By then, however, even I knew better—at least in my saner moments. Like other men with whom I'd been involved, Jeremy was smart, talented, and interesting. But unlike some of his predecessors, he was also honest, trustworthy, and dependable. When I watched him play with other people's children, I knew what a wonderful father he would be. He was calm and steady in a crisis, and I sensed that I would be able to count on him as a husband, no matter what challenges arose. He had a mature understanding of what commitment meant, and he wanted it.
His kindness to me reflected the way he interacted with the rest of the world. He's the sort of guy who helps little old ladies cross the street and graciously motions other drivers to cut in front of him. Maybe he doesn't arrive at every dinner party determined to dazzle all the guests; he tends to speak up only if he actually has something to say. When he does, his views are intelligent and humane, often containing unexpected insights. When he feels comfortable with people, he's absolutely hilarious; his sense of humor is as wicked as it is sly. Jeremy's unpredictable flashes of wit still astonish me with their inventiveness, even after 20 years of knowing him. And despite the difference in our backgrounds, our values have proved compatible on almost everything, including parenting.
Jeremy and I celebrated our eighteenth wedding anniversary last summer; our children are now 17 and 14. We share an apartment, a dog, a large mortgage, and a life so intricately intertwined that I long ago ceased to be able to imagine a separate existence. My heart still leaps every time I hear his voice on the phone.
When I talk to younger friends, they often tell me about men they've rejected after one date. "He's not my type," they insist. "There was no chemistry." If I urge them to keep an open mind, they snort derisively and assure me that they know what they're talking about.
But I don't believe them—the first night I spent with Jeremy showed me that I knew approximately as much about discerning chemistry as I do about nuclear physics— and I feel sad for what they might be missing. There may well be such a thing as love at first sight; I know people who claim to have experienced it, although the ensuing relationships rarely lasted over the long haul.
And when I think about my friends, I realize that every single one who's in a stable, longterm marriage is wed to a man she initially claimed was not her type.
Now, it's possible that my friends and I are particularly obtuse. But I think perhaps there are other lessons here as well. A successful relationship is the product of many factors; compatibility is certainly one of them. But timing is equally critical. You not only have to want the same things; you have to want them at the same time. My boyfriend before Jeremy was an infamous womanizer. He was in his forties when we met; a year and a half later, when I realized he wasn't remotely ready to settle down, I broke up with him. He was in his sixties when he finally got married—to a woman half his age.
But when I met Jeremy, we were at the same stage in life. So why didn't I recognize him as a kindred spirit? The fact that he didn't match up with my mental checklist of things I was looking for only goes to show you how absurd such a checklist is in the first place. Love is infinitely mysterious, and I've come to believe that the people you respond to instantly are often the worst possible choices for a long-term relationship.
Although many women still think of falling in love as if it were the product of that mythical coup de foudre, a bolt from the heavens that instantly illuminates the entire landscape, that's not my experience at all. To me, love is more like a plant. When you scatter seeds in the earth, you never know which ones are going to sprout. Some thrive while others die, but over time the strong ones put down roots that will eventually support a plant: one that may grow for years, or even decades. To me, a friendship that grows deep roots long before it blossoms may ultimately become the strongest foundation for a lasting love. For when it comes to love, "you just never know," my husband says. "Until you know."