My God, she’s beautiful. She’s got to have a boyfriend.

Those were the first words that popped into my mind as my future wife stepped into Hoopla’s, a bland bar in a strip-mall on the northern end of Virginia Beach.

For the last half-hour our mutual friend’s birthday party had been drowning in the noise from Plastic Eddie, the bar’s cover band. But that didn’t matter anymore, because I’d stopped noticing anything but her.

She sat down across from me and we struck up a conversation. For some reason she was as interested as I was.

I’d been right on both counts—she was beautiful, and she did have a boyfriend. She was well-educated, loved blues music, had spent time teaching English in Indonesia, and was just about to take the MCAT exams that would send her to medical school.

We met again at a Super Bowl party a couple of months later. I was once again taken aback by the connection between us. There really seemed to be something there.

Too bad about that boyfriend.

We ran into each other several times over the next few months, but our timing clearly wasn’t right. I flew fighters for the Navy in Virginia Beach, so I wasn’t going anywhere but on deployment. She passed her MCATs, and ended up deferring med school to follow her boyfriend when he moved out west. We lost touch.

Her mom’s house was on my way to work, and I looked for her car every day for years hoping she’d decided to dump the guy and come back. In the meantime, I’d gained a new respect for blues music and became a big fan myself. Nobody I met ever seemed to compare to her.

Seven years later I stumbled across (cyberstalked) her Facebook page and decided to send her a friend request.

Hi, Shannon. I wanted to thank you for introducing me to blues music. Hope everything is going well for you. Have a great weekend. -Erik

She wrote back almost immediately. She was in an OB/GYN residency program in New Mexico. She’d ended up coming back to Virginia less than six months after she left and went straight to med school in Richmond. She’d thought of calling me a bunch of times but was afraid I’d gotten married.

We had both spent the last seven years trying to get the other out of our minds and failed in the most spectacular way imaginable.

Every evening for the next three weeks was spent chatting together on Skype. We couldn’t believe we’d been so lucky. I went to visit her in Albuquerque, the first of many trips to come. We were engaged three months later and in late spring of 2010, just before she finished residency, we got married. I left the Navy and we both moved to Carson City. We’d found each other and a city to call home, and within a year had a son.

I’m always stunned at the chain of events that brought us to this place. So many little things could have changed just enough that none of this would have happened.

Before I left for the bar that night I had no idea it would change my life. But if I’d skipped my friend’s birthday party, our world today would be completely different. We’d both be lonely, we’d both be elsewhere, and our son wouldn’t exist at all.

It’s not hard to look for the big events in life. The major milestones are usually easy to pick out of the noise. But sometimes when you add up all the little flukes and throwaway decisions, the sum is much greater than the weight of the parts.

Such a big thing to hinge entirely on chance.

Happy Valentine’s Day, beautiful.