Love, Ann Arbor style

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Ann Arbor is nothing if not interesting, so we decided to take an Ann Arborish look at Valentine’s Day and focus this month on some interesting relationships.

And by interesting, we mean couples that are, in many ways, complete opposites.

All the sweethearts on these pages appear to be strange bedfellows.

But they all celebrate their differences, revel in them, and somehow it all works out for them. In these cases, opposites don’t just attract, they thrive.


Stories by Kyle Poplin

Photos by Benjamin Weatherston 

Reliability meets passion, via Match.com

Paul and Marcy Hickman

Paul and Marcy Hickman

Paul and Marcy Hickman met online five years ago, as if to prove the theory that opposites attract. They probably wouldn’t have met, in fact, had it not been for her innate sarcasm. Her Match.com profile said she was into “spelunking and fine German engineering.” That was enough to set Paul wondering if she was for real.

They met and quickly discovered their many differences — and how those differences could prove to be a perfect balance for each other. Asked to describe Marcy, Paul says she’s reserved, pragmatic, quiet. And a “grammar Nazi.” He goes on and on about her. (He’s a talker, you see.) Given her turn, she concisely sums him up: “He’s a big dreamer. He’s got big ideas. I think it’s awesome and amazing. It’s fun to go along with the ride.”

She’s lived in Michigan her entire life, went to one college and has toiled steadily/consistently/reliably in state government for 26 years. He went to five colleges, has lived in six states and has reinvented himself repeatedly. He currently runs Urban Ashes, a social enterprise that he dreamed up. It uses a transitional and disabled labor force to create picture frames and moulding. He was previously a sign painter, graphic artist, furniture designer, audio salesman, cab driver. The list is much longer, but you get the picture.

“I generate a lot of chaos but don’t like to live in it,” he summarizes. “She doesn’t generate chaos but can live in it.” For her, the perfect Friday night “is to come home. … I like smaller, more intimate evenings.” Paul’s perfect evening? “Getting on a plane and leaving!” Both were married previously. She married young and has a daughter, 27. He married late and has two sons, age 13 and 8. It all works so that neither partner feels they’re competing with the other, Paul says. “That’s the balancing part, for sure.”

A couple that truly understands mediation

Jeff and Huda Karaman Rosen

Jeff and Huda Karaman Rosen

Jeff and Huda Karaman Rosen have spent a lot of time volunteering at the Dispute Resolution Center. That makes perfect sense, because the concept of mediation is ingrained in their lives.

Jeff was raised Jewish. Huda is a Muslim from Palestine. They met at Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival in 1963, where Jeff was a student. Huda, who was attending Shippensburg University at the time, was there on a blind date with another guy.

Huda didn’t like her date, but he introduced her to Jeff, and they ended up in a small party in Jeff’s room. She was impressed by the oil paintings on Jeff’s walls and the E. E. Cummings on his shelf. Then came their first argument.

“He started telling me how wonderful kibbutzes are,” Huda remembers. “I told him he knew nothing.”

One might wonder how they ever got from that point to their first official date. But, 50 years later, and after 43 years of marriage, they agree that was never in question. The spark they felt that night at the Winter Carnival is still alive.

They have much in common – they both worked at the U-M hospital system for more than 20 years, and they love helping others through organizations like the Dispute Resolution Center – but that religion thing proved to be a big obstacle at first. Huda knew her father would never grant permission for her to marry a Jew, so they were wed in a civil ceremony in 1970 without telling her family. When her father found out, “He flipped,” she said. “He wanted to disown me. He returned all my letters unopened.”

But Jeff found a solution. It began when he attended a conference at the University of Massachusetts in the late ’60s, where several speakers made the point that too many people were being exploited by the empires of the world. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Jeff said, and he gradually turned away from “religion with a capital R.” So he became a Muslim in 1970 – “For me it held no significance at all; it was just a gesture” – and the couple was married in a Muslim ceremony later that year.

Huda’s father was ecstatic. As for Jeff’s side of the family, his father had died before Jeff began dating Huda. But he remembered his father’s words: “I don’t care about the background of the woman you want to marry, as long as you love her.” That’s the best advice he ever got.

Race is no big deal. But punctuality matters.

Gabe and Diane Buckery

Gabe and Diane Buckery

Gabe and Diane Buckery have some obvious differences, but it’s something seemingly frivolous that causes the only real stress in their relationship.

First, the big stuff. She grew up on dairy farm in northern Michigan. He spent his formative years in the Bronx. “Gabe doesn’t think Ann Arbor counts as a city,” Diane says. “To me, it’s as big as you’d ever want.”

A former U-M rower, Diane loves to exercise. She teaches yoga, in addition to her work at the School of Nursing. Gabe hates the idea of working out.

There’s the race thing. Both agree that, personally, it’s no big deal. “We forget we’re different races,” said Diane. But their respective families had some concerns early on, especially Gabe’s father, who wanted to make sure Gabe retained his pride in being African American.

Time has eased those concerns. These days, Diane’s family gets a kick out of seeing Gabe – a high school math teacher in Detroit who studied engineering at U-M – ride around on a tractor when he visits the farm. He’s even tried his hand at milking cows.

“I think I did a pretty good job,” he said, “but it stunk like crazy.”

The small thing that matters most? Diane likes to be on time. Gabe, well, he’s still trying to embrace punctuality. “I grew up with the mentality that being on time is late,” she said. Gabe quickly counters: “And I grew up with no time slogan. We didn’t talk about time.” “That’s our most significant difference,” said Diane.

Among the things they have in common is a passion for their faith. In fact, they met at a barbecue Diane attended when she was scouting out a church to attend in the Ann Arbor area. “I was looking for some people who were serious about the Bible and wanted to live it out,” she said. She and Gabe swapped their personal stories that day.

They ended up falling in love, getting married and having a baby, and have been attending the Detroit Church of Christ ever since. The only issue is whether they get there on time.

Artist and salesman rock ’n’ roll together

Mike Farrell and Taryn Scalise

Mike Farrell and Taryn Scalise

Mike Farrell has a dream.

“He wants us to take a trip on a motorcycle across the country,” says his future wife, Taryn Scalise, laughing hysterically at the very thought. “Unless there’s a futon attached, I’m not going.”

Mike’s an outdoorsy country boy who describes himself as “business savvy.” He takes his hamburgers plain, thank you, and pretty much speaks when spoken to.

Taryn is artsy, complicates her burgers with as many toppings as possible, and prefers life in the city.

“I had to chase a chicken for my dad one time for about an hour and a half,” said this extra-extrovert, “and at that point I realized the country life wasn’t for me.”

She likes horror flicks; he likes Irish mobster movies. Taryn is passionate about creating things. “Art has to be flying from my fingers in some shape or form, or I’m not breathing,” she said. Mike is apt to tear things apart to find out how they work, and fix them. “I’m a very mechanical person,” he said.

It works quite well; this Ypsilanti couple is planning a 2015 wedding. They’re also planning a move to Chicago, where Mike has a job selling Indian motorcycles. Motorcycles, in fact, are among the things they have in common and bind them together. They met at a Honda giveaway  in June 2011. Taryn spent several years, starting at age 17, working at Nicholson’s motorcycle sales in Ann Arbor, and started riding motocross at age 20.

She kind of likes that biker image, and Mike admires — loves — that about her. “She complements me very well,” he said. “I have a dark side and I like girls with a little bit of rock and roll.” She likes the flattery, of course, but unless he can build the first motorcycle futon, she’s still not going to bike across the country with him.

Different worlds but identical values

Prue and Ami Rosenthal

Prue and Ami Rosenthal

Prue and Ami Rosenthal don’t come from different backgrounds. They come from different worlds.

Ami, a well-known pediatric cardiologist at U-M, was raised an Orthodox Jew in a small village in what was then Palestine, now Israel. His father was a bricklayer and they were quite poor. They ate the vegetables and fruits they were able to grow and chickens they raised.

At age 15, Ami was sent to an Orthodox Yeshiva in the U.S. “I was on my own for seven years,” Ami said. “In those days you did what you were asked, out of respect.” Prue says Ami “studied all the time and had little time or money for fun. He never met any Gentiles that he knew of until medical school and residency.”

Prue, meanwhile, was “a child of privilege in a WASP family. I had someone to look after me; we traveled to a dude ranch in Wyoming, went to Europe, Japan. We attended the best schools, we never wanted for anything. I never met any Jews that I know of.”

But they both ended up at Boston Children’s Hospital, where Ami was a resident and Prue was floor secretary, and they married in 1962.

How did they accommodate their differences? “I became a Jew and he became less Orthodox Jew,” Prue says. “He learned the WASP custom of a cocktail hour and I learned to eat herring, challah and chicken soup. He learned that I needed different clothes and shoes for different occasions and I learned that he didn’t!”

Before the wedding, the respective families had difficulty accepting the couple. “My mother said she was going to sit shiva for me, which means she would behave as if I had died and she was going through the appropriate Jewish rituals,” Ami said. “She cried most of the wedding.”

But, he adds, “With time they all learned to love each other. I got along very well with her parents and she got along well with my family.” And that’s an important lesson for everyone to learn, Ami says. “You’re not just marrying your spouse, you’re marrying the family.”

Despite their circumstances growing up, Prue said, they were raised with similar values: “The importance and value of education, hard work — the importance of charity, kindness — the importance of family and marriage. That money was used to promote these things, not the size of your house, the cost of your car, clothes etc.”

One follows the script, the other flips it

Hosea and Ashleigh Walker

Hosea and Ashleigh Walker

It’s not that Hosea Walker is undisciplined. In fact, he’s one of the most disciplined people you’ll ever meet. He’s just not … focused.

His wife Ashleigh, on the other hand, is laser focused. A care coordinator at the Eisenhower Center, she’s “no-nonsense and in your face if I need to be … I like to do things by the book.” To which Hosea adds, “I’m definitely not by the book. I don’t even know what the book is.”

But he knows his way around a gym. He’s a personal trainer — in addition to being a massage therapist, hotel front-desk clerk and night laundry attendant — and recently started participating in National Posing Competitions. (Think bodybuilding, only a little more laid back and with regular bathing suits instead of those miniature things.)

He wants to become a professional. So much so that he’s willing to eat only green vegetables and chicken six times a day for three months leading up to a competition. Ashleigh thinks that’s just fine. But don’t look for her to strike a pose.

“That’s not my forte,” she says.

And while she’s very patient with her husband’s job multiplicity, she’s been known to ask him, “Why don’t you just settle for one job and get that one right?” His answer is another question: “There’s so much to do. Why settle for one?”

He has a script-flipping rule of thumb about employment. “I give my jobs a one-year probation,” he says. “If I don’t have a way to move up the ladder, I leave.” Hosea can’t sit still. Ashleigh is a movie buff — she could watch three movies a day — and she’d love for Hosea to join her.

He says that’s impossible. He can’t even relax in his sleep; he catnaps around the clock. In other words, he sleeps like a baby. Which might work out just fine, since Ashleigh’s expecting the couple’s first child. He’ll probably be awake anyway, so he might just get to be in charge of all late-night feedings.

Kyle Poplin

Kyle Poplin is co-founder and editor of The Ann magazine.