This isn’t the kind of blog post I usually write, but today, January 4, is the 20th anniversary of the day I met the man who would become my husband and father to our amazing little girl. I wanted to commemorate that story, which, as every story does, has more than one point of view.
DONNA: It was 1993 and I was a college junior on my first day of a graphic design internship. I was nervous, easily intimidated and a little bored. The post-holiday office was rather empty and my boss Janet was in meetings most of the day so I passed the time reading program manuals. Janet had shown me my office space—a tiny, shoebox of a room that I would be sharing with a new employee named Mike who was currently attending an orientation.
For lunch, I moved to the break room, an area that consisted of a few chairs and a large electrical wire spool that served as a table. I can still recall the details of what seemed like any ordinary day. I wore gray plaid dress pants and a white blouse not at all my style, but it’s what I imagined “serious career people” wore. I was engrossed in a novel, eating a hot dog and Doritos, when I heard a loud male voice in the hallway. Seconds later, a skinny Asian man in a button-down cardigan breezed in.
MIKE: My recollection of when I first met Donna was that she was quiet and reserved. She has always been more introverted, thoughtful, and observant when meeting someone for the first time. I had just started as the new Graphics Coordinator for the Department of Information Systems at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJU) in Philadelphia and was on my lunch break from my orientation session.
I remember walking into our makeshift lunchroom on the 2nd floor of the Edison Building on 9th Street and saw this young woman with dirty blonde hair, wire-framed glasses and wearing a white sweater-blouse. She was quietly eating her lunch while reading a book, the sides of her hair fixed with barrettes. I was told that the department had hired a college design intern, so I assumed, correctly, that she was the intern.
DONNA: This was the Mike my boss had mentioned. I was relieved to find him pleasantly friendly— not one of those snooty, intimidating designers. Although he was a bit verbose. I had hoped to exchange hellos and continue reading my novel, but he sat down with his hot lunch (which looked much more appealing than mine) and proceeded to tell me about his travels to Europe.
MIKE: If you were to ask Donna what our first conversation was like, she would say my first line was something like, “Hi! I’m Mike. Let me tell you about my trip to Europe…” Honestly, I don’t remember what I said, which makes sense. Back then I would talk about anything just to fill up dead space in a conversation. I remember she responded with short, quiet, reserved comments (I was definitely filling up most of that conversation).
I’ve often joked to her that it would have been funny if, after I left, a person came to her and said, “Twenty years from now, you’ll be living in Rhode Island with this man because you’ll have been married to him for over 14 years and you’ll have a six-year-old daughter together.” She says if that had actually happened, she would have quit her internship and ran off to Europe herself.
DONNA: At the time, I had never traveled anywhere, so Mike’s stories only underlined my lack of experience. But I didn’t hold it against him. We got along well and, in those first few weeks, we carved out a comfortable working relationship in our shoebox office.
I did have a few complaints:
- Mike liked techno music and had no qualms about playing it on a boom box in our shared space.
- As a fulltime employee (compared to my intern status), Mike had authority over me, and he sometimes tried to take advantage of that by telling me to make the coffee. (I never did, although I did make a game of tossing paper clips into the coffee pot.)
But the pros were more dominant:
- Mike was a good designer willing to show me the ropes of my chosen career. He had an easygoing manner and answered all my questions about printing, production and clients without making me feel stupid.
- Speaking of clients, he was not above making fun of them. We shared a similar sarcastic humor and poked fun at others the way twenty-something know-it-alls tend to do. I felt so comfortable with Mike that my shyness faded in his presence.
- He cooked and sometimes shared his delicious warm lunches with me.
- Mike was a guy friend with female attributes, the biggest one being that he loved to talk about relationships: boyfriends, girlfriends, family dynamics, movie characters… How can you not like a man who can recite large portions of When Harry Met Sally?
MIKE: At the time I met Donna, I was still dating my college girlfriend, Nancy, through a long-distance relationship and was planning to marry her. But I do remember that Donna and I shared a comfort with each other from the first few weeks. Maybe it was because we were cramped together in our small office space. Whatever the reason, we had a humorous banter and genuine connection that continues to this day.
So it was no surprise that I had a crush on Donna a few months after working together. I even remember asking her to come with me to help me buy my fiancée a leather jacket (little did Nancy know that Donna had tried it on first!).
To this day I still tell people one of the most important decisions I ever made was leaving Nancy for Donna—a decision made while I was window-shopping for Nancy’s engagement ring. But Donna and I didn’t become a couple immediately afterwards. Let’s just say that took a while… like 18 months!
I ended my relationship with Nancy because I was a strong romantic, almost like a female in that sense. I always yearned for the deeply passionate “happily ever after” ending, and, while Nancy and I had a good connection, it wasn’t living up to my dreams.
I remember talking with my roommate about my plans for marriage. I told him I wanted to be married by the time I was 30 years old. We then worked our way backwards. “I want to be married by the time I’m 30, but I want to be engaged for a year first, but before that I want to live with her for a year, and before that I’d like to date her for over a year—“
“Gosh!” my roommate interrupted. “You better meet this person now!”
Little did I know, I was already working with her every day.
DONNA: During our year and a half working together, Mike was engaged on and off again to his college girlfriend in Michigan. I was dating Tony, in love with Joe, and developing a crush on Dan, one of our office mates. I don’t remember exactly when I realized Mike liked me, but I hoped it would remain unexpressed since I considered him my best male friend. And nothing more.
MIKE: First there was a year and a half of friendship. I remember the first movie Donna and I saw together was Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Donna strongly insisted she pay for her own dinner to squash any notion that this outing was a date. Six months later we saw another movie together, The Nightmare Before Christmas, but it ended with a nightmare for me.
By this time, my crush on Donna was in high gear, and as I began to profess my feelings for her, she immediately told me she was in love with another person and walked across the street. I remember going back home and reporting to my roommate what had happened, quoting lines from one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally, to ease my heartache.
DONNA: Mike and I had such a strong friendship, I didn’t want to ruin it. I hoped his crush would pass and we could just keep being friends.
We hung out a lot and mixed our friends together (some of them ended up dating). Mike’s mom worked at TJU and his sister lived nearby, so I knew his family early on. His sister became part of our “group” and together we watched movies, went dancing at The Bank, roamed South Street and took turns hosting themed house parties
Naturally, I was on the list of friends invited to Mike’s sister’s wedding in July 1994.
MIKE: It wasn’t until summer of 1994 that our future began to take shape. We remained friends. I introduced her to my friends, she introduced me to her friends. All of us went out to bars, dance clubs and movies… as friends. I had totally given up on any chance that we would become a couple, until one of my friends began dating one of Donna’s friends, and he came back from a date and told me, “Donna is totally interested in you!” I was pleasantly shocked.
To make an even longer story shorter… a few more dates and one more movie later (The Lion King), we began dating.
DONNA: To this day, I don’t know why the wedding made a difference. Seeing Mike in a suit? Seeing him in his childhood home? Typical romantic wedding notions? More likely and unbeknownst to me, my feelings had been slowly building over 19 months because after the wedding, I suddenly saw Mike as dating material. I still tried to deny it though, and confused the poor boy until we shared our first kiss three weeks later.
Our relationship confused some others, too: my mother, who had assumed Mike was gay; his Filipino mother, who couldn’t believe her son would date someone who didn’t like seafood; and a few of Mike’s friends who were bothered that he hadn’t tried to better repair things with Nancy.
MIKE: Three years after that fateful first conversation over lunch, we were having another life-changing discussion, this time at a dance club. A few weeks later, Donna and I were officially engaged and planning to spend the rest of our lives together.
DONNA: Coincidentally, we ended up fulfilling Mike’s plans: we dated for nearly two years, got engaged and lived together for two years, and married before he was 30.
Our relationship has certainly had its rocky points, but overall Mike and I have shared an amazing journey, and he remains my best friend. It does seem like we’ve had some When Harry Met Sally parallels, although, thankfully, it didn’t take 12 years for us to realize we were meant to be together.Read Mike’s blog post, The Pickle Connection, about Mike and Donna’s synchronistic connection.