When I met the man who would own my heart forever, I thought something in me would stand up and cheer. But it didn’t happen that way.
I sat Indian style on the floor of the packed living-dining room of the Alpha Theta House in September 1978 at Ashland College in Ohio. Faces that would become familiar, and some who would become close friends, fanned around me.
My attention beaded on campus minister/seminary student Jim Miller who had hooked me into his talk with a warm smile, deprecating stories from his life, and everyman delivery. He was obviously heading into the right profession. I jotted down notes about making a difference in the dorm where I lived. In the world. His words lodged deep and made me want to live better my last two years of college.
“Anyone interested in leading a dorm Bible study, meet me in the kitchen,” Jim said at the end.
The meeting burst into a cacophony of conversations and I excuse-me-ed toward the kitchen.
I waited for Jim to finish talking to a guy in the glare of the outdated kitchen light fixture dangling over the table.
In a romance novel—I know because I write them—my heart and respiration would have sped, my palms would sweat, mini chemical explosions would detonate in my brain. But in real life, I didn’t even think about going out with him. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing where seminary meant celibacy. Maybe my mind was too busy with Andy, the summer guy I’d obsess about all semester. If I felt anything, it was comfortable because I’d learned Jim drove a ’74 Dodge Dart with no heater, he’d rather hang out with people than just about anything, 20-minutes was plenty of time to study for a test, and the most religious thing a tired man could do was sleep.
The guy moved away and Jim and turned to me with a smile. “Hi, I’m Jim Miller.”
I met his blue gaze. “Yeah, I heard you introduced. I mean, good to meet you. Great talk.”
His smile widened. “Thanks.”
“I’m Ann Fetterman. I just transferred from Florida Southern College where I led Navigator Bible studies last year. I’d love to lead a one in Amstutz Hall if you can use me.”
We talked about curriculum, and he handed me a yellow legal pad to write down my contact info. End of conversation.
Our comfortableness funneled into friendship as I reported to him about the progress of the Bible study and saw him at Christian functions every week. He was older and wiser spiritually, somebody I could trust. I viewed him as a mentor, but as a romantic interest—not at all.
Nor was Jim hoping to make out with me.
One night he and a several of his guy friends planned a group-date to a pizza place in nearby Hayesville. Jon Barber said he’d ask me.
Jim thought, good luck, buddy. She’s so far out of my league, I wouldn’t even try. He shrugged. Jon was good looking, maybe he had a shot.
But I shot down Jon, or my semester-long stint of working every Friday and Saturday night sitting desk necessitated the no.
In November my subconscious jarred awake.
I took a seat next to Lynda Woodburn in the lecture hall in the basement of the library for a special speaker who had traveled from Geneva College, Jim’s alma mater. Jim introduced Dr. Jack White, then took a seat.
I whispered to Lynda. “Who’s that girl Jim Miller sat next to?”
Lynda whispered back. “I heard it was his girlfriend.”
The cosmos shook me by the shoulders, or maybe it was God. As far as I knew, Jim hadn’t gone out on a date all semester. I’d been so far from considering him romantically that I’d even sought his advice about my love life—and proclaimed loudly that I’d never marry a doctor or a minister. I wanted to see my husband once in a while.
I checked out the pretty, short-haired brunette. She was, no doubt, deep, intelligent, and reared Protestant, the perfect pedigree for a pastor’s wife. She had to be for Jim to… love her?
I dodged my friends and tromped across campus alone. I couldn’t say what it was about this new intel that rubbed me the wrong way.
So Jim was datable.
Something changed between us. Jim says I started flirting with him. Possibility bloomed in his mind. I say it wasn’t a conscious decision. It must have been my subconscious confronting the wrongness of Jim having a girlfriend—that wasn’t me.
Jim started walking me and my friends back to Amstutz Hall after meetings, though clearly, he was walking me back to the dorm. I thought we were just becoming better friends—confirmed by the fact that he didn’t ask me out.
My infatuation with Andy atrophied from inattention until it dissolved altogether by December. At Christmas I went home to Florida for five weeks and dated and ditched Dave, yet another fizzled foray into finding my fish in the sea.
When college resumed at the end of January, my Catholic-trained guilt meter went off like the fire alarm near my room on ninth floor Amstutz. Suddenly I saw that I’d been flirting with Jim—though we’d never discussed the topic. Flirting with someone who had a girlfriend was plain wrong. And flirting in general felt dis-ingenuous. I phoned him and said I was sorry.
“I don’t think you have anything to apologize for. But if you feel like you need to, okay.”
I hung up. The fire alarm quieted and I blew out a breath of relief. I’d made things right and pleased God.
Flummoxed, Jim drove around town all afternoon trying to figure out what our conversation meant. He’d ended a relationship over the holidays that had been headed toward engagement to ask me out. Now, he didn’t know what to do. Finally, he quizzed his co-worker Judy Gifford. “Is Ann saying she’s not interested?”
Judy, who would later earn a PhD in counseling and psychology, chuckled and said, “The only way you’re going to know is if you ask her out.” The same conclusion Jim had come to on his own.
After Alpha Theta that evening, Jim and I lagged behind my dorm-mates on the way back to Amstutz.
He teased me about announcing my amazement over the snow in the cuffs of my jeans to the whole meeting.
“Well, you’d be impressed, too, if it were the first time in your life.”
“I’m just saying, it was cute.”
The words warmed me in the cold night as we walked in comfortable silence.
Jim said, “Good-bye Girl is playing on campus Friday night. Would you like to go?”
“Sure. Love to.” It didn’t seem like a big deal. It could only be a friends-hanging-out kind of thing since he had a girlfriend.
On Friday night Jim and I talked all the way across campus and laughed when Emery Hurd spun around in his seat to see if we were holding hands—we weren’t. We watched the movie and chatted our way back to my dorm.
I called our first date “eh” in my journal. I was looking forward to going out with another boy the next night—the first and last time I ever went out with two different guys in one weekend. Actually, the last time I went out with anybody but Jim.