Friday, June 21, 2024

The Day Emma the Dog Crashed the First Date

On July 18, 2021, the day Patrick Alan Pennel was supposed to meet Margaret Ann Kretzmer for a first date, he canceled to spend time with someone else he was getting to know. When Ms. Kretzmer offered to meet him the following day instead, he said OK but brought the other girl along.

Mr. Pennel, 40, wasn’t being a cad, he just didn’t have much choice: He had recently moved to Santa Monica, Calif., by himself and, to stave off Covid loneliness, was adopting a dog. Emma, the shepherd mix he brought home the day of the postponed date, was too new to leave alone. So on July 19, she came with him to meet Ms. Kretzmer at Ashland Hill, a Santa Monica bar.

“I was still very much getting to know Emma,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.” Nervous barking or a date cut short by a needy new pet he could have anticipated. Feeling the first stirrings of love for an Los Angeles Dodgers fan: not as much.

Mr. Pennel and Ms. Kretzmer met on Hinge, where an app-generated prompt on Ms. Kretzmer’s profile connected them. To the query, “We’ll get along well if …” Ms. Kretzmer had written “ … you like baseball.”

That’s what initially drew me to her,” Mr. Pennel said. Her photos were nice, too. “I liked her smile and her pictures with friends. She looked like someone who would be fun.”

His images didn’t generate as much enthusiasm. One in particular kept her from swiping left. “It was Pat on a flamingo floatie in a pool with his shirt off,” she said. “I was like, no.” But for weeks, he kept appearing in her scroll. “The algorithm must have been like, you’ve got to meet this guy.” His initial message — “Hi Maggie. I like baseball, too” — got her past the float shot and into a conversation compelling enough to accept a first date.

Ms. Kretzmer, 38, is the director of social impact for KW, the actress Kerry Washington’s production company. A native of Los Angeles, she grew up with an older sister and a younger brother. Their parents, Martha Thom Kretzmer and Michael Kretzmer, moved the family to Manhattan Beach when the siblings were little. In high school, a twice dislocated shoulder dashed Ms. Kretzmer’s hopes of playing volleyball in college. “So I got into drama and theater, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.”

She enrolled at Baron Brown, an acting studio in Santa Monica, at 17 and completed the program at 20. “I loved my community of actors. But when we graduated I was like, Oh, God, I don’t think I have it in me to do this.” Instead of auditions she turned to Craigslist for jobs outside of acting. Until 2016, when she became Ms. Washington’s executive assistant, she worked as an assistant for film producers, managers and directors.

Working with Ms. Washington was a dream; “Scandal,” the hit TV show, was in its final two seasons when she started. “That was just a really special and exciting time to be involved,” she said. Now she supports Ms. Washington, who is also a producer, author and political and social activist, in a way that’s differently fulfilling. “Kerry cares deeply about everything she does,” she said. “And I love what she’s doing.”

Mr. Kretzmer cultivated his daughter’s longtime interest in Major League Baseball. But he liked the wrong team. “My dad is the biggest Giants fan,” she said, because he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rivals. She didn’t tune him out when he talked about Giants history, though. That was something Mr. Pennel picked up on between tending to Emma and trying to seem casual on their first date.

Mr. Pennel is a Marine veteran and a freelance program manager for electric vehicle and electric vehicle charging companies. He, too, is a Giants fan from the Bay Area. He and his younger sister grew up in Belmont, Calif., with their parents, Terry Pennel and Susan Pennel.

Like Ms. Kretzmer, in high school Mr. Pennel wasn’t sure college was right for him. The military seemed a better fit. He started boot camp in 2001 and served nine years, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He left the Marines as a staff sergeant.

At 27, he enrolled at Pepperdine University on the G.I. Bill and started working part time at a Santa Monica Tesla showroom, his introduction to electric vehicle work. In 2014, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and moved back to the Bay Area. Seven years later, he picked up stakes and returned to Santa Monica. “All my friends were married and having kids,” he said. “I was looking for a change.”

The introduction first of Emma and then of Ms. Kretzmer provided way more than a change of scenery. On their first date at Ashland Hill, they talked baseball. “My dad had taught me some old-school Giants references, and I think that impressed Pat,” she said. He impressed her with what seemed like his ease around Emma. “He looked confident,” she said. “It made me feel comfortable.”

The Giants and Dodgers were squaring off the same night. By the time the first pitch was thrown out, they had pushed past their team tribalism to a place of respect and romantic possibility. “I can appreciate them,” Ms. Kretzmer said of the Giants. “I just never want them to win.”

The next few weeks, while Ms. Kretzmer was away visiting a cousin in the Hamptons, they texted and talked on the phone. At the end of a second date in early August, at Art’s Table in Santa Monica, they kissed. Mr. Pennel felt himself falling in love that night. “There was a moment during dinner when it was hard to keep the conversation going,” he said. Ms. Kretzmer rescued it from faltering. “She was intuitive. I felt like she could feel my feelings.”

He felt hers acutely a month later, when Ms. Thom Kretzmer got a breast cancer diagnosis. “I have a hard time being vulnerable,” Ms. Kretzmer said. This time, he was intuitive. “Whether it was letting me have space when I needed it, hugging me when I was crying hysterically or making meatballs for my mom, Pat supported me.”

By October, they had deleted their dating apps. Their first “I love you’s” came with a November trip to Palm Springs. In October 2022, Mr. Pennel and Emma moved into Ms. Kretzmer’s Venice apartment. “I already knew I wanted to marry Maggie,” he said. In November, he reached out to her best friend, Tara Ower, to help him pick an engagement ring. Ms. Kretzmer suspected nothing. But she was superstitious about jinxing a hoped-for proposal: “Tara was like, let’s go try on rings at Fox Hills Mall,” Ms. Kretzmer said. “I said, ‘OK, but please don’t tell Pat we’re doing this.’”

By Christmas, the couple was looking forward to a post-holiday getaway to Santa Catalina Island after what had been a very good year. Ms. Thom Kretzmer’s breast cancer was in the rearview after successful radiation. The pandemic was waning. The Dodgers weren’t World Series contenders, but neither were the Giants. On Dec. 28, 2022, they rented a golf cart and took a spin toward the Catalina Chimes Tower, an island landmark. Mr. Pennel hit the brakes in a hilly area with sunset views before pulling from his pocket a pear-shaped diamond ring Ms. Ower helped him design.

“Maggie, you’re my best friend,” he said. Before he could string together a proposal, Ms. Kretzmer jumped in. “I said, ‘What does this mean? Do you want to marry me?’” she said. When they returned the golf cart a half-hour later, the ring was on her finger.

Ms. Kretzmer and Mr. Pennel decided on two weddings. The first, a legal ceremony Dec. 14 at American Martyrs Catholic Church in Manhattan Beach, was for family and a few close friends. the Rev. John F. Barry, pastor of American Martyrs who has known Ms. Kretzmer since birth and baptized her, officiated a full Catholic mass for 50. “There’s something so sacred about getting married in a church,” Ms. Kretzmer said. “That was important to me.”

A second ceremony for 210 on Dec. 16 at the Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades was a party in wedding attire, danced to the tunes of DJ Chris Haycock. “The entire weekend, filled with people who love us, made our weddings more than we ever imagined,” Mr. Pennel said.

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