gen's perspective: my last first date was not with my husband
Dalton, as it turned out, didn’t ask for my phone number because he already had it. A few group texts during the trip- “where are you” messages and photo exchanges, etc.- meant that Dalton could get in touch with me if he chose to, but my phone never rang.
Instead, about a week after the trip was over, I got a Facebook message with a YouTube video link to "Heart's on Fire," a Passenger/Ed Sheeran duet. The link was ensconced in a very casual, lighthearted message focused on the quality of the music, etc. but there was no avoiding the fact that Dalton had sent me a love song after a week of no communication.
During that week, I had decided that I didn’t like him after all. I remembered my Catholic Match filters and realized that on paper at least, this was not the guy I was looking for. For one thing, he was about five years younger than me- a real dealbreaker even though I would never have guessed how young he was. He also lived about two hours away, had blond hair, was not a classics professor/did not seem to own anything tweed, drove a truck, etc. etc. etc. Worst of all, he occasionally used unnecessary commas (though his spelling was perfect). It seemed my little crush was only a symptom of being together in close quarters in a special place.
I had experienced that particular symptom before, and I had definitely had crushes or relationships that had gone sour, retained far past their expiration dates. Still, I was at a loss as to how I was supposed to balance intentional dating with a more casual approach. The best solution, I decided, was to go on as many dates as possible. I would be upfront about not wanting to be in a relationship, and I wouldn’t go on any second dates unless I really liked the person.
I tried out this approach with a man who was absolutely perfect for me on paper. On our first date, we went to a coffee shop and then to the library. (The library is my love language.) The locations provided a wonderfully comfortable atmosphere, but I wasn’t at all at ease. I chalked up my feelings to nerves and went on a second date (pretty much because this guy did own some tweed and was almost a classics professor- check, check!) Over dinner at a quirky Lebanese restaurant, what I already knew was confirmed. This was not the guy. He didn’t do anything wrong- in fact, he was a perfect gentleman- but I couldn’t imagine ever feeling like myself around him. That was purely a gut move, and I regret nothing.
Meanwhile, I had been seeing Dalton occasionally at gatherings of the old Disney crew- a movie night, a RenFest outing, a Christmas festival. Each time I saw him, I had that electric feeling, accompanied by a growing certainty that he liked me too. One day in January of 2014, there was an ice storm which meant days off of work and school throughout southeast Louisiana. Our group was gathered at Mary’s house for an overnight storm party. Dalton and I talked about spending time together alone in awkward, theoretical terms. Finally (after some prodding from Mary- thanks, girl), we decided to go for a drive in the ice storm. We found an open pub and talked easily over burgers and beer, and when the check came, Dalton swiped it.
“Let me pay for mine,” I insisted. “No chance,” he returned. I was feeling bold. “So is this a date, then?” I asked.
There was a beat of silence.
“Let’s go get coffee” was his answer.
Sitting in Dalton’s truck, clutching hot go cups of CC’s coffee, we had a very frank discussion about how we were feeling. “I like you” was the consensus, but I told him that I wasn’t interested in anything serious, especially if it wasn’t headed towards marriage. Instead of pointing out the obviously flawed logic of that statement, Dalton nodded seriously and said he understood. He told me that he wasn’t interested in pursuing anything that didn’t have marriage as a very real goal. “Let’s just go on a date. We can see what happens.”
“Fine,” I responded, “but I want to date other people too.”
“I don’t,” he said, “but I understand.”
We went to see a production of The Screwtape Letters in Baton Rouge, then walked very platonically downtown for a little while after. By this time, we were corresponding fairly regularly by text. It was Mardi Gras season, and I told Dalton that I was going to a party for my favorite parade, Muses. Dalton asked if he could come, and I told him no. I knew that there would be lots of people (read: single men) there, and bringing Dalton would defeat the purpose of this new dating freedom I wanted.
The night of the parade, I met Jonathan Finney, who was eyeing up my sister all night. I also met a tall, dark-haired guy named Daniel who looked, according to my friend Sarah, “like that guy from Legally Blonde.” I gave him my phone number, and we planned to meet up a couple of days later for a date.
I called Dalton that night and told him that I had a date with someone else. He was surprised and not thrilled, but his response was, “You know how I feel about you. Call me after your date and tell me how it went.”
Driving in the car to meet up with Daniel, I heard a song that reminded me of Dalton and started to cry. “This. Is. Stupid. Pull yourself together.” I told myself, which sort of worked. I arrived at our appointed place and resolved to give this guy a chance.
The man could not have planned a more perfect date. We met at Bacchanal, which is a wine bar with outdoor seating, a band, and fairy lights all around. He was wearing a blue oxford shirt- my favorite- and after asking about my wine preferences, he selected a bottle expertly. We sat down outside in the beautiful weather, and I honestly could not have dreamt up a more perfect first date.
But then we started to talk. He told me about his career, his family, his values, and he asked about mine. Our conversation flowed well, and we mutually decided that no topic was off limits. I quickly learned that he didn’t know what he believed about anything- not about politics, or religion, or marriage – every answer he gave was tempered with relativism and uncertainty. He didn’t know what he wanted. Well, actually, he did know that he wanted to write for SNL one day. But other than that, he wasn’t firm about anything.
In spite of our differences, I had a good time, and I felt sorry to tell him no when he asked me out again a few days later. One night, I was at the Columns Hotel in New Orleans with a few friends, including Dalton. My friend Emily pulled me aside and asked me if I liked him. “I don’t know,” I sighed. I really didn’t. I just couldn’t get past the fact that he didn’t check all of my boxes- especially the age thing.
On St. Joseph’s feast day, I opened my box full of old cards and letters and fished out a list I had made years before. It was my “St. Joseph List”- a litany of all of the qualities I wanted in a potential husband. Unlike my Catholic Match criteria, it did not include anything about hair color or age. It had been written from my heart in a time of ardent connection with God. I read through all thirty or so qualities, and my eyes filled with tears. Dalton had every single one.
We continued to spend time together, usually with groups of friends. Mary and Cody got married in May. Dalton was the best man, and I was a bridesmaid. The wedding took place in Dalton's hometown, and we all arrived there a couple of days before to assist with the wedding prep. Dalton was constantly available to his family and his friends- whatever they needed, he was happy and willing to do. It was incredibly attractive. One evening, Dalton and I were driving around in his truck on some wedding errands, and he took the long way home so that we could talk.
That car ride changed everything. It was obvious that our feelings for each other were deepening, but I wanted to make sure he really knew me if we were going to continue dating. I don't recommend this intimate level of sharing for everyone, but something about Dalton made me feel like I could tell him all of the worst parts of myself- from my most irritating qualities to my strongest regrets- and he would still want to be my friend. He did. Across from me, I saw a man who would love me in daylight and darkness, in joy and sorrow, in good times and bad. From that night forward, I could picture him as my husband.
After the wedding, I went to Dalton’s house. He lived far away from any city lights, so we could see galaxies of stars. He put Spotify on and hit shuffle. The first song we danced to was NEEDTOBREATHE’s “A Place Only You Can Go.”
Dalton was always willing to make the 1.5-2 hour drive from my apartment (which I shared with Kath and our good friend Jessie) to his and back whenever we were both free to see each other, and he did this once or twice every week. His instant love and appreciation for my family was another confirmation of his goodness (and good taste). One night in June, we went to see a production of King Lear at Tulane's Shakespeare Festival. It ended late, and we realized on the way back to my house that we were hungry. Our late night options included several fast food places, which we narrowed down to Popeyes and Taco Bell.
"What if we get Taco Bell and then eat it in the line for Popeyes?" I suggested.
Dalton's eyes lit up. He later told me that that was the moment he knew I was the one. (I'm not sure how I feel about that, but does it get better than Popeyes and Shakespeare in the same night? It does not, my pretty chickens.)*
*Shakespeare and Popeyes will be the title of my memoir.
kat's perspective: when he asked me on a date and I responded with a line from Napoleon Dynamite
The night after Jonathan got my phone number, I got a witty text from him about meeting up with his group of friends for a St. Joseph’s Day parade (traditionally celebrated the weekend before St. Joseph’s feast day). I waited a few hours to respond, because I didn’t want to seem thirsty, but I was practically shaking when I received his text message. That night when I joined up with him at the parade, we had another great night of dancing in the street, laughing, and catching lots of throws from the Italian men walking in the parade (well that was more me than him; turns out old Italian men don’t really enjoy giving flowers to young, crazy, loud males as much as young, blonde females).
That night after Jonathan walked my friend and me to my car, he texted me telling him to let him know when I got home okay. My friend insisted that he only said this because he was interested in me. And of course, because I didn’t want to jump ahead of myself, I shrugged it off. He’s just a nice guy, and he’d do that for anyone.
That next week, I heard nothing from Jonathan. Absolutely nothing. That’s when I concluded that he really was just a nice guy, lots of fun, outgoing, and definitely not worth me pining over. He clearly wasn’t interested in me, and he had a million other girls who would gladly date him.
On St. Joseph’s actual feast day (which was a Wednesday, I think?) we had a St. Joseph’s altar at school. If you don’t know much about St. Joseph’s altars, you can read about them here, but since my family is Sicilian and we all love St. Joseph (practically everyone in our family is named either Joseph or Josephine), this is one of our favorite times of the year and our favorite traditions from childhood. There’s a tradition that if you steal a lemon from a St. Joseph’s altar without telling anyone, you’ll meet your future husband that year. A coworker of mine told me that her friend stole a lemon and told everyone and was married within that year. I challenged that and said, “Isn’t it supposed to be a secret?” But since I had nothing to lose, I stole a lemon, yelled, “Look everyone! I stole a lemon! You know what that means? I’m getting married soon,” and joked with my students that maybe since I yelled about it it might happen.
Friday approached. Still nothing from Jonathan. I figured if I didn’t hear from him at all that weekend, I would know for sure he wasn’t interested. Then I could move on and stop worrying about this situation that I had somehow so quickly found myself agonizing over.
Then on Friday afternoon I got a text from Jonathan. My heart was racing as I read over the words about a hundred times.
“Hey, Kat! I hope you’re doing well! So there’s some funk tonight at rock n bowl, and you should totally come witcha funky self!! Mingo Fishtrap, 9 pm, $10 cover. And feel free to spread the worddddddd!!!!”
(Yes there were that many exclamation points and that many “d”’s in “word.” I have all of these messages saved—more on that to come.)
So I concluded two things from this: 1.) He might actually think I’m good company and 2.) the fact that he told me to spread the word means that there are other people going. So there’s no telling if he’s actually interested in me.
I went by myself, bravely, to meet him. Only two other people showed up, and they were both girls. Of course. Eventually we were joined by some seminarians, which helped divvy up the dance partners because up until then Jonathan was dividing up the band’s set by dancing with all three of us.
Everyone left around midnight, but Jonathan and I stayed at the bowling alley until about 2 am. Then we sat in my car and talked for another hour. While in my car, he pulled out a sticker of Princess Tiana (my favorite) he saved for me from working at Children’s Hospital that week. That’s when I started to think that maybe he thought I was more than just “good company.” I drove home feeling pretty happy, but trying not to get too far ahead of myself. I didn’t want to force anything, I didn’t want to rush it. If it was meant to be, it would happen.
The next weekend was Jonathan’s birthday weekend. His sister texted me that they were all getting drinks at the Roosevelt Hotel on the Friday before his birthday. I arrived late after an event at school, and when I got there, I realized I knew no one except Jonathan. And of course, he had a girl on each side of him. I talked to the people around me (there were only like 10 of us there; it was a small gathering) and tried not to focus on the girl who was laughing way too excitedly next to Jonathan the entire night.
Then, in the middle of my conversation with the person on my left, Jonathan looked right at me. He mouthed, “How are you?”
Then I melted into my chair. Once I recovered, we eventually made our way over to each other. Everyone started to fizzle out, but again, Jonathan and I stayed until about 2 in the morning. When he walked me to my car, I drove him back to his parents’ condo, and once we got there, he looked at me and said, “So next Friday…April 4th. What are you doing for dinner?”
I responded, “Whatever I want.” (wth Napoleon?)
And he said, “Well, if whatever you want includes dinner with me, I’d love to take you out…like on a date.”
He said it. Date. That meant he liked me. He was at least interested. And he wasn’t beating around the bush either. No guessing games. No wondering anymore.
I responded something about how I think that could be included in my plans. We talked for a bit more, said goodbye, and I am pretty sure I hydroplaned about three times on the way home because I was so excited that I was driving too fast in the rain.
Our first date was to Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in Metairie. Jonathan was determined to have me try oysters (the fact that I had grown up my whole life in Louisiana and never tried an oyster was a tragedy in his eyes), and I really enjoyed them. The date was magnificent. He told me, "We're not ordering off of the kid's menu," and I thought that was really attractive. (what? I love food and men who tell me I can eat all the expensive and rich fatty foods I want) Side note: he still tells this same line every time we go out on a date even now. I was so nervous, but still I felt free to be myself. When he left to go to the bathroom towards the end of the meal, I remember thinking, “This is what it feels like to be on a date with a real man. This must be what it feels like when it ‘feels right.’”
And that’s what our whole dating relationship was like. We started “officially dating” later in April, but we knew pretty early on that we didn’t need to look any further or date anyone else. I had such security, such peace, and still so many butterflies, that I couldn’t believe someone like Jonathan or a relationship that made me feel this way could exist. There were many times Jonathan and I would ask each other, “Where have you been my whole life?” or “Where did you even come from?” We even subtly discussed marriage very early on because we just had such peace. It was almost scary early—keep in mind I went to Franciscan University where after the first date, couples generally discuss how many kids they want and what they’ll name their other kids once they’ve already had a Gianna, Mary, Joseph, and Pier Giorgio; so I was very cautious about rushing things. And there was no second-guessing. I think in the past I would wonder about marriage with the person I was dating, but I would always get some sort of pit in my stomach kind of nudging me to look elsewhere. I waited for that feeling to return with Jonathan, but it never did. There was just more peace, more freedom, more joy and even healing from past relationships with every conversation, every date, every moment spent together.
It wasn’t perfect, and we definitely had struggles. We dated long distance for about two months while Jonathan did away rotations, and that was a serious challenge. Trust issues from my past, fears about losing him, etc. all creeped back in. But it was like every time we’d get into a rut, the Holy Spirit would use Jonathan’s words or give supernatural grace for us to just come back together again and be made stronger. I know this sounds too good to be true, but I really do think it was just God answering my prayers. It was like all of those years of anxiety about my vocation, God really was hearing me and preparing me for this peace, for this freedom, for this joy.
However, all my fears and anxieties resurfaced with a vengeance on Gen’s birthday 2015. Jonathan and I had been dating about 7 months, and Gen had just gotten engaged. It was then that I started to wonder if I was even supposed to be dating anyone at all and if religious life was finally about to win the battle for my vocation. More to come on that later.