Against the Odds
by Max Shaffer
A Hebrew word, b’shert, perfectly captures the way many couples feel when they find their true soul mates. The word means “meant to be” or “destined.”
That’s certainly how Hannah and I feel about how we met almost 22 years ago. Our union just had to be b’shert, considering how odd our first encounter was and how many ways in which it almost didn’t happen. After all, we met in spite of both of us almost marrying the wrong person, a distance of more than 300 miles, an MBA alumni reunion, a traffic jam on the coast highway, an almost-misunderstood but precocious four-year-old, and a merchant banker with marriage on her mind.
So, I guess you could say, we just had to be.
Let’s deal with our respective failed relationships. Hannah, a freelance journalist, had lived with Phil, a new-media entrepreneur, for more than three years in a community some five hours’ highway drive from her home city, where I lived. I, meanwhile, had been involved with Sandi for two years, and our own relationship continued despite the fact that she’d recently accepted a job in a faraway town that led to us living apart and traveling every weekend to see each other. I was glad my work as a freelance graphic designer gave me the flexibility to turn some of those visits into long weekends.
Both Hannah and Phil and Sandi and I had, respectively, been talking seriously about marriage. Phil kept telling Hannah he really wanted to marry her, just as soon as his business got on a firmer footing; but she’d been hearing that for three years, and her doubts about his sincerity were growing. Meanwhile, distance led me to reassess Sandi’s commitment to me, as she grew more and more involved in her new career and life in her new town.
Unbeknownst to each other, both Hannah and I ended our respective relationships the very same week. Hannah eventually moved back home, living briefly with her mom, stepfather, and 4-year-old half-brother until she found a good job and saved enough to move into a place of her own. I, meanwhile, packed up and shipped off to Sandi all the possessions she’d left in the home we’d once shared.
Six months passed. Hannah was exploring a new social life from the base at her mom’s home, while preparing to move out. Still smarting a bit from the breakup with Sandi, I had just begun to date again, without much satisfaction.
Then the invitation came. An old office colleague called to invite me to a beach barbecue the coming Saturday afternoon. “It’s actually a reunion for local people who graduated from the business school I attended,” Tom said. “And I thought, footloose creative type that you are, you might meet some really stable, sexy female banker who could bring a little balance to your life.”
Little did I know that Tom also invited to the party his neighbors on the block where he lived, including Hannah’s mom and stepdad.
The day of the party came, and socializing with a bunch of business school grads felt like the last thing I wanted to do. But, about half an hour after the party was due to start, I realized I had no other plans for the afternoon. So, thinking I had nothing to lose, I jumped in the car—and instantly hit epic traffic on the coast highway. The only thing that stopped me from turning back was the fact that traffic was so dense that I had nowhere to turn.
Meanwhile, Hannah had been dreading the party, too. “Come on,” her mom said. “You might meet a cute banker.” In the end, it was her four-year-old brother’s reluctance to go that led Hannah to head for the party. “I’ll go if you go,” they said to each other, and went out the door hand in hand.
And beautiful Hannah, chatting with my friend Tom and standing hand in hand with a four-year-old boy who had her same dark-brown hair and brown eyes, was the first person I spotted when I finally walked into the beach club. “Wow! She’s beautiful,” I thought to myself, instantly adding, “but it looks like she’s got a kid, so she’s probably married.”
Tom beckoned me over, and introduced me to Hannah’s mom, Molly, and her stepfather, Stephen. “And,” said Molly, continuing the introductions, “this is my son, Jamie, and my daughter, Hannah.”
The kid is her brother, I thought to myself with relief. And I was just about to speak to Hannah when Tom grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me away.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ve got someone I want you to meet.”
There, standing at the grill flipping burgers, was Maxine the merchant banker. Tom introduced us and quickly left. “So, you’re a designer,” Maxine said, batting her eyes at me. “That must be so interesting. What sorts of things do you do?”
She seemed nice enough, and I began to chat with her. But she really wasn’t my type. I kept thinking about Hannah, but couldn’t break away from Maxine without seeming rude.
“I’ve got a collection of baby sea shells. Want to see them?” The voice suddenly interrupting Maxine’s and my conversation was little Jamie, Hannah’s brother. He sure was cute, and Maxine instantly responded, perhaps wanting to demonstrate to me what great mother material she might be. “Yes, I’d love to,” she said.
And, as Jamie pulled shell after tiny shell from the pockets of his shorts, I gave the two of them the slip and wandered over to the bar to grab a beer. Moments later, Hannah walked up, too.
“So, what do you do?” she asked.
“Well, I’m definitely not an MBA or a merchant banker,” I said, laughing.
She smiled in response, a charming smile. “Me neither,” she said.
We talked until the party broke up almost two hours later. About to leave, I asked Hannah for her phone number. “Only if you give me yours, too,” she said.
Hannah and I had our first date a week later. Three months after that, we were engaged. Our wedding was two and a half months before the anniversary of the day we’d met. And we just celebrated our 21st year of marriage.
To this day, we still marvel at the odds and obstacles that stood in the way of our meeting. And, to us, there’s only one explanation for how we overcame them.
“B’shert,” we say.
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