‘I just enjoy being with him. And he gets me.’
NIKKI PALMER & HENRY BURGER
Forget the third time: For Nikki Palmer, the fifth ring is the charm. The first came when she got pregnant during her sophomore year at Morgan State, but the engagement with her son’s father fizzled after 18 months. At 22, she married a man who felt more like a friend than a spouse; they divorced two years later.
In her late 20s, she dated an older man who wanted to marry, but when she took him to premarital counseling, she realized she wasn’t truly in love. A few years later, she was back in her pastor’s office, this time with a man who was about to move to Germany. ( They’d met at his going-away party three months earlier.)
Her pastor urged her to hold off. “He was like, ‘Hmm, Nik, we know you want to do the married thing and you keep trying, but, um, give it more time,’ ” she recalls. “So then I chilled out and said, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna do me.’ ”
So when Henry Burger asked for her phone number at a party in December 2007, she didn’t think much of it. He was attractive and she appreciated that he spent time talking to her son, but she also noticed that he’d attracted the attention of several other women that night.
Also, she was embracing her independence: She’d gotten a job doing IT work at a law firm, bought her own condo, and was applying for MBA programs.
Burger was enjoying the single life, too. Divorced, with two teenage daughters (who live on the West Coast with their mother), he’d been on his own for the better part of two decades. The mortgage broker hoped he’d eventually meet “ the right woman” and again become part of a family, but he wasn’t in a rush to settle down.
His connection with Palmer, however, was immediate. After a few lighthearted phone conversations, she agreed to lunch. They laughed easily over pizza at Busboys and Poets, and by the end of their first date, Burger was looking forward to a second. Soon they were spending most of their free time together; by Valentine’s Day, they were exclusive.
But things were far from perfect. Over the next year, Palmer grew to love Burger but thought that he wasn’t ready for a commitment.
“It was inconsistent,” she says. Things would be great for months at a time, but then “ he’d dip out for a week. And I’d be like, ‘Are you in this or not?’ ”
In early 2009, she called it off. They began dating other people but stayed in touch, talking regularly by phone about their kids and careers.
Last spring, they began meeting for dinners and movies. Palmer hesitated, telling him, “We’re getting too old for this — this back and forth.” She wanted the game to stop if the relationship was going to be tenuous.
But Burger said he could see himself marrying Palmer, and the couple began to talk about a 2012 wedding. By then, they’d both be done with graduate degrees they’d been pursuing and their children would be out of high school.
“I knew that if it was gonna be anyone, she’d be the one,” he says. “Plus, I’m not getting any younger.”
They imagined a life as happy emptynesters, traveling frequently and, perhaps, living abroad.
But in July, Palmer’s doctor told her she was pregnant.
“All I kept thinking was, ‘I'm 38! This wasn’t in the plan,’ ” she recalls.
Palmer worried about how Burger would react to the news. He was shocked at first but quickly became excited about the opportunity to raise a child with Palmer. They talked about the life they wanted for the baby, namely one with two parents under the same roof.
“We both agreed that we are going to be in this together,” she says. “We’re gonna give this one what we didn’t have growing up and what we didn’t give to our first set of kids.”
In October, Burger gave her an engagement ring. On New Year’s Day, they exchanged vows before 55 guests at the Cranford House on Embassy Row. Palmer, who was six months pregnant, said the difference this time is that she not only loves Burger, but likes him. “I just enjoy being with him,” she says. “And he gets me.”
After the wedding, Burger said he has come to think that in all relationships, 10 percent of the time is bliss and 10 percent is anguish, but it’s the other 80 percent that matters most.
“ That middle ground is where you have to find peace,” he says. “And I think we found that.”