In October 2010, they became Facebook friends after commenting on the same post. McLaughlin, who lived in Charlotte, was a divorced father of a college-age son; Tatum Anderson had been divorcedfor two years and was living in Columbia with her young son, Tatum.
For the next few months they traded occasional pleasantries on Facebook. The following March they were both online at 11 p.m. and began sending messages back and forth before McLaughlin, who is not a speedy typist, asked whether they could talk by phone instead.
After introducing themselves, McLaughlin mentioned he was straightening up his vast collection of Carolina Panthers gear. Tatum Anderson excitedly told him that her son had been a Panthers fan since he’d fallen in love with the football team’s logo as a toddler.
Two days later, a package of Panthers swag arrived with Tatum’s name on it.
She asked if he could help her get tickets to a Panthers home game against the Redskins. McLaughlin, a season ticket holder, said he could.
At the time, Tatum Anderson was casually dating another man, and McLaughlin’s six-year relationship was on the rocks. By October, both were single.
McLaughlin, now 52, invited Tatum Anderson and her son to stay at his house. After consulting with her mother, Tatum Anderson accepted. When they met at the airport, McLaughlin was immediately struck. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, she is just gorgeous,’ ” he recalls. “She’s beautiful.”
The conversation was easy. “It was as if we’d always known each other,” she says.
They visited the stadium before game day. “It was heaven— her and this kid were running around taking pictures,” he says. “And just to see how happy she was to see how happy he was did my heart wonders.”
When they parted ways so Tatum Anderson could spend the afternoon with a cousin, she surprised McLaughlin with a quick goodbye kiss on the lips. “I just felt so comfortable with him, and I guess I was starting to get a little smitten,” she says.
They reunited for dinner, but when McLaughlin made a call to a female friend in the middle of the meal, Tatum Anderson felt dejected. When she brought it up later, he feared he’d blown his chances.
“He just had the saddest puppy dog look. . . . It was like I saw his heart,” she says. She leaned over and kissed him again. At that moment, he says, he knew he would marry her.
After the game, Tatum Anderson and her son flew home. “It was bittersweet,” she remembers. “Here was this incredible man, and I would love to get to know him better and start a relationship. But how in the world is this possibly going to work?”
The next day, Tatum Anderson told McLaughlin it was the best weekend she’d ever had. But, she added, “I live in Maryland and you live in North Carolina.”