When Iris Levenberg found herself divorced and living in South Florida in her 50s, the executive head hunter-turned-life coach was determined to find a life partner.
"I was on a mission," recalls Iris, now 61. "I spent years as a head hunter, and that's how I look at life: You're constantly searching for talent. I knew what I was looking for. So I went online and put myself out there. You can't expect things to land in your lap."
Meanwhile, Dennis Bailen was licking his wounds in the Chicago area after two divorces and 10 years of trying to find companionship online.
"Online dating is exhausting," says Dennis, 64. "It becomes a full-time job. And there were so many disappointments. I went on and off those dating sites because I hadn't found someone who really met my expectations. But I got tired of being alone on weekends, so I went back on JDate (an online dating site for Jewish singles)."
Iris immediately spotted Dennis online and viewed his profile not once, but twice.
"You notice when people view your profile," Dennis says. "But she lived in Florida, so that wasn't realistic since I was in Chicago."
A dialogue began a couple of days after that second viewing, regardless of distance.
"We got on the phone May 13 (2005), and we had a very easy conversation," Dennis recalls. "At the end of it, Iris said, 'This didn't seem like an interview at all!' After dating for 10 years I learned not to have expectations, so I was really happy it went so well."
Iris had family in the Chicago area, and a date was set for them to meet Memorial Day weekend so Dennis could show her around the city.
"I didn't know this at the time, but she had set up multiple dates when she came to town," Dennis says.
"And a job interview," Iris admits. "I wanted the trip to be worthwhile."
Dennis went to pick Iris up at Union Station, and his timing was perfect.
"Literally, I was pulling up to the entrance of Union Station, and she comes up the steps," he says.
"And you were listening to Joe Jackson music, and I remember thinking, 'Good taste in music.'" Iris adds. "He looked like his picture; I liked the way he dressed. I was relieved."
Their stroll along Michigan Avenue was a success, which led to a second date at Arlington Park race track the following day.
"We put $2 bets on every race," Dennis says. "We don't know horse racing; we bet colors, middle names. And we collected on every single race!"
"Dennis saw this as a sign, and I got freaked out because this was happening so fast," Iris says. "I'd just met him. And I still had four dates lined up."
Two days later, they planned to meet for dinner after Iris' job interview.
"I had canceled a couple of my dates. Not all of them," Iris says, much to Dennis' amusement. "And I was sitting on a chair talking to Dennis after my interview, and just talking to him was so easy — I decided to cancel my last two dates."
Later that night at the restaurant, they shared their first kiss.
"I leaned over to kiss you while you were sitting at the table, and it was a 'wow' kiss, babe, it really was," Iris recalls, putting her hand on Dennis' arm. "That was like a melding kiss. And I was done."
After spending most of Iris' 10-day visit together, a bond was forming fast.
"Dennis said, 'I want you to be here,' but I thought I needed space. I needed to go back to Florida and clear my head," she says. "He gave me a shirt of his, and I went to Florida and I slept in that shirt every night, and we talked on the phone constantly. ... I lasted nine days. Dennis flew me back. I could not be without him."
They dated that whole summer of 2005. By fall, they talked about moving Iris to Chicago permanently, but she was "not moving to be somebody's girlfriend."
"I said to him early on, 'I'm old-fashioned, I want to remarry, and if that's not on your radar, tell me now,'" Iris recalls.
"I had given up on marriage," Dennis says. "I got burned. I was very devastated by my last divorce, so I wasn't sure I wanted to go back into that water again. But Iris and I were really connecting, so I was willing to consider being married again."
They were engaged in December 2005 and had a small wedding 13 months later, Jan. 18, 2007, at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook.
"I found this perfect winter-white suit on sale for 30 bucks, which I figured was a good sign," she says. "I carried four white roses for our parents who could not be there. It was very intimate."
They bought a home in Libertyville and started building a life together. Iris became certified as a life coach, and Dennis ran a residential building company. But their newly wedded bliss was soon interrupted by the financial crisis in 2009, followed by the loss of Iris' mom and health problems with Dennis' family.
"Then Denny's business crumbled, our house was robbed, and I slipped into a depression," recalls Iris. "Meantime, I'm running a workshop on embracing change as a life coach, while our life was in turmoil. It was a horrible time. We had to rebuild our marriage."
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Dennis adds.
Their deep commitment to each other, mixed in with some therapy and new work opportunities, helped them see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I've been in a helping profession my whole life," Iris says. "Before I was an executive coach, I was a social worker … and I knew what to say to people. But I really dug in deep and started walking my talk this time, and it took me a while. I was always about seizing the moment and taking chances, and then when 2009 hit, fear took over me. That's something that I'm learning to manage."
"We are old enough and have lived through enough to know that life isn't always going to be as easy as you wish it could be," Dennis says. "But we know that we are better together than we are apart. We both said, 'You are the last spouse that I am going to have.'"
"We are going to grow old together. I've never felt the unconditional love that I know I have from Dennis," says Iris, wiping away tears, before adding with a laugh, "I mean, who else would put up with me?"
Love lesson: Iris follows three steps in love and in life: intention, attention and no tension. "I believe you have to have the intention, and then I believe you have to take action and pay attention, and then at some point you have to embrace 'no tension' and let go of whatever the outcome is going to be."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun