John and I met in October 1997. By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around in 1998, we had been dating less than six months. Even though our relationship was still in its infancy, we had a very strong connection and attraction, and I knew that we were already light-years ahead of any prior relationship I had been in. As much as John was falling for me, we often joke that what sealed the deal for him was my lack of expectation of chocolate, flowers or gifts on Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE all those things! But having grown up many years in the Middle East where the holiday was not celebrated, back in the States I always found it forced. Instead, I preferred the unexpected attention, at a moment that was naturally inspired.
To celebrate my relationship with my husband, I thought I would share something written by John awhile back in support of my book project. It is a reflection on the period we met, and provides depth and insight into what kind of man is willing to take a chance on, and even fully commit to an imperfect girl.
In October of ’97, I found myself in perhaps the most unusual circumstance of my life. At 31, I had earned a law degree, traveled widely, taught English in a newly liberated eastern European country, served nearly four years in the office of a U.S. Congressman and dated a variety of women during those experiences, but never had I met anyone like Meg.
I had moved to New York City from Washington, D.C. that summer in anticipation of starting a new job at a non-profit, civil rights organization. I was thrilled to finally live in New York City, a place that I visited millions of times from my home state of New Jersey, but had never been my own. It seemed as if everyone I knew, and certainly everyone my parents knew, was giving me phone numbers of eligible women in the city. I had a full social schedule almost from the moment I arrived. Nevertheless, something was different about this latest chapter in my life. I was turning a page and choosing to be less casual and reckless about dating. Dating was still fun, but a new seriousness of purpose seemed to enter my consciousness.
After only a few months of dating in New York, I learned that my childhood friend, Beth, wanted to set me up with a woman named Meg. They would both be at my family’s synagogue in New Jersey over the High Holy Days celebrations in October. My brother Mat had known Meg and her previous boyfriend, Randy, and he really liked her. We were introduced in the synagogue just as people were filing into the sanctuary before services began. I remember being struck by her raven hair, dark eyes and wide smile on a square jaw. She was one of the prettiest women I had ever seen. Then I noticed her forearms were shortened and she had basically a single finger where a palm and five fingers would have been. She wasn’t the first person I had seen with abnormal limbs, but still I found myself confused. I knew I found her attractive and appealing, especially her outgoing nature. But I didn’t know if I wanted to put aside her physical differences and try to get to know her. Why should I? Wouldn’t this relationship be more difficult than the typical story? It’s not like I wasn’t meeting as many women as I wanted. I sat through services that night trying to focus on the Yom Kippur theme of repentance, but my mind, and eyes, kept drifting up a few rows to Meg. Later I told a friend that I was supposed to repent for my sins that night, but I met Meg and started dreaming up new ones.
At the end of the holiday, we found ourselves at my aunt’s house, chatting together undisturbed in the kitchen. I remember finding myself deeply interested in our easy conversation, trying to be funny and impress her even as I fell into her eyes. Then I would notice her arms and hands and feel confused again about whether to pursue this.
Meg likes to remind me that after the holiday, I would call her and we’d have long talks, but I wouldn’t ask her out. After a few of these calls she basically stopped me and asked me if I was going to ask her out because, if not, she had enough friends. I was impressed by her self-confidence even though I didn’t like having a mirror shown to my face forcing me to think about my preconceptions and shallowness. I realized then that because of her strength, confidence, personality and beauty, as well as our common backgrounds, she was someone I really wanted to date.
After our first couple of dates, Meg invited me to her apartment on the East side. As I rode the elevator, I wondered about how she lived on her own. Everything about her screamed independent, professional woman. Yet, I was an exceptionally practical, pragmatic person who couldn’t help but think about the mechanical nature of most things. When I ride an elevator, I think about how it was designed. When I’m in a kitchen, I notice the layout and the plumbing. And when something breaks or malfunctions, I pride myself on being able to fix it. With Meg, I wondered how she functioned on her own? In essence, what does someone do with the routine problems of everyday life when they aren’t as mechanically capable as, say, I am? I entered the apartment and found it to be stylish and appealing. There was nothing different about how she lived. I felt dumb for thinking it could be otherwise. In Meg’s life, if something broke you called the superintendent. The same was true for about four million other New Yorkers who rented their apartments. Duh. Meg treated me to a home cooked meal. She was a talented and creative cook. I soon understood that she had figured out how to do everything she needed to do. Her solutions were always uniquely suited to her two-fingered abilities, but they got the job done. It wasn’t long before I stopped noticing how she did things and just accepted that she knew what she was doing.
The thing about dating Meg was, well, it just felt so easy. I really wasn’t experienced in long relationships, but I had dated enough to have learned that if it’s difficult in the beginning, it won’t be getting any easier. While dating Meg, I kept the three-month rule in my head that I had learned from a friend and my own experience. It says, basically, during the first three months of any new relationship, both parties wear rose-colored glasses and see each other as they want and hope the other to be. After three months, routines start to set in, the parties try less hard to hide their flaws, and each person can see the other more clearly. At that point, the relationship either turns rocky and starts to dive, or it builds on its strengths and just gets better and better. In the former case, cut your losses and get out. In the latter case, you may have found your spouse. It’s not a hard and fast rule, I suppose, but with Meg, I found that we just got better and better together.
We laughed easily and settled on restaurant choices and getaway plans as if we had been planning together for years. Our attraction to each other was powerful. I couldn’t find the flaws and I stopped looking. I decided then that “easy,” if it included passion and attraction, was really what a good relationship was supposed to be. I knew I had lucked out.
One might think I gave some thought to how my friends or colleagues would perceive my choice of companion, but I honestly don’t think I ever dwelt on it. Inevitably, when it was time to introduce Meg to someone important in my life whom she had never met, a slight worry would enter my mind that my friend might react surprised or, worse, awkwardly, to seeing Meg for the first time. The thing is, I don’t think I ever discussed Meg’s appearance ahead of time with anyone. If I tried to alert someone in advance, it would seem like I have a problem with it or that I didn’t trust them enough to be mature. Frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. My approach turned out to be correct because all of my friends quickly moved past their surprise and engaged Meg as they would any woman foolish enough to date me. In fact, after spending an evening with Meg and me, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Karen, pulled me aside and whispered to me a command that only she had the authority to issue, “Don’t screw this one up.” I took her words to heart.
Although today we look back together and laugh (sometimes I grimace), one of the reasons I thought my relationship with Meg was so easy was due to my own naiveté. At some point in the first weeks of dating, Meg and I were sitting on her couch talking a bit about how she lived her life looking so differently and she decided to enlighten me with one of her life lessons. She explained with complete seriousness that she was truly different than other women of her age and situation because, she said, “I’ve had to deal with everything you can imagine and now, finally, I have no more issues.” Had I heard correctly? Was I dating a woman with no issues? Clearly, she wasn’t a needy girlfriend. In fact, not only had she nearly blown me off for my delays in making the first date, but when I had told her I wanted us to date each other exclusively, she had balked. She had just come off a five-plus year relationship and wanted some time to play the field. I was really the more desperate of the two. So here I was, dating a woman who I really liked, who had a great career, who wasn’t pushing me to get more serious, and who had dealt with so much already in her life that she had no issues. The concept was so awesome to my 31-year old mind that I figured it had to be worth at least eight other fingers, maybe more!