A mismatch made in heaven: the author with his wife, Katie
There are two things you ought to know about me. First, I’m an outdoorsman. I’m most at ease hanging out in the mountains of Alaska and eating things that died at my hands. I had always assumed I’d marry a woman who was, too. Which brings me to the second thing. I recently married a New York City publicist named Katie, who is the last woman on earth you’d find with a rifle slung over her shoulder. Sometimes, like when I’m picking up our dry cleaning or cooking gnocchi in our Brooklyn apartment, I feel awfully surprised by the whole thing. It puts me in the mood to try to explain how everything went so right.
My story begins in my teens. I had a neighbor, Scott, who was the suavest guy in my town. He drank Scotch, wore silk robes and hosted elaborate parties. His wife, Linda, was his perfect complement. She was seductive and impeccably dressed, and loved makeup the way most of us love atmospheric oxygen.
One afternoon Scott gave me a T-shirt imprinted with a personal ad of a guy looking for love. The requirements were that the woman had to like to fish and own a boat. The punch line: “Please send picture of boat.” I figured that Scott was conveying to me his lesson about mate selection: “I’m a refined man, so I found a refined wife who suits the part; you’re an outdoorsman, and you’d be wise to do the same.”
From then on I had a vision of who my future wife should be. She would shear sheep and jump for joy when I brought home dinner for her to skin. We’d name our kids after great woodsmen: Crockett and Bowie (for Jim Bowie, who made famous the Bowie knife).
But instead of waiting for my Annie Oakley to come along, I instead tried to persuade the women I dated to change their lifestyles to suit my own. My first victim, Kristin (let’s call her that so her friends won’t know what an a—hole she dated) wore fishnets and loved punk rock. We were so wrong for each other.
The day of our first kiss, I nearly lost her in a creek. I had taken her fishing, given her pretty bad instructions about how to put on chest waders and then watched her sink like a can of beer. Poor girl. All she was really looking for was someone to share a pack of clove cigarettes with, but she wound up with an unwanted lesson in wilderness survival.
Things went on like this for a while. Every time I met a girl, I’d charm her with talk about the magic of a deer moving across fresh snow, or the unique joy of waking up to the sound of howling coyotes. Before long she’d tell me she, too, loved those things. Or that she at least wanted to love them, just as soon as I introduced her to them. My photo albums from those years look like Cabela’s catalogs full of women holding wet fish and wearing uncertain smiles.
After college, I moved to Montana to study writing. I chose the school largely because of a group of female rafting guides I’d met when I visited. Their legs were plastered with bug bites and scrapes. I felt like a conquistador who had stumbled upon the Seven Cities of Gold. I knew my future bride was wandering those streets.
I did meet outdoorsy women in Montana, and each one was more trouble than the last. One particularly wild girlfriend threatened me with her shotgun. Then she really broke my heart by giving away my secret hunting spot. My luck with women was so bad (and my ability to see my part in it so nonexistent) that I hatched a plan to move out to my remote Alaskan cabin, order a bride from a fishing village in Siberia and call it a lifetime.
That’s when fate stepped in. I sold my first book, which was about my experiences hunting and fishing, and went to New York City to meet my editor for drinks. She brought along her company’s new director of publicity, Katie Finch. While Katie claims to have had only one thought about me—that I was too brusque for TV—I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She wasn’t my type (her heels would have gotten her laughed out of Alaska), but she was intriguing. Her cheekbones reminded me of Cate Blanchett, and she processed everything I said with the caution of a CIA interrogator. I’d never met anyone like her.
For the next year, most of my professional dealings went through Katie. I’d call her while picking cactus spines out of my knees, and she’d be sunning herself in the Hamptons. There was a time when I would have found her lifestyle silly (who wastes time tanning when there are fish to catch?), but she was so confident in her choices that I couldn’t knock them.
It occurred to me that I was falling for Katie only when I started trying to talk myself out of it. She didn’t represent the things that I wanted from life. She lived in New York, for God’s sake—a place I’d reserved for punch lines and business trips. The only way to solve the problem, I figured, was to get her on my turf so we could see that we were incompatible and then I could get over my crush.
I asked Katie out via satellite phone from Alaska. When she said yes, it surprised me so much that the phone might as well have licked my ear. I told her that I’d take her anywhere and, as an example of my extravagance, suggested my cabin. The next thing I knew, I was buying a plane ticket to Los Angeles.
Katie was willing to give me a shot, but she felt no need to pretend she wanted to be swept into my world. If I wanted to see her, I was going to have to compromise—and compromise meant California. We spent four days cruising along the coast, doing things no self-respecting outdoorsman should ever do (excluding a trip to check out skeletons of mammoths). We poked around boutiques, gawked at mansions and took a cruise on a tourist boat. And here’s the weirdest part: I had the time of my life.
There was a force behind Katie’s opinions that made her unable to be steamrolled by me. She refused to drive but would sit with the map in her lap telling me where to go. She declared my CDs boring and popped them out of the deck. And when we crawled into bed at night, she didn’t bother with apologies when she told me what was and what wasn’t going to happen in there. Being with her allowed me to stop focusing exclusively on what I wanted—and forced me to stop being so damn selfish. It was a great feeling, like someone had opened up the curtains and let the light in.
I returned home stunned, like a dairy farmer who has learned that he is lactose intolerant. My world was flipped. I didn’t quite know what was going on, but I knew I wanted more of what I’d just had. I wanted Katie. I told a buddy I was certain that I was going to marry her. He bet me a hundred bucks that the feeling would pass.
Katie and I moved in together on our second date. This wasn’t on purpose. I just flew to New York and then couldn’t stand to leave. It was thrilling. She dragged me all over the city and immersed me in the perverse pleasures of midnight dinners, $20 drinks and belligerent cabbies. She took me to meet her parents. I fussed like a child when we bought a suit for the occasion, but then I took pride in having my own garment bag in the closet. She moaned about the cold in Alaska, but then came to my cabin anyway. She laughed at my best hunting stories and kissed me goodbye every time I’d retreat back to the woods. Katie wasn’t asking me to change; she was just asking me to expand my definition of who I was. And the best part: If I’d do it for her, she’d do it for me, too.
Our romance wasn’t without its growing pains. One night, after a stupid fight, I made a big show of storming out to the corner bar. When I stumbled home, she let me know that if I ever walked out again, I wouldn’t be welcome back. I hadn’t felt that small since I got called to the principal’s office in the fifth grade, but it showed me an important thing about Katie, and about relationships. We men and women like to play strange games with the people we date. We always tell them how easy they will have it with us. Everybody’s “open-minded” and “not a jealous person.” Then things fall apart. Katie lived outside of that charade. Being with her would be tough but worth it, because she was willing to keep the same promises she asked me to make.
I asked Katie to marry me on a nothing-special night in March. We had just returned to our apartment after a night out at a birthday party where we’d been eating Mexican food and drinking. We were tipsy, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the diamond ring I had tucked away in our desk. I’d been trying to plan something special for the proposal, but everything I came up with felt cheesy, so I just went for it. Sixteen months later, just a few days before our wedding in Michigan, I got an envelope in the mail from my old Alaskan friend. In it was nothing but a crisp $100 bill. It was the best bet I ever made.
We went to the Seychelles for our honeymoon. Katie knew it as a remote island paradise; I knew it for its fly-fishing. The irony of our timing—we went during the windy season, when fishing is nearly impossible—wasn’t lost on us. Instead, we explored the islands on bicycles, ate too much Creole food and had a generally beautiful time.
Halfway through our trip we spent a day on a secluded, palm-rimmed beach. We had the place to ourselves. Katie took off her top and stretched out in the sand. I lay next to her and put my arm across her waist. I felt good. It wasn’t just that I was lying next to a woman who knows what she wants—a lot of people know that. It was that I was lying next to a woman who actually had the bullheadedness to get it. Rather than it making me feel threatened, it made me feel secure.
Katie dozed off, and the wind died down. I was toting a collapsible fishing rod, and I walked over to the rocks. Right away I hooked a fish and reeled it in, excited as hell. I looked toward Katie and saw that she was awake and watching me. I yelled for her to hurry and come over. She waved at me and smiled. “You go ahead,” she said. “I’ll be right here.”
Steven Rinella’s latest book is American Buffalo*, a nonfiction account of hunting.*