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Ode: Does mother know best?

Ben Nesselhuf
Ally Karsyn

When I was 20, I dropped out of college and drove a car from Chicago to Guatemala City.

I didn’t know two words of Spanish, but I spent seven months living in Central America on $10 a day. I learned how to scuba dive in Honduras, surf in El Salvador and drink beer everywhere. When I started running short on money, I hitchhiked home.

That’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

A few years later, when I was 24, I was living in Vermillion, South Dakota, and I got upset at my local state legislators. One night, at about 2 a.m., while I was pacing a laundromat, I decided to run for the State House. I spent the next eight months trying to convince people they should trust me to make laws. I ended up becoming the youngest person ever elected to the South Dakota State Legislature.


That is not the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

I spent most of my 20’s and well into my 30’s blindly jumping off of cliffs and hoping that I could figure out the landing on the way down. It almost always worked out surprisingly well with the exception of one area of my life. Women.

Through high school and college, I didn’t really date and didn’t really see the point of it. I had friends that would get attached to some girl and they would disappear for six months and show up later, all heartbroken and listening to crappy music. I was a pretty social person and putting that much investment into one, single relationship seemed way too difficult.

I would date a gal for a week or so and then just lose interest. They want you to call them every day. Way too much work. This was before everyone had ADD. Back then we just called it getting bored.

In my mid-20’s, I ended up getting married to the first woman that I dated longer than four months. A year into that, I realized why people dated when they were younger. It was training so you learn to spot the disasters. I didn’t have the training. I didn’t see the warning signs. Fortunately, I escaped that after 18 months with no permanent damage.

Over the next couple of years, I dated a number of women, but nothing really stuck. I tried the online dating game, but that didn’t amount to much.

I was living in Vermillion, so there was a large dating pool of 20-somethings. Which is a lot of fun, for a while. And then it’s not. Once you realize you’re not 22 anymore, it just starts to feel creepy. I didn’t want to be banned from any shopping malls.

So, generally speaking, there were just a lot of not great choices being made by me.

I was swinging by my parent’s house one night after a particularly bad weekend of poor decision making, and my mother was there with a few of her friends. They were sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee. This was not uncommon. These were women that I had known for years. Some for my entire life.

I don’t really know what inspired me to do this, but I walked in and I made an announcement: “My love life is too important to leave up to me. You are all now a committee, and I expect you to take care of it.”

That is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

At first they suggested a bunch of women that I already knew, and I immediately regretted opening my mouth.

Despite my initial doubts, they stuck with it. Over the next few years I would get periodic updates from the committee. Usually from my mother.

For years she worked as a counselor at Sioux City East High School. She called me one day and said, “I met a new teacher. She would be perfect for you. You have so much in common… But she’s engaged.”

Well, Mom. That’s a deal-breaker.

Another time, she returned from a trip and told me how she met the perfect woman for me on the plane. Only problem was that this woman lived in Tennessee. Mom still tried to give me her number.

Eventually, she set me up with a woman here is Sioux City and we went out once. But when I called for a second date and left a message for her, she never called me back. When I’m trying to date a women I find that one of the least attractive traits she can have is not being interested in me. I was no longer interested in another date.

Now in between all of this, unbeknownst to the committee, I dated a wonderful woman for about eight months, and I found her all by myself. The romantic aspect of that relationship didn’t work out but I still consider it to be successful because it got my head screwed back on straight. I caught up on my training. It helped me realize what a healthy adult relationship was supposed to be. Like, oh, sometimes you just do nice things for each other for no reason. What a concept. I refer to her as by sorbet girlfriend. She helped me cleanse my palate. We’re still friends and she has told me that she is not thrilled with that description.

By this time, I was 31, and once again, my mom thought she’d found me a good match.

She had taken a group of students from East High to Western Iowa Tech Community College for Career Day. One of the presenters was a young, attractive attorney from here in Sioux City. Mom made a point to introduce herself so she could check for a ring. Because that is what a good committee member does.

The next Monday at school, a teacher ran into mom and said that her friend had spoken to the East High group. This, of course, piqued my mother’s interest and she asked about her friend. The teacher said that her friend was an incredible woman but that she needed to find a decent man.

It was on! I don’t think much work got done at East High that day because the emails were flying.

I got an email from my mom saying that the committee had an applicant. She was an attorney who had 2 dogs and a boat. I wrote back, “That sounds interesting. See if you can find a picture of the boat.”

Now, I didn’t realize that mom forwarding these emails to the teacher who was passing them on to her friend. I should have because mom was doing the same thing for me which is why I saw this great email from the lawyer that said simply, “Dude, he’s a democrat!” I thought, This is perfect! Until I saw the frowny face emoji. It was really “Duuuudddde, he is a democrat.”

We somehow got past all of that and set up a dinner date for that Friday and it was wonderful. We discussed all of the things that you are not supposed to on a first date: politics, religion, our dating history, her mistaken idea that college football is somehow superior to the NFL. We agreed on very little, and it was hot. A beautiful woman who can disagree with you in an intelligent and well-reasoned way is incredibly attractive. On the scale of hotness, it is right up there with having a good credit score.

So after several hours, I went back to Vermillion, and as I walked into my house, my roommate and her friend were sitting at the dining room table. They asked me how my date was, and I said, “I’m going to marry this one.”

Two years later, I did. And Mom will never let me forget it.


Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.

The next show is 7 p.m. Friday, April 6 at The Marquee, 1225 Fourth St. The theme is “Just Keep Going,” inspired by this year’s One Book One Siouxland selection, “Hidden Figures.”

Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.

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