By Ellen McCarthy
Sunday, August 22, 2010; E08
Edward "Ted" Allen has always taken his own, circuitous route in life.
Rather than go straight to college after high school, he traveled to Australia and got a job leading tourists out to the barrier reefs. Friends he made there lured him to England. Next he moved to Paris to work with an international rights group that would eventually ship him to Guatemala. After 18 months in that country, Allen decided it was time for higher education, so at 26 he enrolled at Brown University as a Latin American studies major.
His romantic history has been equally rambling.
By 38, Allen, who moved to Washington in 2001 and is now a consultant with a Homeland Security contractor, considered himself "pretty much of a failure at making relationships work." Sometimes he missed the boat, not telling women how he felt until it was too late. Other times he stuck around too long, staying with a girlfriend when he knew things weren't going to work out.
"I've always taken a long time about figuring out how to do things the right way," he says.
But by spring 2009, he'd begun to feel as though he'd smartened up about relationships. And part of that, he thought, included the recalibration of his expectations. He stopped hoping to find an ideal woman with whom he'd feel completely comfortable.
His expectations were particularly low as he dragged himself to a Sunday afternoon party at Taberna del Alabardero in the District. Allen was a regular at the Spanish restaurant, but he wasn't in the mood to socialize the day of its 20th anniversary celebration.
But walking through the door of the restaurant, he looked up at a makeshift stage to find two female flamenco dancers in dramatic red dresses -- and couldn't take his eyes off one of them.
"She was just so beautiful," he says, "but also I just think I noticed right away that the way she carried herself was a way that I really liked. She was obviously someone who valued herself as a person."
He spent the next few hours devising a plan to meet her.
Nidiana Paredes, a graphic designer for whom flamenco is a hobby, had changed from her costume into sweat pants and was making her way to the exit when a woman stopped her. "Are you single?" the woman asked. "There's a guy who really, really wants to meet you."
In fact, Paredes was single for the first time in her adult life. Since high school, the Venezuela native had gone from one long-term boyfriend to another and now, at 31, she was determined to stay on her own for a bit. Plus, the man in question didn't look that cute. She declined the offer and turned to go when another man walked by. "That was the guy," the woman said. " 'What?' " Paredes responded. "I'd been looking at the wrong guy but I didn't know it."
Allen was called over and after a brief conversation, he gave Paredes his e-mail address.
She didn't write for a couple of weeks, then invited him out to a friend's birthday celebration at an Arlington bar.
"I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw her name," Allen recalls. He accepted, and for the next week they traded increasingly long messages several times a day.
"It was a little schoolboy-ish for me, the anxiety of, after I sent the e-mail, 'How long is it gonna be before I get an e-mail back?' . . . I felt a sense of anticipation growing about the date that was very nice," he says.
Surrounded by her friends at the bar, they focused on each other and spoke in Spanish, allowing Paredes to relax in a way that doesn't usually happen when she's talking in her second language. Two days later, Easter Sunday, he brought her flowers before a game of tennis and, learning that she didn't have dinner plans, invited her to celebrate the holiday at his sister's house.
" 'This is like a second date, and he wants me to meet his family?' " she remembers thinking. "I'm like, 'Yes! I'm going.' "
By the end of that night, her resolve to stay single had vanished. "I was like, 'I want to see this guy again. I want to be with him. Everything is so nice -- I really want more of that.' "
In the past, Paredes had had her heart broken by guys who were more interested in partying than being with her. Allen seemed ready for something more serious. He came to her apartment for dinner the next night, and every night that week.
After three months, Allen invited Paredes on a family hiking trip in Peru and by the end of the summer, he gave up his apartment to move into hers.
In time, he began to think he'd been wrong to give up hope on finding the kind of love he'd dreamed of as a younger man. His pensiveness was cut by her vivacious energy; his strengths seemed stronger around her.
"I can't tell you how many times I've told people that it's totally different from what I thought. I mean, relationships without a doubt are hard work . . . but there should be an element of it that's a pleasure," he says. "It clicked for me: This isn't that hard. And that's great."
He also thinks it's as much about timing, and becoming the right person, as meeting the right person. Had he been introduced to Paredes five years ago, he says, it might not have worked.
In May, as they planned a European vacation to celebrate his 40th birthday and squabbled over the itinerary, he decided to give her a diamond ring. Standing in her pajamas, Paredes began to cry.
On July 12, they were wed in a civil ceremony at Taberna del Alabardero. A month later they exchanged vows before 20 guests at the Chapel of Hof Bladelin in Bruges, Belgium. The couple will celebrate with Paredes's family in Venezuela later this year.
"My friends are like, 'What you're living is like a fairy tale. . . . You are so lucky,' " she says. "I guess I am."
In Allen's mind, the happy ending is that "it's so much easier than I ever thought it could have been."