Valentine’s Day is one of those cheesy, Hallmark-generated holidays that forces couples to needlessly open their wallets.
But February 14 has a significant place in our marriage, because it’s actually the anniversary of our first date as a couple.
The year was 1996 and Sonia and I happened to be in the same radio news class in journalism school at Carleton University in Ottawa. To give you context for how long ago this was, we used to edit our radio stories using razor blades and scotch tape. Digital editing was still light years away. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t wise for a bunch of stressed out students to be inside a room with razor blades.
At some point in early February, I was inside the radio newsroom with Sonia. I had a crumpled up piece of paper in my hand — most likely a script that had been rejected by our prickly professor, who did not understand my unique brand of wit.
I looked over to Sonia and said, “Do you think I can throw this into the garbage can?”
“No way,” she replied, looking at the garbage can 25 feet away on the other side of the room.
“Tell you what,” I said. “If I miss this shot, I’ll buy you a Coke. But if I make it, then you owe me one. Deal?”
“You’re on,” said Sonia.
I threw the ball of crumpled up paper and it landed in the garbage can without even hitting the rim.
“I guess you owe me a Coke now,” I said to her — completely unaware that this bet would lay the foundation for a marriage, two kids and a sizeable mortgage.
A few days later it was Valentine’s Day — which fell on a Wednesday. I remember it was a Wednesday because I always had a history class at night that ran from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. But at the halfway point of that class each week, I would always sneak out to go back to my room and watch the Montreal Canadiens game.
That particular night, however, the Canadiens weren’t playing. But I had created such a habit of leaving at 7:30 p.m., that I just instinctively left the class at the halfway point. I returned to my dorm room up the street, stopping off to buy a healthy snack of a Butterfinger and a Coke.
I had just sat down on our living room sofa, when the phone rang. Keep in mind that in 1996, call display was also still a few years away, so I was hesitant to answer the call. But for some reason, I answered the phone — even though it could have been one my roommates’ parents or a telemarketer on the other line.
“Hi Ian, it’s Sonia.”
“Oh, hi” I responded, with a surprised and cracked voice that clearly indicated I didn’t regularly accept phone calls from female classmates.
“So are you thirsty?” Sonia asked.
“Nope. I’m just drinking a Coke right now.”
Of course, I missed the blatant sign. She was asking me to go for a drink — the one she owed me from the bet in the radio newsroom.
Fortunately for both of us, Sonia is a persistent German Mennonite. So she asked again.
“Well, I’d like to settle that bet tonight,” she said.
“Okay. I’ll come meet you now,” I replied.
I told my roommate that I was off to have a drink with Sonia from our radio class.
“You do realize it’s Valentine’s Day?” he asked me.
To be honest, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I figured Sonia was just trying to settle up for the Coke bet. As a 19-year-old who spent most of his teenage years playing Tecmo Football and watching Seinfeld, I didn’t exactly have a great read on females.
I walked across the big open field at Carleton University to Bronson Avenue, where Sonia was waiting for me. We walked up the street to a little restaurant in the Glebe. Sonia was wearing a red sweater, because she had a presentation in her French class about Valentine’s Day. We talked about our families, our childhoods and how annoying our profs could be. Sonia learned about my love for sports that night, although she probably figured it was a fleeting passion.
As the night wrapped up, we walked down Holmwood Avenue — right past the park where I would propose to her a few years later and just two blocks from the church where we would get married.
But of course, we didn’t know any of that on Valentine’s Day in 1996. After all, I was just thinking a girl in my class was trying to settle a bet.