Valentine’s Day Special: A Rom-Com Story

Valentine's Day Special: A Rom-Com Story

Happy Valentine’s Day Weekend! I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, but what the heck. I’ll take a break from finance and share some personal stories instead. Life isn’t all about money, right? Anyway, I hope you aren’t suckered into spending hundreds of dollars on Valentine’s Day. Save it for next weekend, everything will be much cheaper then.

Last year, we skipped Valentine’s Day because we were too busy with a home improvement project. But, let’s face it. We’ve skipped Valentine’s Day every year since our son was born. I don’t think we’ll get back to having romantic dinners until RB40Jr can stay home by himself. Actually, he’s 10 years old now so he can stay home by himself for a few hours. Yes!

Unfortunately, I don’t like going out on Valentine’s Day anymore. In Portland, many restaurants serve a set menu for Valentine’s Day. The prix fixe menus usually serve 3 courses and cost at least $50 each. That’s pretty pricey. I’d rather go out on regular days and have more choices. The prix fixe menus are taking this already commercialized holiday to another level. I’d rather get some nice chocolate and enjoy them at home with the family. Also, I’m in Thailand with my parent this year so I’ll have to owe Mrs. RB40 a romantic evening. Although, we still aren’t comfortable going out to eat in a restaurant. Maybe I can order something special from a nice restaurant for us. I confess, I’m not very romantic. However, don’t feel too bad for Mrs. RB40. I’ll make it up with some rom-com stories.

*I’ll add to the story every Valentine’s Day.

What happened to rom-com?

Have you watched a fun romantic comedy lately? I don’t think I’ve seen a great one since the 90s. Recently, we had Crazy Rich Asians, but it wasn’t that good. The production was excellent, but the chemistry wasn’t really there. It was also missing the “meet-cute.” Booo!

In George Axelrod‘s play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955), a character explains,

Dear boy, the beginning of a movie is childishly simple. The boy and girl meet. The only important thing to remember is that—in a movie—the boy and the girl must meet in some cute way. They cannot…meet like normal people at, perhaps, a cocktail party or some other social function. No. It is terribly important that they meet cute.

(via Wikipedia)

I know it’s a cliché, but a fun meet-cute scene is a must. Our first meeting didn’t bode well, but somehow it worked out. We’ll celebrate our 22nd anniversary this summer! That’s not too bad, right? Here is our meet-cute.

Act 1 – Meet Cute

I met the future Mrs. RB40 when I was a junior at UCSB in 1994. Back then, I didn’t have any money and I came up with a scheme to retrieve a few bucks back from the university. I figured I’d start a club for Thai students and anyone who wants to learn more about Thai culture. If the university approved it, then they’ll give the club a small budget to work with. I think it was around $100 or something like that. I thought we could have pizza parties, hang out, and maybe I could meet some girls.

However, there was a minor problem. I didn’t know any Thai students. I had to recruit my roommates and friends to be officers of the club. Heh heh heh. I’m still good friends with those guys and (one) gal. Anyway, the school approved and we were off. I set up our first meeting at Girvetz Hall and posted a few flyers around the campus. It was a good start, but there was trouble on the horizon.

Power outage

Whoa, the power went out about an hour before that first meeting. I figured nobody would come so I canceled the meeting* and went home. However, I got a call about 15 minutes later. A girl said, “Where the heck are you?!” Okay, jeez. I rushed to the meeting room and there she was, simmering mad. Oh boy, she must have thought I was an undependable jerk. She was right, of course. Isn’t every guy an undependable jerk when they’re 20 years old?

*Meeting cancellation – I told the “officers” that the meeting was canceled. We didn’t have cellphones back then. Mrs. RB40 must have gotten my number from one of my friends that showed up and called me at home. She’s a take-charge kind of gal.

My plan worked

Anyway, the club didn’t do so well that first year. I was a horrible president and there were very few Thai students at UCSB back then. Mrs. RB40 became the vice president and basically ran the club. We even sold some Thai ice tea to raise money for our pizza parties. Of course, Mrs. RB40 didn’t know you have to put a ton of sugar in Thai ice tea to make it delicious. I had to rescue her from that one by quickly adding some homemade syrup to her tea.

The following year, she became the president of the club and improved it by including Lao students. They even put on a cultural show. Mrs. RB40 was a much better president than I ever was. I wasn’t organized enough to lead. I remained a member for the free pizza, though.

So it seems my plan worked out. I met a girl and we eventually became a couple. The club was a great idea because it gave me an excuse to spend more time with her. We made posters to advertise events and meetings, went to movies, and had a fun time in Santa Barbara. As an engineering student, I didn’t have many opportunities to interact with the ladies. I was always studying or spending time in the lab. There were very few female engineering students back then. Hopefully, the ratio is a bit better now.

Act 2 Diverged paths

Things were good for us the rest of our time at the university. Mrs. RB40 and her roommates even lived above me and my roommates for a year. It’s amazing how loud those 100 lbs. girls can stomp. We had our issues like any young couples, but the true test of our relationship came after college.

Mrs. RB40 wanted to join the Peace Corps, but I wanted to start working right away. At that time, my next younger brother was in college and the other one would start soon. My parents didn’t have a lot of money so I needed to help them out. Also, I was sick and tired of being dirt poor. On the other hand, Mrs. RB40 was a single child and her dad was a Peace Corps volunteer when he was young. It was her dream to join the Peace Corps and help improve the world. We had different objectives.

Time apart

After graduation, I started my engineering career with Intel in Oregon. Mrs. RB40 joined the Peace Corps and went off to Uzbekistan. For most young couples, that would be the end of the relationship. Luckily, she came up to visit me for a week before she left. We had fun around Portland while we tried to figure out what to do.

We had a pretty good relationship and I wasn’t ready to drop it so I got her a “promise ring.” This ring meant we’ll get married when she gets back from the Peace Corps. She accepted and we made a commitment to be faithful to each other. Oh, you dumb young kids. An assignment in the Peace Corps lasts 2 years and she needed to do 3 months of training to get ready. Also, many volunteers go to travel for a while after they completed their assignments. All in all, we were apart for about 3 years. That’s an eternity when you’re 22.

After Mrs. RB40 left, I had a really tough first year in Portland. I was used to having nice weather all the time in Santa Barbara. The long dark winter was extremely depressing. It rained almost every day and the sky was dark by the time I got out of work. As a new engineer, I worked a ton. Working long hours was fine at the time because I didn’t know anyone locally and I was learning a lot.

Life improved

Things began to improve for me after a while. I made friends at work and met many young people. The weather improved and life got way better. I finally had money to spend. That was nice. After a while, my relationship with Mrs. RB40 was put on the back burner. It was tough to keep going because the only way to communicate was through letters.

When was this again, the Stone Age? No, but Uzbekistan was a very poor country back then. Mrs. RB40 was sent to the countryside to stay with a host family. A phone was a luxury and while her family had one, she had to go to the local post office to make overseas calls, which were expensive. Volunteers get a small stipend to pay for basic living expenses, and overseas calls were not usually factored into the equation. We didn’t talk at all while she was overseas. She probably talked to her parents a few times. Anyway, the time difference meant there was never a good time to talk on the phone. Email was not common until the end of her service, and by then, she could only reliably access that in Tashkent, the capital city. To get there, she had to take an overnight train.

She was having a tough time there. The winter was very cold and she slept on her kitchen floor to keep warm. She had a bad case of bronchitis once and had to stay in the Peace Corps clinic for two weeks. Fun times…but overall, she enjoyed working and learning the local culture.

Things That Made You Go Hmmm

Stateside, I made friends and met some nice young ladies… Our group tried to do something fun every weekend. We went snowboarding, white water rafting, kayaking, crabbing, hiking, partying, traveling, and more. We were all young and had some money for the first time. Luckily, I prioritized saving and investing before spending on entertainment. So I had fun, but still saved a good portion of my income when I was young.

I was having the time of my life. You know where this is going, right? I ended up dating several young ladies. I told them I already have a long-term relationship overseas. However, it wasn’t a big problem. We were young and we just wanted to have fun. I had several casual relationships and life was good.

I never asked Mrs. RB40 what she did over these lost years. I wasn’t a good fiancé and she wasn’t perfect either. The details, I don’t need to know. At some point, we put our relationship on hold. I’m not sure when that was, maybe about halfway through her assignment.


After 3 years, Mrs. RB40 returned to California and stayed with her mom. By then, I realized she was the best fit for me. I missed her a lot and I wanted to see if we can make it work again. I asked her to come to Portland for a visit and she said okay. Turns out she missed me, too. Then, I began to plan a grand gesture (a mini one).

When her flight arrived, I was waiting at the gate with a dozen long-stem roses. It was the first time I splurged on really nice flowers. She came down and gave me a hug. Back in the good old days, you could go to the gate to wait for the passengers. However, you still had to go through the metal detector. It beeped when I went through with the roses. The security lady grinned while she wanded me. I looked pretty silly standing spread out and holding a bouquet of roses. Everyone was looking and smiling. Oh, young loves are so cute. Anyway, I told her the story and we had a good laugh.

Act 3 – Eloped

She moved in with me soon after. At the time, I lived with a roommate in a neat 2 bedroom apartment in a hip part of Portland. (Our current home is in this area now. We love the neighborhood.) We got a one-bedroom apartment near the university and started to plan our wedding. All my friends were surprised we were getting married so quickly. They all wondered if there was a baby in the equation. Alas, it was just us. We finally knew we’re better together and we wanted to seal the deal ASAP.

Wedding plan scuttled

I don’t remember exactly what happened to the wedding plan. Mrs. RB40 wasn’t an enthusiastic planner and I didn’t help much. We came up with a big guest list and that was about as far as we got. We decided to just elope and get married at the courthouse instead. That was perfectly fine with me. Life was great for a few months as newlyweds.

A big problem surfaced

Around this time, my parent decided to quit their Thai restaurant business. My dad also ran a small liquor store. It was just too much work for them. They decided to sell their house and live in the van to save money. They were way ahead on the whole #vanlife thing. Eventually, they wrapped up their business and didn’t have much to do.

I asked them to come to stay with us for a while because I didn’t like them being homeless. They came, but 1 bedroom was way too small for 4 people. Mrs. RB40 didn’t like having my parent there and we had some conflicts. It’s hard to live with your in-laws.

Fortunately, my parent decided to drive around the US to see the sights. For 4 months, they visited Wall Street, Washington DC, Miami, New Orleans, and many other places. It was a nice long trip for them. That gave us some breathing room and we purchased a big 2,000 sq ft house so everyone would have more space.

Unfortunately, the big house didn’t really fix the in-laws issue. Mrs. RB40 still didn’t get along with my parent. It was uncomfortable for everyone. Eventually, my parent decided to move back to Thailand. They didn’t really have a purpose to stay in the US any longer. My brothers and I got our Bachelor’s degrees and we didn’t need financial help anymore. That gave Mrs. RB40 a lot of breathing room. She could run the household the way she wants. The house was a bit too big so we occasionally took on a tenant. We lived there for 8 years and enjoyed it. However, I got bored of the suburb and decided to move into a condo in downtown Portland. Mrs. RB40 didn’t want to move, but I convinced her. It’s a lot more convenient for her because her office was much closer to our condo. Those 8 years at our old suburbia home were good. I enjoyed my engineering career and Mrs. RB40 made progress with her career. We even got a convertible BMW Z3. 🙂 It was a regular American dream – work, make money, spend, and live a cushy lifestyle.

Stay tuned…

Fortunately, our lifestyle didn’t inflate too much. We lived comfortably and saved a good percentage of our income. We saved less than 50%, but it was enough to build a good foundation. Our saving rate was probably around 25% back then. FIRE will start to creep into our lives in the next chapter, but you’ll have to wait until next Valentine’s Day. We all need a break from personal finance occasionally, right?

What about you? Do you have a meet-cute story or dramatic moments in your relationship? Let’s hear it. Have a great Valentine’s Day!

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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38 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day Special: A Rom-Com Story”

  1. Good story Joe! We got snowed in for Valentines this year (plus there’s that whole pandemic), and we don’t usually go out on Valentines anyway.

    So, we had dinner at home and watched a movie together (not a romcom). Seems like a perfect Valentines Day to me!

  2. Love to learn more about your and Mrs. RB40 It’s a great romantic story. Long distance relationship is hard, Mrs. T and I went through that as well but we were able to keep in touch via email and Skype. It would have been a lot harder for you and Mrs. RB40 to keep in touch back then.

  3. Great story Joe. That must have been fun living in Santa Barbara. That’s such a nice area. I’ve camped on the beach a few times out in Carpenteria…even caught a lemon shark there.

    Yes we absolutely need a break from PF every now and then. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Hi, I’m the “one gal” friend. 🙂 And yes, Joe and I are still friends after 30 years and I’m still waiting for the wedding invitation. :p Happy Valentine’s Day to you and M, buddy.

  5. Joe, thank you so much for the sweet story! I love how you were waiting at the gate with a dozen roses. I bet she was surprised. It’s like a scene right out of the movies 🙂

    I guess since we’re talking Valentine’s Day stories, my first Valentine’s day that I was flying to see my fiancé (who is now my wife), I had gotten roses and instead of sending them to her office, decided to fly them with me. The flight attendants were so accommodating and thought it was such a sweet gesture. Well, all my wife’s co-workers were getting flowers all day from their significant others except her. She normally didn’t care about getting things, but she was feeling a little left out. She was a little mad by the time I saw her that evening after getting off my plane haha

    • Thanks for sharing. It’s a lot more special when you deliver the flowers in person.
      Unfortunately, we have a cat now so we don’t buy flowers anymore. The cat will eat it.
      Good for me because I never liked spending money on flowers. 🙂

  6. excellent, joe! i miss santa barbara. intel must have had a pipeline from UCSB at one time. that’s where my chemistry undergrad friend went to grad school before intel. maybe the mrs. and i will go back there this summer. it’s been awhile.

    that’s a helluva good story.

  7. Great story Joe! Thanks for sharing. I met Mr. P2F in college too. Some of my friends say I stalked her in college…but that’s just their perspective. Anyway, we’ve been happily married for nearly 28 wonderful years.

    Happy Valentine’s Day to you and Mrs. RB40 anyway you choose to celebrate it!

  8. Awesome back story Joe! Definitive have the makings of a movie here.

    I wonder if the power did not go out that first meeting if the bonding experience would still have been as good. Fate definitely at play

  9. Way to take charge, Mrs.RB40!

    Love this part: “We even sold some Thai ice tea”…I’m obsessed with Thai ice tea–drinking it by the bucket in Thailand right now. YUM! Definitely the overload of sugar is probably what makes it so addicting but I’m lose so much weight from all the small portions and organic food it doesn’t matter at all!

    Sorry to hear that you didn’t like Crazy Rich Asians–something about it really spoke to me. Though I’m not a fan of the “showy wealth” part. If you want to watch another good movie with all Asian cast, check out “Searching”. It’s SO good–I never even heard about it until I saw it on the plane ride to Bangkok. Completely blew me away.

    Another good series on Netflix that I’m getting addicted to lately (though, it’s not exactly a rom-com) is The Good Place. Very addicting.

    Congrats on your 20 year anniversary! We are coming up at 9 years of marriage of 16 years of couple-dom. It’s been a blast!

  10. Cute story Joe! Sorry to hear that you guys had to skip valentines day. I made Mrs. Tako a nice meal of her favorite foods, but that’s about all we do these days.

    In total I probably spent $25 on that nice meal, but if we’d eaten out it probably would have cost $50 or more. That’s assuming we could even find a seat in a restaurant. It’s usually so busy on Valentine’s day that you have to make reservations in advance.

    Hope the move is going well!

  11. That’s fantastic — I’m glad it worked out so well for both of you! She sounds like a generous soul.

    I was a music performance major, but somehow none of my major classes counted toward “history and theory of the arts” core credit. So I took History of Rock and Roll (because the prof had made 18th century French opera really interesting in one of those major classes, and I figured he could do even better with more recent stuff). I couldn’t name all four Beatles; this girl I sat next to was a diehard George Harrison fanatic. I guess she saw me as a project, because eighteen years later here we are… and now I know more about the Beatles than I ever thought necessary.

  12. 20 years! Congratulations! I didn’t know Mrs. RB40 was half Thai 🙂
    I love Thai Ice Tea now I have a craving for one 🙁
    That’s a very sweet story, you guys made it work growing up in your 20’s together, that can be difficult for a lot of people especially if they change a lot in their 20’s.

  13. This is a great article… I like the occasional departure from money.

    I liked Crazy Rich Asians, but I’m known as being easy to please when it comes to movies.

    Rom-coms seemed to die out. It’s like the sitcom that seemed to fade away. I did find When We First Met on Netflix a few months back. It’s not likely to win any big movie awards, but Rom-coms rarely do. I thought it was really good. Now to get back to Empire Records… (also on Netflix).

  14. That’s an awesome story, Joe! I wish mine had a little more romance to it… my wife and I met through our groups of friends at a bar in Kent. We had mutual friends in common and just hit it off at the time. I called her a few days later and she even talked to me when she was sober… that must be true love! 🙂

    — Jim

    PS I’m with you on the romantic comedies – seems like the 90’s were the high point of all the good ones!

  15. Great story, Joe! I also met my wife in college. I was heading into my junior year and my wife was a freshman. We got set up on a blind date for one of her sorority dances, and we’ve been together ever since. That was 22 years ago now… crazy how time flies.

  16. My husband and I have been married 33 years. We usually skip most of the holiday scripts and find our own way to celebrate, but we both love Valentine’s day. Last year, someone in the FI community said that she and her husband both walk into a card store and each pick out a card, then the show it to the other, enjoy the sentiment, and return it to the shelf. I have to say that is a great idea because the cards are sometimes pretty good.

    Mrs. Groovy’s story can’t be topped, but I’ll say that we met on the weekend graveyard shift at the hospital. He worked the lab and I was an Xray Tech on the weekends to support my engineering school costs. We would have some free hours together in the wee of the night, only to have it interrupted by a crazy gunshooting incident in the ER. Oh the romance!

  17. No meet-cute here. A) because the marriage ended but b) because we met on Craigslist. I actually liked Crazy Rich Asians, but to each their own. You’re right, though, that I can’t think of a single recent rom-com. And that the meet-cute is (perhaps sadly) essential to the story. It seems like in a lot of romantic comedies, at least one of the people infuriates the other, which has a parallel to your story, of course. Luckily for you, just like in the movies, you both fell for each other and made it work.

  18. “I thought we could have pizza parties, hang out, and maybe meet some girls.”

    This made me laugh lol. I appreciate your honesty hehe. I ABSOLUTELY love this story! You had such a brilliant plan that served multiple purposes. The execution might not have gone perfectly, but the outcome is more than perfect!

    This story reminds me of those college days when I used to go to meetings just for the pizza. I’d also search “free pizza” in my Inbox to see what was up that day lol

  19. I agree, the rom-coms used to be better…. Hubby brought me chocolate covered strawberries (which I LOVE) for Valentine’s Day and we’re going to our favorite deli for lunch (You don’t have to spend a lot…).
    Our personal rom-com has taken place over a span of almost 50 years. We met in 7th grade band — he challenged my best friend for a higher seat in the flute section. He won it, sat down next to me, and I promptly hit him with my flute…. We liked each other almost immediately. We dated off and on through HS and college and then went our separate ways. 25 years later he decides to look me up. We were both divorced at the time and he had been given 3-4 months to live due to a liver problem. We met and we still really liked one another. During the “date” we talked about him getting a second opinion at the Cleveland Clinic. He did and they were able to correct the problem. That was 15 years ago and we’ve been married almost 8 years. Bliss.

  20. Hi Joe, a very good and sweet story. Happy Valentine’s Day! We celebrated yesterday, as we are busy today. I like this holiday. You don’t like to buy flowers? I enjoy giving and receiving flowers, ha ha. The movie in 2014 by Michel Douglas and Diane Keaton “And So It Goes” is pretty cool.

  21. LOL! At least you got the girl! Ha,ha. I wonder if you had offered up more Thai cuisine, then everyone and their brother would have shown up!
    Mrs. Groovy, your story is hilarious. You should submit it to Hollywood for a rom-com.
    I personally wish I was funnier. I also need to stay away from chocolate more often.

  22. Your meet-cute story is similar to mine. I also met Mr. 50 at a Thai student’s club meeting. He was the president at the time. It started there and is now 22 years….

    I totally agree with you that Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be expensive at all. And that if you wait a little longer, you can get chocolate for +50% cheaper. It’s good time to buy chocolate 🙂

    Happy 20th anniversary, Joe!

  23. I see a metaphor lurking in your story around the tea — i.e. sugar and sweet.

    We met during a final exam in grad school. Mr. Groovy missed his exam because he had to work a snowstorm (plowing the roads) and took his make-up test during my class — a different one with the same teacher. A mutual friend was in my class and the three of us went out to for a drink. A local labor union had an all-day Christmas (drinking) party at the bar I chose, and the biggest fight I’ve seen in my life (growing up in Brooklyn that’s saying a lot) broke out. Police cars, paddy-wagons dragging folks (women, too who were fighting) away, and people out cold in the street. Afterwards, my friend bowed out graciously because he noticed the sparks between us. I suggested another quieter bar, and a fight broke out there too.

  24. Seems like the club worked out very well for you.

    As an engineering school grad I can’t imagine even meeting a girl in college. (My school was 70 percent male at the time). It took another decade to meet my wife.

    Her boss brought her out to a happy hour to meet the newer employees at the large company site. Since they’d just started recovering from the recession that entire crew was like 6 people out of thousands. Also they stretched the definition to those who were there up to about a year. Anyway we hit it off and stayed at the bar talking long after the event ended. Two weeks later we started dating and here we are.

  25. When I met DH he was alone and depressed because he’d just asked a girl to a dance and been turned down. I made you’ll find someone someday noises and promptly forgot about him for a few months when I met him again at a party thrown by his roommate.

  26. What a great story. What was once started for free pizza got you so much more. That’s awesome how it all turned out and it really would be a good scene in a rom com movie.

    Well I hope Mrs RB40 was happy that she made that call all those years ago that initiated the chain of events

  27. Haha, this is such a Romcom Joe! I can just imagine this as an Asian Romcom.

    IMO, the percentage of women now is better, but I think we were still outnumbered by a multiple. I went back and looked up the numbers for undergrad for our school — 29% of the engineering dept was female, and 25% of CS was female. Then I looked at the % of females in our 1st CS course. It was 48%.

  28. WOW! 20 years is quite an accomplishment. Early congrats to you and Mrs.RB40 20th anniversary. That’s smart of you to start a club to meet girls. I was too shy to even walk out of my dorm!

    Valentine Day don’t have to expensive at all. We’re cooking ribeye steaks this year Valentine Day for only 25 dollars! Picked it up from Trader Joe’s! (lol) today and marinating for it tomorrow. We rather treat ourselves to a good dinner on special occasions than spend it on flowers and chocolates.

    • Thanks! I was very shy in high school, but I became more outgoing in college. Good times!
      Great job with having a nice Valentine’s Day at home. I think it’s very expensive to eat out now. Lots of restaurants have prix fixe menus on special days. Usually a 3 course meal for $40 each or something like that, pricey.


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