Becoming Life Partners... & the Unanticipated Consequences of Foul Weather
Jan. 8, 2003A little over three years ago, I married my life partner. We have an enviably functional relationship, and everything we do together is easier and more fun than it would be alone. Some people would say we are together because we are both persons of great integrity and determination, who have been through many experiences and worked out many of our own individual emotional distresses. Others might cite the tendency for opposites to attract, and perhaps simply some “dumb luck.“ All of these are true, but I would assert that a significant contributing factor was a cold front that rolled through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on February 23 of 1996.
On that date, Mary was on her way to a cabin in the western Upper Peninsula. She was driving her Ford Escort west on US 41, and the book-on-tape in the tape deck was failing to keep her attention. Her mind kept going to the weekend ahead. She was looking forward to three days of cross-country skiing with her brother and sister-in-law. It was good to get away.
Earlier, the radio weather report had predicted a sharp drop in temperature, leading to several inches of new snow. The sun had been breaking through the clouds then, but now the sky was gray as lead and a spattering of rain occasionally appeared on the windshield.
Mary was a professional woman in her mid-30s. She had been in some relationships with men, but was at the point in her life when it was becoming clear that she might be single for life. This sometimes made her feel sad, but for the most part she was philosophical about it.
The road ahead stretched on like an asphalt ribbon as the Escort rolled on. Suddenly, the tires lost their grip -- black ice! Despite her efforts to counter-steer, the car was spinning out of control in the middle of the road. After several rapid revolutions, the tires caught on the road‘s shoulder and the car flipped over, coming to rest upside-down across the centerline. Mary was left suspended from her seatbelt, utterly terrified but not seriously injured. The book-on-tape in the tape deck played perversely on, amazingly loud now that the rest of the car was silent. Through the cracked, inverted driver side window, Mary could see headlights approaching down the road. Fortunately, the approaching vehicle was able to stop, and its occupants got out and rendered assistance.
Following a weekend of dealing with the aftermath of the accident, Mary returned to her home in Boyne City. She had made endless phone calls to friends, family, and insurance adjustors. She had also been required to purchase a new vehicle on short notice, which is never an enviable situation. She would miss the Escort. Prior to its premature retirement, it had been the only car she had ever owned. Now she was back home, though, and it was time to get on with her life.
The car accident had caused Mary to do a good deal of self-reflection, as near-death experiences are prone to do. She was quite shaken up by the experience. As a result, she had been reevaluating her satisfaction with being a single person. She felt a need for more companionship. Life suddenly seemed too precious and fragile to spend alone. But what could be done? Mary was an avid outdoor enthusiast, and hiking, biking and skiing provided little opportunity to meet people. The “bar scene“ held little appeal for her. Eventually, after responding to a few personal ads in the local alternative publication called the Northern Express, she decided to place an ad of her own.
At that time, I had been single for about five years, and was not very happy about it. I had been through a few rather dysfunctional relationships in that time, and was frustrated with the whole process. It seemed that to market oneself as a single, available man in Northern Michigan was somewhat akin to being a purveyor of Smithfield ham in Israel. I had even resorted to answering some personal ads from a local publication. Most of them seemed to have been placed by women who were either psychotic or even more desperate than I.
The April issue of the Express had an ad that seemed different. “SWF seeks companion for outdoor adventure“ was the heart of the message. This seemed to be right up my alley. Though rather jaded by now, I decided to give it one more try -- but on my own terms. I called the listed phone number, and left a message in the appropriate “box.“ “Hello, my name is John. I‘m little and hairy, but I can cook. Give me a call if you would like to know more.“
Apparently Mary did. She gave me a call one evening, seeming rather tentative about responding to my cryptic message, but somewhat intrigued nonetheless. We agreed to meet at the local coffee shop a couple of days hence.
That first meeting was rather awkward, as such meetings often are. We had some coffee and talked for a while, then went for a walk. Before we parted, we agreed to meet for another walk.
After a time, when we had gotten together for some further outdoor adventures, we came to a mutual consensus. We agreed that, while we enjoyed each other‘s company, neither of us was what the other considered to be “partner material.“ We both thought it could never work, the differences were just too great. She had twin Master‘s degrees, and came from a background of suburban privilege. I had (at that time) a high school education, and came from a childhood of poverty, ignorance and squalor. Still, we recognized that we shared many common interests and values. Among other things, we were both persons of considerable integrity, with passion for playing outdoors and eating good food. We agreed to pursue a platonic relationship while continuing to keep our options open.
We became good friends over the next couple of years. We would get together once a week or so for a canoe trip, a bike ride or a ski and a sauna. We went on a weeklong backpacking trip together once or twice. Generally, it was rather comfortable for both of us to have a friend of the opposite gender without the “baggage“ that comes with a romantic relationship. I went in and out of some other dysfunctional relationships during this time, but nothing that was going anywhere.
In retrospect, I now see this as a crucial period in the development of our relationship. Spending time together in the “green world“ without the obligations of pursuing more than a good friendship was the optimal crucible for us to get to know one another. We were able to lay the rock-solid foundation that became the basis for what eventually would become a committed partnership. Ironically, I am convinced that this process would not have been nearly as effective if either of us had been cognizant of what was happening at the time.
Then came the catering job. I was working at the co-op at that time, and doing some catering on the side. This particular weekend I had been providing food for a group at the University of Michigan Biological Station near Pellston. I came home on Sunday afternoon, strung out on too much caffeine and too little sleep. I had most of a truckload of leftover food in the middle of my kitchen floor, and I just didn‘t feel up to dealing with it. Not knowing what else to do, I called Mary and asked if she would come over and help me take care of the food.
THE MOMENT COMES
Mary arrived in about 30 minutes and we began to empty pans, wrap products in freezer wrap, and wash containers. I was so grateful for the assistance, I did what would have been the obvious thing for any red-blooded, self-respecting “jack pine savage“ to do under the circumstances. I asked her to marry me. For some reason, this seemed to take her by surprise. Looking like a deer in the headlights, she agreed to be my life partner. She didn‘t seem ready to set a date, though. I told her that was fine, as long as she would agree to marry me within the decade. The rest is history. (Actually, this history includes a ceremony officiated by the four-foot-tall 78-year-old mayor of Boyne City on the back porch of the mayor‘s house, Mary‘s mother‘s back injury, a month in Alaska, and several other interesting details. I think I will save some of this for another composition.)
We celebrated our third anniversary in August. Although I had previously been married for nearly ten years, I never knew how much fun marriage could be. We have our moments, as can be expected, but overall life is kind of like one endless pajama party. We are planning to hike the Appalachian Trail in the year 2042, in celebration of our 80th birthday.
Many factors came into play to make this enviable situation possible; I can think of endless small changes in destiny that would have precluded Mary and me getting together. It amuses me to no end, however, that a cold front transiting the Upper Peninsula was a catalyst to a series of decisions and actions that lead to Mary and me becoming life partners.