, as of today.

Rob and his girlfriend had double dated with me and my then boyfriend, every week for about a year and half, when we all lived in Toronto three years earlier. Rob and I spent November 28, 1997 driving up the coast of BC’s mainland to the Horseshoe Bay ferry, taking the ferry across to Vancouver Island, driving back down the island to pick up his girlfriend in Victoria, and then taking the ferry back to Vancouver all together. We had a great time reconnecting and vowed to stay in closer touch.

Two weeks after we spent that totally platonic day together, Rob called me in Boston, in the spirit of keeping in touch. We had a great chat. About half an hour in, Rob mentioned, oh, I broke up with my girlfriend (of 8 years!)

Interesting timing, I thought — but that was it. I was emotionally occupied with trying to crack open the heart of a guy I’d been dating for a year but who was still emotionally distant and noncommittal.

Then Rob happened to turn up in Toronto for a few days while I was home at Christmas. Two weeks later, he called to say a client of his was coming to Boston, and could he stay with me if he came to town with his client?

The day before Rob arrived I thought, why am I trying to make a relationship work with a guy who still doesn’t know how he feels about me after a year? I deserve to be with someone who cares about me enough to pursue me across the continent. I didn’t actually see Rob as a contender, but I knew it was time to dump Mr. Noncommittal. I put all the stuff he’d left at my apartment in a box and took it over to his place. I set a 45-minute timer on my PalmPilot (yes, really!) so I wouldn’t be tempted to get into a Big Talk and change my mind.

Rob arrived and we had a few fab days together. His client (Alexa McDonough, then the federal leader of the New Democratic Party) was playing a not-so-subtle role as matchmaker. (And you wondered why I always vote NDP.) On Rob’s last night in town, while we were researching domain names for some notional project (we could have bought questionperiod.ca — why didn’t we?) we finally kissed. But I was too immediately post-breakup and called a time out.

After Rob left town, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I would sit on the sofa where we had talked and talked and talked, and I could feel his presence so intensely it was like I could still smell him in the room.

Finally I called to talk about The Kiss. We put all our cards on the table: how much we had always enjoyed our friendship, how great it was to reconnect, what we wanted in a relationship, whether we wanted children. I wasn’t interested in starting a transcontinental romance if we weren’t on the same page. But we were.

I booked a two-week trip to Vancouver and within five minutes of walking into Rob’s apartment we were tearing each other’s clothes off. For two weeks Rob was hours late for work every day. Then he came to Boston for two equally delirious weeks. Then I went back to Vancouver for five weeks, and we found an apartment together.

Seven months after my Thanksgiving visit, I moved to Vancouver. Two years later, we got married. We had kids — now 11 and 14 — and started a business, working together every day for five years.

We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary this past summer. After seventeen years, some of Rob’s quirks drive me totally insane (dude, could you PLEASE pick up the bath mat!) And I am sorry to report that we are no longer so wildly desperate for one another (or so young) that we can’t get out of bed in time to get to work. But we still get it on (as our son can now report as a first-hand witness, I’m afraid. Whoops!)

And most amazingly, IMHO…I still love this man so so much. He is my favorite playmate, my greatest collaborator, and my most trusted and loyal fan. My family life is totally insane thanks partly to the challenges of raising an autistic kid, and that means that my professional life has not flourished to quite the degree I’d hoped.

But I am astonished, on almost a daily basis, that I get to have this: a husband I adore and trust, and who feels like my partner on this voyage through life, in a way I never really understood or imagined because I didn’t witness anything like that growing up. We are raising these two kids together, and that experience is changing us and weaving us together in ways that are unexpected and profound, and which answer this deep, deep heartfelt longing I have for intense connection. Rob is the kindest human I have ever met — this isn’t just my biased opinion, it is something lots of people say about him — and even though “good person” was never on my partner wish list (though smarts and humor were, and Rob has both in spades) it has transformed me as a human to live my life with a person who is so deeply and thoroughly kind.

So…there is my story. Something about the way my friend framed her request moved me to share it — I think because I truly felt, for the first 25 years of my life, that deep and lasting love just wasn’t in the cards. I didn’t really believe it existed, and I definitely didn’t think that (even with lots of therapy!) it would be available to me given my own family history.

But here I am, twenty years in. This relationship is the great miracle of my life. I have no doubt that I could have had an amazing life as a single woman, and there may well be other men or women or non-binary folks I could have made a great life with too. And yet I still feel regularly, deeply grateful that I have this life, with this man.

One last note: That fateful week, after Rob’s first visit to Boston, when I couldn’t get him out of my head, and could almost smell him? Early in our relationship he confessed that he had sprayed my sofa with his cologne in a fit of pique after our abortive kiss. I cannot think of anything I have ever seen him do, before or since, that constitutes A Smooth Move. But that one was a well-timed doozy!!

Author, Remote Inc: How To Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are. Tech speaker. Writer & data journalist for Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review & more.

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