The unedited version (SO MUCH BETTER) of my feature article on local romance

A Different Kind of Love

Who says love is dead?

I used to.

I used to live downtown.

Facebook, Text, Twitter.

People out to dinner never speaking one word to each other. They talk briefly to the waiter, which might be the conversational highlight of the evening, and then out comes the smartphone.

 That’s why I went out on a mission to prove that love and romance still exists.

While on assignment I got to meet a lot of interesting people, revisit favorite spots in our community, and, on the sound advice of some of our interviewees, take in some of their favorites as well.

The best thing about the interview process, for me, was being able to pick the brains of a variety of people, hear a new love story or two, and learn about their particulars when it comes to love and romance in the 85086.

I am what you might call a semi-newlywed. My wife and I joined in holy matrimony on April 16, 2011. We’re still figuring a bunch of stuff out. It has been refreshing to learn from seasoned veterans in the marriage game, like Jon and Heather Gardikis, husband and wife real estate team from Desert Hills. Their romance is the American dream: high school sweethearts who have been married for 19 years and have 3.5 children together (number four is still in the oven).  Hearing how they met and fell in love gives me a fresh perspective on my own marriage, and hearing them discuss their resolve to continue dating no matter how many kids or years pile up, gives me a great deal of insight for the future.

“What’s your idea of the perfect date?” I asked them over breakfast at the Taramonto Denny’s.

“Last night,” Jon said, “we went out to Olive Garden without the kids and then had a cup of coffee. It was great to do normal stuff, just the two of us.” Aside from having one on the way, they also have a ten-month-old, so traveling the French countryside is not really an option.

Vanessa and I have a one- and two-year old, so I also think that is pretty much the perfect date. In premarital counselling, and again in parenting classes we took, the pastor drummed it into our head: the importance of constantly dating your spouse. “A healthy marriage,” he said, “is the most important part of being healthy parents.”

Obviously, there are exceptions: my parents were never in the same room, and I turned out super awesome. At least I think is what my therapist means when every time I sit down with him he says, “This is going to be awesome!”

“What about a date idea that is unique to our area?”

“They run hot-air balloons from the Deer Valley Airport over to Desert Hills. Now talk about a cool idea for a date!”

He’s right. I can’t think of anything more serene and beautiful than to pop a cork on some Cold Duck and toast your date from the height of the clouds. I have not done a balloon ride as of the yet, but it’s now on my short list along with a trip to Italy from which I may never return, and attending an Empire Strikes Back themed wedding where I get to dress like Han Solo.

“How is dating and romance different in this neck of the woods, Heather?”

“More laid back, for sure. The people in the city get all dressed up and go to crowded places, and that’s fine sometimes, but here, and for us, it’s more about spending time with the person. We don’t necessarily need to be in a busy, loud place to have a date.”

More than anything, Jon and Heather touched on the theme of why I moved here, from Downtown Phoenix… peaceful, serene, calm, and relaxed.

“We live in a place where you can actually see the stars at night.” Heather added.

I also got to talk to Couple B, who have been dating for some time. They asked to be referred to as Will and Donna (fake names) because they live by me in Taramonto, and are no doubt concerned that I will say something stupid, as I am known to do.

“Hey, I’m doing an article on dating and romance in our area, and I wanted to get some perspective from someone who’s lived here longer.”

“The Buffalo Chip on Friday night. That’s where you should go. All the girls are decked out in boots and tight jeans, trying to catch a cowboy.” said Will.

“That sounds promising.”

“Then Harold’s on Saturday. That’s where you’ll find your older couples and middle aged singles.” Donna added.

“Define older.”

“Our age.”


“I know.”

I didn’t have a lot of success finding people to talk to at Buffalo Chip, because I wore Nike Shoes and a grey pullover—I had left my belt buckle and boots on my other horse. Instead of talking to people there, I watched. The guys all pouring out the machismo, the girls done up like caricatures of Sadie Hawkins, everyone dancing and drinking and having a blast, it’s all very interesting to me. Not to mention, it’s not every day you get to show off your strength and virility to a young woman by riding a live bull. Even if I had brought a hat, and buckle, I surely would’ve failed this test.

I think that guy in Nike’s is paralyzed, they’d say.

All in all, the experience was fun, but didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know: being single can be rough and sometimes you land on your head.

Though I didn’t date my wife long before I popped the question (I was sure she would realize she could do better if I didn’t act fast, and then throw me on my head), I do remember the single life (somewhat) and all the joy and pain involved. I was humbled and reminded that, though it feels like a lifetime ago, it hasn’t been all that long since I was blogging about rejection, or horrible dates with women who should’ve been medicated, or perhaps were overly so. And even one woman, who longtime friends and readers will recall as “Salad Girl”, that tossed a giant serving of Caesar salad I had just prepared, all over my windshield and drove away in a huff.

You see, it was her salad bowl, and when I made her mad enough to leave, I told her to take the salad so she had no excuse to revisit my home.

She declined. I persisted.

Anchovy Honda.

Ahh, the good old days.

We do it anyways, because  the juice is worth the squeeze.

I started to remember that electrified feeling when you see her from across the room and decide—I am going to go talk to a total stranger who could be a nutcase, but sure is pretty.

Then the miracle happens. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes they aren’t nutcases, and sometimes they have more than just sparkling eyes. And sometimes they don’t already have a boyfriend and are currently interviewing for the position.

Trifecta—now what do you do?

Our species depends on us taking risks and successfully dating, but I have forgotten what it’s all about.

Do I open her door, or is that passé?

I didn’t open the door, is she mad about that?

Is it wrong to assume she will take my name in the marriage?

Should I take hers?

What is her last name anyway?

“Hi, I’m Michael, nice to meet you.”

Why am I so sweaty?


That was the case with Vanessa and me.

I saw her from across the dance floor at a rock and roll show. I made my buddy go stand close to her so that when I said something cute or funny, or loud enough, she would look over and I could say something memorable.

It just so happened that she was my trifecta.

I didn’t offer to make her a Caesar salad until the third date.

That’s what I had forgotten: How do you date a stranger? Luckily, I did find a few single folks to sit down and remind me what it’s like to be out on the prowl, honing your romance skills on a regular basis. While I consider myself extremely romantic for the three-day period surrounding Valentine’s Day and my Anniversary, I thought I should probably talk less than normal and take it all in from some more experienced romancers.

Brooke Lawrence, of Cave Creek, is a driven and successful businessperson working in sales with a background in finance. She gave me the best advice out of all the singles with whom I spoke.

 “Find out what you like to do, do things you enjoy, find success, and capitalize on that. For example, I like to travel and I’ll travel whether I have someone to travel with or not. I’ll go by myself, because I am not going to sacrifice the things I love to do just because I don’t have a partner to do them with.”

“Any thoughts on romance in general?”

“Be vulnerable,”

One profound word summed our interview.

So, in this sense, her vulnerability is that she is willing to be single longer, and risk rejection, rather than mask who she is and what she loves. This is a valuable lesson. I can’t tell you how many times I have found someone to be a totally different person, after a few dates have gone by.

“Do you want to go hiking today?”

“Listen, I went hiking with you before because I like you and wanted to show interest in things you liked, but I hate hiking.”

That happened to me. She might as well have told me she hated writers who watched Sci-fi in their pajamas.

Just be honest upfront and I won’t bother inviting you to a Star Wars sleepover birthday. OK?


I asked Brooke what she is looking for in a future partner. Nerdy writer wasn’t on her list. Neither was paralyzed bull-rider.

“He needs to be educated, funny, and a good conversationalist. We need at least a few common interests, but he needs to be independent, as well. I don’t want to spend all of my time with, and do all of the same things as, my boyfriend.”

“How about a perfect date?

“There is a little place called The Village Coffee Shop. It’s perfect for talking and hanging out on the patio at breakfast.”

“Breakfast date?”

“A first date should have good lighting,” she noted.

“Well, you’re not going to meet a guy at a coffee shop. Where do you go when you want to search for a guy, or just have a good time?”

“Harold’s or Buffalo Chip. They have loud music (sometimes live), cheap drinks, and the guys in the area are more down to earth, easier to talk to.”

Next, I spoke with Joe Wisniewski, divorcee and personal-trainer, from Anthem.

“We’re above the smog-line up here; there is a ton of great hiking. I belong to a hiking club at the community center, a great place to meet people.”

“Your idea of a perfect date?”

“Not formal. Someplace where your eyes can meet and you can hear each other; no big crowds.”

“How are the women different here?”

“More approachable.”

He and I spoke for a long while about the do’s and don’ts of dating. He reinforced much of which has already been mentioned in this article: Be vulnerable, be honest upfront, and stay away from the busy scene if you are trying to find someone.

The type of folk wholive here are the more down to earth people. We chose to live in a place where we can feel comfortable and we like the serenity and romance of a more secluded setting. This part of Arizona is romance. I moved here because I wanted to find a place I could fall in love with Arizona, again. I went as far north as I could go and still get cell phone service, and found a place I think is pretty special.

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