The Genius Idea That Found Me Love After Two Failed Marriages

Photo: Courtesy Of Author, Mishella | Canva
Author getting engaged

Back in my late 20s and early 30s, marriage almost broke me.

My second marriage ended in between two cops and a pile of clothes that sat in the back of a Chevy Blazer on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in March of '03.

The moments leading up to that tragic scene are not important as I was able to exit the premises with my sanity and never looked back.

I left behind a young daughter and a living room packed with memories that still sit in the back of my mind over two decades later. I clutched my stomach, pulled out of the driveway, hit the Northern State Parkway, and picked up speed all the way to North Jersey.

It was a mess that shattered my insides and a marriage that left me no choice but to cut out without a thought of reconciliation. 

I turned up the volume on the radio as I veered onto Route 80, and belted out some Greg Kihn before the ache in the back of my head shifted to a spot above my eyes. "They don't write 'em like that anymore, they just don't write 'em like that anymore." 

Ten years earlier I was in the same Blazer barreling down 208 toward Franklin Lakes with a cramp in my abdomen so intense I had to pull over, catch my breath, and let my stomach ease its way out of the vice grip it had twisted into minutes earlier.

I had called it quits with my first wife in October of '93 in between a rerun of Married With Children and The Golden Girls and shacked up with a friend for two weeks before signing a lease on a one-bedroom apartment.

I had a romance resume that now included two failed attempts at "I do" plus a drawn-out toxic work-related fling after the second marital disaster that ended with a fine of $250 and a one-year restraining order.

The affair had been an emotional rollercoaster, a painful game of cat and mouse. After the judge's favorable ruling the following morning, I walked out of the Hempstead Long Island courthouse with a dry throat and a heart torn apart and thrown to the curb. 

I'd always been resilient — survived some horrific car accidents, failed exams, broken bones as a kid, mononucleosis my first year of college, and six eye surgeries — but how would I bounce back from this?

I felt lost, lonely, tired, and unfocused on some days. On others, I was angry and frustrated. The drive to work each morning was so dreadful that even Sinatra struggled to keep me from falling apart. "Each time I find myself, flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race..."

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At the age of 40, following two failed marriages, my first foray into online dating was just as bad as I imagined.

Months later under moderate peer pressure, I reluctantly purchased a three-month membership on a dating site, filled out a lame questionnaire that became my bio, uploaded a pic in a pink button-down, then sat, and waited. 

I met women who showed up late, never took a breath, exceeded my height range, wanted to meet me during the week but never on the weekend, and went MIA after the first date.

One woman, who I had driven two and a half hours to meet, didn't look at all like her picture and told me she was a fourth cousin once removed from Jason Alexander. Another was a Yankees fanatic. Our dates consisted of ball games on the big screen in dive bars. There was no conversation. Just analytics, cheeseburgers, and beer.

Adrienne from East Northport had this notion that each time a NYC subway came to a halt between stops, someone had jumped. Not just one time, every single time. She was unsympathetic to my retina surgery and insisted I pick her up at night even though I was behind the wheel with one eye.

Then there was Mandy, a personal trainer, who asked me to watch her butt as she strolled up Broadway and then rate it on a scale from one to ten. After an unusual dinner of steak tartar in a candlelit sanctuary, I bid her farewell only for her to call the next day to tell me that she felt there was a spark in our pheromones and wanted a second date. Never happened. Any dates I had set up after that were canceled and I let my membership expire. 

I kept myself busy, dove nose first into my advisory career, worked 12-hour days, ditched the Blazer and bought a used Toyota Camry, and relocated out of my parent's one-bedroom in Jersey to a studio in Levittown to be near my daughter.

Then one day in May of '04 a friend of mine suggested I dive back into the deep blue and attempt to reel in a soul mate.

It had been seven months since I'd packed my weeknights with comical aggravation and was skittish about spending another three months with more of the same.

"Come to my house," my friend said. "My wife can digitally enhance your profile pic with captions that shoot out of your mouth."

What in the world was happening here? It was a humorous test run that never got posted. 

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I was still resistant in my second attempt at online dating until I created a profile no one had ever seen. 

I had seen the movie 10 Things I Hate About You many years earlier and rewatched it again during this time.

It was your typical boy meets girl, girl blows off guy for 90 minutes, only to get him back at the end. Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles were unknowns, and this small, creative, well-written movie put them both on the Hollywood map. It was when the credits rolled, and this band played a rendition of a Cheap Trick song on a rooftop that I had an idea.

I took out a yellow lined notepad and at the top wrote "10 Things I Like About You," a twist on the title of that movie. 

In one hour I'd created a killer profile. Nobody cared if I beat up a kid in second grade, fell off my bike at the age of 12 and broke my wrist, played whiffle ball in the rain, loved Jim Croce, or the New York Yankees. Would it be a match if we both skied at Great Gorge, liked chocolate ice cream, baked ziti with parmesan cheese, or chicken livers? I didn't think so. 

So, I deleted my original profile, listed the top ten things I was seeking in a woman before we'd meet for that dreaded cup of coffee, signed up for another three months, and uploaded my new bio. 

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The response almost crashed the website  it was overwhelming. 

My chat line on that website blew up with twenty-five messages a day.

"Oh my God, this bio, I'm melting," said one woman. "I have to meet you today!" exclaimed another. One even said, "How are you even on this website without someone? You are incredible." 

Phone numbers were sent to me at a rate of speed I couldn't keep up with. I spoke with fifteen, set dates with three, none of which worked out and by Memorial Day weekend I had in excess of forty phone numbers saved into my phone, most of whom I never spoke with. 

The Sunday before Memorial Day I checked the chat room, pulled up some profiles, and waited to see who would answer.

I chatted with one woman for almost two hours before asking her to dinner for the following Saturday. She lived in Manhattan. We met at Henry's, 105th & Broadway. We saw each other every week for four months until I moved in. I let my dating membership lapse. 

The profile idea led to an engagement after 19 years at the age of 60.

Six weeks ago Jan and I got engaged in Central Park after nineteen years together in the presence of a sax player, a pedicab driver, and crowds of tourists who witnessed my proposal. I went old school and got down on one knee and popped the question.

Thinking back, I'm not sure who to thank: Letters to Cleo, that legendary rooftop band, Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, the two who wrote the movie, the people who founded the online dating site, or the many women before her who fell short, in one way or another.

Jan had all ten things. 

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Tom Migdale is a freelance writer living on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. He is currently working on a memoir about growing up legally blind.