How I Met Your Father

When people ask how Eric and I met, the short answer is, “In college.” But there’s a bit more to it, and though we’ve each told the story dozens of times over the years, we’ve never written it down. Now seems a serendipitous time to do so. On 27 August 2018 Eric and I celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary, and since we were a couple for three years before that, this marks 50 years together.

So here, for the sake of the grandchildren we have yet to welcome—Are you listening, Dane and Gray?—is the tale of the fateful night we stepped into each other’s lives.

How I Met Your Father – by Arliss

When I headed off to college at the University of Michigan in late August 1968, there was a single word singing in my head and my heart.

Freedom!

I wanted to raise my arms and shout it from the rooftops. I wanted to shimmy and dance for joy. I had turned eighteen the month before, and though my parents were no more restrictive than responsible parents should be, what red-blooded young person doesn’t rejoice at this first opportunity to be out on their own? Especially on a college campus of 30,000 students, half of them being smart, eligible men. Though I had dated a random number of boys in high school and briefly went steady with two, the last cad had dumped me that spring. Thank goodness! The thought that I might have ended up with any of them makes me shudder.

Instead, I was proverbially footloose and fancy free and ready to take the male population of U of M by storm. I was going to date far and wide, no commitments, no strings. No one was going to tie me down. My best friend from high school, Lynn Borset, had also been accepted at U of M, and we were sharing a dorm room in one of the larger residences, Markley Hall. The tan brick building consisted of two outer wings, each six stories high, one for boys, one for girls. The wings were connected in the middle by a two-story concourse that contained the cafeteria, study halls, a snack bar, lounge and other common areas. Picture a giant letter H, lying flat on the ground, and that’s the configuration of Markley Hall.

Lynn and I were housed on the second floor of the girls’ wing with our window facing across the courtyard to the boys’ side. We had barely moved in when, in a sixth-floor window on the boy’s side, a message appeared. CALL 27855 it commanded, each letter and digit writ large and bold on a separate piece of typing paper and taped to the pane. We laughed but ignored it. Those first days were nonstop, dashing across campus to widespread classrooms, sizing up our professors and teaching assistants, facing an onslaught of reading and homework, adjusting to dorm rules and cafeteria lines. When we finally stopped for breath, near midnight at the end of the week, we were far too wired to sleep.

“I’m going to call those boys,” Lynn said, indicating the light in their window.

“No, you’re not,” I countered. “We have no idea who they are. Besides, anyone who would put up their number like that must be ugly, horny and hard up.”

“Well, I don’t have anything else to do, and I’m going to call.”

“All right,” I said. “But I’m not talking to them. This is all on your head.”

How I Met Your Mother – by Eric 

The year 1968 was my sophomore year at U of M and my second in residence at Markley Hall. During freshman year I had lived across the hall in a room overlooking the street. My roommate was Jay Cassidy, now an Oscar-winning film editor. Not having dated much in high school, I had vowed to play the field that first year, and indeed I did. When I checked into the dorm, I made a point of going over to the women’s side and sat down at the table with the Resident Advisors (RAs) as they registered the names of all the young women arriving at Markley and gave them their room assignments. Shoulder to shoulder with the RAs, I sized up the ladies who caught my fancy and noted their room numbers. I used this to advantage and dated more than twenty women throughout the year. Just one or two dates each, though. I needed the experience.

At the end of freshman year, Jay was off to new accommodations with other friends, and my dorm neighbor, Larry Cairns, was losing his roommate as well. His room faced the courtyard, giving us a complete view of six floors of ladies’ residences. We hit upon the brilliant plan of enticing them to call us—a case of passive research—and took notes as the calls came in, not a flood, but not dribs and drabs either. At least we got the names of those ladies who were brave enough to phone. Pretty soon we had a map of the rooms on the other side of the building with the names of the ladies in many of them. We also had binoculars, though to our great disappointment, trying to scope out girls at a distance behind glass panes yielded only fuzzy results.  

So one night, I think it was Sunday, 25 August, everyone was feeling pretty loose at the end of the weekend, and Larry and I invited some friends for a bit of a party in our room. Besides Larry and me, I remember Paul Kunz, Al Cohen, and I believe Rick Eugster and Olof Hakkenstadt, all sophomores. There may have been a few more. Then the phone rang. It was a girl named Lynn Borset, and we men took turns talking to her. Sometime later her roommate Arliss came on the line. Back and forth, we all talked, joked and boasted until nearly two a.m. I’m not sure how any of us made it to class the next morning.

Ultimately, the bunch of us arranged to meet Lynn and Arliss for dinner in the dining hall on Tuesday, 27 August. After playing the freshman field, I no longer had an to urge to date around, and I was smitten by Arliss right away. She was pretty, and smart. Mostly, she was pretty.

But then Paul dropped a hint that he was taken with her, too, and I knew I had to move fast. I immediately intrigued to meet up with her as often as possible, nonchalantly appearing in the cafeteria or study hall just as she did, hanging out by the mailboxes until she walked past. I don’t remember the first time I asked her out or where we went. I only know that I fouled her plans to date as many men as possible. It pays to advertise!

How I Met Your Father – by Arliss

Binoculars? They were spying on the girls with binoculars and formulating a map? Eric didn’t confess this until much later, and it’s probably just as well. I’m still not sure why I finally got on the phone that night, except that as long as Lynn kept laughing and talking with the boys, I wasn’t going to get any sleep. With six unknown male voices rotating on the phone, there was also no hope of remembering which of them said what. But it was a fun conversation, so dinner in the dining hall was on. Eric turned out to be quite good looking. Time to launch my dating campaign! And it was adorable how he kept finagling to meet me, not behaving at all like the sly Lothario I had presumed him and his buddies to be.

I can’t recall anything about our first date either. I only know that falling in love was easy. We simply got along from the start. Three years later, on 27 August 1971, we married, each of us with a semester in college to go. We moved into an efficiency apartment in married student housing. It didn’t even have a bedroom, just a pull-out couch on which we slept. We graduated in December and set out on our adventures, and fifty years later, here we are. I am eternally grateful to my dear friend Lynn for making that telephone call.

I never dated anyone else at U of M. Your loss, boys!

Eric and me in my dorm room at Markley Hall