Reader, I married him

by Maria on August 18, 2011

Sometime in Spring, two years ago, my brother Henry received a hand-written letter from a woman in Ireland he’d neither met nor heard of. It was a letter of introduction. The person being introduced was Edward, “a decent, entertaining fellow. We have known him all our lives.

A month or two later, I phoned to say I’d be arriving that evening from L.A. for a couple of weeks in the DC office. Henry pressed the letter into my hands as I arrived on the doorstep. He was rushing to the airport and thought I might have more time to take an interest.

The letter came via a circuitous route from a tenuous connection; Meg, Edward’s godfather’s wife who was also my mother’s friend Mary’s book club companion. It was prompted by a misunderstanding between a son who was monosyllabic about his social life and a mother who thus assumed he had none. It came from the peculiarly Anglo-Irish practice of proper letter-writing, and directly from that rare person who said ‘I must write them a letter’, and actually did.

For all that, it arrived into an insanely busy household of people who didn’t have time to meet their own friends, let alone pluck new ones from the ether. It languished there for several weeks. And when it finally got to someone with a moment to do something about it, I very nearly didn’t.

The letter said the man in question had been born in Ireland, educated in England, and was now working for some sort of military attaché in the British embassy in Washington. “Spook!” my friends cried.

Apparently, he was finding it a challenge to make friends in DC because everyone in the embassy went home to their families every night. Johnny-no-mates, I thought. Though at least it also said he didn’t know the letter was being written.

And it said twice that he was “a decent, entertaining fellow”, which, added to the very proper, English military thing, made him sound as dull as mud. You see, the thing about receiving a Victorian letter of introduction is that, however romantic it seems in retrospect, it makes the man in question sound about as exciting as the dutiful Dobbin in Vanity Fair.

I said to my sister-in-law, Nicole, if I don’t ring him this evening, I’m not going to. I thought he’s probably a braying Hoorray Henry with jug ears, the height of whose year is the Glorious Twelfth. He’s tall and gangly, with sticky out years, probably red-haired, and hasn’t finished a book since Eton. Nicole said this was quite an assumption. And anyway, I loved red hair.

I phoned him up. It was a Thursday night about half past nine. He was utterly bemused but couldn’t hear a word. He was at the 9.30 Club to see a band. Hmmm. Not a social write-off, then. We texted and agreed to meet the following night.

But on Friday night we were on different sides of the city with different groups of friends. We phoned back and forth with arrangements. I confided my fears about him and he insisted he was a jug-eared ginger who went by Lord Haw Haw. The calls got flirtier, but the logistics got harder. We didn’t meet.

On Saturday, I had lunch with my boss Paul’s boss, Paul. Over a beer and steak near where the buses leave for New York, I told him the story and showed him the letter. Spook! He said. (He would.) And then ordered me out onto the pavement to call the guy, saying if I didn’t I may as well not turn up to work on Monday. Thanks, Paul.

On Sunday, I bought a new, short skirt and rang on the bell of a stranger’s house in Dupont. Ed opened the door and my initial thought was … hmm. Bit skinny, bandy legs. Nice accent; kind of posh but Irish, too. Likes my jokes. Considerate. Lovely brown eyes and golden skin.

There then followed, in short order, a date in a pub to watch Munster play rugby, to which we each brought reinforcements. I later found out he has no interest in the sport. He flirted with another girl and I, in revenge, went after the helicopter pilot he’d invited as wingman. Him falling drunkenly asleep in an exhibit in the Spy Museum. Definitely not a spook, then. The evening ending in separate taxis and disarray. Mutual apologies the following morning and the scheduling of a proper date. Me encouraging my toddler nephew to call him from my mobile, accidentally on purpose. Him just dropping by on a seven mile run in one hundred degrees. Me inviting myself on his Californian holiday. Him accepting.

And in longer order; a cross country move for work, the sudden loss of my job, home and visa, family bereavements on both sides, unemployment in Dublin, me getting a new job in DC just weeks before he left for his next posting, and months and months of uncertainty at long distance. Then I did something uncharacteristic. I stood my ground and waited.

Because about half way through an adult life where I’d followed one opportunity to the next, moved house every nine months, lived in no country longer than three years, and always thought the point of it all would be revealed in the next job, the next city; I had stumbled into something stronger than my own will, something whose logic and grammar I intuitively accepted with questioning but not doubt. And waiting for the person chosen for me to feel that too, for the next job and the next home and the next ones after that to be willed by someone else, and for all other possibilities to be forever foreclosed, I was calm and perfectly still.

This day last year, in a sunny cottage garden in the Luberon, he crouched down beside my chair and gave me a handful of wild lavendar and thyme he’d picked as he walked and struggled to decide. He began a speech so pained and passionate that I could not tell if it meant the beginning or the end for us. I retained none of it as I concentrated on keeping my face neutral and my breathing steady, ready to bear the worst with dignity, until the very end when the tumble of words paused and he said “… and that’s why I want to marry you.”

We went walking down a country lane to gather ourselves, pulling flowers from hedges as the sun set and pausing to listen to children divebombing into a swimming pool, marveling that the exchange of a few words had changed everything for us.

We married four months later in freezing Dublin. Meg, the author of our happiness, and Mary, the book club queen, were guests of honour and read out an epic poem of our romance. It’s now hanging in the downstairs loo.

Ten days later, Ed left on exercise in east Africa and was out of contact for much of three months. The day we re-united and got the keys of our married quarter in Scotland, he charged out the door for Libya (only to spend a week cooling his heels in Brize Norton before returning home horribly behind on his email). Every time the headlines say ‘the army may be called in’, his phone starts buzzing. It’s like being married to an anti-Superman; when trouble calls, he’s ready. Oh, and that’s it. Phew.

Now, in the present, I see hideous army curtains and a professional life shoe-horned into a new home every year or two, with an unlikely infantry officer who reads me poetry in the bath and whose steady gaze brought me to tears when I ardently vowed to cherish him. And in the future; deployment and more absence, love letters on thin blue sheets, perhaps a welcome redundancy and many more fresh starts, this time together.

‘Reader, I married him’ is just the beginning of the story.



Nick 08.18.11 at 8:59 am

That is amazing, and beautiful. Congratulations.

Wow, I better start doing some work.


Mike 08.18.11 at 9:00 am

This was lovely.
Congratulations and all the best.


Dave Weeden 08.18.11 at 9:14 am

Agreed. Very touching. And, indeed, congratulations.


NomadUK 08.18.11 at 9:56 am


And this:

Because about half way through an adult life where I’d followed one opportunity to the next, moved house every nine months, lived in no country longer than three years, and always thought the point of it all would be revealed in the next job, the next city; I had stumbled into something stronger than my own will, something whose logic and grammar I intuitively accepted with questioning but not doubt.

I think I know exactly how this feels. So congratulations for finding it, and knowing to stop for it.


Orla 08.18.11 at 10:05 am

Oh gosh that was quite moving and wonderful.

I did wonder, however, whether you could not find a better place of honour for that Epic Poem. j/k
I am looking forward to meeting Ed some time.


Samantha H 08.18.11 at 10:34 am

So beautifully put… I think you should write love stories!


Alan 08.18.11 at 10:35 am

Thank you for a lovely story, beautifully written.


NB 08.18.11 at 10:44 am

……… brought me to tears to ………absolutely beautiful.
Many, long years of happiness to you both.


Lesley 08.18.11 at 11:05 am

Lovely story. You should write a book and then a film script right now.


Russell Arben Fox 08.18.11 at 11:12 am

Congratulations–both on your marriage, and on the occasion of writing this wonderful post. It was absolutely what I needed to read this morning. Much happiness and God’s blessings to you both!


Andrew Fisher 08.18.11 at 11:19 am

Congratulations. And best of luck with the redundancy.


Steve LaBonne 08.18.11 at 11:28 am

What a beautiful story (and beautifully told). I wish you both a lifetime of happiness.


ajay 08.18.11 at 11:30 am

I did wonder, however, whether you could not find a better place of honour for that Epic Poem.

And where else are people going to have the time to sit and read it all?


Thirsty Gargoyle 08.18.11 at 12:12 pm

Thank you. Lovely as ever… and reminding me of your Garret anecdote about him saying how your husband’s unit had never given us any trouble.


tomslee 08.18.11 at 12:16 pm

I thought I’d just glance quickly at CT before going to work. Now I’m going to be late.

Thanks and congratulations.


Barry 08.18.11 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for letting us in to this piece of your life.


harry b 08.18.11 at 12:56 pm

Yes, Maria, it’s lovely. Congratulations to you, but also to him. May you both be happy (and safe).


SamChevre 08.18.11 at 1:06 pm



Enda H 08.18.11 at 1:36 pm

All together now, “Aaawwwwwwwww!”

Lovely. Congrats :)


Eszter Hargittai 08.18.11 at 1:40 pm

All together now, “Aaawwwwwwwww!”


Absolutely lovely. Thank you for sharing, and delighted that you posted it on CT!


Frank Ashe 08.18.11 at 1:54 pm

“Ten days later, Ed left on exercise in east Africa …”

My heart was in my mouth as I thought we’d suddenly turned to tragedy.


MPAVictoria 08.18.11 at 3:06 pm

Congrats! What a wonderful story.


Dr. Hilarius 08.18.11 at 4:04 pm

Congratulations. And imagine meeting with a letter instead of Twitter! But what’s a Spook?


NomadUK 08.18.11 at 4:11 pm

But what’s a Spook?

A spy.


Maria 08.18.11 at 4:24 pm


Such a beautiful piece – the most moving piece that I have read in an age.

Congratulations and so glad that romance still blossoms. The sniff of ‘chance’ is really so important.


Maria 08.18.11 at 4:35 pm

Ah, thanks, all! Ed is suitably mortified. Stiff upper lip, and all that.

By way of a reality check, he made a lame joke yesterday morning, which I ignored in favour of the FT. Then, after Churchill, he said;

“No man is a hero to his valet or his wife.”


Sapna 08.18.11 at 4:44 pm

This brought me to (happy) tears Maria. I can’t wait to read the next chapter. Hope to see you both this year!


Jake 08.18.11 at 5:48 pm

Clearly, you bring to your marriage a rich assortment of tools, intellectual and emotional. Presumably, your husband is similarly, but not identically, gifted. Use them well together, and flourish.


Kieren McCarthy 08.18.11 at 9:58 pm

Ha! I remember you opening and reading the letter of introduction in our shared office. Sounded preposterous at the time. How funny.

Good to see you back writing. Keep it up. Hope to see you and Ed very soon.


McSmack 08.19.11 at 2:44 am

Many congratulations! So beautifully written. I know from personal experience that true love can still be found. (Next year will be the 20th of my similarly awkwardly begun companionship). Still it’s always lovely to read about. And I love reading about something so meaningful and human in this pretty dry and dispassionate (but somehow my favorite) blog.

You’ve whetted my appetite for wedding photos and given me a peculiar desire to buy you a tea cozy or something.


bert 08.20.11 at 11:05 am

Lovely story, beautifully written. Go mairir is go gathair.
“Spook” means something else in the States, doesn’t it – they had to change the title of the TV show when they bought it from the BBC. For those confused, I imagine the reference to ginger hair didn’t help. To clarify, Maria’s not politically incorrect and her husband’s not genetically chaotic.


AR 08.20.11 at 4:56 pm

You are one heck of a Lady and Ed one heck of a lucky guy! Congrats to both and keep writing, you do it beautifully. Paul is such a romantic ;-)!


mere mortal 08.21.11 at 2:53 am

Pro Tip: If the fella is on his knees with flowers, it is unlikely he is breaking up with you.

More seriously, beautiful story, thank you so much for sharing it, and congratulations for living it.


G 08.22.11 at 1:31 pm

Thanks for sharing Maria… it is only you who could live and tell such a story… looking forward to another episode…much love and hapiness to you both.

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