Everyone has big life milestones along the way — big birthdays, big wedding anniversaries, big work anniversaries and so on.

A few weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, I got a chance celebrate a “softer” milestone with my wife, Karna.

On Feb. 14, 2000, we went on our first date.

Rewind a few years to August 1997. Karna was a young high school business/computer teacher and I was a young journalist at the local newspaper. I had moved to Glenwood, Minnesota, the year before.  It was the first “real” job for both of us. And neither of us had been to Glenwood until the day of our interviews. When the school asked the newspaper to send someone to the school to take a picture of the new teachers, I was the guy taking the picture.

But it wasn’t the first time I had met her.  In fact, I had an up close and personal meeting with her just a few days before. You see, when Karna moved to town, she had moved into an apartment… and her apartment was located right across the hall from my apartment.  Our doors were literally just four feet apart.

The day that Karna moved into her apartment, I knew it. Not because I saw her move in. I smelled her. The person who lived in that apartment prior to Karna didn’t smell nearly as nice. There was always a weird odor coming from that apartment and the guy used to cook some really awful smelling meals. Everything he made had sort of a burnt, musty smell to it. Then when Karna moved in, it suddenly smelled like flowers and perfume, and when she cooked, it smelled great.

After a couple days of wondering who was living next door, I did something I had not done before and have not done since. I knocked on the door and introduced myself to the person living across the hall. The good Lord works in mysterious ways, and He was clearly giving me a strong nudge to knock on Karna’s door that day. 

We had a short conversation and I headed back to my apartment (short walk). She immediately called one of her friends and told her friend that a guy had just stopped by to say hello and introduce himself. The details of this call reportedly included a discussion about whether I should be deemed “weird and creepy,” or if I was just being nice and this was “just what they do in small towns.”

It was the fall of 1997.

Karna and I became friends later that school year and soon we were hanging out with a fun group of 20-some year-olds in the area. We would all go out to eat, go dancing or just meet at one of our friend’s houses. We hung out just about every weekend.

Karna and I became very good friends. And she was interested in me. And I knew it. But I wasn’t feeling “a spark.” In fact, she asked me if I wanted to go out on a date a few times and I awkwardly declined each time. I loved hanging out with her, but didn’t think it would go further than that.

As a high school teacher, Karna’s students were often playing matchmaker. They also could see that we were hanging out a lot. It didn’t take long before the students started planning our wedding and predicting how many kids we were going to have.

This went on for a while until Karna decided to go another direction. She had a new move. She moved on. After getting turned down three times, she started dating other people. We affectionately classify this period of our relationship as the “Karna playing the jealously card” phase.

And it worked.

After seeing her with other guys, my slow man brain finally figured it out. And I started to feel a definite “spark.” She was the one. It was suddenly obvious. I didn’t waste much time.  I was working late on a Sunday night (the paper printed Monday morning) when everything became very clear. So after work,  I stopped over to her house and told her about these new feelings I was having. Despite moving on, she said she still had feelings for me and she agreed to give this relationship a try (good thing… or that would have been really awkward). With Valentine’s Day approaching, we decided to make it our first date.

Exactly a year later, on the next Valentine’s Day, I proposed to her. We got married that November. And the rest is history (three boys, some ups and downs, and tons of memories).

At it all started with the smell of her perfume, a knock on the door and a late-blooming “spark.”