Chapter 16 Summary

Romancing the Brick Wall

The most formidable brick wall Pausch ever had to conquer was small in stature, but it reduced him to tears and forced him to re-evaluate his life. Jai was this brick wall.

Charging through brick walls had always been fairly easy for Pausch, at least in his professional and academic life. He believed

brick walls are there to stop the people who do not want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

Pausch was thirty-seven years old when he met Jai after having fun dating many girls and feeling no desire to settle down. Even as a tenured professor, he lived in an attic apartment with folding chairs in his dining room, figuring the kind of woman he would want would not care. He was not “perfect marriage material.” He met Jai at the University of North Carolina; he was a guest lecturer and she was a grad student (in comparative literature) whose job it was to host him.

Jai had heard him speak a year before and had considered introducing herself; when she knew she would be hosting him, she did her research and discovered he was a “pretty offbeat and interesting guy.” Jai had gotten married early but was now single, and Pausch could not take his eyes off her. She was beautiful, warm, and impish. He asked her to have drinks with him after his dinner function, and she agreed.

They had such a good time that Pausch postponed his flight home so they could see one another the next day. After he returned home, he offered to fly her to Pittsburgh, but she was scared—both of his reputation and of the possibility she might be falling in love with him. She wrote to tell him she was not willing to conduct a long-distance relationship. Of course, Pausch “was hooked” and assumed this was just another brick wall he could manage. He sent her flowers and a note to say he understood, was sad, and respected her decision. Jai got on the next plane to Pittsburgh.

They spent nearly every weekend together that winter. Despite his bluntness and arrogance, Jai was drawn to his positive attitude, and she was influencing him to care about someone more than himself. He was in love with her while she was still finding her way, and he finally asks her to move to Pittsburgh. She agreed to get an apartment there but changed her mind at the last moment, saying she did not love him the way he wanted her to love him.

Pausch was devastated and asked his parents for advice. They told him this behavior was not consistent with everything else about Jai, and she may not mean it. He simply waited and was supportive, and it worked. His parents were right; eventually she realized she loves him.

According to Pausch, brick walls exist to give people a chance to discover how much they really want something.