Way back in 2001, I saw a romantic comedy: Serendipity. In it, John Cusack has met Kate Beckinsale, a believer in fate and that everything happens for a reason. Both are in relationships and move on. He thinks she’s crazy. But she’s proven right, as one act of serendipity leads to another and yet another. Ten years later, they end up together. They were meant to be! Check out the film’s trailer HERE, and you’ll see what I’m talking about… and you can watch the whole movie if you click HERE (it’s a good one).
Well, it wasn’t all that different for me and my late husband, Steve.
How it all started (kind of)…
Fast forward to 2005. I was doing design work on site for an educational publisher. I worked in a very small room with two other freelancers. We found out that the company had hired yet another freelancer, and we were trying to figure out how they are going to stick a fourth person in that tiny space. My co-worker, Annmarie, caught wind of the new person’s name and shared it with me.
Hmmmmm…. I was thinking… I know that name. But the only person I ever knew with that last name was a woman that I had worked with many years before.
“That name sounds familiar,” I admitted.
“You think you know him?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Well, we’ll find out soon enough. He starts next week.”
The day came. Into the little workroom walked this extremely handsome man — more handsome than I’d ever seen in the world of publishing. He was extremely tan with very dark brown hair — maybe he’s Latino, I thought to myself. He sat down, made himself at home in the small space assigned to him — and then needed to leave the office to get something.
Annmarie turned around and asked, “So! Do you know him?”
“No. No, I don’t think so.”
He came back in, and I got up to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Pat,” I said, and I extended my hand to shake his. He grabbed it. “Hi, I’m Steve!”
Like I always knew him
He looked at me and smiled — a big, easy-going smile — and a thought ran through my head. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “This guy makes you feel like you’ve known him your entire life.” His eyes were sweet, and his smile was warm. Of course, I was absolutely sure that I had never seen him before. But he made me feel like I had known him forever.
A week went by. We worked together, we talked, we joked around, and I discovered that he was a really nice guy. Very smart. Very talented. Liked to help others in the freelancer workroom.
I liked him — A LOT. He was very cute — and very likeable.
But even though I was attracted to Steve… I decided not to say a thing. I was going to stay firm in my decision to never date a coworker. I’ve seen what that’s like from afar, and it rarely was a good thing. Lord forbid it not work out, and then there the two of us would have been, in that little workroom, practically on top of each other. Not good.
So as difficult as it was, I bit my tongue. As many of my family and friends will tell you — that couldn’t have been easy for me. And it really wasn’t.
At that time, I had just gotten back from a trip to Greece that I took with a man that I had been dating off and on since my divorce three years earlier. John was much older than me — 26 years older — and it was a long-distance relationship. I did love him — and it seemed that he loved me — but he was too scared of committing to a much younger woman, and I wanted to get married. The relationship had stalled, yet again, as it had many times over those three years. I blame myself for that. I knew he couldn’t give me what I wanted or needed, but I wasn’t willing — or perhaps I was a little too afraid — to completely let go.
Being that we all worked in that same little room, Annmarie and the other freelancer, Eddie, would hear me take the occasional phone call or two from John. And they heard a lot of the details of the relationship directly from me as well. I’m sure they didn’t find it the healthiest of relationships.
A “normal” relationship
Eddie decided to ask Steve out to lunch to get to know him better. When they returned, Steve again needed to leave the room. He wasn’t out even for a second when Eddie turned to me.
“Pat! This is your chance to have a normal relationship!” he exclaimed, all excited. I’m sitting there slightly stunned.
“Steve! He’s divorced! He’s single! He’s only 49! He’s really a great guy. Do you want me to say something to him?”
I thought — oh my God. If I have any chance with Steve — Eddie’s about to ruin it. I was not going to be dating him as my coworker. No way. But somehow, I think I knew that not now didn’t mean never.
“Don’t you dare, Eddie!” Judging by Eddie’s reaction, I must have had a look on my face that could kill.
“Alright, alright!” he retorted. “I just thought maybe…”
“No, no, I know, Eddie,” I said more gently. “Thank you. I just need to do it my way. By myself.”
“OK,” Eddie said. Of course, we all had to give him credit later for seeing it coming.
Three more weeks go by, and I’ve learned more about Steve. He was indeed 49 — and I was 41 with an obvious soft spot for older men. He wasn’t Latino. He was half Finnish and half French Canadian. He was super tan from spending two weeks in sunny Florida with his brother.
He used to live on Chicago’s North Shore. He came from a big family full of other artists. He moved down to North Carolina with his wife, spent seven years there, and then moved back home to the Chicago area after their divorce.
Did I blow it?
One day, he told us he was seeing a therapist to help get his life back on track after the divorce. And then he said that, together with his therapist, he had decided it was time to start dating again.
I perked up. “Really?” I asked.
“Yeah. She said enough time had gone by. It’s been a year. And I feel ready.”
By then, Eddie had moved out into a different office, and the company shoehorned yet another freelancer to take his place. Hearing Steve’s announcement, the new freelancer immediately spoke up.
“I know just the girl for you! She’s very sweet — a good friend of mine. Do you want me to set you two up?”
“Sure!” Steve answered. My heart sank.
The next day, Steve announced to us, “It’s all set! I’m going to be having coffee with her tomorrow night!”
There went my chance. Oh well.
“Good luck, Steve,” I said, trying not to sound too disappointed. I sincerely wished him the best, and he thanked me.
My big ass TV — and a second chance
A few days went by. Steve didn’t say anything more about the date. In the meantime, I shared with everyone in the little workroom my own big plans that were coming up— the fact that I had just bought a new home! (Click HERE to read about me getting — and then having to leave — my dream home.) I was shopping for a flat-screen TV — my BIG ASS TV, as I was calling it (similar to THIS ONE) — to go with it. Everyone in the workroom was giving me advice regarding what to buy — especially Steve.
Eventually, I decided which big ass TV to buy and shared the news to Steve. He was extremely curious about it.
“Wow. I’d love to see that,” he said, very rhetorically.
I don’t know what possessed me — perhaps I just didn’t want another chance to go by, despite my convictions not to date a coworker. I seized the moment.
“Come on by anytime!” I quickly said. “I’d be happy to show it to you.” And I gave him a coy smile.
“I guess I’ll be driving out to the Northwest suburbs,” he replied, looking slightly embarrassed and shy over the whole scene.
I’m out of here!
Life and work moved on. A month had passed since Steve had started working for this company — and the office phone rang. It was for me.
A client from Northwestern University — someone I had served several years earlier — was starting up another textbook series and wanted to know if I was available to work on it.
Oh my God! A chance to work directly from home again, I thought, after two years of freelancing on site. I could pull the kids out of daycare and be with them again! Moreover… It’s a chance to get to know Steve, and see if there’s anything there.
I lept on opportunity. I hung up, I walked out of the workroom, and I immediately gave my supervisor two weeks notice.
Then I came back to the little workroom and happily proclaimed, “I’m leaving!!!”
“WHAT???” Steve exclaimed in return, looking pretty upset — way more upset than the freelancers I had been working with for two years. That’s when I knew — he had feelings for me too. I wasn’t alone. It was mutual.
I explained the situation to the crew, and two weeks later, I was packing up my things. Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Here’s where serendipity comes into play — BIG TIME.
But I’ve bored you all enough for now. So when you are ready to continue, head over to How I Met My Late Husband, Part 2 — and I’ll share the rest of the story!