Would a dating website have matched us?
It was a just-right feeling, not an online compatibility test, that brought this couple together.
"Want to visit a dating website – one that matches up people based on personality?" I ask Fred, my husband of 20 years.
He looks at me and lifts an eyebrow.
"To see if the computer relationship experts think we're compatible," I explain.
"If we weren't when we met," Fred says, "we are now." My husband possesses a dry wit that thrives on irony, a trait I've grown to value as we moved through life together.
I don't know what our teenage sons think of us. Probably something close to the mortification I once felt about my mother's sensible shoes and my father's aviator sunglasses.
Despite how nerdy I thought they were, their solid togetherness brought me comfort and stability as I stepped out into the world beyond them.
Could I have imagined today's domestic scene when Fred and I first met? No.
We met the way many people did in the 1980s – serendipitously. According to Fred, he saw me at a "Don't Walk" sign at Madison Avenue and 88th Street in New York City and was smitten.
I recall walking home on a warm spring day minding my own business, when a stranger posed the oddest question anyone could ever ask a former freelance writer following her first day working at a real corporate marketing job: "Are you a lawyer?"
If I hadn't spent a week deciding what to wear on my first day of real office work in two years, selecting finally a black cardigan, pink blouse, pearls, and a tan skirt, I may not have answered with such enthusiasm.
But I had all the time in the world for someone who mistook me for a lawyer, which, in 1982, was an impressive position for a woman hoping to "dress for success."
I gladly relayed every detail about my new employer including the name of the janitor.
But if it had been 2008, Fred's first glimpse of me might have occurred while scanning a dating website.
My image would have been digitally enhanced and probably depicted me during the two-day period in 1979 when I was thin enough to wear a Size 4.
Fred and I parted on 96th Street, six blocks farther north than his home on 90th, an extra walk, he admitted later, that was worth making, even if he was carrying a bag containing a leaking carton of orange juice, which dripped all over his freshly pressed suit. (I never noticed.)
A call came later that night with more talk and then plans for dinner the following week.
Why did I say yes? There was something about him, a sensation I felt in his presence – which by today's standards, I fear, sounds quaint.
There was no profile to analyze, one that reflected what he thought girls wanted to hear. Who knows if I would have liked what he said about himself?
After 20 years, I still can't pinpoint why we work so well together.
Back then, I spent the time between dates wondering about unanswered questions: Did we like the same things? Did he really like going to chick flicks? Would he call? What would I say if he did?
There was something unquantifiable that drew me to him.
Every day, we learned something new about each other. He liked harp music. (Harp music?) I didn't know any American history after the Pilgrims. I liked his friends. He thought my lonely hearts club of girlfriends drained me.
But were we compatible?
Sure, I thought he was a brilliant flute player and took sensitive photographs of his young nephews and sister, and there was no mistaking that at his core, he was nice, good, and honest. His thinking that I was beautiful, smart, and kind helped a lot, too.
But he was messy; I was neat. He liked television; I didn't own one. He liked to cook; I was always dieting. I liked pop music; he preferred classical. These things might have kept us from meeting – if we had read each other's descriptions online.
As our years together have continued, I've learned to live with his stacks of magazines and he with my fad diets and how I usually run several minutes late.
We share plenty of common ground, too. We've both been known to eat dinner standing up in front of the refrigerator and revel in a job well done.
Today, I look over at his familiar large brown eyes and the cleft in his chin and think, how did I used to be? When we met, I was more impulsive, emotional, and a worse driver. After 20 years, Fred can do a decent two-step and knows the caloric content of nearly all foods, even tic tacs.
As Fred tells our boys, "A commitment is a commitment. You just work at it," and we both did and still do.
Sometimes we worked together to resolve differences about where we would buy a home. Other times we worked things out separately, such as when it finally sunk in that my short fuse not only infuriated my husband but hurt him, too.
I don't think a dating website would be able to predict how Fred can tell the moment I am coming undone and rally around me just in time.
Or that it would report that I'm calm in a crisis, never throw out last week's newspaper without asking, and never make salad dressing for him using balsamic vinegar.
At least, there's not a site that good yet. And I hope there never is. I like thinking our meeting was just meant to be and that love is still this wonderful mystery waiting to unfold – leaking orange juice and all.