Most people know what they are looking for in a partner, a mate. It may include a physical description: blue eyes, dark hair, over six feet tall. It may include personality: sense of humor, generosity. It may go beyond both of these to such things as income, style of dress, ethnicity, and countless other individual traits that make us who we are. My dream partner was described as "a little husky, loves to fish, wants someone to spoil and be spoiled by." Yes. I answered a personal ad.
In spite of these days of internet romance and a number of horror stories, I chose to write to a man whose name I didn't even know. All because of a few words in the personals section of a tabloid newspaper. Crazy? Maybe. But he was in Pennsylvania and I was in Louisiana, so I rationalized that he would have to be wealthy or desperate to do me harm. Looking back, it was flimsy logic. At the time, it made me, as a single mother of two, feel a bit more comfortable about writing that first letter.
The odd thing was that I wasn't looking for a partner, a mate. I had purchased every single tabloid I could find in order to harvest them for my writing idea file. The headlines alone are invaluable for fiction. The personals make great thumbnail character sketches. As I read over these descriptions, the one quoted above just spoke to me. Something about it would not leave me alone. Over and over I found myself considering the words of this stranger. Finally, I sorted through the numerous papers and located the ad, determined to get the darn thing out of my head. Instead, I sat down with a purple ink pen and a legal pad and began my letter. From the first moment, the words just flowed. Before I realized it, I had written over four pages to this unknown man in Pennsylvania. But there was no way I was going to mail it. That would be nuts. No woman in her right mind would take a chance like that. Would she? And what about the kids. What if he was a nut case? I argued with myself for a week after writing the letter. Finally, I broke down and read the instructions for responding to the personal ads.
It was simple. I put the code number on the envelope containing my letter to Mr. Pennsylvania. I then put that envelope and three dollars in another envelope, addressed it to the paper and viola, in a couple of weeks, he would receive my letter. I walked around for another two days before I had the nerve to drop the letter in a mailbox. But I did. At last.
And promptly forgot all about it. Funny how that works.
That was November 1998. In early December, I received a letter from a guy in Secane, Pennsylvania. I almost threw it away. Then I remembered the ad and my letter. With my nerves tingling and my heart racing, I went into my room and read the letter. His name was Paul and he seemed like a good guy. And the few pictures he sent weren't bad, either. So began our unconventional courtship.
The night I received his first letter, I sat and wrote him back. I gave him my last name (which I had withheld under some belief it would make me harder to find), my phone number and my email address. And I began giving him my heart. Since he didn't have a computer, we wrote to one another almost daily for five months. Around Christmas of 1998, we first talked on the phone. The money we spent on postage and telephone calling cards could have been the down payment on a house. But we got to know one another from the inside out. No pretense.
In April of 1999, Paul went to visit his parents, and as part of his trip, swung by my place so we could meet face to face. That was April 22, 1999. A Thursday. I was a nervous wreck, obsessively cleaning my house. Unsure what to wear. I needn't have worried. He still says one of the most vivid memories he has of me is when I stepped out onto my front steps. It's one of his favorite memories, too.
We went to the kids' softball and t-ball practices and games that weekend. It was great. My kids took the whole thing in stride. I had told them about Paul from the first time we'd talked on the phone. My children knew I didn't go for a revolving door where relationships were concerned. And they knew their opinions would count, since any relationship I have affects them.
One year from that first meeting, Paul and I married. It was a simple country wedding. Three months later we moved to Memphis. We've been married for over four years. And while we all had to make some huge adjustments, we have a warm, comfortable relationship.
Looking back, I've calculated that we spent an entire 79 days in each other's company before we married. Almost a whirlwind courtship. Definitely an unconventional one. And I wouldn't have it any other way.