Three matches made in Omaha
Finding the perfect partner is a pursuit that occupies many singles’ lonely hearts. No matter our age, we seek connection – a partner in crime; a lifelong companion; a soul mate to grow old with. But in today’s busy world, finding lasting love can seem more elusive than ever.
“Dating is not easy and not always fun,” said Courtney Hawkins, owner and matchmaker at Omaha Love, a local dating service. “It can be hard, exhausting and discouraging. We are living in a world where people like instant gratification. This is rarely the case when looking for love.”
Hawkins works with men and women of all ages who seek a quality mate. As a matchmaker, she pairs clients with potential chemistry. But she also coaches her clients on how to rethink finding love. Contrary to the “love at first sight” notion, lasting love can take time to blossom. And it is more likely to happen when people are happy with themselves and confident about who they are, even if they are missing love in their life.
“Everyone needs and wants to be loved,” she said. “I have met many people from many different walks of life over the years, and the one thing they all are seeking is love. Their lives are not truly fulfilled until they have someone to share them with.”
The following three couples sought love amid a variety of circumstances. Their relationships are proof that while love may not be easy, the right ingredients and the right circumstances can come together to create a beautiful relationship.
5 tips for your first date
From Omaha Love
1. Dress to impress
(including good grooming).
2. Avoid touchy topics, such as past
relationships, religion and politics.
3. Be confident. Don’t doubt yourself
or show insecurities.
4. Don’t take over the conversation.
5. Don’t invade your date’s personal space.
It’s a first date. Keep it classy.
Doug & Mandy
Doug Graham, 41, had given up on feeling romantic love at his age. Was it possible, the clinical social worker wondered, that being “love struck” was something only for teenagers and twenty-somethings? He went on dates, but they were just OK. After more than a year with Omaha Love, he was ready to quit.
Then his matchmaker excitedly told him about Mandy. Something about her tone made Doug pay attention. He set up a time to meet Mandy Nease, a 37-year-old adjudications officer, at the Starlite Lounge in Lincoln. When the appointed hour arrived, Doug waited for Mandy in an unwittingly stained T-shirt and jeans. His attire didn’t stop him from giving her a big hug when she arrived. “It was a really good hug,” Mandy remembers.
That hug developed into an epic, eight-hour first date. Drinks turned into dinner. Dinner turned into drinks. Chatting with Mandy was so easy, Doug thought. It was comfortable. He walked her to her car; they both hopped in and kept talking. Then, there was a kiss. Mandy realized quickly she really liked this man.
On their second date at a comedy club, they talked through the comedian’s entire act despite being publicly shushed. Mandy remembers showing Doug a picture of her children and Doug’s enthusiastic response. “I was worried that my kids would be seen as an obstacle,” she said. Doug’s infectious energy helped her let go of her worries. Later, when Doug met her children, she watched as he played kickball with her 3-year-old son and threaded friendship bracelets with her 6-year-old daughter. Mandy, normally so practical and logical, was falling in love. “It was a mush factory after that,” Mandy said.
Doug’s own feelings were helping him realize that what he thought was impossible was actually happening. In Mandy, he found a peer who was intelligent, beautiful and caring; someone he could laugh with. With her, he realized what he had been missing all along. He had friends and family, but was lacking that one integral piece.
“It’s a contrast between not having a lot of hope and developing a hard exterior, being practical and functional and living life, but loveless,” he said.
Feeling romantic love was like feeling full of warmth – that missing piece. Six months later, the two continue to enjoy what Doug calls a dream come true.
Chip & Mary Ellen
Mary Ellen, 64, met Chip, 67, for the first time at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2011, at Jimi D’s. She listened to his stories – partial stories, because his dating coach had previously encouraged the chatty Chip not to put it all on the table. Then: “He asked if he could hold my hand, and that just melted me,” Mary Ellen said.
A week later, Chip Mackenzie asked Mary Ellen to go on a driving trip to the Carolinas and Florida to visit his family. Mary Ellen said yes. Less than a month later, they departed on a 10-day vacation. She drove; he talked to keep her awake.
“It was so comfortable,” Mary Ellen remembers. “I felt like I had known him for a long time.”
Remembers Chip: “There was a special chemistry.”
Married in Aug. 2012, the two have shared many trips together since that first adventure. Their love story, they say, is unlikely. Prior to meeting, the two shared no mutual friends. Before retiring, they worked different jobs (she as a Lucent technician and union officer; he as a biochemist and software developer). He holds a Ph.D., and she never went to college. But a mutual desire to find a relationship led them both to Omaha Love. Chip, who had lost a previous wife to cancer, sought companionship. Mary Ellen, who was divorced, was open to the possibility of a relationship. She had filed away an Omaha Love ad for months; one day around her birthday, she decided to give a present to herself and date again.
In each other, the two have formed an easy partnership. When Chip needs a break during a visit with family, Mary Ellen jumps in to lead the conversation. Mary Ellen takes care of the cooking and cleaning, while Chip, who had polio as a child and is now in a wheelchair, manages their finances. He’s a reliable talker; she’s a good listener.
But there were some issues to navigate initially. In the beginning, Chip wondered whether two people with such long relationship histories could make it work this late in life. Decades of marriage make their mark on a person. For Chip, one of those marks was losing a spouse: he remembers staying by his late wife’s bedside in the days before she died, singing the song they danced to at their wedding. After her death, he thought about how he wanted to view their marriage. “How could you look at it as less than a blessing?” His belief in the value of marriage, despite its ups and downs, led him to want a companion again.
Chip also thought he could treat Mary Ellen better than people in her past. Mary Ellen remembers on that first trip together, a faulty GPS led them down a less-traveled mountain road. When they finally got back to the freeway, a front tire skimmed a curb, blowing out the tire. She waited to be berated, but he turned to her and smiled. “It’s OK. None of us are hurt. It’s not a problem.”
The two look forward to growing old together. On the horizon is a trip to California to spend time with Chip’s mother. In the meantime, the two stay busy with hobbies and the occasional Hallmark movie. Chip notes that their relationship is just beginning. “The more we are together, the better what we have will be,” he said.
Will & Gillian
Will Austin, 60, wasn’t interested in a dating service. An associate professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he built a career teaching students how to be teachers. As a single dad, he raised two kids to be good men. For the most part, he was content. “I was at the point when (I thought), ‘I would like to be in a relationship, but I can deal with being alone for the rest of my life if that’s how it turns out.’”
His coworkers at UNO thought otherwise. One colleague told him about how Omaha Love offered a different product than the usual dating websites. “One small part of me thought maybe she had a point,” he said. Still, “I kept putting up the front: ‘I’m fine just the way I am.’”
His colleague signed him up anyway.
That’s how Will met Gillian, a 50-year-old Brit who is his opposite – but also his perfect complement. Their first date almost didn’t happen. When Omaha Love matched the two together, Will initially declined – he was in the middle of a major grant proposal at work. But something told him he should follow up, even if it was his last try at making dating work.
When they met at Jones Bros. Cupcakes, the conversation was full of laughter. “It was easy,” recalls Gillian Austin, a regional sales manager for a hotel group. “Even if there were a few silent moments, they weren’t awkward moments. It felt natural.”
Will takes a more humorous perspective: “I knew that it was going to work out because when I walked her out to her car, she had a TrailBlazer. And I had a TrailBlazer. It was fate.”
Despite the twin vehicles, Gillian and Will insist they have a lot of differences. She grew up in England; he, in Iowa. She’s the planner; he’s so laidback he’s “almost prone.”
Said Gillian: “He has a lot of patience. I have none.” Said Will: “Gill has a lot of style. I have none.”
They make up for their different backgrounds and personalities with good communication and shared activities. When one is upset, the other notices, and they aren’t afraid to talk about testy issues. Both have close relationships with their children, all in their 20s. They enjoy exploring new local restaurants, traveling and cooking. They like to entertain, bringing their diverse groups of friends together to see what happens. “Because of the fact that we are different people, we’re better together than we are apart,” Will said.
The relationship progressed naturally. “We just kind of fell into it,” Gillian recalls. In June 2013, three years after they met, the two were married in a small ceremony at Spezia. This June, the couple is planning a bigger celebration in honor of their one-year anniversary – an event that will bring together Gillian’s family from across the pond, their four children and dozens of friends and colleagues. They will celebrate the fact that different people of different backgrounds can come together and make a relationship work.
“Things are better when you’re a couple and you have a partner,” Gillian said. Will is her someone to come home to, to cook for, to take care of.
For Will, who always had a plan for being a good father and building a good career, Gillian fills a lingering yearning for someone to share life with. “Being with Gillian has allowed me the opportunity to be complete by giving of myself totally, without restraint or second thoughts,” he said. “I think everybody longs for that. Even George Clooney.”