Monday, January 2, 2012

Inconvenience and the Patiently Waiting Heart

     Eleven months after my ex-husband and I separated, my best friend and colleague, Allen, convinced me that it was time for me to start thinking about dating again. It was March or April of 2006, and I thought he was out of his mind. Aside from working full-time, mothering fourteen year old twin boys, and functioning as the sole head of my household, I was just starting to study for my oral board exams, which were scheduled in September. For a number of reasons, I couldn't think of a worse idea than dating. First, there was the fact that I felt like crap about myself mentally. I'd already had two failed marriages, albeit to the same man, and I'd spent the majority of those eleven months, reliving what had gone wrong between us and more specifically, the ways in which I'd been responsible for the breakdown of our marriage. I whiled away many evenings at home, drinking wine and contemplating the past, arriving at some painful conclusions about myself as a marriage partner. Secondly, I felt undesirable. I was 43 years old, not exactly over the hill, but definitely not part of the "I-love-snow-skiing-and-scuba-diving-at-sunset-while-sipping-champagne-with-my-big-fake-boobs-and-botoxed-forehead" crowd, which seemed to dominate the female 35-45 age group on match.com. Finally, it was just too weird to consider online dating; I mean, really, how desperate could you get? Allen bugged me persistently about creating an online profile, and eventually, I relented. Together, we assembled a reasonable description of me: who I was, what I liked to do, places I wanted to visit, my body type, and of course, whether or not I was turned on by rainbows, storms, romantic walks on the beach, tattoos, body-piercing, golden showers, threesomes, ben-wa balls, and bull-fighting on acid.
     My first date was with a guy whom I'll refer to as Grandpa. Online, he seemed like a young-ish 64 year old; his profile picture showed him on a boat, looking tanned and much younger than his stated age. We e-mailed back and forth a few times, and I figured it couldn't hurt to have dinner together, so we arranged to meet at Cafe Alsace in Decatur, Georgia. I was SO stupid. I arrived at the restaurant and was immediately greeted by Grandpa's weathered face, leering at me from one of the tables in the rear, and unfortunately, it was too late to turn and run. I collected myself, joined him at the table, and then sat and listened as he talked about what we'd do on our second and nineteenth dates, as well as how terrific his ex-wife was. A few weeks after that fiasco, I ended up meeting another guy that I dated for five months. He was five years younger than me, had a two year old daughter, and was also going through a divorce. He lived OTP (outside the I-285 perimeter), which if you know Atlanta, can be a dating deal-breaker. We had our kids on opposite weekends, which meant we never had a weekend alone, and on the weekends I did spend at his place, he wanted me to wake up early in the mornings and knock on the front door, saying, "Miss Kris is here!" so his daughter wouldn't realize I had stayed overnight. Since he was in a custody dispute, I'm guessing he didn't want his daughter telling his ex-wife he had a new girlfriend. He and his wife were using that child as a pawn, and she was an overly indulged, undisciplined little brat who was clearly used to running the show. I broke it off because I found the entire situation totally weird and unpalatable.
     In the meantime, I passed my oral boards. I was also flying out regularly to Venice Beach, California, to hang out with an old boyfriend of mine from the 80s.  California Boy and I had kept in touch throughout the years, and had somehow managed to remain close friends. Truthfully, we were "friends-with-benefits", which didn't go over too well with his live-in girlfriend and eventually led to their separation. It was terrible, but I couldn't help myself. Being with him was dangerous. It stirred up that crazy, totally uninhibited and impulsive part of me, which I'd worked 20+ years to suppress. He was essentially a male version of me, a free-thinking, artistic, passionate, spontaneous, left-of-center, spiritual but not religious, hippie-sympathizer, and we had quite a history together: we'd survived the early 80s intact. After a couple of years of making that long trip to see him, it was evident that there was no real commitment or reciprocity, especially on his part, and I started feeling a little hesitant about our "situation", despite the fact that I'd just gotten my California medical license. In mid-October of 2007, I was scheduled to present a problem-based-discussion at the San Francisco ASA conference and California Boy and I had planned to meet there, and then take a tour of the wine country together. I was staying in San Francisco for a week,and had made all the arrangements for the Napa tour, including hotel and winery reservations.
     The match.com parade of freaks continued. I was regularly tormented by a strange guy in a wheelchair who wouldn't stop e-mailing me, along with a creepy Canadian man who referred to himself in third person, and wrote long, detailed e-mails about how he'd like to put me on display inside a glass box. I had a couple of dates with much younger guys, just for the heck of it. One was 33, and quite cute, but he still lived with his mother; the other was an artist who fancied himself to be an oenophile. He lived in Virginia Highlands, drove a very expensive car, talked incessantly about women's breasts, and though I never kissed him, I surmised he had a vile case of stinkbreath. Ugh!
     About two weeks before the San Francisco trip, I went on one last bad match.com date, this time with a guy who was a physics professor at a local college. I accepted the date, thinking "Surely, he'll be normal." We met at a wine bar in Decatur. Something about him was odd, subtly hostile, and he talked incessantly about his ex-wife, whom he'd divorced eighteen months ago. As he ranted, my eyes started spinning around like cartoon lollipop eyeballs, and I thought to myself, "WTF?" I was relieved when the server brought our check to the table. Physics Guy opened his wallet, and without batting an eye, informed me that he only had twelve dollars in cash. "Looks like I won't be able to cover my half of the bill." he said. My head instantly whipped around 300 degrees on its axis, and I looked him in the eyes and replied, "Well, I'm sure you've got a credit card you can use!" I'm convinced he was testing to see if I was one of those liberal lady doctors who'd be willing to cover his half of the bill on a first date. Later that evening, he sent me an email which simply said, "I'm sure I've ruined any chances of a second date." Duh! Hello, Mr. I've-Only-Got-Twelve-Dollars, yeah, you totally blew it!
     I was so disgusted with match.com that I logged on to delete my account, when I noticed I'd received a "wink" from a guy with the handle "dethockwings". Guys who wink, but don't send emails, are usually shy or timid which means they are probably also weird, so I generally didn't reply to winks. But "dethockwings" was cute and athletic-looking, which was a total departure from the guys I normally dated. My father and brothers were not interested in sports, so I grew up not watching Sunday or Monday night football or understanding sports of any kind. Dethockwings' profile was unusually spartan. There was a picture of him, obviously taken with his own cell phone, with a headliner that read, "I'm not convinced." His personal statement was a little offbeat: "I feel I am a good match to your community? I live and work in Alpharetta...have many interests: reading, golf, exercise, old movies, dining out, coffee, traveling, Red Wings hockey, boxing, treadmill, almost all sports...looking for honest and attractive female to spend time with. I can really appreciate an intelligent lady with a quick sense of humor. I find politically correct people very boring...do not like bull-fighting or any activity where man imposes his will on an innocent beast." Intrigued, I e-mailed him, asking "What aren't you convinced about?" He responded, explaining that the quote came from his favorite Charles Bronson movie. I learned that his name was Brad, that he was from Michigan and was a huge fan of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, and that he, too, had intended on deleting his match.com account. His last date had been with a German gal, a professor at Berry College, who like Grandpa, had misrepresented herself with an outdated picture. After exchanging a few e-mails, he suggested we meet for coffee. Although he already had two strikes against him, including the scary fact that he was a lifelong bachelor at 46 who lived with two cats, as well as the aforementioned deal-breaker of living OTP, I agreed to a date. We were to meet at 6 p.m. that Thursday at the Caribou Coffee near Emory, the one just across from Toco Hill Shopping Center. I was totally over online dating at this point. I came home from work, took a four mile walk, fed Nick and Rory some dinner, showered quickly without washing my hair or re-applying makeup, and changed into an old pair of cargo pants and a stained white T shirt. I wasn't feeling too hopeful about this date, plus I had the San Francisco trip coming up in a few days, and I still hadn't packed. This date was definitely inconvenient.
     I drove to the coffee shop, strategically parking my car in the side lot so I could make a quick getaway. I walked up to the front entrance, not knowing what to expect. That's when I spotted Brad at a table outside. He was standing up, watching me as I strolled by, and he was wearing one of the biggest grins I'd even seen on a guy. In contrast to the way it usually is when you meet someone from an online dating site for the first time, Brad was way better-looking in person. He was ruggedly handsome. His blue eyes and his smile were gorgeous, and he had short-cropped salt and pepper hair, chiseled features, and a fantastic body; in other words, he was hot! For the next three hours, we drank coffee, talked about work, our families, my kids, Zen Buddhism, and about how much we both loved working out. I couldn't really find anything wrong with Brad; he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. It got to be long after dark, and I was on call the next day, so we called it a night. Even though we both enjoyed our conversation, we didn't make any plans for a second date; instead, we shook hands awkwardly in the parking lot, and went our separate ways. As soon as I got home, I e-mailed Brad's picture to my friend, Julie, a friend from residency who was my age and divorced, to see what her impression was. She immediately wrote back, voicing her approval: "Wow, he's really cute!" That was all it took. I logged on to match.com, and saw that Brad was online, too. I left him a message, saying I'd had a nice time, and went to bed. The next day, I got a message from him, asking if I'd like to meet him Saturday at a bookstore. I suggested that we meet for dinner instead, at a Lebanese restaurant, close to my neighborhood. Suffice it to say, the chemistry we had was unexpectedly powerful, consuming, electric, and we were inseparable right up until I left for San Francisco. He de-activated his match.com account. I was stunned that he graciously offered to pick me up from the airport when I returned.
     I started feeling uneasy about the trip, especially because California Boy was flying up from L.A. to join me. Was this considered cheating, and if so, who was I cheating on? I justified it all in my mind, reassuring myself that I'd only just met Brad and that I'd had this trip planned for  a long time. But, something inside me had changed. When California Boy got to my hotel, it struck me how incompatible we were as partners. His self-centeredness and lack of inhibition now seemed childish, contrived and egocentric, and it finally dawned on me exactly what our problem was: we did not value one another. That deep sense of longing two people feel when they're madly in love was conspicuously absent between us. What's worse is that the entire time we were together, I couldn't stop thinking about Brad: his smile, his warmth, the way he smelled, and most of all, his thoughtfulness. I wanted to be swept off my feet. I desired romance and intimacy, not casual sex. I needed to feel cherished. I was through settling for second best, and allowing myself to be treated as a consolation prize. I knew then that California Boy and I were much better off, being friends without the so-called benefits.
     He flew back to L.A. for work during the week, but was planning to drive up to San Francisco the next weekend for our Napa trip. During the day, I attended the conference, and in the evenings, my friends, Allen and his partner, Bryan, Julie, and I hung out together. Each night was a total blast. Julie had to fly back to Iowa mid-week, and on Thursday night, the night before I was leaving for Napa, Allen took Bryan and me to see "Beach Blanket Babylon." We had a fantastic time, and I temporarily forgot all my man-related worries. After the show, we were all half drunk, and we flagged a taxi to take us to our hotels. On the bumpy ride back, we giggled non-stop, sitting on each other's laps as we plowed through the box of Sprinkles cupcakes we'd purchased earlier that evening. I got up to my room, and noticed a voice message on my phone from California Boy. He said his car was broken, and he might not be coming to pick me up. He said I should either take a bus to Napa, where he'd try to join me, or check out of the hotel, and wait all day in the lobby, until he could get his car fixed and drive up. I wasn't disappointed; I was outraged. The obvious thing for him to have done would be to book a flight or rent a car, yet neither of these options appeared to have occurred to him. I took it really personally. I mean, if our relationship, or whatever you wanted to call it, had truly meant something to him, he would have found a way to get to San Francisco. In a moment of supreme clarity, I booked a flight back to Georgia for the next afternoon and cancelled the hotel and winery reservations. I de-activated my match.com account. I sent California Boy an e-mail, explaining that I was going back home. Feeling liberated, I turned off my phone and went to bed. The next morning, I texted Brad, letting him know I'd had a change of plans and that I was returning to Atlanta that evening. Without asking any questions, Brad messaged me back saying he'd be there to pick me up, no matter what time my plane was scheduled to arrive.
     The intensity of those 24 hours was equally overwhelming and exciting. A man I hardly knew was going out of his way to pick me up at the Atlanta airport, while a man I'd known for over 25 years was fuming because I decided I'd no longer be convenient for him. For once, I wasn't certain about anything, and it felt surprisingly good. Brad met me at baggage claim, and whisked me off into the moonlight. We fell in love and were married exactly two years later, in a lovely outdoor ceremony, which was officiated by our dear friend, Allen. Nick and Rory walked me down the aisle, and our family and friends came from all over the U.S., as well as Canada. We had a kick ass band which sang ABBA's "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" as we exchanged vows, a sumptuous, salted-caramel wedding cake, which was made to order from my recipe and for which we've still never been charged, and vases, made from giant tomato cans that Brad and I had gone dumpster diving for, that were filled with daisies and flowering kale. Our wedding was casual, laid back, and very personal. The best part of being together is that my love for and attraction to Brad grows every single day. He is the last person I want to see before I go to bed, and the first person I want to see when I wake up. California Boy and I remain friendly, but have not seen each other since then. It's for the best. In contrast to that old Tony Bennett song, I didn't leave my heart in San Francisco; it had been in Atlanta the whole time, waiting patiently to bring me home.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Kris, Every other year or so i google your name just to see how you and the boys are doing. I'm glad to see the boys are following their dreams of music and being in a band. I always enjoyed our time together and have fond memories. Since i am part of your article i felt the need to respond. Out of respect I never stayed overnight at your place when you had the boys and expecting the same for my child wasn't an unreasonable request. Yes, i was in a custody battle but contrary to your claim my daughter isn't a brat. She is a well-adjusted pre-teen. I have had many an acquaintance/neighbor/teacher compliment me on how well behaved and considerate of others she lives her life. If you were going to write of our short relationship I wish you could have focused on some of the positives and not attack my daughter or my parenting skills.

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