DO YOU KNOW WHAT LEAP DAY IS?
It’s that extra day we get at the end of February about every four years. Because it’s such a rare occurrence, it has some traditions attached to it — one of which is the old Irish custom that says a woman can ask a man to marry her on such a day.
And, being Irish, you’d think I’d have known that. But I didn’t — well, not until it was brought to my attention via text a little over a year ago. That’s when the woman I was seeing at the time messaged me with a very important question.
She wanted to know if I would marry her.
I thought that was both cute and sweet, and I told her as much. And while I didn’t agree to her proposal made in jest, I didn’t say “no,” either.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here — this story doesn’t start in February 2012, it begins in June 2011. That’s when I started writing a column about dating and relationships here in The Herald. And the month after that is when I met the woman who’d one day ask me to marry her.
How are those two events related? I ended up writing my first book about both of them.
Here’s how it happened: After beginning the column in June 2011, I met Loretta in July and we started a fascinating relationship in which we’d discuss the dynamics between men and women — especially as they related to, and played out on, dating sites.
Though not actually dating at the time — well kind-of-sort-of, but not really — we definitely enjoyed each other’s company. We were also sweet on the deep philosophical conversations we had. I probably have been remiss in saying so, but many of the columns I wrote as the Online Dating Coach sprung from those very talks.
And around November of that year — with maybe 25 or so columns written — the idea began to occur to me that they might form the basis for a book.
I don’t know that I’d really given that thought much consideration before the day Loretta asked me what direction I saw myself going with my writing. Suddenly, the word “book” popped out of my mouth.
When she asked me what the book would be like, I said a collection of my columns. I think what I envisioned at first was a year’s worth of columns in chronological order. And when I had a year’s worth, Loretta and I sat down and started to assemble them — but it didn’t go so well.
Wait, I thought, I can’t include the early ones — they’re unpolished. So I left those out. Then Loretta said, “Let’s group them by category!” — thinking, I guess, that we could divide them into chapters themed “Advice to women” and “Advice to men” and so forth — but the categories seemed forced.
What we ended up with after our first few brainstorming sessions was not so much a book as a first attempt by a couple of amateurs trying to approximate a book.
As we continued to work on what the book should truly be, I was campaigning for a straightforward compendium of the columns I’d written, but Loretta had another idea. She suggested I weave our story, of meeting via the dating sites and falling in love, in among the columns. It was an interesting idea — but one I wasn’t fully comfortable with.
Loretta couldn’t understand why I was hesitant to write the story of her and me — but now as I think about it, I may have been leery at the time because I did not yet know where that story was going. She and I were doing great by that point, but we had our times — like any couple I guess — of not doing so great. And I’ve been known to have this weird little fear that to begin a relationship is to also begin its end.
It’s sort of like life — when you are born is when you begin dying, if you want to look at it that way. But you’ve got a lot of living to do before you kick off, and sometimes, relationship-wise, I can lose sight of that.
Does anyone want to take a wild guess as to who got their way about the book’s direction?
And I have to say, I’m so glad she did. By weaving our story in among the columns, the book has become, as they say, more “accessible” — and I’m pretty sure that’s code for not boring.
Those who’ve read it so far say that our story, mine and Loretta’s, gives them something to connect with. And, sometimes, something to become exasperated with — one of the reviewers said it best when he wrote that “I found myself rooting for your relationship the entire book, and every time you (me) screwed it up I wanted to shake my Kindle and yell at you.”
And isn’t that what we want — something to connect with?
I think it’s sort of like songs — you know how you listen to a song’s lyrics and apply them to your life and identify with them, no matter what the singer may actually have meant? Well it’s kind of like that: We want to find things we connect with, that help us understand, or better communicate, our own condition.
And that’s the book that Loretta helped me to see.
And here’s the part that really intrigues me now: Writing the book’s story helped us write our own. We were talking about our own story one day earlier this year when we came upon one of those not-doing-so-great times, where she and I were having trouble seeing our way forward together.
But having written down our story up to that point helped us to see where it needed to go.
And so she told me her fears, and I told her mine, and we came up with a way to let go of both sets — together.
So here’s something I didn’t share with Loretta for quite some time: I’ve told you that she once asked me to marry her, and I told you that I didn’t say “no.” Well, one day, not all that long ago, while sitting on the couch and having an unrelated conversation, I looked at her and I said “yes.”
That “yes” — uttered during a talk about something wholly unrelated — was my answer to the proposal she’d made on Leap Day.
And that’s where we are now — married, with a book that is not only our story, but the story of a year’s worth of advice columns I wrote for The Benicia Herald.
And to bring it full circle, that book is now available at Bookshop Benicia on First Street, just a few doors down from The Herald.
It’s at that book shop where I’ll soon be doing a book signing. And — spoiler alert — when you come I bet you’ll have a pretty good idea who that beautiful woman at my side is …