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North Carolina beats Sweden in girlfriend race


Bob Garner


By Bob Garner

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Over 50 years ago, I had a Swedish girlfriend.

It never turned into anything long-term. But the fact that I met the Swedish girl before I met the girl I ended up marrying clearly introduced several complications into both relationships. And it has produced a tale that my wife Ruthie has never tired of telling during the five decades of our marriage.

Since we’ll celebrate our golden wedding anniversary in December, I guess it will bear telling once more.

Ruthie and I met at a UNC summer school session when a fraternity brother brought her over to my apartment to go swimming. He had asked her to find him a date from her dorm for the afternoon, and after she couldn’t find anyone, he asked her to suit up and come along.

We hit it off immediately. Because of the rich blue of her eyes, I remember asking her if she wore blue contact lenses to deepen the color. Despite the eyes, I was interested (I thought) strictly in casual dating.

She found out about the Swedish attachment practically right away because I was quite open about several recent months of working my way around Europe with my apartment-mate — which included several adventures with the Swede and one of her friends.

Ruthie and I went out several times that first summer, although not in any steady dating relationship. I immensely enjoyed hearing about her eastern North Carolina farm upbringing, dancing and listening to beach music, beer drinking, and watching her hunter-jumper horseback riding. Still, I thought of our spending time together basically as a friendship, whereas she was, frankly, more smitten romantically at the time than I was. (Boy, was that ever to change.)

Ruthie has a strong competitive streak, due to her proficiency at and love for sports. By the fall, when I began planning a two-week Christmas trip to see the Swedish girlfriend, the competitive juices started kicking in in terms of romance.

She had clearly decided she intended to win what amounted to a game or contest as far as I was concerned. (I had no chance from that point forward.) Determined to break the Swedish connection, Ruthie even sent me off on my trip back to Scandinavia with a good-humored magazine collage about the journey she had artfully assembled.

Although I cannot now imagine how I let things go on this way for so long, my Swedish friend made two trips to North Carolina to visit me during the next year. In between, I continued to go out with Ruthie, although as time went by, that relationship was nowhere near as casual as it had begun.

I had begun to realize that I shared very few actual interests with my European friend and that for both of us, a good bit of our “sparkle” still extended from an extremely romantic first meeting in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and from an equally beguiling couple of days in New York city.

Not a strong marriage foundation.

I had also become equally convinced that Ruthie was the one I loved and wanted and to feel like I was speeding along the wrong highway, desperately looking for an exit that would lead me back to the right course.

The bottom line is that Ruthie and I became engaged very shortly after the Swedish girl went back home for the second time. I later learned she was happily married in her native Sweden.

Ruthie, though, didn’t marry me until she went on her own college graduation trip to Europe.

To sort of – you know – pay me back.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com.

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