LOVE QUEST: The Professor from West Virginia Meets the Blind Buddhist from Boulder
“I wasn’t actually on a search for love,” Linda Tate says, easing into the rhythm of a storyteller who knows this one by heart.
“I’d just bought my dream home, I’d been promoted to full professor, I won the West Virginia Professor of the Year award the year before. I was 45, achieving. I had a lovely dog named Abbie that I’d rescued from the pound.
“Then on a cab ride one day, I got into an intense conversation with the driver, who was a Greek immigrant. He told me about how he’d found his wife in a language class decades ago, and about their kids, and what a beautiful life he had.
“Then he said, ‘What about you?’
“Oh, I have a rich and very full life,” Linda said, honestly.
“You sound like such an interesting person…you don’t have a mate?” the driver asked.
“Oh, I have a very full life,” Linda said, again. “I’m very happy. I don’t need a mate.”
He caught Linda’s eye in the mirror and said, “You’ve been hurt.”
That got her attention. Then the driver said, “Try. Try again.”
“That rumbled around in my brain and in my heart for awhile,” Linda says. “And he was right on the money.”
Linda’s light blue eyes rarely leave yours as you ask your questions, and when she’s sure you’ve finished, she leans in, acknowledging you with a “Yes!” or “Ah!”
A writer and academic, Linda had spent most of her adult life in a West Virginia college town, where she says the dating pool was pretty small.
“Every once in a while, I looked at a website called Concerned Singles. It was for lefty, aging, academic singles, so it was my people,” she says, her laugh coming quick and full. “It reminded me there were interesting people in the world.” She was especially intrigued by a man who sometimes posted from Colorado, using the name ‘Blind Buddhist from Boulder.’
A couple weeks after the cab driver told Linda to try again, she thought what the heck, and sent off an ad.
In Colorado, meanwhile, Jim Rebman, a home-based engineer with a closet full of sweatpants and a love of literature, had been running an ad on Concerned Singles for about a year. He’d met a lot of nice women, but nothing had clicked, and he thought, “I’ll look one more time, and if I don’t see anything interesting, I’ll cancel my membership.”
Jim saw Linda’s ad the next day, and sent off a quick response. He said, “I know nothing will come of this, given the distance between us, but I just wanted to say that yours was the best-written ad I’ve ever come across, and I wanted to wish you luck on your journey.”
He signed off with a copy his own ad--the one in which he called himself the “Blind Buddhist from Boulder.”
Linda was too nervous to talk to Jim before they met in person, so they emailed for weeks leading up to it. (“I don’t do good phone,” Linda says. “You can’t see the person, can’t read context, can’t read body language, and you’re just talking on the phone to a stranger?” Does she get the irony in that? She does.)
Jim said at one point, “You know, I understand you’re nervous to talk on the phone. But you have to understand that for a blind man, hearing your voice is like seeing your picture.” So Linda recorded herself telling a story about her grandparents and sent that off to him, so he could hear her voice.
“He told me that was the nicest thing anyone had done for him,” Linda says, “He told me, later, that when he heard my voice, he knew I was the one.”
Six weeks after their first email, Linda was driving north to meet Jim in person, an eight-hour road trip from West Virginia to New York—"white-knuckling it the whole way.” Jim was waiting in his usual wardrobe of sweatpants and sweatshirt, but Linda had dressed for the occasion.
“I had shopped carefully for an outfit. It was early August and brutally hot. I had on linen Capri pants and a linen top, and even thought Jim couldn’t see, I’d thought very carefully about the outfit. He thought that was hilarious.”
Jim’s entire clan was at the family’s small beach cottage on Long Island, where he waited to meet Linda in an overflow cottage they’d rented next door.
Linda’s first impression was not exactly what she’d hoped. “I thought he was geeky and a little bit of a nerd,” she admits, “but he was nice, really nice."
Then Jim's brother came over to the cottage and said they were both expected at dinner in 10 minutes—with Jim's mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, sister, nieces and nephew. At dinner, his brother proceeded to grill Linda—‘Where’d you go to school? Where did you undergrad? Is your house the first one you’ve owned?’
“Jim held my hand under the table, and every time someone fired a question at me, he just squeezed my hand. He was so right there with me, and we had just met an hour before. We went back to his cottage and kissed all night.”
Things moved along quickly after that. In the fall, Linda made her first trip to visit Jim in Boulder, where one of them—she doesn’t remember which—said, “Well, you know we’re going to have to figure this out, where we’re going to live.”
Rural West Virginia was not good for Jim because it didn’t have access to public transportation, and he would be isolated while Linda was at work, so they decided she’d move to Colorado.
“I would be giving up a full professorship, and it was a big deal. My mom was concerned. She said, ‘I’m sure this guy is nice and I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I think you’re making a big mistake.’ I’m very close with my mom and I had to ask her to trust me. I was afraid because I didn’t have a great track record when it came to relationships, and I was giving up a lot.”
By January, Linda had found a new university job in Denver, and the couple thought that’s where they’d start their new relationship. But after a thoroughly depressing house hunting trip, Denver proved too pricey, and they headed back to Jim’s place in Boulder.
“We were stuck in rush hour traffic and hurrying,” Linda says, “because at six o’clock there were going to be cupcakes on the Green [where Jim lived, at Wild Sage Cohousing] for a four-year-old named Anna, who lived there. Jim had totally befriended Anna and he didn’t want to miss her party. We got there in the nick of time, and there we are, sitting on the Green, with our cupcakes. Even though he couldn’t see, Jim had a way where we could somehow look at each other and know what the other was thinking. And we agreed over cupcakes that we were going to stay at Wild Sage.”
“I got this wonderful t-shirt once that said ‘Be Fearless. Choose Love’,“ Linda says. “It was a slogan that stayed with me for years. I knew Jim was sick, but I didn’t really know the profound ways in which he was sick, so I didn’t really know the path we were embarking on. But I knew that I was actively choosing love. That I had found something unlike anything I’d ever had.
“My therapist in West Virginia had said, ‘Well, you’d be able to be independent if it didn’t work out, right?’ and I’d said no, I’m financially all-in, and it’s an expensive place to live, and no I wouldn’t have enough money to buy a home there on my own. So it kind of has to work or I’m kind of up the creek. But I’m ready to be all in.
“So I sold my place in West Virginia. I quit my job. There was no going back.”
Linda and Jim didn’t plan to get married; it didn’t seem important, and there was also the question of Jim’s insurance. His health was precarious, and he assumed getting married would impact his coverage, so Linda moved in and they began their life together.
One day Jim hung up the phone and came into the living room, saying ‘That was my insurance company. I asked them what would happen if I got married and they said you could go on my health insurance.’ Linda asked what it would cost and he said, ‘No premium for you, no premium for me.’
Linda said, “Well, what do you think we should do?” And Jim said, “I think we should get married."
And that was the proposal.
“We got married on our email anniversary in June of 2007, two years after we met, and a year after I moved to Colorado,” Linda says.
“We didn’t think it was going to matter if we got married, but when we did, it was like this magical deepening of the relationship. Like, ‘Yeah, this person is really my family. This is no fooling around.’
“I was giddy–I’m still giddy–that I got to call him my husband,” she says. “I always felt like I was getting away with something,” she laughs. “My husband!”
Living together was, as for all couples, learning to adapt. Jim gave up his space and his solitude, and Linda had to break a habit of leaving doors halfway open. Jim gave up cooking, a passion Linda didn’t even know he’d had until a friend mentioned it to her later. Linda assumes her shifting things around in the kitchen cabinets probably contributed to that. They didn’t talk much about how each was adapting, they just adapted.
Asked if she felt that she’d given away a part of herself when she left West Virginia, Linda says, “Yes, I still have trouble reconciling that, wondering did I give something up that I can’t get back. I had been so loved at Shepherd [University, in West Virginia], and had loved that job so much, that I feel like I’ve lost my teaching career. And I’m still processing that, and it’s hard. I loved my community there, and I miss it. I still dream several times a week that I live in Shepherdstown and Jim is somewhere else and we’re trying to figure out how to be in the same place.”
“I have one last great story to tell,” Linda says, adding a final flourish to the narrative of her quest for love. “The first weekend I was in Colorado, Jim and I were lying in bed on an October night with the rain coming down. It’s about two in the morning. We’re just lying there and out of the silence I said, ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’
“Then Jim said, ‘I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close.”
“I said, ‘That’s my favorite passage in literature!’ and he said, ‘That’s MY favorite passage!’
“So there I am, lying in bed with a guy who can finish Henry David Thoreau? That’s awesome!” she laughs, remembering.
“We had each felt that way singly, and then, together, we chose to live deliberately.”
Jim Rebman passed away in 2018, after a fleeting decade of sharing his life with a woman who gave up so much for him, and for love.
“This year I’m turning 60,” Linda says. “I met Jim at 45. I’m now in the process of launching myself back into the world. And who knows what life will hold. Right now, I still feel very married to Jim. I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t be open to something, but I’m not expecting something.
“But I wouldn’t close myself off from opportunity, either.”
TIPS FOR MAKING IT WORK
Building a relationship the “normal” way, over evenings of spaghetti and Chianti and mornings of second cups of coffee, is challenging enough. Giving up a home, a job, moving across country, and building a life with another person who is equally accustomed to living alone, as well as visually impaired, brings a whole new set of challenges to a new romance.
Here are Linda’s tips for making it work.
Ease into it: “The first few months I was in Colorado, I had an apartment in Denver, so we didn’t immediately go to being together seven days a week. We took a few months to ease into it. It started out where I’d leave [Boulder for Denver] Monday morning and come back Friday night. But then it got to where I would leave Tuesday morning and come back Thursday night. And after awhile it just didn’t make sense to be apart.”
Be patient: “Jim’s place was small, so we had to build out the basement to make more room. Before I moved in, we’d had these magical weekends together, but now we were living together in a construction zone and sometimes we’d get irritated with each other. I’d been seeing a therapist before I left West Virginia, and Jim and I had had one session with her together, and her biggest piece of advice was to be patient with each other. So when one of us would get irritated or tempers would flare, one of us would say remember, she said to be patient with each other and the other would be like right right right.”
Revel in each other: “Time together is short – precious and fleeting. Jim and I took time every day to really be together. One way we did this was by reading books together: I’d read aloud morning and evening, and Jim would listen intently. Another way we did this was by enacting the same ritual every night – holding hands as we said we loved each other and then drifting off to sleep. We never took each other or our time together for granted.”
Linda says, “A love quest is like any quest…you’re going on a heroic journey of change and transition.”
Two resources that really helped her in navigating her own quest were William Bridges’s Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (a great book for facing any type of major change in life, including committing to a serious love relationship) and Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth television series (available as a DVD set). The “hero’s journey,” a term Campbell coined and that Moyers interviews him about, is a rich frame for thinking about any significant journey you are on, including love quests.