A year ago, Sandra Sidi’s goal was to join the Marines. She had worked in Bagdad in 2007 and 2008, as an analyst for the U.S. government writing battlefield reports during the Iraq War, and she sought to get closer to the action.
A mother of two boys, Ms. Sidi, 36, divorced in 2016 and said that her life afterward became bumpy. She had built a career as a freelance writer, finished a second graduate degree and was raising her children when, in August 2018, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That November she had a bone-marrow transplant and her disease has since been in remission.
Then, in August 2020, she and her boys had Covid. The family eventually recovered, but quarantining left her lonely. She tried online dating, but nothing stuck. “I figured I was through with men,” said Ms. Sidi, then living in San Marcos, Texas. “I decided to marry the Marines.”
That December, to take a break from her small apartment, she went to a local restaurant where Ron Welch, 34, a Texas native and a malware analyst for BlackBerry, was seated alone at a table near a roaring fire.
Mr. Welch’s eye was immediately caught by Ms. Sidi’s blonde hair and six-foot stature. He stood up and offered a chair at his table.
The two had an easy conversation in which one topic was grandmothers. Ms. Sidi’s paternal grandmother had paid for her education; she thought of her as her “guardian angel.”
“When I talked to Ron about my grandmother, he teared up,” Ms. Sidi said. Mr. Welch’s paternal grandmother, with whom he had been extremely close, had recently died.
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In talking, the two also discovered that they had both attended Texas State University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science there in 2017, and she received an M.F.A. in creative writing in 2016. A graduate of Dartmouth, Ms. Sidi also has a master’s degree in political science from Yale.
Other prospective boyfriends, Ms. Sidi said, had become skittish after learning of her children, health issues and career aspirations. But Mr. Welch said he was undaunted during their initial conversation. “I appreciated Sandi’s honesty,” he said. “That’s one of her most wonderful traits.”
“It’s better to be with the ideal woman who doesn’t have ideal circumstances than the not ideal woman with great circumstances,” Mr. Welch added.
The two were soon spending lots of time together, including at the gym, where Ms. Sidi struggled with pull-ups. (The Marines require women to perform a minimum of three to enlist, with a preference of 10.) Mr. Welch was an excellent coach. “He can bench 350,” Ms. Sidi said. When she mused about what would happen …….