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Finding Love: It's as Serious as Cancer

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It’s my wedding anniversary today. I got married to Phelim McAleer 17 years ago. I got so lucky, I’m so grateful. It’s amazing how in this wide, big world, people get to sometimes find the love of their lives and spend the rest of their lives with them. It’s a miracle, a blessing, the most priceless gift.


I tell anyone who wants to get married to treat meeting the right person like as if they have cancer. When people get cancer they are not casual about it, they are deadly serious and focused. They don’t chat to their friends and ask them for diagnostic advice because it’s a life or death thing. A good marriage is more important. It’s a key to a lifetime of happiness, even on our worst days there is nowhere I would rather be and no one I would rather be with than Phelim. Home is wherever he is.

I was recently asked about my marriage by a very nice young woman I met in DC. She asked how I met my husband and ended asking for advice for herself. When I said my marriage was a constant joy, the best thing that ever happened to me, she was shocked and genuinely happily surprised. She said she hears a lot of negative stories about marriage. It was hard meeting people she said and there were a lot of unimpressive guys around.

I told her she needed to meet everyone, go to everything, everywhere--don’t stay indoors expecting ‘the one’ to find her. It’s nice on the sofa watching bad TV but you could end up with a lifetime of LIFETIME if you’re not careful. Yes there could be a fire or emergency and some fabulous first responders might arrive and lo, there he is, but hoping for disaster to strike your condo is not an ideal way to live.

I luckily realized this necessity when my best friend and wing-woman up and met the love of her life and I was suddenly bereft, a reluctant solo adventurer. You know the scene in the movie Bridesmaids, where the best friend tells the Kristen Wig character she’s getting married and Kristen Wig puts on the biggest, fakest smile, yeah, that was me.


My search for love was fraught. I had some spectacular fails. Memorably I joined a car maintenance class wrongly believing it would be filled with men, you know because men like cars, right? Wrong. It was all women, fabulous funny women and we had a great time but my heart remained landlocked.

I decided I could improve my mind, get out of the house and maybe just maybe I’d meet someone if I attended political meetings, you know, became interesting myself. And that's how I came to meet Phelim in Glenties, Co.Donegal. He was a bit unkempt, had a mop of curls and terrorist facial hair. He also had a cheeky chappy dimpled smile and the twinkliest (is that even a word) eyes. I can’t say I knew the second I clapped eyes on him, after all there was all that facial hair. But it didn’t take long.

It might sound too perfect, do we argue? Oh yes, especially when he is driving, seriously why can’t he ever get in the correct lane? Why does he forget the one thing I’ve asked him to do a thousand times? Why at the airport just when our group is about to be called does he suddenly remember he needs to get a newspaper and leave me with his roller bag.

But Phelim is the first and only person who ever noticed I always leave a little tea at the bottom of the cup. He secretly had a precious cookery book of my late mother’s that was falling apart professionally rebound. He spent weeks sourcing someone to carve an awkward piece of driftwood we had found with a line of Longfellow poetry my mother was fond of saying (To Stay At Home is Best). In the last days of her life my mother had so little energy, she lay in bed mostly motionless, but when Phelim would come into her room, she gave him a thumbs up. She was an excellent judge of character.


Since we married in 2001 we have produced 6 documentaries, two plays, written a New York TImes bestseller and our first movie Gosnell is about to open on October 12th. We've lived in 4 countries and had 10 different homes. It's been a great adventure. And today, like every day, I'll say a little prayer of thanks for Phelim, I’m so grateful to chance, fate, and God that I got off the sofa.

Happy Anniversary, Phelim. You are my forever favorite person.

Ann McElhinney is married to Phelim McAleer. They live in Venice CA, their movie Gosnell directed by Nick Searcy and starring Dean Cain and Sarah Jane Morris opens nationwide on October 12th for more information go to

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