"It's so much easier than I ever thought it could have been"
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."