The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 2006


At times, love needs a little help

for the Commentary page

By Teresa Leo
How do people find love? Are we on a Titanic-like collision course with love that's unavoidable despite last-minute efforts to reverse engines? Or do we live in a two-ships-that-pass- in-the-night universe where only careful and calculated maneuverings can bring us into love's proximity?

In other words, is love fate-driven or fate-coerced?

Being a writer, part of me hankers for a good old-fashioned love story where two star-crossed characters overcome almost insurmountable obstacles only to fall into each other's arms by the story's end. But the romance in novels can be slow to unfold, and in our fast-paced lives, our quest for love occasionally needs fast-forwarding. Sometimes fate needs a little help.

These days, with the abundance of online-dating services at our disposal, finding a suitable partner might be a few strategic clicks away. We can whiz through profiles of potential suitors based on a variety of criteria. I could call up a list of hopefuls within a 10-mile radius of my zip code without ever leaving home. While we are offered a plethora of traits and characteristics to help us sort through the profiles, are we excluding romance and mystery from our search parameters? Has "made for each other" given way to "mate to order"?

I am a product of both paradigms.

Long before online databases existed, matchmaking was alive and well in the no-tech form of the arranged marriage. My maternal grandmother was a mail-order bride, having traveled by boat from Italy to marry a man in the United States she had never met. This man was also from Italy, and he had come to northeast Pennsylvania in the early part of the 1900s to work in the thriving coal-mining industry.

My grandfather established himself and learned the language, but he, too, had search criteria when it came to a wife - he wanted someone from the old country. He had known my grandmother's family, so he sent them a picture of himself along with money and a marriage proposal for their youngest daughter. By all accounts, my grandmother was not entirely happy with her match, but there was no turning back. Over time, she learned to love my grandfather. They had seven children and remained together until they died.

My paternal grandparents were a different story. My grandfather was a coal miner who moonlighted as a baseball player in the 1920s. The story goes that his route home from the ballfield took him past my grandmother's house, and one day after a game, he saw a young woman out in the yard. He fell in love on the spot. No compatibility profiling, no extended dating, just a made-for-each-other moment on the lawn that both were powerless to resist.

I often wonder what would have happened if my maternal grandmother had simply refused the arranged marriage and stayed in Italy. Or if the baseball field was one block over from my paternal grandmother's house.

Poets and troubadours have long explored the mysteries of fate and love. Poet Emily Dickinson wrote that "Love is anterior to life,/ Posterior to death,/ Initial of creation, and/ The exponent of breath." The description seems to favor cosmic inevitability over self-guided tour.

My own story of love opens like a romance novel, where two strangers gaze across a crowded room and lock eyes. It may sound like fate was gathering its wings, but there was something more calculating to the story. My best friend of 20 years called one day to report she'd met the man of my dreams on the university campus where she worked. There was an event coming up she thought I should attend in an attempt to meet him. Based solely on my friend's say-so, I hopped in the car and drove 31/2 hours.

By some force of nature, the man approached and introduced himself of his own volition. I waited until after we were engaged to break the news to him that our first meeting was not the chance encounter he had believed it to be.

So what kind of ships are we on when it comes to love? Ones that crash - or pass - in the night? What brings two people together seems as incalculable as the ocean's depths. Some of us will easily plunge headfirst into love. But others of us require assistance navigating the waters. Author and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has described luck as what happens "when preparation and opportunity meet." Perhaps the same can be said of love.


© 2006 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.