Tom Matlack talks to married men to find out when they knew their wife was ‘the one.’
Guys get a bad rap when it comes to romance. The guys I know who are happily married have a story about how they met their wives. Most of these stories involve a moment when they knew that they needed to spend the rest of their lives with this particular woman in order to be happy.
No, it’s not the pinup we’re after—but a rock collection, a kind smile, homemade furniture, enthusiasm for malls, crow’s feet, an affinity for dogs, eating tuna out of a can, love for Weird Al, and truth-telling. These are just a few things that guys told me led them to know they’d found the right woman. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to love, but the one thing this project proved is that guys are far more nuanced and complex when it comes to love than we get credit for. And we are really looking to marry for the right reasons—whatever that means to the individual guy.
For me, it involved two children from a prior marriage. After six years as a divorced dad, I had never introduced my kids to anyone I dated. My kids were, and still are, the most important thing in my life. I wasn’t sure I could trust anyone to love them the way I do.
When I met my wife, Elena, she had been through her own set of struggles, losing a young and vibrant husband to cancer (he’d been diagnosed on her honeymoon). She comported herself with such grace, beauty, and warmth. (OK, showing up in black leather pants for our first real date didn’t hurt, either.)
Just a few weeks after meeting Elena, my kids and I baked brownies for my new friend and played a huge game of tag on the green at Brown University. Within a month we were engaged, and six months later we were married. She was the one. We’ve been married eight years.
Here’s when other guys knew they had met their soul mate.
When I left for college, she was still in high school. I was so miserable without her, despite all that college life had to offer. Looking back, I realize the moment I knew she’d be my wife was when she sent me a box of cookies and a love note, which came in the mail when I was alone, and although there were plenty of other things to eat, I was starving for home. I realized “home” meant her. Twenty-five years later, it still does.
—Todd Mauldin, blues philosopher
Our first walking date. We traced the entire property line of a 65-acre farm, through weeds, brambles, dense forest, swamp. We came to my favorite place, a gigantic ancient maple along an old logging trail. She looked delighted, approached and started climbing. I knew then.
—Boysen Hodgson, founder, OpenMen.org
Pregnancy test was positive. After 13 years, it’s still the best mistake we ever made.
—Dan Perez, award-winning filmmaker, video producer, and blogger
I was living in Chicago and she was in Massachusetts and we were taking turns flying back and forth to see each other. At that time I was in a position to fly more often than she was. Well, when she noticed that I had come three times to see her and she had only flown once to see me, she said, “It’s not right that you should deplete your bank account by coming to see me so often. I am going to pay for the last flight you took and split the one before.” I told her it was unnecessary, and she replied, “Look, I want to see you as badly as you want to see me. And besides, I am a feminist and that means I must be fair. It’s the right thing to do.” My mouth dropped through two floors, a basement, and then a sub-basement. Why? This was a person who was willing to stick by an ethic. In that instant I saw a person of integrity and principle and knew she was right for me.
—Regie Gibson, poet
Her eyes. The moment I met her 17 years ago, I knew. And she was married.
—Jim Mitchem, writer, communications tactician
She appeared suddenly in the produce section of my grocery store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, several weeks after I had spied her from afar wearing an impossibly fashionable fuzzy green sweater at a party while I was in my second year in business school. I wasn’t able to meet her then and was despondent for the intervening weeks. But then, there she was, in my grocery store, my land of steaks and tater tots. Shocking myself and I am sure most other patrons, I approached her in the vegetable aisle and struck up a conversation. When she didn’t turn the lettuce sprayer on me after a few fumbling moments of conversation, I knew she was the one.
—Heb Ryan, partner, Boston Post Partners
I was in love with my wife at first sight. At the time, she was a model and was absolutely gorgeous—and, 35 years later, still is. However, what sealed the deal was going to her apartment and her showing me her collection of rocks and arrowheads. I loved the outdoors and collecting things, so I knew we had a lot in common. We now live on a beautiful ranch in the Texas Hill Country and still enjoy hiking and looking for rocks, fossils, and arrowheads.
—Pablo Solomon, artist and designer
The first time I ever laid eyes on Maureen was July 4, 1987, when her sister brought her to a cookout I was hosting. She was wearing a dress with watermelon shapes and colors, and the mere sight of her took my breath away. From that day on she remains the most beautiful creature I have seen on this earth.
—Tim Dibble, managing general partner, Alta Communications
It was the crow’s feet on the sides of her eyes that attracted me to her. They gave her a look of kindness I had never seen before. And when she smiled, it only accentuated them further. She did turn out to be a kind and gentle person, and we have been blissfully married now for 22 wonderful years.
—Lee E. Shilo, author and poet
When I picked her up for our first date, she showed me the furniture she had made by hand for her dorm room. A chair, a loveseat, and her loft bed. Right away, I knew that she paved her own path in life. She was handy, curious, and willing to get dirty to make life happen. That’s my kind of tomboy!
—Joel Swanson, marketing executive
The situation was complicated. Others were involved. The woman who became my third wife was simply the kindest, most empathetic person I’d ever met. Life self-selects.
—Jesse Kornbluth, writer, editor
I first set eyes and quickly developed a crush on my future wife in 11th grade (she was in 12th) when we shared a class. It was the only class I always rushed to in an effort to position myself next to her or next to an empty seat, hoping she would take it. A friendship developed but life took us in different directions.
Fast-forward six years. As I was friends with her brother, I saw cars in the driveway of their family home, and a year after having graduated from college decided to stop and say a quick hello. Lucky for me, her brother Bill was not in, but Diane was, and it was the first time that I was able to get up the nerve to ask her out to the movies, followed by a drink at the local watering hole.
That night, I told my buddies that I was madly in love and that Diane without a doubt was the one for me. Within a few months I was truly blessed when she accepted my marriage proposal.
Now, 21 years later, I continue to thank my lucky stars.
—Adam Sulimirski, general manager, Eco Trans Alliance Inc. and Cruise Car, Inc.
Two bachelors sorting through photos in L.A., me and my best pal. He came upon a 3×5 of a beautiful blonde who I never seen before. I said, “Who is that”? He said, “This is going to be your wife.” Fifteen months later she was; 16 years later she still is.
—Patrick Lyons, restaurant and nightclub owner
When I met my wife, she didn’t need me. She had a good job and came from a loving family, so she was happy and well-adjusted to life. She saw in me things that were apparently hidden to the casual observer (like myself), and didn’t need to change me into someone else or squeeze me into a predetermined mold. But, what made me realize, quite calmly, that she was the one for me, was the fact that I found myself wanting to be a better man for her. I wanted to be not what I thought she wanted, but what I thought she deserved in a partner. That was a first for me, after a handful of selfish, denial-filled relationships. I still hope every day to be the man she deserves after 12 years of marriage.
—Jeff Davis, 46, videographer
The very first night we met started as nothing more than a chance meeting in a bar, which turned into a discussion of sports, our love of the Yankees (we met during the Yankees-Mets World Series in 2000), music, and so many other things that we had in common. Then, she suddenly admitted that she ate plain tuna fish right out of the can. That may seem insignificant or even silly to others, but I have always eaten tuna plain right out of the can and had never in my life met anyone else who did. Now, after more than 10 years together and eight years happily married, we still look back at that exact moment as our dealmaker.
The first time I met my wife, I entered her kitchen and said loudly, “Where is the love of my life?” She turned around and said, “Here I am!” Little did I know how true that moment would be, because I was actually talking about a girlfriend (friend) of mine, who was her best friend, whom I’d actually come over to visit.
When I met my wife, Fely, in October 1999, she had been working as a nurse’s aide in Victory Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn. It was just before Christmas, and she told me that the people in the hospital had put up letters of commendation about the employees. We went out to dinner, and she showed me one of the letters, from a woman whose mother had passed away in the hospital. Fely came every day with a smile for her mother and washed her, and cleaned her, and brushed her hair, and always spoke with her. On the day that the mother passed on, Fely was there at her side. After she passed away, Fely was thoughtful enough to put her dentures back into her mouth. When the daughter arrived, Fely sat down and spoke with her about her mother’s last moments. The woman wrote that Fely was so compassionate and thoughtful, that she should teach the nurses in the hospital about compassion.
After reading the letter that the daughter wrote about her mother’s passing, I could not help but cry. At that moment, I was sure that Fely was the right woman for me, since I had just gone through a divorce and I was hoping that I would find a woman who would not hurt me again. Now I am sure, after eight years that we have been officially married, that my decision was correct.
Through the darkest lows before marriage, she always had faith in me.
When we started dating in the early ’90s, I was living in New York and she lived in Tennessee. That was a time in my life when I was too concerned with what other people thought about me. Kristi was so comfortable in her own skin. She was willing to be uncool, which made her so authentic and so much fun to be around. I remember little things, like me bemoaning the existence of shopping malls and she looking at me and saying something like, “I love the mall. How can you not love the mall? It’s got everything under one roof and you don’t get wet or cold.” This may sound so trivial, but she still gets so excited about everyday things. The world is so much more interesting when I see it through her eyes.
Her other spectacular quality is that she fights fair. She rarely says things like “You always” or “You never,” and she accepts responsibility when she’s been wrong. Since it’s usually me who’s wrong, you’d think she’d get out of practice, but she hasn’t yet.
—Rink Murray, physician
When she said, “I love Weird Al and D&D, too!” Nerd love is the purest love.
—Daniel Coffman, stay-at-home dad, homeschool coach, amateur author
I had been single for over 10 years when I met my wife. The moment I saw her, I told a friend standing beside me, “She is going to be trouble for me.” Later, Elizabeth told me we were meant for each other and I was supposed to be with her—she is intuitive and psychic—I believed her. We have been married for nine years.
—Lt. Col. Win Harper, United States Marine Corps (retired)
We were friends and coworkers at the local library when we met, both divorced, custodial parents. At the time, neither of us had any intention of ever marrying again. Every relationship I’d been in before started out with sex, and eventually wore itself out. When sex is all you have in common, you’re doomed from the start, because you have no real connection to the other person—just to their body. With my wife, there was a definite sexual attraction (she’s lovely), but we didn’t start out in bed. We just had a really good time together, wherever we were, whatever we were doing.
We’ve been together now for 21 years.
—James Eritano, building superintendent
I was a charmer and intellectual snob. She saw through me and my BS like mosquito netting!
—Tshaka Armstrong, writer, film/tv editor, nonprofit CEO
My dog was with me when I met her. Only half-kidding here, but one of the first things that distinguished her from other women was that my dog (who was both a flawless “divining rod” for good people and always my advocate) accepted her, whereas other women had been merely tolerated. This obviously did not seal the deal, but it did get my attention at some level.
Gradually, I came to appreciate that since being with her, I was becoming a better, wiser, and happier person. It occurred to me one day that she just naturally had an increasingly positive effect on me. I knew then that she was “the one.” I proposed to her that same day. I can’t remember, before or since, feeling more confident about any decision.
—Dennis O’Neill, Ed.D., executive director for management and organization development
I knew my wife was the woman for me when on our second date I caught her watching baseball on TV!
We had both seated ourselves in my convertible to go home when I said, “Do you mind if I smoke a cigar?” Alli replied, “I sure do—unless you’ve got one for me!” Sealed the deal.
—Bill Achtmeyer, chairman and managing partner, The Parthenon Group
The moment I knew Liz was the one I wanted to marry was when her father passed away and I experienced her (and her family’s) capacity for love and selflessness at a time of deep emotional strain. Liz and her family showed their true colors, and they were beautiful.
—Todd Dagres, founder, Spark Capital
My wife sees the world differently from everyone else. She pushes me to understand life more fully.
—Matt Hastie, disability-rights advocate
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy Tom’s post: Raising Teenagers For Dummies (Like Me)
—Photo by KellyB/Flickr