Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Path to Gratefulness

I came down to Argentina with various objectives, and the major ones were all quite clear. I wanted to build a new team at my company that could continue successfully after my two years were up. I wanted to become fluent in Spanish. I wanted to really get to know some Argentines and embrace the local culture. I wanted to make some lasting friendships.

There were plenty of lesser goals, too. I wanted to see if the new knee could handle Ultimate. I wanted to travel the country and continent. I wanted to challenge myself in some way. I wanted to learn something new. I wanted to have a lot of fun. Until this very moment, reading what I've just written, I didn't take stock of how much I accomplished these 2.5 years (and counting). I should probably be more proud of myself.

Of course, I encountered many things I was not anticipating. That can happen when you move to the other side of the world. And the happiest accident of them all was meeting Belu. Being a "short-timer," I figured I would date a few girls and generally enjoy a bachelor lifestyle. Meeting the love of my life was a chance occurrence that required such a long list of improbable things to take place. Looking back, it is truly a miracle. I suppose some would call it destiny. I often think about my great fortune in finding her. For you to see just what a slim chance we had of meeting, let's see how we got here.

May, 1993: In a tough decision, I opt for the University of Michigan over the University of Illinois for my undergraduate studies. I was accepted to Michigan very late, and had already gotten excited about life in Champaign-Urbana. Sure, it's possible that I still would have ended up the same path, but who knows?

April, 1995: Having applied and eventually accepted into the Business School at Michigan, I decide to stick with Economics because I find it more interesting and the "onda" much preferred. That and professor Jan Gerson gave me a pretty good sales pitch. It was the right call for me, as I dig my hands deeper into statistical research and find each consecutive step more fascinating. Yes, I'm pretty nerdy.

February, 1997: In the middle of an extensive job search, I interview with the analytics department at the Nielsen Company. After much frustration with what other companies are offering in terms of job content, I quickly decide that Nielsen is exactly what I want to do. Clearly it's a good decision as I will later reach my 13th year of employment (and counting).

Spring, 2007: Now 10 years into my tenure at Nielsen, I decide to quit my job to drive around the country attending college football games.

August, 2007: With my road trip plan already in place, I try desperately to get in touch with college football writers, editors, and lawyers about finding a "legitimate" writing gig to help open doors and make a name for myself along the way. The only person kind enough to give me a remotely positive reply is's Stewart Mandel who connects me to an editor of the now defunct "On Campus" section. Somehow I convince them to give me a freelance gig, writing a weekly column on tailgating. I can't believe this actually happens. I am less than a nobody whose only literary claim was comedic reviews of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Someone up there must like me - in addition to Stewart.

September 15, 2007: I have a colleague at named Dan who makes videos about tailgating. We happen to both be at the USC/Nebraska game in Lincoln, so our editor suggests we meet and hang out a bit. His cameraman is one of his best childhood friends. When I announce much later that I am moving to Argentina, Dan will mention, "Hey, remember my cameraman? He's moving there, too!" That cameraman turns out to be my roommate, Josh.

Spring, 2008: Even though I'd been gone from Nielsen for nearly a year, my old connections there ask me if I want to return to the company and move to Argentina to lead the new Buenos Aires Hub. Despite my flirtation with a permanent shift in my career, this offer presents an incredible challenge and opportunity. I don't need to think about it for very long and am soon packing everything I own. I fly to Buenos Aires on August 17th and Josh and I find the apartment about a month later.

Sometime in 2008: Living in California, Josh befriends a cool Mexican guy named Raul.

October 10th, 2008: At the urging of Raul, Josh hangs out with a guy named Arturo and his friends for the first time.

October 17th, 2008: My roommate Josh introduces me to Arturo. We meet up for some drinks at El Alamo and immediately hit it off. Arturo grew up in Argentina until he was seven years old and then his family moved to the US. Like me, he is on an expat assignment. He gleefully embraces what he refers to as the "Argentine lifestyle." His apartment is the epicenter of a lively group of people whose main objective is fun. He's the type of guy that immediately makes you feel like you've been friends for a long time. That's part of the Argentine lifestyle, too, actually. After leaving the bar somewhat early (probably around 5am), we go back to Arturo's to play chess and talk politics. I finally begin to understand the beauty of a cold Fernet con Coca.

October 18th, 2008: Arturo is having an Asado at his place. Belu has been taking a post-graduate class with Arturo and arrives with a friend. We talk for an hour, exclusively in Spanish at which time she announces that they are leaving. I boldly ask for her number and if "we can go out sometime," which doesn't translate very well into Spanish, so she thinks I just want to be friends. She gives me not just her number, but also the number of her amiga. I realize that I haven't played my cards perfectly, but I plan to call her right away.

Obviously, before all that, there's the usual confluence of my parents meeting, being attracted to one another, getting married, choosing to have kids, and of course Belu's having done the same. But all of us can say that and are therefore lucky to be here. Regardless, take a look at the above list, and you realize that Belu and I had pretty long odds of ever encountering one another, let alone falling in love. But all that history merely sets the table. We still had to eat the meal!

October 25th, 2008: Belu and I have our first date, but thanks to my aforementioned glitchy Spanish, she doesn't know if I thought of it that way until it begins. We go to Guido's and stuff ourselves full of pasta. Not ready for the date to end, I suggest we go for a walk. What was planned to be a simple lunch ended up a seven hour first date. When I come home, I tell Josh, "I'm going to be with that woman for a long time."

October 2008 - May 2009: With every date it keeps getting better. The more I learn about Belu, the more I know that she is absolutely the ideal person for me. We eat copious amounts of pizza and sushi and ice cream and especially lots more ice cream. She teaches me Spanish better than I could have learned taking classes. We travel in Argentina and Brazil. We learn to play to each others strengths, and find easy accord when we disagree.

July 2009: I take Belu back to Chicago for her to know my family, my city, and my friends. We eat everything. My mom tells her, "You're perfect!" Though by this point I don't even need Mom's support as I'm already 100% in agreement with her.

September 11, 2009 - May 2010: Belu and I move in together. We quickly learn how to live with each other, though it's pretty much effortless. I'm not as neat as Belu would like, but she has high standards. I strive for neaterness. We cook a lot more, but still eat a lot of ice cream. We travel to Argentina's South and its North.

May 23, 2010: Belu and I get engaged on my birthday. I'm not the least bit nervous. It all feels totally natural.

Some people talk about destiny or soul mates or preordained outcomes. I don't believe in that kind of cosmic stuff. But at the same time, it's pretty hard to see how we got to this point without at least thanking fate for putting us together. I was never sure about marriage, not for me anyway. But meeting Belu changed all that. I expected to come to Argentina, have a good time, and go on with my life. I think a lot about that first date, and what I said to Josh immediately afterward. Turns out I was underestimating the situation. And now it's official because...

November 15, 2010: We get married. Our wedding, the party, the church, all of that big stuff isn't until April. But for various reasons, we decide it would be best to move the civil ceremony forward. It's a beautiful day, and over 40 of our friends and family are in attendance. Our judge is the same one who conducted Diego Maradona's wedding and a real jokester. I expect it to feel like a dry run, but even though we have various steps remaining, nothing about it feels like a practice. In Argentina, the civil ceremony is always separate from the grand event, but usually only by a couple of days. In our case, we have four months left to get used to it before we take our case to God and my parents and everyone else who will be coming to town. Put simply, it's one of the best days of my life.

This past November I was home for Thanksgiving. I went back to my old office, took care of my currently vacant condo, spent a lot of time with my family, and saw some friends I hardly ever get to see. When I decided to move to Buenos Aires, it was supposed to be temporary. I was going to meet the objectives at the top of this posting. Going home reminded me that my mindset was awfully naïve about the impact the move would have on me. My life in Chicago was pretty darn good. I sacrificed a whole lot to come here. If it weren't for Belu, perhaps I would be doubting whether it was worth it. But I know that whatever I have given up, I've gained far more. No matter what went well or badly here, against very long odds, I found the love of my life. And for that I am feeling pretty proud of myself these days. But overwhelmingly, every day, I know I'm lucky. Maybe this was supposed to happen. Or maybe it wasn't and Belu and I made it happen. Either way, I'm the one who gets to be so happy about it.

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