‘How do I love thee?’

‘How do I love thee?’

Linda Steinberg and Rob VanGrover grew up 15 minutes from each other in Queens. But it wasn’t until they were both attending SUNY Albany that they met in person.

Rob and Linda VanGrover

"I first saw Linda walking through my dorm with a guy," Rob recalls. "I was sitting in the lounge with my friend Mindy. She called out to Linda, and even though she used the wrong name, Linda responded. They apparently knew each other, but not that well."

Rob, who’d felt a definite attraction, decided to wait for her to come back alone, and when she did, he started talking to her.

"I’d just spent the last half hour trying to convince my guy friend that I didn’t want to go out with him," Linda explains, "but he wouldn’t believe me. And now a second guy — a stranger — was trying to hit on me. I was pretty cranky by then and turned him down flat."

Rob continued to pursue Linda whenever they ran into each other, even though Mindy (not her name) discouraged him. Mindy, it turns out, had her own agenda — she liked Rob and wanted him to ask her out. But Rob considered her strictly a friend; all he could see was Linda.

"I was smitten," Rob admits. "I even wrote about her in my journal the day we met. I’d never done that before over a girl. And when Linda finally agreed to go out with me three months later, on April 15, 1978, I wrote that down as well."

For their first date, they decided to go off campus to a movie. "Partly because we wanted to avoid Mindy," Linda says, "but after seeing ‘House Calls’ in town, we went to the Rathskeller on campus — and sure enough Mindy showed up, a little drunk, and started accusing me of stealing her boyfriend."

Linda was concerned because she knew she’d be rooming with Mindy’s cousin the following semester. But in spite of the melodrama, she continued to see Rob. "We both felt very comfortable on that first date," Linda says. "And when we discovered we actually had friends in common back home, it was like we’d known each other all our lives."

After the school year ended, Linda and Rob headed back to Queens. She recalls her mother warning her gently during the drive home that college romances didn’t always continue during summer break. She now grins. "Rob called me 10 minutes after we got home — and we kept dating through all our school breaks."

Not that things were always rosy. "We broke up at least three times in the seven years we dated," Rob says, "the last time while I was attending law school at St. Johns." (Rob had opted for a school nearby so he could help his ailing father with his business.)

By then Linda, who’d been a finance major, had started working for American Express.

"We’d been broken up for about six months," Rob says, "but when I got a job offer from the government that meant moving to Detroit, my first dismayed reaction was that I wouldn’t run into Linda there. It made me realize how connected I still felt." So he called her and she agreed to meet him.

"We spent the entire day at South Street Seaport," she says, "and it was effortless being with him." They tried dating again, and both felt that this was finally it. The only problem was that they had to tell her dad, who had repeatedly urged Linda to move on and find someone new. But when Linda broke the news, her father said, "Are you happy? Do you love him?" When she nodded, he said, "Then I’m happy, and I will love him."

Once Rob decided to propose, he wanted to make it memorable. He booked a table at the Four Seasons on the anniversary of their first date, April 15, and told Linda they’d be double dating with her accountant friend. Of course, the accountant had to cancel on Tax Day, and Rob had Linda to himself. After they were seated, the waiter brought over several boxes. "This really big box had a tiny box inside it," Linda says. "And inside that was a toy ring that said ‘Redeemable for the ring of your choice.’"

By then Rob was down on one knee reciting, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Linda said yes immediately, much to Rob’s relief — and to the delight of the other diners, who all started clapping. Linda then opened the other boxes, which contained bridal magazines and wedding guides.

They were married seven months later and moved to an apartment in Fort Lee. In 1985, they found a house in Ridgewood and began attending Temple Israel — where the rabbi at the time, Noam Marans, happened to be the son of the rabbi who married them.

Rob started out practicing law for the government in Newark, and is a partner in a Wall Street firm. "Once we had kids," Linda says, "I opted to stay home and become a domestic goddess." "And I’m her assistant," Rob jokes. Their children are Joshua, just turned 19, Adam, 17, and Jessica, 13.

"We’ve honed the art of communicating and developed a lot of mutual respect," Rob says of their marriage.

"There’s a fine line between love and hate," Linda says. "We love passionately and hate passionately and, fortunately, love always wins out. It helps that we more or less grew up together." She pauses, then adds, "And once a month, no matter what, we have ‘date night’ and that allows us to reconnect."

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