RELATIONSHIPS | LOVE
Soulmate Saga: How I Met My Husband
A true story from the early days of online dating
I’d never really believed in soulmates. Being the child of divorced parents is not the best foundation for a belief in true love. I’d also had my share of imperfect, unsuitable and downright dangerous relationships, and who needed more of them?
At 32, I’d already been single for a couple of years, but I hadn’t been looking to change that at first. Instead, I concentrated on the arduous task of completing a postgrad degree while holding down a full-time job. Honestly, I didn’t need the distraction, though I was starting to feel very, very single. (If you’ve ever been in this situation, you’ll know what I mean.)
When Christmas 1997 rolled round, I decided to spend the holiday with my friend S and her family. After a bit too much festive wine, she issued a challenge: ‘Since you’re such an internet whiz, why don’t you look for a boyfriend on the internet?’ I was just tiddly enough to think this was a good idea and we both rushed to the computer to find an online dating site.
Enter Pete’s Free UK Dating Service, sadly, no longer online. Exactly what it said on the tin, the site was plain but effective. By today’s standards it was very sparse, with no design elements to speak of, but it was pretty impressive for the early ’90s.
In a few minutes I was able to enter my name, origin, interests, likes and dislikes. Since nobody was rushing to reply — online dating was in its infancy — I promptly forgot about it.
Dull or Dangerous? Hard Pass on Both!
Nearly two months on, someone who lived in Birmingham got in touch. We met at TGI Friday’s. It was unromantic but safe, which just about characterized our date. No sparks, not even a tiny one. By the end of the meal we both knew we wouldn’t be talking again.
The second approach came from a trucker type with a sense of humor. But it turned out that he also had a temper, though I never saw evidence of it. But when he matter-of-factly told me how he’d thrown a computer to the end of his driveway in frustration because he couldn’t get it to do what he wanted, I could see the mental EXIT sign flashing in big letters.
I made my excuses, sidled to the door, drove home like a maniac and sent an email explaining why it was over before it had started. (Would you take a chance on that violence being turned your way?)
First (Virtual) Contact
By August 1998, I had completely forgotten about posting my profile online. I was one month away from submitting my MA dissertation and romance was the last thing on my mind. So I was completely flabbergasted when I checked my email one evening and found this:
My name is Stephen. I’ve seen your profile on Pete’s Dating Service. Why don’t you check mine out here?
Well, who wouldn’t be intrigued? I looked up his profile. He was my height and a few years older and lived in a town 30 miles away. Like me, he liked reading and films and wasn’t keen on opera. He liked sport, which I didn’t particularly, but I thought there was no harm in replying positively to his email.
Emailing Our Fingers Off
That was the start of the most active email week of my life. From the start, communication was comfortable. We talked about everything, including subjects most people leave till a relationship is established, such as marriage, children and so on. We were far away from thinking those were on the cards — after all, we hadn’t even met in person yet — but if something came up naturally in conversation, we talked about it.
I warned him that we were from different cultures and ethnicities; he replied that he had assumed that — and asked when we could book a holiday in Barbados.
With more and longer emails as the week progressed, we decided to meet. I suggested a local Burger King (again not romantic, but safe) and we arranged a meeting for the following Sunday at 4.
It seems inconceivable in these days of dating apps, but neither of us knew how the other looked, because we hadn’t been able to upload images to the online dating site. So it’s safe to say that both of us were curious.
A Date With Destiny
I headed to Burger King in my white Mazda and pulled into the parking lot, early as always. I waited five minutes, then got out of the car. To my surprise, someone was walking expectantly towards me — and he’d got out of a white Mazda as well!
We smiled nervously, while performing a quick silent assessment. I saw a pleasant-looking man of my height with neat brown hair. What I liked most was that his eyes smiled too. Satisfied that he wasn’t, to use his words from an early email ‘an axe-murderer, rapist or wally’ (‘wally’ is Brit-speak for an idiot), I decided to go into Burger King with him.
We ordered the same thing — veggie burger and Coke. Now, here’s a bit of dating advice. This is not the perfect meal for a first date. Burgers are messy and Coke makes you burp. Since we both had a sense of humor, we just about got away with it.
Communication in person was as easy as it had been by email. We actually talked about weddings, as we’d both recently attended interesting and unusual ceremonies. We talked, ordered more drinks, talked, ordered more drinks, talked — well, you get the picture.
A few hours on, we weren’t yet ready to call it a night. Since we were next door to a cinema, we decided to see a film.
Now, choosing a film can make or break a first date. We didn’t play it safe, though. We went with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a violent but funny Guy Ritchie film set in the British gangster underworld. We both loved it, though secretly each of was wondering if that was really the right choice. Still, it worked for us.
Cementing Our Relationship
Over the next few weeks, we became nearly inseparable. We emailed regularly and were soon speaking every night. We went bowling, visited attractions, watched more films and saw each other at least once each week as well as at weekends. The 30 mile distance between our houses was no obstacle. It was clear that this relationship was here to stay.
The more we talked, the more we found we had in common. Let me just say, though, that being a soulmate does NOT mean liking all the same things. He loved football; I could take it or leave it. He liked rock; I was and am an R&B kind of gal.
What we shared was the knowledge that people are different and a willingness to accept each other as we were. And along the way we found lots of tastes we shared: spicy Indian food, Jodie Foster films, and the new, improved Shania Twain, among others.
But the moment I really knew I’d made the right choice was when he arrived to collect me for a date one September Sunday. I was printing out my dissertation one sheet at a time, because the printer wasn’t working properly. Instead of making a fuss, he sat down and helped me get it finished and collated, and what could have been a major annoyance turned into an enjoyable time.
As time went on, I introduced Stephen to my friends and family, and met his, too. Your friends say a lot about you, and each of us felt the other’s friends passed muster.
Our next step was planning our first holiday together: a visit to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. That threw up another difference between us. I liked to know where I was staying well in advance; Stephen was happy to pack a bag and turn up. We compromised, deciding on an apartment only three days before taking the flight.
The holiday was magical. Lanzarote was warm and sunny and we enjoyed exploring the country, seeing the sights and eating lots of fresh food and the best pizza I have ever tasted. Although it was new, our relationship felt right in a ‘this is how it’s always been’ sort of way.
A week after our return, we decided to move in together. But how would we do it? In the end, it came down to logistics. Stephen’s work kept him in the East Midlands, while I could get to my job in Leicester from anywhere. We decided to do it in two stages. First, I’d sell my house and move to Nottingham. Then we’d find a new place, sell his house and buy a new place together.
Some of my friends thought I was crazy to sell my home, but I figured I was either committed or I wasn’t, and if it didn’t work out (which somehow I wasn’t worried about at all) I could always buy another house. My friend S (she of the online dating prompt) agreed with me, which was all I needed to confirm that, yes, I was actually perfectly sane and this was a sensible approach.
Searching For Our First Home
By the start of summer, the first move was complete, so we started looking for a place that would belong to both of us. At first, we thought we’d self-build, and scoured three counties in search of land to build a house on. But we couldn’t find anything we liked.
Plan B was to buy something new. We must have looked at 100 houses, and still nothing seemed right. It was a little dispiriting. But one day I came home from work to hear that Stephen had happened upon the perfect house. It was in a new estate, and wasn’t finished, but he’d been able to see the neighbor's house and had a great feeling about it.
I went to look at the half-constructed four bedroom house and fell in love with it too. It didn’t take long to get things moving, and we moved in at the end of 1999.
Three Long Seconds
We decided to have a holiday in Barbados early in 2000, and to tie that in with a visit to friends and family. It was the perfect holiday. We saw the sights, spent time with friends, went to the beach every day and found the perfect place for coffee and cake. All too soon it was the last day and nearly time to leave.
March 26th was a gloomy day, befitting the end of a holiday. We’d talked about going to the beach, but I was doubtful, as the weather was pretty iffy. Stephen was adamant that we couldn’t leave without one last swim, so I reluctantly agreed, which turned out to be a great decision.
We drove to our favorite beach, Browne’s, on the outskirts of Bridgetown and went for a swim. We were larking around as usual when Stephen looked at me seriously and asked me to marry him. I was stunned.
He said later that it had been the longest three seconds of his life. I picked my jaw up off the ocean floor and said yes. This was the perfect spot for a proposal, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, on our favorite beach, in our favorite holiday spot.
Neither of us could stop smiling. This felt like the perfect culmination to a wonderful 18 months. Now, all we had to do was plan the wedding.
As they say in the classics, Dear Reader, I married him (in August 2000). We’ve remained happily married for 20 years and counting. If you want to learn more about another part of our lives, check out our move from the UK to Barbados.
B is for Barbados … and for Bureaucracy
Building a dream home in Barbados might be Paradise, but it also takes patience and perseverance.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2020.
Sharon Hurley Hall is an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. This is a significantly revised version of a story originally published on Sharon’s Writing Lab.