My husband and I became engaged 18 years ago today, so I thought it would be fun to revisit the story of our meeting, courtship, and engagement — all of which came about due to to the Harry Potter books.
Our story started in summer of 2000. I was a 19 years old and a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, WY. Classes were over for the semester, but I was still on campus because I was taking a summer class at the suggestion of one of my professors (Spanish 2030).
One day, I was in a campus computer lab, ostensibly doing homework but actually reading the latest rumors about the fourth Harry Potter book. I’d read the first book during Christmas break at the urging of my mother and my aunt Sheri; I’d been immediately hooked and had ordered the second and third from Amazon in February. By summer, I’d reread all three books a million times, was eagerly awaiting the fourth, and was a certified Harry Potter addict.
While looking for Harry Potter webpages on Yahoo! (remember, this was before the heyday of Facebook and forum-based message boards), I discovered that there were five or six Harry Potter “Yahoo! Web clubs” – forums where members conversed by posting messages at a common webpage. It was sort of like a message board, but more of a thread format.
I noticed one called “Harry Potter for Grown-Ups,” and it immediately piqued my interest. I’d wanted to join a Harry Potter web club or mailing list, but I’d been afraid that I’d wind up in the middle of a bunch of eleven-year-olds whose posts looked something like, “i lik hagrd becawse hes kewl.” I was looking for conversation that was a bit more up to my level. So, I clicked on the link and started reading a few posts. I was delighted — adults, having thoughtful, mature discussions about Harry Potter! So, I signed up and began reading and posting messages regularly.
On this particular day near the end of June 2000, there was group discussion about why grown-ups enjoyed Harry Potter. One person thought it might be because we all wanted to revisit our childhoods, which sparked another conversation. (By the way, the entire record of this conversation is archived at the Harry Potter for Grown-Ups website, so feel free to go and look! You can search for messages by number, which is why I’ve provided them; I think their archives go back to 2000 and beyond.)
One member posted a message saying that she would only go back to her childhood if she could go back knowing what she knows now. I replied to her message in total agreement. My message was as follows:
Message 2949: My biggest problems in adolescence were worrying about how popular I was and how fat I was. If I could go back, I’d say to hell with society’s conventions and really *live* my life without worrying about being popular or thin. I thought that because I wasn’t thin, I wasn’t worth anything — thankfully, I now know that life is NOT a dress size, and I’m perfectly happy being a size 14. [Oh, to be a size 14 again…] I’m having the time of my life at college, and I have many wonderful friends who like me for ME, and not for what size I wear.
Soon, there was a reply to my post — a person by the ID of Jarnor23 (a.k.a. Collin Wahlund). His reply was as follows:
Message 2963: Oh, I’m in complete agreement about that. Waaay too many women are given this totally unrealistic idea about what a woman should look like. Personally, those uberthin women do NOT attract me. I know it might sound odd, but I actually prefer women who look like real women. There can even be something about a “flaw” that I find charming if the woman has a really beautiful personality that actually makes me feel the beauty of the woman is enhanced. And as much as the media would also like to make you think all men are steriotypical [sic] pigs who just want their supermodels, I’ll bet you’ll find a lot of guys who agree with this. Maybe not all, but then again, I’ve met some pretty superficial and shallow women too. 😉
Naturally, this reply astonished me. A man who didn’t like the look of supermodels, and who thought supermodels were too thin? Was he for real? The mischievous streak in me surfaced, and I replied with the following message:
Message 3019: Will you marry me? *grin*
I kid you not – that was my reply. Of course, at the time I was being facetious. However, Collin replied with:
Message 3064: Geez, I’ve never had a proposal before… er, how about a definite maybe? 🙂
I replied to that message with:
Message 3079: Sounds like a plan to me! 🙂
That, I thought, was the end of it. The next day, I traveled back to North Dakota, as my summer class had ended and I planned to spend the rest of the summer in my hometown. However, when I checked the board again I found his reply:
Message 3100: Sounds good by here too! So… maybe you might check your Yahoo mail for a little letter sent by electronic owl, and maybe I’ll get a response back? 🙂
I checked my e-mail, and sure enough, there was a message from Collin! After I replied, I posted the following response:
Message 3181: I just sent an e-owl in reply! 🙂 I think we’d better stick to owl post rather than this board for individual messages, because I think some people might be getting annoyed at us. 🙂 Thanks for the letter!
After that, our correspondence continued via e-mail. For a solid week, we wrote long e-mails back and forth. We talked about everything — Harry Potter, our hobbies, our likes and dislikes, etc. As it turned out, Collin had grown up in the same area I had (he’d lived in Valley City, Jamestown, and Fargo, ND, but was currently residing in Minneapolis, MN). We’d grown up about 40 miles away from one another, but hadn’t “met” until we were living 850 miles apart! (Later, at our wedding, we discovered that my stepfather and his grandfather had known each other for many years, but neither of them made the connection until that day.)
During one of my e-mails I mentioned that I really wanted to go to the “Harry Potter Release Party” that the Fargo, ND Barnes & Noble was having to celebrate the release of the fourth book, but I didn’t have anyone to go with and I really didn’t want to go alone. Collin surprised me by writing back and suggesting that we go together. I couldn’t believe he was willing to drive four hours one way just to go to a Harry Potter party with me, but he insisted that it wasn’t a problem. So, I said yes. We agreed to meet beforehand and go to a movie, then to the party, since the book wasn’t being released until midnight and the party itself didn’t start until 10pm or so.The day we were to meet was July 7, 2000. I spent that day in Detroit Lakes with my best friend, Abbi (who was later my maid of honor), and confided in her that I had a date, and I was going to meet a guy that I’d met over the Internet. She was worried (online dating wasn’t really a thing back then, and was in fact something of an oddity), but I assured her that we’d been talking for weeks, and he didn’t sound like an axe murderer. Besides, I was going to meet him in a well-lit public place with plenty of people around (which is an excellent rule of thumb for meeting anyone from the Internet, by the way).
Later that evening, I drove back to Fargo and over to the mall movie theater. He and I had already exchanged pictures in prior e-mails, so I recognized him immediately. I’m not sure if it was love at first sight, but it was definitely “like” at first sight! He gave me a hug, and it felt very natural and very right. While we were standing in line to get our tickets (we saw the movie “Chicken Run,” and it was great!) he turned to me, quite suddenly, and said, “My God, you’re beautiful.”
I think I blushed and stammered something incredibly articulate like, “Oh, um, thank you.” It was the tone, not the words, that had stunned me -– he sounded so incredibly awed and sincere.
After the movie, we went to the party at Barnes & Noble. We had a lot of fun — and we talked, and talked, and talked, and talked some more. We talked so much that we ended up sitting in his car in the parking lot until 2am! (Okay, maybe we did a little more than talking… but not much more.)
I remember thinking, as I was driving home, that I had just met the man I was going to marry.
After that, we saw each other every single weekend. During one of our weekends, I accompanied him to his grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary party. We’d been officially dating for about a month at that point, and I was very nervous to be meeting all of his relatives — parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts & uncles, and cousins — in one fell swoop.
I was especially nervous because Collin had confided in me that he’d been getting some ribbing due to our age difference — I was 19, he was 25. However, the weekend went very well, and by the end of it his grandmother had asked me to call her Grandma (something, according to Collin, she’d never asked any other girlfriend of his to do), and his aunts were giving me wedding planning tips. (Never mind that we weren’t yet engaged…)
It’s a good thing gas prices were pretty low back then, as he was driving 470 miles, round-trip, every weekend to see me until it was time for me to go back to Laramie. I found myself reluctant to go back – it was so far away from him! I loved the University of Wyoming, but I didn’t want to be 900 miles away from Collin.
However, via LOTS of phone calls and e-mails, and even a visit from Collin a few weeks into the semester, our love continued to flourish and grow. During our conversations, marriage had come up several times, but he’d said that his finances wouldn’t allow him to purchase a ring for some time, so I accepted that it would be a while before we could get officially engaged.
After the semester ended, I flew to Minneapolis to spend a week with Collin before going home to North Dakota for Christmas. Among other things, we planned to go and see the Harry Potter exhibit at Dayton’s in downtown Minneapolis. (The original building is still there, but it changed to Marshall Fields, and now I think it’s Macy’s?) Collin had already attended the exhibition with his aunt Cheryl and her family, and he had told me that I had to go see it. We decided to go the day after I arrived — Sunday, December 17, 2000.
There was almost no line for the exhibit, which delighted me. Collin was surprised but didn’t seem particularly happy about the short wait. I wondered why, but unbeknownst to me he was incredibly nervous and wanted to spend the time waiting in line to calm his nerves.
We went through the exhibit, talking the entire time, and at the end I sighed and said, “Wow, that was fantastic!”
Collin said, “It’s not over yet.”
I looked around, confused, because I didn’t see anything else. Collin, however, handed me his program and said, “I don’t think it’s in your program.”
I looked at his program. He’d taped a little sheet of paper to the end that said, “In the last scene, Collin asks JoAnna to be his wife.” He’d even matched the color and font of the program.
When I looked up from reading his addition to the program, I had to look back down, because he was on one knee with a ring box in his hand, saying — something. My mind was frozen! All I could think was, “A ring! He has a ring?? He has a ring!!” (It turned out he’d borrowed the money for a ring from his aunt Cheryl, and she had helped him pick it out. She did a great job, as it was exactly the kind of ring I loved — small, simple, classic.)
Suddenly, it occurred to my still-frozen mind he was waiting for me to say something! I blurted, “Yes, yes, of course! Yes!” and gave him a hug.
The rest, to use a cliche, is history. We called all of our friends and family that night and broke the happy news. Everyone was very happy for us (although I doubt my mother will ever get over the shock!). We went over to his aunt Cheryl’s house to celebrate by playing a game of Harry Potter trivia. I, of course, kicked butt. (The winning question? “What was the spell that Ron’s twin brothers gave him to try on Scabbers?” The answer: “Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow; turn this stupid, fat rat yellow.”)
Collin and I were married on September 1st, 2001 (the day that Harry Potter usually returns to Hogwarts via the Hogwarts Express — which, geekily enough, was partially the reason that we picked that date, since July 31st wasn’t a Saturday), at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in my hometown in North Dakota.
We’re still very much in love and very happily married, the proud parents of six children on earth and four in heaven, and we still love Harry Potter.