Based on recent experiences, I’ve been forced to conclude that the guys I’ve been dating must have only dated women like this…
Does this ring true for you, too?
Based on recent experiences, I’ve been forced to conclude that the guys I’ve been dating must have only dated women like this…
Does this ring true for you, too?
DISCLAIMER: Names changed or omitted.
“The Starfish poem brought you to me. And I think there’s something really important to that. This week, I want you to remember: If nothing matters, it’s just as likely that everything matters.”
The blinds were drawn over the huge corner windows, but even in winter, the high desert sun made the room feel bright and warm. Several starfish paintings dotted the light blue walls.
I nodded, tears pooling in my eyes. I looked at the ceiling to try to keep them from spilling over. The inside of my mask was already wet with an hour’s worth of feelings.
My therapist, Denise, got up from her chair and walked over to her computer, which sat atop a large wooden desk in the far right corner. Our meeting that day had been unlike previous ones. Instead of regaling her with my ridiculous dating stories, as I’d done during the previous two sessions, I had finally caved.
“Sometimes I just don’t see the point of any of it,” I had confessed. “Sometimes I just don’t want to be here anymore.”
Denise promised she would push me harder in future sessions so I wouldn’t avoid the most painful feelings and confessions. I carried her parting words with me as I faced another long week of uncertainty and self-doubt.
Over the past few months, I’d thrown myself back into the dating ring with a fervor usually reserved for boy bands and baked goods. The experiences ranged from barely noteworthy to fascinating to gut wrenching, and my self-esteem wavered at every turn.
Will I ever find my person? I wondered day in and day out. I couldn’t possibly put forth more effort. Between scouting out potential matches on dating apps to getting gussied up every other night to actually going on dates, it was as though I’d taken on another full-time job. Surely it was bound to pay off.
As the weeks passed and nothing quite took off, I found myself returning to a well worn narrative: I’m not good enough. I’m too old. Too fat. Too broken. No one wants me. This is impossible. After my divorce and two soul destroying break-ups in 2014, this belief had taken a new, more powerful hold on my heart, and even years later, I struggled to break free of it.
Following my latest therapy session, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I considered Denise’s parting words, which I’d begun to apply to everything abstract: If you think [x extreme belief] is true, then you have to give equal weight to the possibility that [y exact opposite belief] is true.
If no one wants me, then it’s equally possible that everyone wants me.
I chuckled, and from this new objective standpoint, I reviewed the past three months. There was the adorable Canadian. The 20-something “Darren Criss.” The rock climber. 6-foot-4-four “Brody Jenner.” The engineer. The guitarist. The professor. One of them even gave me a [much-needed] vacuum.
In my mind, they had all been out of my league. And they liked me! They wanted me! By and large, I had turned them down because we just weren’t a good match. As much as I hated the need for external validation, I couldn’t help but marvel at this new, shiny evidence.
For the first time, I saw just how much credence I’d given to untruths. For so many years, I’d taken myself out of the Love Game because I was absolutely and utterly convinced that anyone worth dating would never want to date me.
“How does, ‘I am worthy of love’ sound?” Denise had asked back in October, during one of our initial therapy sessions. She had been helping me uncover my core issue, which appeared to be rooted in worthiness.
I nodded and she handed me a contraption that I jokingly referred to as The Ovaries. One of Denise’s methods was EDMR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), something I’d never heard of or tried before until coming to see her. Supposedly by holding these small, vibrating disks while thinking of a triggering memory and repeating my new mantra, “I am worthy of love,” I could begin to rewire my brain.
“I’m open to trying anything,” I had assured Denise when we’d first met. Aside from traditional talk therapy, over the years I’d experimented with everything from hypnosis to reiki healing to past life regressions.
As I felt the plastic disks gently vibrate in my palms, tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought of chubby, smart, stubborn grade school Jules, bullied by the girls who used to be her best friends. I am worthy of love. The family and friends who shunned me after my divorce. I am worthy of love. The grown women who bullied me as an adult. I am worthy of love.
“Okay,” Denise said after a few minutes. “Take a deep breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth.”
I obeyed, feeling like I’d just run an emotional marathon. We repeated the exercise a few more times.
“Now how would you rate the emotional charge when you think of [your most recent triggering experience], on a scale of 1 to 7. We started at a 6,” Denise reminded me.
“Um,” I thought for a long moment. “A 2?”
“That’s a big change,” she replied softly, nodding.
“I’m just looking for that feeling again,” I wept later in our session. I had been describing a person I’d met several months earlier who’d completely taken me by surprise. While it ultimately didn’t get off the ground, it had shaken me to the core and opened my eyes to romantic possibility in a way I hadn’t seen since my divorce. “It was effortless and I didn’t question any of it.”
“You know that had everything to do with you and nothing to do with him,” Denise said, a notebook resting on her left knee.
I furrowed my brows and started to protest before going silent. That can’t be right. It was him. He was amazing. He made me feel that way.
The longer I sat with this new, opposite, y-type idea, the more it made sense. As the weeks passed, I thought about the poem that had brought me into that office in the first place. A poem I’d memorized in first grade and that I’d lived by ever since. Two months earlier, I’d spotted that same poem on Denise’s website home page and knew I’d found the right therapist.
I found a tiny starfish
In a tide pool by the sea
I hope whoever finds him next
Will leave him there, like me!
And the gift I’ve saved for you?
The best that I can give:
I found a tiny starfish,
And for you, I let him live.”–Dayle Ann Dodds (excerpt)
Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are always about us. We choose to love or hate, regret or move forward, consider others or turn a blind eye. We can save every starfish or none at all. Each of us has such power and such inherent worthiness.
Why not choose to believe it?
You have (1) unread message.
“Ugh,” I groaned. Another spam message. This particular alert had been popping up in my inbox for days and I decided to finally open a new tab to log into LinkedIn and deal with it.
What I didn’t expect to see was this:
Hi Jules, someone is using your photos on an OkCupid profile [profile link]. Was recently messaging this person claiming to be Hannah in LDN and googled the photos and they’re actually yours, and you don’t live remotely near. Just warning you so you can report it.”
“What kind of holy high hell specific spammy sh*t is this?!” I wondered. Afraid to click on the link, I instead clicked on the sender, David’s, profile. His intro, connections, and credentials seemed far too specific and normal to be fake. I bit the bullet and clicked on the OkCupid profile link he had provided.
“Log in to view singles in your area!” the website shouted when I tried to view Hannah’s profile.
I quickly created a profile, adding the bare minimum requirements, and retried the link from David.
And there she was.
“She picked that photo?!” I marveled.
I mean I guess it made sense. You’d want to use ‘real’ looking images if you were gonna go full catfish. I scrolled through the profile. I’d just watched Love Hard on Netflix and felt catapulted into its plot, wherein a 30-something guy, Josh (who, oddly, looked a lot like David from LinkedIn) creates a fake dating profile to lure in a cute, unsuspecting journalist, Natalie, whose job was to write about her love life fails.
In the movie, Josh tells Natalie that everything else besides the photos was really him: the voice she talked to on the phone every night, the favorite foods and movies, the sense of humor. Hannah’s profile was a full throttle Josh. The details depicted a real, living, breathing person – who was absolutely nothing like me. I was half tempted to let her* keep using my photos.
*I’ve chosen to use she/her pronouns since that’s what “Hannah” used.
I get it, girl. I wanted to write. It’s a sh*t show out there.
On the other hand, I empathized with David and anyone else getting duped. I’d personally seen everything from wildly inaccurate photos to fake phone numbers.
“Oh, wow, this is a first!” I replied to David. “Thanks so much for the heads up – am reporting now!”
After reporting the account, it was swiftly removed by the OkCupid overlords. I wondered how the whole process worked.
Maybe Hannah was a scam artist trying to score money or a pathological liar. Or maybe she was a stone cold fox and just didn’t want her image out there. Her profile mentioned that she was into “persuasion, hypnosis, and mind control.” Maybe this was all part of some grand experiment that we’d someday see on Netflix’s latest special, Love Hard and Catfish Harder.
And how could the OkCupid team be sure I was the woman behind the photos? Did Hannah put up a fight? While my ego was stroked by the incident (“Ooh! Someone chose MY photos!”), I also couldn’t help but be curious about how deep David had gotten with her before uncovering the truth. How must it feel to fall for someone and then discover the ‘real’ person behind the photos? It’s disappointing enough to meet someone [after any online exchange] and not click in person, let alone after weeks or months of messaging.
In the end, the whole thing left me a little sad. Whatever the specifics, surely at least one person got hurt. Because of this blog and my business, I have no choice but to be utterly upfront. Simply search “Jules” + any number of other basic terms and there I am in all of my dorky glory.
After Hannah’s profile disappeared and within days of joining OkCupid, I discovered a potential match. Our message exchange was uncharacteristically delightful, and we wound up arranging to meet. After setting the time and location, my match sent one more note.
So, just a heads up, I was looking at your profile again and noticed that you are 5’8″. I’m 5’6″. For me personally, that is absolutely not a problem. For some people it is, some people it isn’t. Online dating can be a harsh world. But I didn’t want that to be a surprise in person tomorrow. If that changes anything, just let me know.”
I quickly responded that it wasn’t an issue for me if it wasn’t an issue for him, and jokes ensued. I couldn’t help but wonder, though… was that a Catfish Lite? He hadn’t listed his height, so technically hadn’t lied.
“When you go to the doctor’s or wherever and have to fill out forms,” I recently asked a few divorced female friends. “Do you check the box that says ‘single’ or ‘divorced’?”
“Oh, ‘single’!” they unanimously replied.
“I always check ‘divorced’!” I said, surprised I stood alone in this survey.
Did it matter? Weren’t they both accurate? I thought about how many first/second/third/fourth/fifth dates I’d been on where the guy suddenly revealed his ‘in progress’ divorce, kids, or the woman living in his spare bedroom (that one happened twice!).
Where’s the line between omission and deception?
What do you think? When it comes to the early stages of dating, do these details even really matter? When is it okay to withhold information and when is it not?
I glanced down. A long, white finger pressed into the soft flesh around my stomach.
“You say it!”
After a confused moment, I heard myself utter in a high-pitched voice, “Tee hee…”
My new boyfriend -the first I’d ever had, apart from the man I married (and, ten years later, divorced)- chuckled under his breath.
Frank and I were on our way to Chicago to celebrate my 32nd birthday. Living on opposite sides of the country meant a very creative “second” date, requiring several plane trips between the two of us.
“I’m trying to decide what dress to wear.”
My mind flashed back to a month earlier, when I’d confidently stepped out of the Whidbey Island, Washington hotel bathroom in underwear and pantyhose. I was the thinnest I’d ever been in my adult life, and the future seemed to span before me like the winking promise I’d always heard it could be.
Frank’s eyes swept over me, a frown accentuating his already elongated face. He held up one of the padded bras that had been in my suitcase.
“I think these should be illegal. It’s false advertising.”
“I just…don’t like having ‘the headlights on,'” I swallowed thickly and retreated into the bathroom, taken aback by the venom in his voice. I stared at my stocking-clad figure. I looked…sexy…right? I suddenly felt ridiculous. Who even wears pantyhose anymore?
On the drive to dinner that night, having decided to don my single-digit-sized new green dress, Frank told me about a recent trip to L.A. with one of his Navy buddies.
“I could never live there. The women at the bars wouldn’t even talk to us. Such snots.”
I stared out of the window.
At dinner, Frank assured me I could “go ahead and order whatever I wanted,” adding, in case I’d missed the inference, “Don’t worry about the cost.”
I smiled tightly. I’d recently been laid off from my well-paying corporate job thanks to “merger redundancies.” This was good. A guy like this never would have dated me before. You know, when I was…the F word. I mean, just last week he saw an old picture of me and said exactly that!
“Ouch!” I cried, putting a hand to my face.
“You had a chin hair,” Frank said casually, leaning back into his window seat.
My cheeks burned, the unforgiving sunlight streaming through the airplane window. First I was the Pilsbury dough boy and now I’m Tom Hanks in Castaway? I blinked back tears.
“What’s the big deal?” Frank demanded, seeing my watery eyes.
A month later, he dumped me. Via email.
This Valentine’s Day, I was going to make light of all of my bad dating experiences in a post entitled, “If My Actual Dating Life Were Valentines.”
I took silly photos and even joked with friends about what a gold mine this was. On Monday night, I sat down to write my brilliant Valentine quips, staring at the crimson hearts on the screen. Before long, my own heart sank. It…wasn’t funny.
I imagined all of the other hearts out there, smiling shyly in their stockings, exposed and vulnerable. I thought of every person rationalizing shitty situations because feelings of “less than” ate away their confidence. Smart, funny, kind people who might also entertain the truly insane idea that some jackass in aviator sunglasses was tied to their wellbeing.
Despite what you might believe after reading this, I love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love the commercialization or the temptation to feel lonely, I just love love, and choose to embrace any excuse to celebrate it.
On this Valentine’s Day, in a brand new decade, wherever you are and in whatever circumstances you find yourself, I hope you’ll accept this embarrassingly sincere post as a tiny token of my love for you.
And if anyone so much as lays a g.d. FINGER on your chin hair, so help me
baby Jesus Tom Hanks, you have my permission to bludgeon them with a jumbo-sized tube of Pilsbury crescent rolls.
DISCLAIMER: Names have been changed because this is a very, very small town.
What’s that? How’s my dating life going, you ask?
Well, after the guy who yelled at me and the guy who scarred my friend for life, things started looking up. A few days ago, I attended a community event and an attractive man looked very familiar. Had he been there last month? Was he someone I might have briefly met through an acquaintance?
“Hey Carrie,” I whispered to my friend. “Who is that guy? I swear I know him. Oh my god, wait, I think he just ‘liked’ me last week on my dating app!”
What were the chances? Maybe this small town thing could work for me after all! The fact that we were at the same event meant we already had a few key things in common. Score!
Carrie, in typical Carrie fashion, smiled demurely and said between her teeth, “I’ll tell you about him later.” Her eyes widened by a fraction of an inch and I nodded conspiratorially.
I kept my distance and Carrie texted me after the night ended, including a link to a social media frenzy.
Turns out my latest prospect was suspected of first degree murder.
“Make sure you text all of your friends before you go on any dates!” Carrie reminded me warmly.
I thought back to the prior week, when I’d invited another dating app fellow, Adam, to join me for happy hour with a few friends. He had been visiting to see if he’d like to move here, and we had all regaled him with our own Relocating Success Stories. Adam had been smart, laughed at my jokes, had had an adorable rescue dog, and looked like Darren Criss.
Adam had texted a few times afterwards, but I’d suspected wasn’t going to move here. Would I ever meet someone swoon-worthy who actually lived in my town? Or did I just keep upping my sidewalk chalk game with the neighbors?
Then there was the Australian gentleman who bought my groceries for me this weekend when my debit card acted up. Yes, that’s a thing that happens here, because I live in Shangri-La. Unfortunately, he was my father’s age.
So what’s my next move? Well, considering I signed a year lease, it won’t involve another physical move.
You know what? I think I’m just gonna hold out until Darren Criss gets a divorce.
Has your dating life ever been so rife with the criminal element? That, much like, “Are you, grooming facility, accepting new dog clients?” is a question I never thought I’d ask until I moved to central Oregon.
DISCLAIMER: Names and identifying features have been altered or hidden to protect… ME. TO PROTECT *ME*! ME, okay?!
“It was the best first date I’ve ever been on. …Not that that’s saying much,” I shouted in my friend’s ear.
Sara turned away from the stage and grinned at me.
“Let me see his picture!”
I hesitated. “They don’t really do him justice… He’s REALLY cute. And tall! And has great teeth.”
I thought back to the previous evening. I had walked into a popular restaurant, the usual butterflies-or-is-that-just-dread filling my stomach, and a handsome guy had grinned at me expectantly.
Nope. Wrong color hair. Not him. …Shoot.
Further down, I had spotted a familiar face.
“Jules, hi!” the man had greeted.
I had been pleasantly surprised by his, well, everything.
“So you just moved here?” he had begun, and the conversation had flowed from there.
I had been in shock. A tall, attractive man, in his 30s like me, financially and hygienically sound, AND he had known how to ask questions? Well, I’ll be. A normal first date!
I had had to shake off the memory of my only other first date in my new hometown. Maybe the Oregon dating pool really would put New Jersey’s to shame! Please don’t do anything weird, please don’t do anything weird…
The date had lasted a record-breaking four hours, and ended on the promising note of future hang-outs.
“But my gut is still saying no,” I had texted to a few friends. “It was like hugging my brother goodbye.”
I had wanted to slap myself. What was wrong with me? Over the next 24 hours, I wrestled with whether or not to text him. He had left the ball in my court, and the decision to reach out felt like trying to decide between Oreos or Nutter Butters.
“Come on, show me his picture!” Sara insisted.
I reluctantly pulled out my phone and found his online dating profile, holding it out to her.
“JULES. OH MY GOD. NO. NO!” she shouted, staring at me with wide eyes.
“What. What?!” I replied, my heart stopping.
“THIS IS THE GUY I TOLD YOU ABOUT,” she said. “HE’S. CRAZY.”
Sara started recounting details – details fresh in my mind because she had indeed told me the tale several weeks earlier when we’d first met and exchanged dating war stories.
Yup. She too had been out with my tall, handsome, “normal” guy.
“He’s the rage-a-holic who told me to buy Magnum condoms and badmouthed his ex the ENTIRE TIME! MY WORSE DATE EVER! ”
I scooped my jaw off the floor. “Oh my god! I’m showing you every photo from now on! Jesus. This IS a small town.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“What? Are you kidding? HE HAS GUNS. You saved me!”
Her face crumpled a little more.
“I’m so sorry that was your best first date!”
I burst out laughing. “I told you it wasn’t saying much.”
What do you think? Should I give him another shot (pun, um, actually NOT intended, but now that it’s out there…)?
“I love you!”
My heart skipped a beat. It was another perfect, sunny summer day in Bend, Oregon. Around every corner of my new Pacific Northwest home, I seemed to find magic.
…Google Pixel 3 camera porn…
And now this? The L bomb? The only thing missing in my life?
Nevertheless, after 2+ years on the No Dating bandwagon, the temptation to peek at what was out there, 3,000 miles from the men with whom I’d repeatedly failed (please refer to links 1 to 1,373 listed above), proved too much to resist.
“All riiiiiight,” I groaned on the phone to my friend, Shawna. “I’ll try Bumble. AGAIN.”
And thus, with a trembling index finger, I downloaded a dreaded dating app on my hitherto untainted phone.
This time, though, I decided I’d cut right to the chase. “If you want to meet for coffee or beer sometime, let me know!” my initial messages read. (In the Bumble world, the women always make the first move.)
If the Bend, Oregon Bumble selection were an ocean filled with fish… No. I can’t even finish that metaphor. Because we are not talking “ocean.” We are talking lake. No. Still not right. Pond. Teeny, tiny pond.
I didn’t have a lot of time to dive in because almost as soon as I got to Oregon, I was off to Boot Camp. I returned to a message from “Dave” that made me laugh. (And if there’s one thing I promised myself, were I to ever dip a toe in the treacherous dating waters again, it was: He gots to bring it with the ha-ha’s.)
I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I scrolled through his photos again. F my life. I read his message again. I laughed again. OKAY FINE.
Two days later, I pulled into a brewery parking lot right on time and saw a guy leaning on the fence. That might be him…
I sent a text, “Just got here!”
The guy in question looked down at his phone, so I hopped out of my car and walked over with a wide smile and outstretched hand. Something immediately felt off, but I followed him inside.
“I’m excited to try this place!” I offered.
“Yeah yeah yeah, they have some good stuff! I always get the Sweet Ass.”
I snorted, spotting a sign that read, “Sweet As! Pacific Ale.”
He talked quickly and didn’t make eye contact, but offered to buy my beer. We were well within the happy hour timeframe, so I thanked him and we took our selections outside, where there was an impressively grassy outdoor area and live music revving up.
“Yeah so you just moved here, huh? Yeah?” he said as we sat down.
I eyed him closely. Coke. It’s gotta be coke. Or is he just that nervous?! The next two hours were filled with frenetic conversation, me asking question after question. He talked about his Aunt. A lot. And a former tenant of his garage apartment.
“Wow, so the guy just left after that?!” I asked.
“Let me finish the story!” he said in a tone so scathing I put a hand to my heart.
“I’m so sorry!” I gasped, completely thrown.
“No worries,” he gulped his beer and carried on.
When the two hour Suffer Fest was over, I pulled into my driveway, debating whether or not I should try to still salvage the night. Just then, someone came running up from the house next door, bouncing around the side of my car until she could give me a hug.
I decided to stay right where I was.
Any advice, or can I finally marry my dog?
DISCLAIMER: Names changed because it’s fun to rename people you’ve never met.
“I don’t have a lot of experience with girls. I mean, like, verrry little.”
Looking back, I probably should have dropped my fork and run. But he was so funny. And had great hair.
It was late March 2015, and Adam was the ninth person I’d met during my 10 first dates in 10 weeks online dating phase. I never made it to the tenth. Our first date lasted nearly six hours, over dinner and drinks at a local gastro pub. (And by gastro pub I mean restaurant that features 117 kinds of beer, dramatically mustachioed waiters and duck confit sliders.)
At 35, Adam was a few years older than I was, animated and full of fun stories. When a position in the arts failed to cover the bills, he settled for manual labor alongside his father, work he described with hilarious disdain. If I had had to guess, I’d have said he’d probably just moved out of his parents’ basement within the past year.
“Next time we’re going to have to go to [the notoriously cheap local Mexican restaurant],” he said after I ordered my third drink (I did mention we were there for six hours, right?).
“I won’t be able to afford your hollow leg!”
At the end of the night, I insisted on paying, knowing I’d racked up an impressive tab with my multiple martinis and tuna tartare compared to his two beers and burger. As with most first dates, I left feeling both energized and drained, and still very much on the fence.
We texted incessantly, and by the end of our second date, I found myself saying, “I reallllly like you” before kissing him. He had been so nervous, I was surprised by how naturally he reacted.
On our third date, we got lost in the subway.
Still, I wrestled with my resolve to keep dating. Meeting strangers and immediately auditioning them for Future Life Partner, or at the very least, Tonsil Hockey Teammate, seemed…WEIRD to me. Maybe because my dating life didn’t begin in earnest until 31 – after my divorce. I had married my first real boyfriend, someone I’d known through work for almost two years before we’d started dating, and we had been together for over ten years.
Nevertheless, in early 2014, newly single, I dove headfirst into two back-to-back relationships via eHarmony, eventually burned and defeated by both. “Gotta get back in the game!” was the conventional wisdom, and since I’d yet to become the baller, independent thinker you see before you today, I went with it. “10 First Dates in 10 Weeks,” I called it.
After that, I entered one more relationship courtesy Match.com that was nice, but not right for me. It was mid-2017 by then and I realized I needed a break. I needed to finish grad school and focus on my passions. I dove headfirst into my thesis, met amazing new people, and lined up an exciting array of adventures for 2019 (heh, stay tuned).
Is that the reason I’m glad I’m single this Valentine’s Day? …Kind of. Have I noticed that I haven’t gone on a date in almost two years? …Sorta. Am I EVER going to date again?
That’s right. You heard me. At some point in 2018 it occurred to me that I wasn’t getting the results I wanted because I was following someone else’s rules. No wonder I was burnt out, frustrated, confused. I thought I just hadn’t found the right app, or tried hard enough, when in fact I was simply looking in all the wrong places. It was so obvious I couldn’t believe I’d missed it:
The only men I’d ever loved were friends first. Including my ex-husband.
Real friends. Friends for the sake of being friends. We weren’t trying each other on to see if we fit. We weren’t grilling each other over craft beer with sweaty palms and sky-high stakes.
We connected over shared laughs, common interests and similar goals. Our paths crossed naturally, and over time, we confided in each other, deepened our trust and developed genuine love. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.
So did Adam become a real friend? No. But he certainly was the closest to one I found during my
10 9 First Dates in 10 Weeks, and he reminded me of what I really wanted. He reminded me that I need to see someone’s heart and soul before I feel comfortable sharing my most vulnerable self.
I admire those who can bare it all sooner, who can meet new people and embrace the uncertainty. I have girlfriends who relish getting to a new city and firing up Bumble. To them, it’s fun and exciting. For me, it’s a fate worse than
death a chipmunk-less world.
The choice to never date again probably sounds dramatic and sad to those folks. When I made the decision last year? I’d never felt more relieved.
How do you feel about dating? About being single (or not) this Valentine’s Day?
DISCLAIMER: Names changed to protect the
I was 18 years old when my life began.
One balmy summer day, after all the Y2K dust had finally settled, a young, auburn-haired woman walked into the local bookstore where I worked. Meg. The new hire. Her sundress flapped against ivory legs as she took the new hardcovers to the front of the shop.
We were fast friends, chatting in between placing orders and ringing up customers.
“You were maaaade for retail,” she teased, quoting one of our most recent patrons while I rolled my eyes.
I’d gotten the full-time job the same year I’d earned my GED. By the time I met Meg, I was taking classes at the local community college, my sights set on screenwriting. Bullied for glasses, braces and a few spare chins, I had eventually been homeschooled. I sometimes wondered if old soul really meant late bloomer.
Meg regaled me with sordid tales of her past: running away from home, men calling in the middle of the night begging for forgiveness, operatic dreams dashed, sex, drugs and rock and roll.
“You need a little fun in your life,” she said one night as we sipped Sangria at a local bar. She was five years older than I and seemed to know all the places with lenient carding policies.
In March, one month before my 19th birthday, Meg and I took our shoes off in the mud room of her parents’ colonial and walked into the small, dated kitchen, just like we’d done countless times before. Blue painted cabinets and faded wallpaper enveloped us. Despite its age, everything in the house was spotless.
And there he was.
“Gem,” he greeted. (“Meg” spelled backward.) His deep voice rumbled with affection.
The figure sitting at the small round table, munching away on carrot and celery sticks, shared Meg’s fair skin and smile, but had much darker brown hair and eyes. Goodbye Justin Timberlake, hello…
“Ben, this is Jules. Jules, Ben.”
Meg’s twin brother. The apple of her eye. He grinned widely, eyes sparkling.
In addition to sharing physical similarities with his twin, Ben also shared Meg’s intelligence, musical ability and sense of humor. He’d graduated college two years earlier with a degree in psychology, but his true passion was film, giving us plenty in common. He had a serious girlfriend, but she didn’t like his friends, which meant every time I saw him, he was alone.
And suddenly he was everywhere.
The next time we met, we talked for over an hour. The third time, he sprung up and gave me a giant bear hug. His solid frame pressed against me and I lost my breath. I’d never been held like that.
That same night he stopped me from leaving by saying, “That Train CD you gave Meg is really awesome.”
We stood in the laundry room of a friend’s house, in a holding pattern between the door out, for me, and the door back in, for him. We chatted for a few minutes about music.
“Well…goodnight,” I said eventually.
He stepped forward and this time I was ready for it. I lifted my arms so his were forced to circle my waist.
“You give good hugs,” I murmured.
He gave a throaty chuckle and squeezed me even more tightly.
Over the following months, the conversations and hugs grew longer. And longer. But he never made a pass, and I was sure I was imagining things.
Finally, in November, buoyed by quitting a toxic babysitting job, I emailed Ben. “I think there’s something between us,” I wrote, heart racing. “You’re completely amazing, and I wish you all the best life has to offer,” I went on. “I’m just afraid -and my ultimate point lies here- that you won’t realize when it’s being offered to you.”
That was Thursday. On Sunday, Ben replied. It was the longest three days of my life. He explained that his lack of response indicated “slight discomfort” because, while he enjoyed my company just as much, it was in “a different way.” He ended by saying he hoped that we could “continue to chill.”
I was devastated. Humiliated. Yet some part of me wasn’t willing to accept his words. And because of that, our friendship deepened. I was sure if I waited long enough, and tried hard enough, I’d get the thing I wanted most.
Six months later, at 3:00am one May, standing outside his parents’ house, Ben kissed me.
“I thought it was all in my head,” I breathed.
“It’s not,” he replied, brown eyes blazing. He held me and stared deep into my eyes, like he always did.
“I tried to figure out if I just wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough or funny enough,” I gushed. The words were out before I could censor them. I didn’t care.
“That’s ridiculous,” he reassured me.
The following year was speckled with a few more kisses, a couple of midnight confessions, and an endless series of marathon hugs. He loved me, and said I was one of his best friends, but he was never ready to leave his girlfriend and accept all I was willing to give.
Before I knew it, I was 21, tipsy, and begging Ben not to leave a party. He did.
And that was the moment.
The moment I decided to let myself fall in love with someone else. Someone I’d known a long time. Someone who, as it turns out, loved me back.
Meg once told me, when I finally confessed how I felt about her brother, “Your loving Ben has a purpose, if only to make you see how much you deserve in love.”
And she was right. Without Ben, I never would have known how to appreciate that love that’s meant for you is easy. Simple. Happy.
Any time someone talks about “Most Embarrassing Moments,” I think of that email I sent to Ben 17 years ago. I cringe. I blush. I bury my head in my hands. But actually, I love that girl. She put it all out there, fear be damned.
And guess what?
I’m still the same girl.
Yesterday I had to interview someone for a grad school assignment.
Emphasis on “had” to.
Assignments like this send me, a 36-year-old introvert, into a cold sweat before the semester even begins. Especially when I land an interview with someone who has a very fancy title in a sector with which I am very unfamiliar.
I immediately took to Google. This man and I were from nearby towns and he was, I soon learned, just a few years older. We undoubtedly had acquaintances in common, changing the whole tenor of the interview. I found him on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube…I suddenly knew way too much about him before even meeting, reminiscent of my prolific dating days.
“Just chill out,” I told myself. “At least it’s not a date!”
Except it totally was. Coffee shop, late afternoon, two people with an agenda…
As soon as my interview subject -let’s call him Ted- arrived, he stuck out his hand and said,
“Hi Jessica, nice to meet you.”
Did he just say Jessica? We’d exchanged at least five emails prior to meeting. Perhaps I should rethink my signature.
He had the Book of Mormon-meets-Quasi-Casual-First-Date look down pat: pressed checkered button-down and perfectly coiffed hair, complemented by fitted slacks with matching belt and shoes.
“You know, I just came from the same coffee shop in [a nearby town],” he said, walking towards the counter. “I was meeting Mr. Mucky Pants from the Board. We had so much to discuss, I didn’t even get to have coffee.”
And thus began a 90-minute, name-drop-laden autobiography in which Ted was the unsung hero.
Beginning in 6th grade.
I managed to ask two of my eight questions.
Midway through, he veered -unprovoked- into his personal life, detailing his recent divorce.
“I’m a really happy guy,” he said repeatedly, with a razor sharp edge to his voice. “I played the role of the guy who tried to fix everything. I have a really long fuse, you know. But get this…”
Ted went on to describe his ex-wife’s grievances, and then how wonderfully everything worked out for him, because:
“I’m a really likable guy. I mean, really. I’m so easy to like.”
“Jury’s still out,” I replied before I could stop myself.
He plowed ahead, telling me about the amazing woman he’d met shortly thereafter, and I wondered how I’d ever get us back on track. He leaned across the table, his hands dangerously close to my Central Perk-sized latte. I angled back in my chair, legs crossed, my pen hovering over a small notepad. My heart rate picked up. The flashbacks came in nauseating waves.
…The guy who showed me YouTube clips where he surgically removed his big toenails…
…The guy who wanted to hook up because he and his wife were “on a break”…
…The guy who told me he only dated “German girls”…
…The guy who said his mother made him “scared of sex”…
…The guy who–
MAKE IT STOP!!!!!!
“So the next day, Ms. Fancy Drawers called and said she RECOMMENDED me to the Board.”
I snapped back into the moment. Ted was still going.
“This woman has met the president and the pope, you know? Yeah so that was exactly 17 years ago today. That’s right. I was sitting in her office, seeing smoke across the Hudson.”
I nodded and scribbled in my notepad while Ted talked about how hard 9/11 had been for him, personally, on the very day of his esteemed new role.
“Do you have kids?”
Wha…did he just ask ME a question?
“No,” I replied, sitting up straight. “But I do have a d–”
“Well, I have two,” he said. “You need to show kids that THEY’RE IN CONTROL of how they react to everything. You know? Shit happens.”
“Thank you again for your time,” I said when he finally paused to take another sip of his artisan cold brew. I also gave silent thanks to the Merciless Parking Meter Gods who brought this
interview date torture to a close.
“I just hope I’m always this accessible,” Ted replied.
I hightailed it to my car, and for the next hour, trembled in the corner of my apartment, staring down the Ghost of First Dates Past.
I shuddered as I thought about how Ted embodied every other horrifying first date I’d had over the past few years. The ones where I’d laugh and nod, asking question after question, arriving home exhausted and disappointed, my vocal chords atrophying from lack of use. I’d take off my make-up and high heels, picking peacock feathers off my dress – the same dress I’d second-guessed every day for a week.
I poured myself a pity glass of wine, just like I did back then, and remembered where I was four years ago.
Newly divorced. Like Ted.
Living alone for the first time in my life. Like Ted.
Starting a new job. Like Ted.
Craaap, I thought. Ted is ME. For a split second, it all came rushing back. I had been so scared. Sad. Self-absorbed. God. I wouldn’t pay to go back there.
And the tremors finally subsided.
Maybe I’ll give him a pass this time. What do you think?