On Love

Wedding: Janine Van Lancker and Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai didn't believe in the "Oh, you'll just know" saying about love. Neither did Janine Van Lancker. But after the two met, they had a change of heart.
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 25, 2010

By the time he was 35, Ajit Pai knew what he didn't believe about love -- that "Oh, you'll just know."

His friends were always saying that. "I wouldn't say I was cynical," the lawyer explains. "But I was skeptical."

He'd had his fair share of relationships and they all seemed to crest with a question -- "Is this the one?" -- that didn't come with any crystal-clear answer.

Still, he was hopeful. And when a friend invited him to a happy hour in January 2009, mentioning that she'd like to introduce him to a doctor who would also be there, Pai set to work researching the woman immediately. Google turned up a profile page for Janine Van Lancker on the George Washington University Medical Center Web site. She was an allergist, and a pretty blonde, "but of course I couldn't tell what her personality was like." And his track record with set-ups left a lot to be desired.

Van Lancker's was even worse. The one blind date she'd been on left her wanting to climb out the bathroom window. "It was so horrible," says the 35-year-old doctor. So her expectations were low, though she'd been promised that Pai was "tall, dark and handsome."

When he walked into the happy hour at Circle Bistro, Van Lanker caught sight of Pai immediately, thinking, "Ooooh! He is tall, dark and handsome." But he also was different than all her previous boyfriends; she'd never dated an Indian man before.

When a small group went to dinner at Grillfish later that night, Pai angled to sit next to Van Lancker. While trying not to ignore the four other people at the table, they zeroed in on each other, discovering that they shared Midwestern roots (he's from Kansas, she grew up in Ohio), similar taste in obscure movies (both had recently seen "Rabbit-Proof Fence," a wrenching Australian drama about Aboriginal sisters) and a passion for off-the-beaten-path travel (that remote, 430-person town in Alaska she mentioned? He'd been there, too.)

Pai asked their mutual friend for Van Lancker's e-mail address and sent her a note the next day. "There was something about her," he recalls, "I wanted to follow up as soon as I could."

It took a few days for her to reply. "I had this big presentation I had to give," she says. "And yeah, maybe I wanted to let him stew a little bit."

But that would be the end of the waiting. Except for some brief confusion when he showed up to her birthday party with four women (they were just friends), there was no guessing about the other's intentions. Van Lancker felt almost instantly secure in the relationship, never wondering if Pai would call or if he felt the same way she did.

Which is why she was surprised when, one night over dinner in April, he told her they needed to talk. "He's like, 'I know we've been dating for four months and things have been great,' " she recalls. "He was so serious. I was like, 'Oh my God, he's breaking up with me.' "

As he continued to talk in stilted, qualifying statements, she sat wondering if he had cancer or was secretly married. "Then he's like, "And I just want to tell you I love you." And I'm like 'That's it? Ohhhhh!' And of course I was really excited, but I had to recover."

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