‘I just en­joy be­ing with him. And he gets me.’

The Washington Post Sunday - - ON LOVE - mc­carthye@wash­post.com

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.”

MARK GAIL/THE WASHINGTON POST

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