Our first meeting was too awkward to be anything close to love at first sight.
Girl Meets Boy
I was sitting in the reception area of an office building in Rockville, Maryland waiting for a job interview.
Warren walked up from the inner hallway in his faded blue jeans and brown leather boots and stood in front of me, cocking his head slightly to the side as he asked, “Who are you?”
I cooled my heels at his rude delivery. He did have gorgeous blue eyes, and despite his blunt greeting there was a smile on his face.
“My name is Betsy. Who are you?” I decided to be as blunt as he was.
Instead of answering, he smiled again and asked me who I was there to meet. I gave him the name, and he immediately took a step back. He said, “Good luck, I think you’re going to need it.” By the twinkle in his eye and the curl of his lips, I could tell he was teasing.
I shot back, “Well, he hasn’t met me yet.” Lame, but the best I could do under his intense gaze.
Warren laughed, pointed his finger at me, and said, “I like you.” And then he walked away.
I still didn’t know his name, what role he had in the company, or if he even worked for the company. It was very possible he was just roaming from office to office raiding the break room for stale donuts.
I looked over at the receptionist and before I could say a word she just shrugged and said, “That’s Warren.”
Girl Gets to Know Boy
After meeting the kind and gentle man who interviewed me, I was relieved to get the job.
I lived about 30 miles from the office, so in the beginning I worked from home and only occasionally came on site. The first time I did, I was surprised to find out my desk was right next to Warren’s. In fact, due to the expected expansion of the company, they had rented an entire new suite in the building and we were two of the first people located in this sea of empty cubicles.
Warren spent most of his time away from the office, so we didn’t see each other often. But over the next six months we became friendly, mainly because of the growing number of people near our age who began filling up those empty cubicles. We frequently had lunches as a group and enjoyed after-hours entertainment at the movies, bowling alley, and happy hour.
Warren still annoyed me, making funny comments about my romantic life and leaving me obnoxious sticky notes on my computer with phrases like, “your boyfriend doesn’t really love you.” It was like having a brother you liked but couldn’t stand to be around for very long.
One thing I admired about this cocky guy, though, was his confidence and his laser-sharp observations about life. He was right about that boyfriend, even though I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Warren had a fearlessness I wanted for myself, and a comfort with saying what needed to be said, no matter what the cost. I considered him a bull in a china shop, someone to admire – as long as you weren’t easily breakable.
His position at the company was not an enviable one. He was given the task of turning around failing investments. He was the guy who had to make the unpopular decisions and was always on someone’s shit list. But he seemed okay with it, and I admired his ability separate his ego from the negative blowback that often came from his unconventional solutions to problems. He was only interested in results, and he got them. I was not-so-secretly jealous of his ability to ignore popular opinion in the face of bigger, long-term goals.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Warren was reevaluating his first impressions of me, too. He liked it that I spoke my mind about work and life in general and didn’t let anyone push me around – including him. He’s often said he fell in love with me over a lively debate over whether civilization requires the existence of a god or simply the belief in the existence of a god. Hardly the stuff for hot romance. But my thoughtful and nuanced opinion on these types of discussions contrasted greatly with his black and white view of the world, and he was intrigued.
It was the travel that really cinched it for him, and what he thought it meant. I had recently returned from my first international trip with a girlfriend, touring Italy and the South of France by coach for two weeks. It was a crazy cheap trip in the shoulder season I still couldn’t really afford, but I did it anyway.
I didn’t know at the time that Warren spent a summer in Italy in college and that he considered it life-changing.
Girl and Boy Finally Open Their Eyes
Over the months we saw each other a few times a month at work and occasionally in an after-hours social event with other coworkers. I began trusting him for honest feedback and advice on my work and how I should handle difficult clients, and he began questioning me about some of my personal attitudes and how I was making a go at the single life in a new city by myself. We each had a skill set the other one admired.
Our growing trust and respect for each other changed completely after a particularly blunt conversation one winter morning. Warren had recently separated from his wife and moved permanently to another division six hours’ drive away, and I had broken it off with my first serious boyfriend since my divorce and moved closer to the office. We were each in a state of messy transition. I was having lunch in the break room when he came to town for a meeting, and the usual crowd of people was gone.
For once, it was just the two of us.
“Why do you think it didn’t work out between you and your boyfriend?” he asked. He was contemplating his future as much as my own, and probably regretting leaving those sticky notes with the snarky messages on my monitor. (Probably not, now that I think about it.)
Even a breakup you want is still painful. Normally I wouldn’t answer such a personal question, especially to someone with the ability to push buttons like Warren, but that day was different. He seemed to be looking for answers more than ammunition.
I sighed and told him it was a partnership problem.
I didn’t want a husband, and I wasn’t interested in being a wife. I simply wanted an equal partner to share my life, and my last boyfriend wasn’t willing to go that far. I kept meeting men on opposite ends of the spectrum, either willing to let me pick up the tab and make all the decisions or on a mission to tamp down any independent streak they spotted. Where was the normal middle ground?
Warren gave me that same wry smile he used the day we first met, and I felt a noticeable shift in mood. As I looked across the table at him, it slowly dawned on me that I was looking at the man in the middle of that spectrum, the very thing I’d been searching for all along.
Did you miss Warren’s version? Click here to read it.