Attention, single people. Even if you’re not looking for love, Cupid’s arrows might strike in an unlikely place at an unlikely time. So, for example, if you are celebrating a work anniversary at Dartmouth, you might want to consider attending the annual employee anniversary and service awards meal held at the end of each year in the Class of 1953 Commons.
That’s where, on Dec. 12, 2019, Tammara Wood and Scott Gerlach ended up sitting next to each other. They’d never met. They knew almost nobody else in the room. And for both, attending this luncheon was at the rock bottom of their daily to-do lists.
Wood, program manager for the Center for Quantitative Biology in the Department of Biomedical Data Science at the Geisel School of Medicine, was marking her 10th year at Dartmouth, and Gerlach, a computer programmer for the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health, was observing his 15th.
Both divorced, neither was feeling overly sociable, and neither relished the trek to the Green on a raw winter day. But colleagues encouraged each of them to get out of their offices for a change and enjoy a lunch on the house.
“Free food’s always nice,” says Wood. “But I was not motivated by that. I had been single for more than a year and trying the dating apps. It’s very difficult in this area. Anybody you might ‘meet’ usually lives an hour and a half away. So I had made a deal with myself that I was going to start to get out there more.”
Gerlach had set a similar goal, but certainly didn’t expect to find the love of his life in a noisy college dining hall.
A “Slow Build”
Although they had plenty of common career ground to explore, the lunchmates steered clear of office chat.
“We mostly talked about how crazy we are,” says Wood.
“We’re crazy in the same way,” agrees Gerlach. “We’re go-getters.”
Wasting no time, Gerlach asked Wood for her name (but not her phone number) and, back at the office, looked her up and sent her an email attached to another email chain they’d once been part of, just to show that they already knew each other.
She responded. They began exploring common interests: taking hikes, playing chess, strolling through the Hood Museum of Art, eating Thai food. Something started to simmer, and not just on the stove.
“It was a slow build,” says Gerlach, “We took everything slowly. And then I was hooked.”
“We were cautious. We had histories,” Wood interjects, smiling at him.
“I was out of the water before I knew I was hooked, I mean, I was being filleted, and I’m like, I think there’s something here,” Gerlach says, glancing back at his fiancee.
(Yes, be patient, we’re coming to that.)
Bowled Over by Serenades
When she met Gerlach, Wood was just beginning guitar lessons, an instrument that her new friend, also a banjo teacher, had been performing on.
“Now he serenades me every day,” Wood says.
Indoors, for his gigs, and outdoors, in cold weather, Gerlach wears a dapper bowler hat. When they left the luncheon together, he put it on.
That was almost a deal-breaker for Wood.
“But I am commending myself now for looking beyond that hat,” she says. “I love it now. It’s another thing that made me laugh a lot about him. He’s got style, for sure. And he makes me feel so beautiful every day. It wasn’t his job to improve my self-confidence. But it’s just who he is as an individual—a man that cannot stop looking at me.”
Leaping Into Elopement
Gerlach was indeed gazing at her closely but nervously the morning he proposed, with a diamond ring he’d had re-made from one she inherited from her mother.
They’ll tie the proverbial knot on the last day of this month in a small ceremony attended by Wood’s two grown children.
“We want to get married on Leap Year, just to be screwy,” Wood says. “Scott was born on April Fool’s Day, by the way. Feb. 29 epitomizes everything about us as individuals, breaking tradition.”
Meanwhile, Valentine’s Day is coming up. The avid cooks will share an intimate dinner at home, and, as always, Gerlach is searching for a romantic-looking bottle of red wine. “Maybe a heart or some flowers on the label?” he wonders.
But for this couple, saying “I love you” is not a once-a-year kind of thing.
“On the 12th of every single month, we celebrate the day we met, at that December 2019 luncheon,” Wood says.
And they are certainly glad now that they got out of the office for lunch.