In the summer of 2009, a friend of Ralph Berger managed to talk the 80-year-old Kahala Nui resident into signing up on eHarmony.
"They told me they had done it and it was fun," he said. "My first reaction was, ‘No way.’"
Berger eventually gave in and enrolled in the online dating site. "I was a widower, so I thought, well, maybe I can find someone who wants to be like a pen pal."
He filled out the detailed information form and when he got to the question about how far he’d be willing to consider potential matches, he checked "unlimited," thus opening himself to a world of possibilities.
After a week or two, he found himself inundated with hundreds of "matches," most of which he thought didn’t match him at all. He contacted eHarmony and asked that no more matches be sent to him.
But the very last message that came through intrigued him. It was from a lady in Brazil, a professor like himself, a widow who seemed to share many of his interests.
"I thought, well, I’ll give it a shot," he said.
Berger, who retired in 1993 after a 35-year career as a professor of microbiology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, found he had much in common with Miriam Grosman, a professor of music at the University of Rio De Janeiro. After several months of e-mailing back and forth, they agreed to meet in Atlanta, since both Honolulu and Rio de Janeiro have direct 10-hour flights to that city. They’ve been sweethearts ever since.
Berger has traveled to Brazil several times to meet Grosman’s family. She said, "I have two sons in their 40s. One is an artist and one is a dentist, like my husband was. My sons, my mother, my sister, my brothers, they all liked Ralph so much."
They recently met in California to spend time with Berger’s daughter, who works in the film industry. "We spent several pleasant days together, the three of us," Berger said.
This month, Grosman, who is in her 60s, is visiting Berger, now 82, in Honolulu for the first time. "Such a beautiful city," she said in her silky Portuguese accent. The pair share a love of music and art and have gone to museums, the opera and chamber music concerts. They both love to cook. Berger is a jam maker and enjoys making marmalades from fruits from his friends’ Manoa yards.
"In high school, Miriam’s first foreign language was French and I’m fluent in French, so she’s come with me to the French club here at Kahala Nui where I live," Berger said.
Berger bought Grosman a full-size piano so she can play while she’s here. "It’s digital, not acoustic, but it has good pedal action, good mechanics," she said. "I can practice here and can lower the volume. I’m going to buy one just like it for my home in Rio de Janeiro so I can play at night and not bother my neighbors."
Berger arranged for Grosman to play a private concert for the residents of Kahala Nui on Saturday. She will perform with a cellist and violinist, both of whom are former members of the Honolulu Symphony and friends of Berger’s children.
"It will be a mixed program: a Mozart trio, a Chopin solo and selections from Brazilian composers that I love," she said.
They celebrated Valentine’s Day Monday and all the week before and since. "Every day for us is Valentine’s Day," Grosman said. They’re already talking about when they’ll see each other again, and Berger is considering a permanent move to Brazil. "She’s still teaching and her work is there," he said.
Mostly, they’re just happy that they took a chance — albeit a careful, computer-matched chance — on love again.
"In Portuguese, there is a saying: ‘I have the life I prayed for,’" Grosman said. "We can talk about things, share opinions, even share different opinions. We can talk to each other."
Berger said, "I still can’t believe this happened, to find each other across the world."