"I Met a Marine with an Extensive Doll Collection"

In response to recent allegations that Modern Love, the popular relationship essay column in the NYT, has always been a bit hetero and bland (babies and divorce, basically!), today we're publishing real-life relationship essays from the Gays. Our next Gay Modern Love essay comes from commenter BettyCrocker, in which he emerges from dating hell to fall in love - with a cop! "Late winter 2002 could pretty much count as an "Annus Horribilus" - I was laid off from my i-banking compliance job, I dumped my BF of 2 years, and my prospects for meeting someone nice seemed well-near impossible. I met an ex-Marine with an extensive doll collection, followed by an amiable bearish type who pounded 6 cocktails and jumped merrily into his car to drive home. Things were looking grim..."

Then one day in an AOL chat room, I came across an interesting profile. "Have a sense of humor, cause with me your (sic) going to need it." The attached webcam picture showed an attractive man en deshabille - wearing jammies and barefoot, unshaven, and with seriously rumpled hair. Unlike many gay men, he seemed to be saying "This is me in my natural state."

He said he found me attractive, but it was a long time before our first date. On St. Patrick's Day, 2003, we met for coffee, which became dinner, since he cleaned up very nicely. His kind eyes were the color of polished mahogany, his shoulders went on for days, and his khakis were crisp. I was a little confused by the clunky Timberlands and flannel shirt, but it was pretty cold outside. He said in his amazingly thick Brooklyn accent that he liked my table manners, which frightened me: did his friends spew flakes of halibut across the table at each other during meals?

I soon saw that my initial assumption was correct. He was a cop with 17 years on the NYPD. Our backgrounds were very different: two years of college vs. law school, small urban flats vs. verdant suburban split-levels, his loud Italian parents vs. my orderly WASP/Milanese combo.

It's probably fair to say that the die was cast before the creme brulee arrived.

He moved in 3 months later, taking a loan from his pension to help me with the mortgage on the condo and pay off the car loan on my silver VW Passat. With his support, I shortly landed a sweet job at a Swiss i-bank. That Christmas, without plan or discussion, we gave each other rings. Mine is channel-set diamonds, his is a white-gold copy of a 15th-century ring from The British Museum that says "Yours Onli" inside.

We joined a local Episcopal church. I met his friends - all in law enforcement - and was instantly inducted into a vast fraternity/sorority of boundless warmth, kindness, loyalty, and stunningly creative profanity. I met his family - all good people.

On her first visit to our newly merged condo, Mike's mother said: "Is it always so neat and clean in here? That's going to be an adjustment!"

"Not for me!" I sang out from the kitchen, and Mike shot me a look that would have stopped a perp from perpetrating. He's a little neatness-challenged, and I'm a little OCD. This has led to discussions during home improvement projects he takes on that included me wondering if he learned to paint a bathroom from Jackson Pollock, and him telling me that he doesn't know who Jackson Pollock is, but he planned to kick both our asses as soon as he was done.

I hired a pair of cleaning ladies who come twice a month to keep up with the worst of the mess, he agreed to pick up after himself more, and I agreed to relax a little more. A tenuous detente has been reached, though every once in a while I'm compelled to call a friend and wail into the phone: "It wasn't supposed to beeee this way! I was supposed to be in a little cottage in Munsey Park with Ben Roethlisberger!"

That aside, it's been a pretty fantastic journey so far. I got to show him places he had never visited: Long Island's Gold Coast, Boston, Montauk, Amagansett. He taught me to be more forgiving. I put him on my life and health insurance and I make sure that our doctor and dentist appointments are all double-dates. He redid our main bathroom all by himself. I held his hand through the pain a kidney stone. When we were exploring an abandoned North Shore estate and I slid down a short flight of ice covered steps to spin around like a breakdancer in a snowdrift, he rushed to my rescue, carefully extricated me, and determined that I only had a small bruise on my behind. Then he threw back his head and laughed that laugh I've come to love until the ancient beech trees rattled.

For my part, I have the memory of him talking baby talk to our two kittens: "Who da kitty? You da kitty!", then falling asleep with one on his chest and the other on his head.

The future beckons. Recent case law in New York has held that the state will recognize our marriage if it is validly performed in another jurisdiction. And so, instead of going to Montauk for my birthday, I believe we are bound either for Boston or Montreal later in the year.

Sometimes, in the right light, I can see what Mike will look like when he is very old. In my vision, he looks a lot like his AOL picture, perhaps a little worn and rumpled, but still proudly him. And I know that when I'm a shuffling duffer myself, that's what I want next to me. He's already proven his mettle when I've fallen and I can't get up.

A lot is sure to happen between now and then. It may not have supposed to be this way, as I say to my friends when I find a mountain of dirty clothes and uniforms in the laundry room.

But I'm glad it is. [BettyCrocker]