'I needed to hear his voice before I went to sleep'

After nearly 11 years of dating and making sure that each was certain marriage was the best next step, Jonathan Grant and Brenda Manuel finally decided the time was right to tie the knot.
By Ellen McCarthy
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brenda Manuel and Jonathan Grant are the type of people who spend an inordinate amount of time researching competing products, he says, "before we buy even a household cleaner."

So it's not surprising, then, that it took the two more than 10 years of dating and seven years of cohabitation before they were finally ready to tie the knot.

Well, they were mostly ready -- three days before the wedding, Grant, 52, would still admit to some doubts.

The pair first came into contact in 1996 when he happened across her profile and sent a note. Manuel, a 48-year-old manager at the World Bank, was traveling in Central Asia at the time, so they never arranged a date.

She signed back up for the online dating service three years later and Grant, a patent attorney, wrote her again -- though he didn't seem to remember that they'd corresponded in the past.

On Sept. 26, 1999, the two met at a Chinese restaurant in Alexandria, and "he talked and talked and talked," Manuel recalls. "And I talk a lot, so that's really something for somebody else to talk a lot."

Grant chalks the performance up to nerves -- "I didn't think she liked me," he says -- but at the end of the date he worked up the courage to invite her to a formal ball at an annual conference of patent attorneys.

"Little did I know the seeds of love would sown that night, under a disco ball, in a room full of lawyers," she says. KC and the Sunshine Band were playing, she adds, so that helped.

Grant started calling frequently after that. They discovered they'd both been science majors who'd racked up multiple degrees. They each loved to travel, plan and overanalyze issues large and small. Six months in, Grant asked, "What am I to you?" Manuel responded, "Well, you're a guy I date," not wanting to commit to more.

But within a year they were exclusive and in February 2001, when Grant learned he had colon cancer -- which had killed both of his grandfathers -- Manuel became his cheerleader and nurse during his year-long treatment. "What was amazing to me was we really still didn't know each other that much, but here she was willing," Grant says. "She didn't run away like others would've."

Two years into their relationship he told her he loved her. "And I was like, 'Really?' And then I thought, 'Do I love him?' " At that moment, she wasn't sure, but "then it really built."

Still, she had a wanderlust and never pictured herself married, but had always dreamed of living in New England. So in 2002, with Grant on the mend, she moved to Maine. "In my mind, we had broken up, because I said goodbye to him," she says.

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