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In December of 2001, online dating was decidedly not a thing—at least not for single twenty-somethings who wanted to meet the right guy. “IRL” wouldn’t even have made sense back then because, when I met my husband, there wasn’t really another way. Had I met my him online back when I was 24 our “How We Met” story would have been met with sighs of relief that I didn’t end up with a total creeper. When single women today, accustomed to thoroughly vetting their guys online before grabbing coffee, hear how I met my husband, it reminds me how the tables have turned.

I met Sean in a late-night bar, one of those cheesy ones in D.C. where you need to be on an "A list" to get in, but really there is nothing exclusive about it. When I reminded my single sister of my meet-cute, she informed me that the dating scene has changed. “The only guys you are likely to talk to at a bar at the end of the night is the guy you came with or a guy who is just trying to take you home.” What ended up happening that night was a total fluke, she told me.

Maybe she is right—maybe the way I met my husband was a fluke—but meeting at that cheesy bar that night wasn’t even the weirdest part. When Sean came up to me and asked, “Haven’t we met before?” it wasn’t just a line. We had met before, the previous summer to be exact—at that very same bar.

At first, I didn't believe him. But as he started telling me things about myself—true things—that I told him in our brief meeting the year before, I realized that this was something more. He remembered where I had gone to high school and where I had been volunteering that summer. Clearly, he was really listening and remembered me after all this time, so I couldn’t help but feel impressed. We ended up talking for about five minutes, but it wasn’t as shallow as you might expect a typical conversation in that setting would be— straining over the loud music, standing at the bar waiting for our drinks. 

When I typically met guys at bars, I would always make a point to try and ask them questions that would lead to more meaningful conversation. I wouldn't awkwardly pry out their deepest, darkest secrets. I would answer their questions authentically and allow for some vulnerability about who I really was if the conversation started to go there. With Sean, I did the same. But in the middle of a conversation about our parents, my cousin came to pull me away. The dance floor was calling, so I said goodbye and started to walk away.

"Wait, don't go—I want to get your number," he pleaded. I hesitated, then quickly jotted down a fake number. “I just moved,” I explained, “So I’m not sure that it’s right.” In my defense, I had recently moved to Georgia for law school, but deep down I also believed that I was serious about meeting “Mr. Right,” who couldn't possibly be in a bar. I mean, who meets the man of their dreams there?

I turned toward the dance floor again, and I felt a tug on my shirt. Sean had playfully pinched a bit of fabric, gently keeping me from getting too far. I turned around to see him eagerly holding the napkin and pen. "Why don't you give me your email address too, just in case?" he suggested. The next day he tried calling “my number,” and it just rang and rang. Luckily, that wouldn't be his last attempt.

After opening presents Christmas morning at my parents’ house, I sleepily checked my email. Waiting in my inbox, I found a friendly message from Sean, explaining that my number didn’t work but he would love to take me out to dinner before I headed back to school after Christmas break.

A few days later, we had dinner and everything clicked. We picked up where we left off, this time not having to battle the din of the music or the people jostling us late at night. We talked for hours and hours, finding we had far more in common than our taste in watering holes. We both had to wear giant corrective glasses when we were younger, we shared the same faith and cared about similar issues. I liked that he was funny and humble about his academic success, and he admired my ambition and the love I had for my family.

Too soon, it came time for me to head back to Georgia and for him to head back to business school in Chicago. We had only been on a few dates, so starting up a long distance relationship seemed like a long shot. “I had a really nice time, I'm so happy I met you,” I told him when it was time to say goodbye, adding, “Too bad we live so far away." To my relief, he didn’t blink an eye, and simply replied: "Just because we are far away doesn't mean we can't see each other." He made a good case, but then, I didn’t need much convincing.

Fifteen years and six kids later, I can laugh at how insistent I was about not meeting my husband in a bar, even going so far as giving him a fake number. Why would providence pick such a wholly unromantic, cheesy place for me to meet the father of my children? But what I know now that I didn't realize then, is that the place you meet someone isn’t what matters—it’s how you choose to connect with that person while you’re there. I now firmly believe that romance can be found almost anywhere if you’re able to block out the pulsing music and tipsy crowd—or even the modern distraction that is your smartphone—and focus on drawing him out through a conversation that reveals something deeper.