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Before You Were Born: The Two-Week Courtship
Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: Sometimes it's best to just jump in with both feet.
By Rachel R. White
My mom and dad started dating in the early '80s. Dad spent the '70s driving around Chicago in a black van painted with flames, then went out West with nothing but his motorcycle, friends — and, judging by a photo I found from that time period, a decent amount of marijuana. Meanwhile, Mom was putting herself through nursing school and had a reputation as a party girl. She'd borrow her roommates' dresses and hem them shorter before a night out dancing — but she'd only do a false hem, and afterward return them to the closet, roommate none the wiser.
When Dad was struck by a car on his motorcycle, he decided to "clean up" and go to forestry school. One of the only forestry programs in the country was located in the same small town where Mom lived. Dad noticed Mom around town, but when they finally had their first date, a whirlwind would follow.
So, Dad, despite your wild past — painting your teenage bedroom black, doing hallucinogens out west — you were suddenly shy about hitting on Mom?
Dad: I had moved to go to school, and after nearly dying in a motorcycle accident I was bent on getting my life together. I wasn't partying as much anymore. But I would see your mom around, and I knew this was the girl I wanted to go out with. Yet, when it came to talking to her, all of a sudden, I was a weenie-boy. I just admired her from afar.
Mom: We first met at a wedding.
D: The first time we met, she sat close to me and kissed me on the cheek, but she had this boyfriend around. I was happy nevertheless and told my sister, "She was smoochin' on me!" My sister just said, "Oh, she kisses everyone like that, even the guy who sells bagels from a cart at two a.m.!"
M: I liked your dad and was flirting with him, but my old boyfriend was there. We just had chance meetings from then. Later, I saw him in the grocery store. I asked about Christmas trees, then invited him to a New Year's Eve party, but I was engaged to that same boyfriend by then.
D: I didn't go. I remember saying to my sister that I really liked this girl — why would I go to the party she and her fiance were throwing?
So, Mom, who was this guy you were engaged to?
M: He was an artist and photographer. He was very cerebral and it felt stable, but sort of conservative or cold. He wasn't one to dance or party. We had intellectual conversations, but we didn't really laugh. One of our major problems was that he was very insecure — I was outgoing and a big flirt, and his insecurity about that just made it worse. At a party, if I knew he was watching me, I would really put on a show.
So what happened?
M: We got into a fight one night. Our fights were more like debates, very democratic, taking turns. I finally said, "This isn't working, I'm done." I didn't give him back the ring — but that night he came over and took it off my finger while I was sleeping! That was the only time I'd seen him angry or dramatic. Later, he apologized and said he wanted to stay together but, really, it wasn't working. After that, I vowed to stop dating guys just because they seemed like stable husband material or had a good job. I decided to just go with my heart and instincts.
From family dinners where everyone's had a little too much wine, I know that at one point, Dad sort of slept with one of your friends. What happened?
M: It was November, ten months after I invited him to the New Year's party, but by then I had broken off the engagement. I walked into Cherry Street, a disco, and there was my friend, dancing with your dad. I thought, "Wait, I'm supposed to be dancing with him!" So, I asked him to dance, and he was a great dancer, and really witty. Afterward, I gave him a little kiss on the cheek, tore off a deposit slip from my checkbook with my phone number and address on it, handed it to him and said, "Call me."
D: I thought, "Oh man, this chick is a professional." I called and called and she was busy, every time. I figured she was blowing me off.
So, how did the first date finally happen?
M: He was a little younger than me. He was a student, and I was busy with a new job. I had all these excuses, but then he stopped calling. So, I called him up and invited him to my office Christmas party, but since that seemed so formal for a first date, I had him over first.
D: She invited me to her apartment and made dinner. We spent the entire night together on the couch just talking. I had to tear myself away! She begged me to stay, but I had a rule about not sleeping with people I liked on the first date.
M: [Laughs] I did not beg him to stay. And that rule only lasted for the first date.
So you guys got pretty hot and heavy after that?
M: Before this, I always knew deep down my relationships weren't going to work out, because guys would stay over and I'd think "I wish he'd just go home now." Even with my fiance, it felt like he was a guest, and I had to be on my best behavior. But when I woke up with your dad, I thought, "Oh, you can stay forever." I was just comfortable. I could be goofy and relax. He made me laugh so much, and we had great conversations. I knew he could handle my crazy family, and it would just be okay. He was gregarious and outgoing like me. He would fit in with everyone I knew.
D: I couldn't believe she was interested in me. It was a high that lasted for months. She was so gorgeous and smart and accomplished. I was just smitten.
M: He went home for Christmas, but he bought me the most beautiful Christmas tree and an ornament with the inscription "Our first Christmas together."
D: When I came back, we decided to throw a New Year's Eve party to announce our engagement.