LOVE CAN come when you stop looking for it. It can come in the form of someone you already know as a friend but haven’t thought of as the future love of your life.
In late 1987, I wasn’t looking. I was scrambling to support two households, and failing. I filed for and was granted bankruptcy.
My divorce now final, I was a single dad to my two older children (who lived with me for school reasons) and had the third with me every other weekend. I’d turned in my only car when its lease expired and couldn’t afford another.
I’d had a couple of flings with local women since my separation, but these hadn’t led anywhere. I’d had a long-distance relationship with a much younger woman that had lingered for years, but we now were seeing that getting together mostly by phone would lead us nowhere. She needed to move on.
That Thanksgiving, which the kids spent with their mom, friends invited me to dinner without telling me that the woman of this couple was hatching a plot. She’d also invited Barbara Shaw.
I knew Barb casually. We had met at a University of Oregon journalism class 18 months earlier, when she was a grad student and I a visiting speaker.
When I started teaching there, we often met and talked in the hallways. She told me about her son, a runner, and I talked of my children. Neither of us guessed that the other was available.
“You seemed so married,” Barb would tell me later. I thought the same of her. I guessed that her husband would join us for Thanksgiving dinner.
She missed that meal, where I learned that she had no husband. The hostess, Karen Myers, made sure during our dinner that I knew this… and that Barb had missed her flight back from Hong Kong where she was visiting her son… and that “we’ll get together with her soon.”
Karen wouldn’t let this be an indefinite “soon” that might never come. She would check back with me about a time and place after my return from the Honolulu Marathon.
Honolulu was another down time. A monsoon drenched that weekend, further dampening my already low spirits.
I traveled alone to one of the worst places to go alone. I stayed in a top-priced hotel room, which was comped, and wondered if I could pay for meals, which weren’t covered. My speaking ended that Saturday, so I took a midnight flight home and missed seeing the marathon.
By then I’d almost forgotten about the makeup meal with Barb Shaw. But Karen Myers wouldn’t let it slide.
She called to ask, “Does lunch with Barb and me on Friday work for you?” It did. She also remembered that I was carless and said, “I’ll come and pick you up.”
We ate, we talked, then Karen made some excuse for not being able to drive me home. “Can you take him?” she asked Barb. This too was part of the matchmaker’s plot to put us alone together.
We talked during the short drive about my being between cars. Then she volunteered, “I have a van that mostly sits in the driveway. Would you like to use it?”
This led to another visit, officially to look at the old Dodge that lacked a back seat. Looked fine to me, so Barb handed me the keys.
“As a thank-you, let me take you to dinner,” I said. This happened the weekend before Christmas. Neither of us called it a “date,” but it was.
We had taken 18 months from meeting to first date, and 18 hours until the second. (Thanks to my children for an assist on this. They were at their mom’s for the holiday, leaving me free to go out two nights in a row.) From then on we would be inseparable.
OUR FRIENDSHIP took its sweet time growing into a romance. But once Barb and I became a couple, we acted quickly.
In March 1988 we moved in together, along with my older two kids. She’d raised her own son Chris and stepdaughter Megan into independent young adulthood, and thought she was done with that part of her life.
Now she was willing to start over with my 14-year-old Sarah and Eric, 10, plus a handicapped frequent visitor Leslie, then five. We talked about really starting over, by having at least one child together, but wisely decided against it after projecting ourselves as parents of high school graduates while in our 60s.
Money-wise Barb insisted that I dig out of my financial woes. This took awhile but finally succeeded (also thanks in no small part to the remarriage, in late 1987, of my first wife Janet).
By fall of our first year together we found a way, despite my blown credit, to buy a house. To prove to myself that I was solvent again, I soon bought a well-used Honda of my own to replace the van that I’d borrowed from Barb.
We celebrated one year together by taking our first joint vacation: to Hawaii. I couldn’t have hoped for a bigger, faster turnaround than mine since the last solo trip to the islands. My new travel partner made all the difference.
Photo: How (young) we looked the year we met.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]