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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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