Dave Goldberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s Love Story

5 minute read

Dave Goldberg, who died suddenly at the age of 47 on May 2, was captivated by his future wife the first time he met her in Los Angeles in the summer of 1996, when he was at a music startup and she was at the consulting firm McKinsey. But the feeling wasn’t completely mutual. They went to a diner in Westwood and a movie (Courage Under Fire) with a mutual friend. “We had this very special connection at dinner,” Goldberg said, and then Sandberg fell asleep on his shoulder during the film. “I was sort of smitten,” he said. “I’ve since learned that Sheryl falls asleep in many movies and on any near shoulder. So it didn’t mean as much to her as it did to me. But it did work on me.”

I talked at length with Goldberg in his office at Survey Monkey as part of my reporting for TIME’s 2013 cover story on Sandberg. He was, if less glamorous than she, a charming, warm, brainiac mensch. Theirs was clearly a very solid partnership. Sandberg praised her husband for his commitment to equal childcare in her book Lean In, which had a chapter devoted to finding the right partner. He was very supportive of her move to Facebook and her desire to try and effect some change. “[A desire for social change] runs deep in me and deep in my husband and deep in his family,” Sandberg told me in one of our interviews. After TIME’s story came out, she said that her favorite parts were about him.

But the couple had a pretty slow start. Sandberg had already been divorced and was dating someone else when she fell asleep on his shoulder that night and although Goldberg felt that they had made a “magical connection,” and friends told him he “goggle eyed” when he talked about her, Sandberg moved to Washington D.C., shortly after. Nothing more than friendship developed until 2001, when she arrived in San Francisco to work at Google, while Goldberg was still in Los Angeles.

They were both single in early 2002 when they decided to spend the winter break together. “As we got closer we both thought something might happen, but we didn’t really talk about it,” said Goldberg. He liked to plan travel (he later became the family’s travel planner, and even often helped plan Sandberg’s business trips), so he organized a trip to South America, and paid for it. Sandberg thought they were going to San Diego. “That was kind of our first date,” said Goldberg. “When you’re friends with someone, you can’t just go out to dinner and say ‘O.K., now this is a date.’ You’ve got to do something very different. It was either going to work out really well or it was going to be a disaster.”

It worked out pretty well, even though Sandberg, who was training for a marathon, made Goldberg join the first, most aggressive group to hike up a volcano in Chile. Goldberg started commuting to San Francisco and they rented a house. Six months later they got engaged. Goldberg had sold his company to Yahoo and couldn’t really leave Los Angeles so he commuted to San Francisco for four years, until they decided to have kids and Goldberg reluctantly left the business he had started and moved to San Francisco, eventually taking over Survey Monkey, the online polling firm.

“I had to give up on some of the music stuff I liked doing and this team I had built. That was hard,” he said. “I’d been working with these people for 13 years. I started my business with my best friend from high school. It felt like I was abandoning my team.” But he said that he knew one day his wife would do the same thing for him.

Goldberg, who was less inclined toward the public eye than Sandberg, acknowledged they were not very similar. “We are different,” he said. “She is organized and I am organized in a different way but not nearly as organized as she is. My desk is kind of messy. Sheryl’s is clean. I do my emails for the weekend on Sunday night. She does hers on Saturday morning. But I think that works well together. And I actually like it.” While Sandberg often touted Goldberg’s involvement at home as one of the secrets of her success, he said his wife wouldn’t be able to work with him: “She would be frustrated with me.”

Goldberg often gave his wife advice—he encouraged her to move to Facebook and to play hardball on her compensation discussions—but he told me that he probably got more out of their union. “One of the most talented, smartest people happens to be my wife so I can get great advice from her. She obviously knows me incredibly well and what I’m going through,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve been as helpful to her as she has been to me.”

The couple had two kids, both now in their tween years. They wanted more, but her pregnancies were difficult. He was, by all reports, including his own, a very hands-on father. They tried to have dinner as a family most nights and after the kids went to bed, the two would get some more work done. On quiet nights they might play online games together. They were big fans of Scrabble on Facebook, which Goldberg usually won, and a German strategy game called Ticket to Ride. The only game they disagreed on was poker, because Sandberg didn’t much like to gamble. But, tragically, loss can strike even when you’re not playing.

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