The following are selections from the story of our courtship. We each chose portions to write about, and occasionally the other would interject comments. (In my case, Naomi interjected punctuation and grammer.)
In the Beginning...
November 2005, Arlington, Virginia
I’d heard about Dave before I met him. A friend from my ward, Andy Holdaway, had said that a guy that he knew from Charlottesville was coming up for a conference, he thought we might like each other, and could he bring him over for dinner on Sunday night? Andy was well-qualified to scout out guys for me—as a fast friend of the apartment, he’d heard our frequent frustrations about the men we wanted and the ones we didn’t—so I was curious to see who he trotted around for me to inspect. Sunday evening arrived, a knock at the front door—and there standing in front of me was a tallish, skinny-ish boy with glasses, a crooked tie, and a white shirt somewhat the worse for a full Sunday of church meetings. (Dave: My tie wasn’t crooked. I just lean a little.) Really, Andy? This is really who you thought I’d like? I ushered them in, offered Dave a glass of water, talked for less than or equal to three-and-a-half minutes about what he did, what I did, and how we liked Church, and then I excused myself for a convenient Visiting Teaching appointment. And that was that.
June 2006, Stringfellow Farm, Virginia
What we didn’t know (but should have suspected) was that Dave’s roommate would marry my dear friend and music partner six months later. Mike and Norah had been dating for the past year, and I’d heard stories about their three-hour drives between Washington, D.C., where Norah was teaching school, and Charlottesville, Virginia, where Mike was going to graduate school. Norah had traded in her darling SUV for a more fuel-efficient sedan, and they had both committed to spending every weekend together, even though it meant very little catch-up time in their busy schedules. Man, I’m glad that’s not me, I would think. Mike and Norah got engaged about a month after Dave’s and my initial introduction, and that next June, Dave and I found ourselves once again in each other’s company—this time at the Washington, D.C. temple where Mike and Norah were getting married. Dave claims that he smiled at me, handed me a copy of the Bible, and raised his eyebrows at me all within the course of an hour, but I have no recollection of any such advances. (Dave: I did make those advances, but she wasn’t the only girl there to talk to. I spent some time eating food and perusing. But she was the only one with whom I hooked up.) After all, I already knew him and knew I wasn’t interested in him, so what was the point of paying attention to a skinny neuroscientist who wore wrinkled white shirts? Following the wedding, the entire party trooped out to a picture-perfect farm in the rolling hills of Virginia’s horse country for a ring ceremony and dinner, and by the time the witching hour of 10 p.m. came, I’d managed to avoid this Dave Sloan all day long. In fact, I was engaged in some fairly inane small talk with relative strangers when Dave came by and said, apropos to nothing, “Well, I think I’m heading out now.” And that would have been that, too—except for a very quick, almost imperceptible internal dialogue in my mind, which went something like this:
"So he’s going now. Too bad you were so rude to him all day long. Didn’t even talk to him.
Well, there’s no point in leading him on, is there?
Naomi, you always think that every guy that talks to you is madly in love with you. That’s just not true. You could at least have been civil.
Well, he’s leaving now—I guess I could talk to him for a few minutes without any harm being done."
“So how long does it take to get to Charlottesville from here?”
Dave and I talked for about 10 minutes that night—long enough to find out that we were both teaching Relief Society/Elders Quorum the next day, we were both interested in literary magazines, and that it would be really helpful if Dave had my e-mail address so he could ask me some very important questions about the literary magazine he was thinking of starting up at his Institute in Charlottesville. As I wrote my name and e-mail address in the little black book he pulled out of his pocket, I think I had some inkling that it would be used for more than just business.
I drove back from the wedding feeling very good about myself. Here was a girl that was everything on my basic list: smart, cute, musically talented, funny, and possessing the humanities education that could balance out my scientific dorkitude. I knew that I needed to act, and act quickly.
My big problem was trying to establish a relationship almost from scratch from two and half hours away. I had to develop a plan of attack. The first phase of the plan would be to establish normal and regular internet contact. I sent her an e-mail in regards to the matter about which she had so kindly granted me her contact info--the development of a Charlottesville Journal of the Arts for the local Institute (which, unfortunately, was not to be.) After successfully getting a response, I wrote back and thanked her, happy that I had succeeded in penetrating her electronic defenses.
The next step was actually to talk to her in person on a date. That would be much harder, because I needed a reason to go up that wouldn’t sound like I was desperate. My first idea was to stop by on my way to the DC Temple, which I should be going to anyway. I asked her if she wanted lunch on the weekend that I had tentatively planned to go, and she responded that she already had plans. No go. I don’t think I made it to the temple, either.
My big break came when I found out that some of my buddies were planning to go up to Baltimore for a Nat’s-Orioles game. They had four tickets available and were looking for people to go. They didn’t have room for both me and Naomi, but Naomi didn’t know that, so I felt no qualms in inviting myself along on my own dollar and using that as a good dating excuse. I e-mailed her and asked her if, since I was going anyway, she could maybe come along and I would get her a seat and some Cracker Jacks. This was clearly an offer that she couldn’t refuse, and we settled to go. Then I had to scramble to find some cheat seats to the game.
Our first date, which took place on June 24th, 2006, was wonderful. I picked her up at her place, drove up to Baltimore without a hitch, got into the ballpark, found our incredibly cheap seats, and enjoyed the game. At one point we were able to sneak up and get better seats next to these rowdy little boys and their uncle. I remember Naomi taking great delight in making the rowdy little boys even rowdier. By the seventh inning stretch we had gone up to the higher-tier bleachers to visit the guys that had supposedly invited me along. We had the time because it started to rain, and it would rain for the next two hours. We stayed only a half hour, and then ran back out to the car while getting soaked. I drove her home, we had a nice conversation, and that was that. Contact was made. Boo-yah.
Getting the second date was a little easier. Upon my request, Naomi sent me an essay that she was writing for her ward newsletter. In the essay, she mentioned that she liked to go to the Lincoln Memorial to watch the 4th of July fireworks. Perfect. I e-mailed, sticking to what worked, and asked if she wanted a little company. She did, and I went. We borrowed some bikes, decorated them with all manner of patriotic regalia, and cruised the town all day long, including in our day: a picnic, a trip to the National Portrait Gallery, and a stop because a freak high-wind storm had quickly overcome the town and we, ironically, had to take cover under an arch in the EPA. The fireworks were that night, and when we got back to her apartment, we noticed that she had a view of smaller fireworks displays in the town, and we sat on the couch and watched them quietly. I could have made a move right there, and I thought about it, but I didn’t because it was only a second date, and I’m a careful and paced advancer.
The next weekend, back together in DC, I decided to push the limits of her comfort zone. I designed an elaborate scavenger hunt that involved lost jewels, codes and puzzles, Harris Teeter, dorky cowboys, and one kidnapped date tied up by the bleachers across the street. After some fantastic acting on her part and some running around on mine, we ended up together at last. I should note that this is where the concept of “full count” came in to play. On our first date, I explained that on a full count, something will happen on the next pitch. That idea was part of the final clue that led her to me, and when she arrived, she found a full count of 3 red and 2 white roses in a pitcher. That idea comes back during the proposal story.
That night, something did happen. After a good meal and some time watching “My Fair Lady” with some of her friends, I announced that it was time for me to voyage back to my home, and she went with me outside. We stood in the parking lot near my car and talked, and somehow my rush to get on the road was completely forgotten. After a lot of meaningless small talk and wasting time, I hugged her good-bye. Only the hug never completely ended. We ended up staying pretty close together for a while longer. After some more small talk, she asked if I was going to kiss her. I said yes. And I was good to my word. We then spent some more time together not talking.
That’s how it started. From then on, we had a relationship that needed building.
Meet the Frandsens
By the time Christmas rolled around, we were well into a beautiful relationship. I had confessed my love, she had reciprocated, and things were very nice. We had learned to alternate our trips back and forth on weekends, and we had developed a habit of e-mailing and calling every day. The big question coming up was: with whom do we spend the holidays? This was actually an easy decision, because my parents were going to be in Jerusalem for Christmas, so we were surely bound for a holiday in Los Angeles.
Prior to this I had only met one of her sisters during a brief visit to St. Louis over the summer, and she had met most of my immediate family for a total of five minutes on the same trip. I didn’t quite know how it would go when I was in and amongst all of the very large clan, but I was not nervous because I was assured by Naomi that they would not immediately hurt me.
Our schedule had me arriving several hours before Naomi, so there was no buffer zone before the collision. Her mom picked me up from the airport and we had a nice conversation. Then we arrived at the house, and I met a few more. Then a few more. Then Naomi showed up, and within 24 hours of that, the house was swarming with Frandsens of every variety. We would be there for over a week. You might be wondering if I survived. I did. Or so I’m told.
It was in this situation that I realized a few things. The first thing was that many members of her family had decided to be talk, act and even look just like Naomi. I assumed that Naomi was the consensus family favorite and everyone desired to emulate her. I’m still convinced that that’s the case.
The other thing I realized was that Naomi really was a wonderful woman and a person that was just a joy to be around. Since her whole family was like her, everyone else was a joy, too. Naomi and I spent some time together hiking, biking, and visiting the beach, with members of the extended family tagging along occasionally. And of course, there was Christmas. It was all very exciting.
There were times, though, where it was clear that I was a stranger in a strange house. One evening when we weren’t doing anything, it was decided that the siblings would gather together and sing an advanced choral piece. As someone whose highest vocal achievement is First Tenor in a ward choir with three men, this was not an easy task. The harmonies were dissonant but beautiful, and the Frandsens sang it beautifully while I tried to whimper out notes that might be what the page said. I never did get it, but it was fun nonetheless, and I felt assimilated into Frandsen ways.
Later that week, I got to play soccer with the men, a setting in which I am much more in my element.
By the end of our time there, it was clear that I had passed the litmus test of family observation. This greatly put Naomi’s mind at ease, and she began to strongly believe that she wasn’t tricked into liking me, and that we actually did get along very well. Our relationship was strengthened under the magnifying glass of her heritage. It only took us five more months to make it official, but that’s another story.
We'll Always Have Paris
May 12, 2007, Sky Meadows, Virginia
The night before, Dave and I got into a fight on our way to a concert. Something about how easy it would be for him to move on from me if I were to die or something—how he’d be able to jump right to the next wife without even a second thought. But it was all theoretical, of course—I mean, it’s not like we were married or even engaged, for crying out loud—so after some faux pouting, things blew over. (Dave: I don’t think this is a very accurate description of that conversation, but I don’t want to elaborate, so we’ll stick with this version.) The next day was one of those perfect gifts of springtime, which was good because we were going to be celebrating Dave’s birthday. He had turned the big 27 earlier that week, and although I’d come down to Charlottesville to surprise him with cake and ice cream, we hadn’t had the chance to celebrate properly. So I was to plan the morning activities and he would plan the evening activities, and then we could consider him suitably feted. After a morning of cleaning the chapel and visiting a nursing home (I really know how to celebrate birthdays), Dave informed me that we were going to have a picnic “somewhere fancy and French-sounding,” and why don’t we dress up a little bit? Fancy and French sounded promising, and the four kinds of cheese, three kinds of crackers, and two kinds of berries that we bought at Harris Teeter also portended well as we got in Dave’s car and started driving west on I-66. It was a beautiful evening, we had time on our hands, and Dave was talking about basketball and writing, so all was right with the world. An hour later, having passed my school, the Manassas Civil War battleground, and the turn-off to Charlottesville, I wondered if Dave really knew where he was going. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t put it past him to drive out for an hour, say “Just kidding!,” and drive right on back. But just then, I saw a sign for Paris, Virginia. Yes, there’s a Paris in Virginia, too, and that’s where we were going for our picnic. (Dave: She has never doubted me since.)
I should have started suspecting something when we pulled up to the parking booth at the Sky Meadows State Park. Dave reached over me to the glove compartment, pulled out a pre-paid parking envelope and hanging tag, gave the guy at the window a nod, and drove right on through without a word.
“Wow, Dave, you’re totally prepared!” Dave gave me a little smile and swung into a parking spot.
“It’s getting cloudy over there,” he observed as he pulled out our picnic bags.
“Hmm…well, we can just stay as long as possible and then finish in the car if it starts raining.” Dave made no reply.
We must have been a funny sight to the hikers trudging past us. We’d walked up to a hillside overlooking a little valley, and while everyone else was heading back down to their cars, we were spreading brie on water crackers and eating raspberry-filled chocolate squares. Even before we started eating, Dave said, “Oh, I forgot something,” and ran the half-mile back to the car to come back with roses—three red and two white—wrapped in green tissue paper.
“Dave, it’s YOUR birthday! Why are you doing all this?!” Dave just gave me another little smile.
I remember that the conversation was pretty—well, one-sided. In such a romantic setting, I thought it would be fitting to talk about romantic things, but for every question I asked, Dave would give a terse reply and then return to scrutinizing the approaching thunderheads. So when conversation died out about seven minutes later, Dave took advantage of the silence to say, “You all finished? Good then—I have a present for you.” Well, I wasn’t necessarily finished—when has one truly finished with a rich wedge of brie?—but at that moment, Dave made a quick movement toward his pocket, and suddenly my heart jumped up into my esophagus. A present—Paris, Virginia—was he going to--? He wouldn’t really--! I sat very still. Dave and I had been talking about marriage for the past few months, but I’d told him in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t be able to give him an answer until we’d lived in the same city for some time. “We might get bored with each other! We might have nothing to talk about on Tuesday nights!” I’d say, to which Dave would reply, “Naomi, we’re on the phone with each other every Tuesday night—I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going to get bored with each other.” But I remained nervous, always wanting one more bit of incontrovertible evidence that marrying Dave was the right thing to do.
But here we were in Paris, Virginia, dressed up on a hillside, and Dave was reaching for his pocket. My heart jumped, Time stopped—and then Dave reached back for the roses he’d given me.
“So do you remember what five roses were for?”
I fumbled back in my memory—five roses, three of one color, two of another—“Of course! Wasn’t it full house or something.” Dave chuckled a little. “Close! Full count.” He had taught me the term “full-count” on our first date to the Orioles-Nationals baseball game. A full-count was when there were three balls and two strikes, which meant that the next pitch would be decisive. On our third date, he’d given me five roses—two white, three red—as an answer to a riddle using the term “full count.”
“That’s right—full count.”
“Yep—two strikes, three balls. Something big’s going to happen on the next pitch.”
“Hmm… Yeah. Cool!”
The thunder rumbled a little bit, and I felt the first raindrops coming down on my bare arms.
“11 months of dating. That’s a long time,” Dave mused.
“Yep, it sure is.”
Another silence, and I looked at Dave expectantly. Was he going somewhere with this?
“Naomi, stand up, I want to show you something.” I stood up, and he turned me around and pulled a little box out of his pocket. I looked at him guardedly, breathing a little faster, heart pounding. (Dave: The box contained a poem/statement that I had written in cursive with a nice pen on good paper, expressing my love and devotion. The ring would come later and would be much more expensive.) This really seemed like—but he wouldn’t actually—maybe this was just a practice proposal or something. I opened the box, and suddenly became aware that Dave had gotten down on one knee right there on the hillside, right there with hikers tromping down the path below and a thunderstorm fast approaching.
“Naomi, I’m proposing now,” Dave said, looking at me steadily. “I love you very much, and I want to spend my life with you, and I want to marry you. Will you marry me?”
This is it, my brain told me. This is that moment you have always wondered about. I looked back at Dave. His eyes hadn’t moved. He was smiling a little bit, and I had the sense that he was ready to be there for as long as I needed.
How can I describe those moments of silence, those moments in which thunder rumbled and raindrops spattered and Dave stayed, knee planted to the ground, waiting for me to give him an answer? Every time I think about them, I am brought back to that sense of great stillness, that sense of awesome decision.
At some point, Dave brought me down to the ground next to him—we were both getting quite wet by then, and he may well have been worried about lightening—and asked me, “Do you have an answer for me?”
And at that moment, I knew that I did, and I knew that the answer was yes.
(Dave: then we embraced briefly, stood up and gathered our things as quickly as possible because we, the brie and our picnic were getting wet, and we didn’t want to get struck by lightning. We hustled down the hill to the car, and we drove the forty minutes back home to make the requisite phone calls. During the ride, I repeatedly reassured Naomi that she was not delusional, that I had proposed, and that we really were both happy about it.)