by The End of the 00s
“How cheap is cheap?”
That was my instantaneous, inane response in the single most pivotal moment of my decade.
I was sitting in an internet cafe in Florence, Italy. It was early August 2001. I had been trading emails with a woman with whom I went on a blind date three weeks earlier. We had hit it off, but a few days later, I was jetting off for my first trip to Europe — three weeks of touring by myself.
I liked this woman enough that I was sending her emails from the road. A lot of “wish you were here” — and I sincerely believed it. Not unlike Don and Betty Draper’s Italian getaway, Europe was meant to be explored for the first time with someone with whom you had just had a couple of really good dates.
Halfway through the trip, I logged in and had an email from her: “How would you feel if I joined you in Italy?” it read. “I found a cheap flight.”
And my first reply:
“How cheap is cheap?”
Oy. No one would have blamed her for changing her mind immediately, based on that response. Instead, she replied “Does it matter?” Recognizing my appalling mistake, I said of course it didn’t. A day later, she was on a flight — yes, a cheap one — bound for Italy.
Looking back, we were both so glib about it — her with the offer, me with the acceptance. But we both felt like we had nothing to lose: She had never been to Italy; as she explained it later, if things didn’t go well… well, she was still in Italy. I missed her and wanted to share my traveling experience.
Here is what I was struck by at the terminal in that internet cafe: What guts she had. Consider the freak-out potential of so many guys in New York at such an offer. Consider that she still barely knew me — she couldn’t be sure how I would take it, let alone whether I was a decent traveling companion.
I accepted her offer not because I necessarily knew her, but because I wanted to know her — to know someone who would do something like that. To make your third date a trip to Italy to meet up for a few days, because you’ve never been… because it would be fun to be there with someone you’ve had two fun dates with already… because why not? It wasn’t that I said yes — rather, how could I say no?
And so she joined me. Four days traveling in Italy — Venice, Cinque Terre, Milan — with someone you have only been out with on two dates previously is the equivalent of 100 dates in New York. I believe that was the exchange rate at the time.
Because of that, when she left — I still had a week to go on my trip — I knew I would marry her. We had known each other for less than three weeks, but in addition to all of her wonderful qualities — some I could instantly recognize, some I could only discover with time — I wanted to marry the person who asks, after two dates, if they can fly across the world.
Two years later — which felt like twice as long, thanks to the emotionally accelerating effect of the Italy trip — I asked her to marry me. Eight years after that third date in Italy, we have two beautiful children. I can only hope they grow up to be as fearless as their mom was that day.
I spent nearly the entire decade with her and all of my decade’s most memorable moments — our wedding, our kids, even the best moments of my career — were made possible because of her.
At the core of why I love her is admiration for how she lives her life as a spouse, mom, lawyer and friend. And underlying all of that admiration is that lingering memory of how I felt at the moment she told me she found a cheap flight to join me in Italy.
How cheap is cheap? Thank God: Cheap enough.
Dan Shanoff is a Brooklyn-based writer and parent — that really narrows it down — and, for lack of a better phrase, “media industry consultant.” He spent his decade morphing from MBA student to national sports columnist to dad. He has a site of his own, but also devoted an absurd amount of time over the past six months editing a project dedicated to covering a single college football player.