On Love: ‘I just got a really warm, kind feeling’

In early 2011, Jennifer Hsu decided to suspend her short-lived trial run with online dating. It ate up too much time that could be better spent elsewhere. So she and a few friends created a discussion group to compare thoughts on epistemology lectures. She dove into her last semester of course work on a master’s degree in biomedical technology. And she continued to lead a government contracting company she started with her sister one year out of college.

Guys would have to wait.

After hearing that inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil would be appearing at Sixth and I Synagogue in conjunction with a documentary about him, Jenn invited several friends to come along. The answers came with an echo: “No, thanks.”

Brent Dearth got the same response from his buddies. On March 10 he showed up, early and alone, to get a good seat.

When Jenn filed in line behind him outside the synagogue, he perked up. Shy as a teenager, Brent had gotten bolder with age and knew the hour-long wait to get in might pass more quickly if it was spent chatting with a pretty girl.

“So,” he asked her, “what are you going to ask Kurzweil?”

Jenn quickly rattled off a series of questions about the implications various technological advancements could have on humanity. Soon, their conversation wound around to video games, coding languages and snowboarding.

“I thought she was incredibly smart but at the same time very playful,” remembers Brent, a software engineer. “There was a lot of back and forth — I could tell it was something. I knew early on.”

They sat together during the documentary, and Jenn didn’t think twice about asking Brent to watch her purse when she went to the restroom. “I just got a really warm, kind feeling about him,” she says. “He made jokes during the documentary. I could tell he had such a jovial heart, and that was also very attractive.”

After, as they walked together toward the Metro, Jenn realized she’d never asked her new friend’s name. They introduced themselves, and Brent asked whether he could get her e-mail address. He sent her a test e-mail to make sure he’d gotten it right, and just before her Metro stop, Jenn realized it never arrived. Brent had been off by one character. She corrected the mistake and rushed off the train with a smile.

“I was a little taken aback,” Brent says. “How often do you meet someone who’s smart and beautiful and funny and has all these overlapping interests, but at the same time has a different perspective and isn’t afraid to tell you her mind? It never happens. I think I spent the next couple days marveling around that.”

He quickly e-mailed the right address to ask for a date. Jenn, now 29, replied that she was 18 days away from finishing her semester, and although she was eager to see him again, she couldn’t do it until then. But with each passing day, they traded a new round of messages. By the time they met at Kramerbooks & Afterwords at the end of March, they’d written 45 pages of e-mails.

“There were 18 days of build-up,” says Brent, now 33. “So we’re at Kramer’s. We can’t eat our food. When we first met it was very fluid, and now it’s all nerves.”

To cut the tension, he proposed a “Street Fighter II” challenge. They went back to his apartment and picked up their game controllers. She beat him fair and square, and they ended the night with a kiss.

It was Brent’s birthday less than a week later, and they spent dinner discussing their favorite documentaries. He went out on a limb, asking if she’d ever seen an obscure political film never released in the United States called “The Power of . . .

“Nightmares!” Jenn shouted, completing the film’s title. At that moment, Brent felt sure he’d met the one.

“She has this energy about her,” he says. “We can tackle these bigger issues, but we can do so in a very playful manner. It was very refreshing to have that and also have the attraction — I hadn’t expected to ever encounter that full package.”

As they walked to a coffee shop after dinner, Jenn found herself exclaiming, “I think I love you!” Brent responded in kind.

“It was the duality and the balance,” she says. “We could get into really deep, deep discussions really quickly. Then bounce back really quickly to a childlike wonder about the things we see in the world.”

The next morning, Jenn introduced Brent to her mother, who was visiting from out of town. By the time they climbed Machu Picchu that August, they were planning a future together.

On their first anniversary, after dinner in Chinatown, they took a sentimental walk past Sixth and I. At the spot where they had first met, Brent dropped to a knee and proposed.

When Ray Kurzweil returned to Sixth and I for another discussion in November, the couple stood in line to thank him for giving them the opportunity to meet. Kurzweil sent them a signed collection of his books as a wedding gift.

On March 10, their second anniversary, the pair again returned to Sixth and I to exchange vows before celebrating with 185 guests at the Clarendon Ballroom. In lieu of caketoppers, they used action figures of the “Street Fighter II” characters they’d chosen on their first date.

“He’s really taught me about the depth of relationships,” Jenn said before the wedding. “I’ve learned to be so much more aware of myself because of him and his pure acceptance, total acceptance. It’s just been really, really good.”

 
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