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Let me preface my story by repeating some ludicrous advice my mother gave me when I was a little girl: "Someday you will see a man across the room and you'll know he's the one."
Well, I'd made it to my mid-30s without getting remotely close to finding "the one," let alone in a casual glance across the room. Instead, I spent too many years in relationships with the wrong men. Then, just before the millennium, a new job and a desire to be nearer to my sister prompted a move from Chicago to Houston. With all this "clean start" symbolism, I resolved never again to date any man who was not marriage material. This meant I went on very few first dates and even fewer second ones.
One night I joined a group of friends-all of them coupled, most of them ill matched-at a popular Houston restaurant. They were giving me grief about not dating. "You should just do it for the heck of it," they said.
"Why should I waste my time and their money if I know I'm not interested?" I responded. "If I meet a guy who's my type, I'll go."
They persisted. "Fine, what's your type?"
I had been watching a guy across the room (score one for Mom) who reminded me of my dad: big, well dressed and telling stories with his hands flailing the air, much to the delight of his dinner companions, all men in suits and presumably his business associates. I pointed. "Him," I told my friends. "I'd go out with him."
"Well, go introduce yourself," they urged.
I would do no such thing, I informed them.
"But what if you never see him again?" they asked.
"Then I'll meet someone else," I said, with impeccable logic. "I'm simply showing you my type."
My friends would have none of it. Taskmaster Emily suddenly strode across the room and tapped Mr. Right on the shoulder. "Are you gay?" she asked.
"Uh, no," he said, a bit warily.
"Are you married?" Emily continued.
"No," he said, amused now.
"Good," she said. "That blonde over there" - pointing to me while my face turned red as a beet - "wants to meet you."
"Cool," he replied and walked straight to our table, pulled up a spare chair and stuck out his hand. "Hi, I'm Rick."
We quickly discovered we had a lot in common. He was a partner at a large law firm, and I was a vice president at a large advertising agency. He had played football in college and, briefly, professionally. I had been a cheerleader in college and, briefly, for a pro basketball team. Something we didn't have in common was our size: Rick is 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds; I'm 13 inches shorter and weigh exactly half that. After five minutes, my friends announced that they were leaving. "Can you take her home?" one of them asked Rick.
"Nooooooo!" I yelled, wondering what was wrong with these people. Thrusting my business card at him, I hurried out of the restaurant.
The subject line of my first e-mail the next morning read: "The Stud You Met at Vallone's." The body: "I enjoyed talking to you last night, but I wasn't finished." The electronic signature: "Richard Daly."
Unbelievable. I had moved 1,000 miles and picked out a guy with my former hometown's most famous name. "I love what you've done with the Windy City," I e-mailed back.
He asked about my weekend plans, and I invited him to join my friends and me for dinner. We went to a fancy-pants restaurant with entrées that sizewise would not even qualify as appetizers for this tall Texan. Rick was a great sport and kept us in stitches with his running commentary. But at 31, he was five years my junior and thus did not meet my inflexible husband criteria. Never mind that I was having the best date of my life. I told Rick I wasn't interested in pursuing a relationship.
After a week steeped in regret over my rash decision, I e-mailed a sheepish mea culpa. "Sometimes, you've just got to say, 'What the hell,'" I wrote.
"My friends are giving a party tonight," Rick wrote back, showing a spontaneity that I clearly lacked. "I'll pick you up at 7." When we walked into the packed room later that evening, Rick was greeted with gleeful shouts of "Big Bird" and "Ricky D!" My date proved to be a bon vivant and a conversationalist who could put Dale Carnegie to shame.
After that Rick and I talked on the phone daily and went out every Friday and Saturday night, as well as once during the week. I was determined to take it slow, both emotionally and physically (another part of the grand plan), and Rick not only accepted this but seemed to appreciate it. "You are the best person I know," he said after a dozen dates and no sleepovers. And, for the first time in my life, I thought the same thing about him.
Rick was also the consummate man's man and, as we spent more and more time together, my previously Palm-piloted life began to get a lot less predictable. Our Saturdays often began at 4 A.M. with him sailing his boat 60 miles southeast into the Gulf of Mexico. The first time he took me out, I puked off the stern as dolphins jumped at the bow. Eventually I got my sea legs and even started to bait my own hook. I also learned to dove hunt, although to this day I've never actually bagged one. I even tried my hand at Texas hold 'em poker but leaned too far back in my swivel chair, flipped over and put my head through the wall.
A year after I spotted him across the room, Rick proposed. Six months later, we were married. At our rehearsal dinner, Rick regaled the guests with the story of how we met-his version, which has me knocking over chairs, crawling over tables and body-slamming waiters to introduce myself.
We will soon celebrate our third wedding anniversary and are planning to have children-we already have a chocolate Labrador. My mom claims the pooch will trigger my maternal instincts and help me get pregnant. But then what does she know?
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2006.