Dating, Wipe the Drool

eHopeful Part 3: High Altitude

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” I texted to one of my closest friends back home.

I was sitting on a piece of sun-bleached driftwood, my feet in the sand, staring west across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The water stretched between the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, where I was planted, and Victoria, British Columbia, approximately 25 miles away.

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Every five minutes, a deafening roar pierced the silence. I looked up. This time, two fighter jets soared across the horizon. It was like they were performing synchronized swimming in the sky.

“Cooooooolllll,” I thought. “I’ll have to ask Frank about that move.”

Just a few months earlier, I separated from my husband, got laid off from work, and had no idea where my life was headed. Thanks to the wonders of online dating and a penchant for making the first move, I now found myself 3,000 miles from home, on a 3-day-long first date with a Navy pilot named Frank.

We had met face-to-face in Seattle just two days before (for more, check out Part 1 and Part 2!), and by then, I was pretty sure I’d met my soul mate. I mean, what were the chances my second eHarmony match would mention a love of bacon, hiking and dental floss all in one profile?

I dug my toes a little further into the sand, smiling. The earth was rockier than at Discovery Bay, where we’d been yesterday, serenaded by a nearby group of musicians. We had sat mostly in silence, in between bouts of making out, punch drunk and full of chocolate from a tour of Theo’s – one of the many surprises Frank had had in store for me.

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Earlier, we’d ridden the Seattle “Ride the Ducks” Tour, shivering beneath a tiny blanket, while we ventured from land to sea and back to land. Frank had sung along to the corny soundtrack -especially when it was a country song- which did a much better job of warming me up. His voice was on key, deep and rumbling, making me giggle and blush.

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That morning, Frank made green smoothies at his house and brought one for me for breakfast. It was delicious.

The Auld Holland Inn complimentary breakfast leaves much to the imagination.
The Auld Holland Inn complimentary breakfast leaves much to the imagination.

We had time to kill before he had to report to base, so Frank drove us up to Deception Pass.

“Do you know why they call it that?” he asked.

I shook my head, still not comfortable enough to make my usual jokes.

“The original explorers had trouble finding their way around Whidbey Island and thought it was a peninsula. But we call it that because some pilots try to fly under the bridge, which looks deceptively easy.”

I shuddered at the thought of trying to fly a fighter jet under the tiny archway.

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“I was hoping you’d get to see my last flight on the Prowler [before we officially retire it],” Frank apologized. “But now it’s not scheduled until Thursday.”

“That’s okay,” I replied immediately.

“You’ll still get to see me fly today, though,” he added, while I wondered what the heck a Jersey girl with almost zero understanding of the military wore on base. My running outfit? Sneakers? I had only packed one small suitcase.

I tried not to ask too many questions as Frank explained that I needed to keep his I.D. on me in order to get around base. He introduced me to everyone, and some of his squadron shot him a knowing glance when they thought I wasn’t looking. The base reminded me a little bit of a college campus, a self-contained community with its own hotel, McDonald’s and gym. In my bright red raincoat and running shoes, I was sure I’d get thrown out any minute.

I camped out in a large room with movie theater-style seats and a projector screen, trying to look busy with my phone, while everyone else went behind closed doors to discuss top level security clearance-y type things. I glanced around surreptitiously; the back wall held the coffee mugs, each emblazoned with a flight name (think “Maverick” and “Goose”).

“When do I get a flight name?” I asked Frank later.

“You have to earn it,” he replied with mock solemnity. “Want to see us get suited up?”

I’d never been a sucker for a man in uniform, but snapped about a hundred pictures as Frank pulled on one thing after another from his locker.

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I am no longer immune.

After missing both his ascent and descent (thanks to my sheer blonditude), Frank led me over to the tarmac to snap this photo:

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I was THISCLOSE to getting my picture inside.

That night we shared another romantic dinner and tried not to think about the inevitable.

Our goodbye the next morning was bittersweet, standing in front of my red rental minivan, my age-old insecurities threatening to spill over: How does he feel? Did he have a good time? Does he really want to be with me? As he walked away and put on the final piece of his flight suit, his cap, I thought,

“Nothing will ever be the same.”

I was right.

eHarmony-Frank-I-love-you

Stay tuned later this week for the final edition: Part 4: Crash Landing!

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Dating, Wipe the Drool

eHopeful Part 2: We Have Lift-off

Less than two months after I started corresponding with Frank, the Navy pilot I met through eHarmony, I volunteered to fly 3,000 miles, from New Jersey to Washington, so we could meet face-to-face. (You can read more in Part 1!)

Frank
The profile pic that launched a thousand ships (or, you know, one airplane).

“I should have been the one to invite you!” he moaned, which proved how little he knew me. He was the first person I met on eHarmony, and I had been the one to reach out. My middle name might as well be Sadie Hawkins.

Frank and I were communicating endlessly by that point, and I couldn’t bear the suspense any longer. We made plans to meet in Seattle, where we’d spend a night (“IN SEPARATE ROOMS,” I clarified repeatedly) and do some sightseeing, before heading north, closer to base, where I’d spend another two nights, he at home, me in a hotel. He hinted at a few surprises while I shopped for clothes and got my hair cut, both of us more excited as each day passed.

The weirdest part about the whole thing was that no one told me not to go. Not my parents, my siblings or my closest friends. Was I that stubborn? That in need of adventure? It was as if I’d been single for years instead of months; the ink was still wet on my divorce paperwork and I hadn’t been on the market in over ten years, yet I felt ready.

The flight to Seattle went smoothly, unlike picking up my rental car. I was delayed two hours, and wound up with the only thing they had left: A giant red minivan.

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“I got this,” I told myself as I drove into a city I’d visited only once before.  “No big deal. Just driving a MINIVAN into downtown Seattle by myself, about to meet my soul mate.”

“Is there any chance I can check in early?” I asked the front desk once I arrived at my hotel. My Pre-Soul Mate Meeting Plan definitely included a shower and change of clothes.

“No, I’m sorry,” the receptionist replied.

I went outside, suddenly feeling panicky, and texted my best friend.

“YOU GO IN THERE AND TELL THEM YOUR SITUATION,” she fired back. I obeyed, stomach in knots.

“I’m sorry,” the receptionist said, unmoved by my romantic tale. “There’s nothing I can do. But I can give you a free parking pass.”

I wound up changing in the main bathroom, right before Frank arrived, two hours early. It looked like I’d be making my grand entrance in the lobby, a la Kate Winslet on the stairs of the Titanic.

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Make it count, Frank.

But somehow he had been able to check in (must’ve been the Southern charm of a native Tennessean).

“I can come down or you could meet me up here,” he said, from the shroud of his room.

“I’ll come to you,” I replied, taking a deep breath and heading to the third floor, eager to avoid an audience.

Moments later, I knocked on his door and he swung it open, looking as nervous as I felt. I had worn my black wedge heels, striped cotton dress and yellow cardigan from Old Navy because I knew he liked them, but now was cursing my decision. I felt huge, standing nearly six feet tall, and probably not much lighter than him, though I’d finally hit my goal weight that month. In heels, we were almost the same height, blue eyes anxiously meeting blue eyes.

We awkwardly embraced. Oh no. Oh no. This isn’t how I expected this to go. Will we really click? Was this a mistake? Does he really like me? Does he still think I’m pretty?

We walked the short distance to the Space Needle, struggling for conversation. The March weather was mild compared to temperatures back home, but I shivered anyway. I relied on the people skills I’d honed through my work as a project manager, trying to keep uncomfortable silences at bay. Once atop the Needle, Frank pointed out various landmarks, his command of the territory impressive. He must be used to seeing it from up here, I thought.

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I listened to the slow, calm way he spoke, as if this kind of conversation could go on for hours with nothing more pressing to get in the way. A vast contrast to the animated, hyper speed I was used to, having grown up a breath away from New York City. I nodded and pretended to listen, while my head and heart and breath continued their intrinsic rhythm: Go-go-go.

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Eventually, as we toured Pike Place Market, accepting the samples of exotic fruits and vegetables offered to us, he took my hand.

Oh thank god. Relief flooded my body. He likes me! 

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Our first photo together. Beautiful, no?

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We shared a candlelit dinner followed by drinks at one of a million hipster bars in the city, where we both finally started to relax. We sat knee to knee in a cozy red booth, staring into each other’s eyes while he occasionally murmured compliments in my ear. I flushed from head to toe. My experience with romance up until then had been young and sweet and tongue in cheek, then familiar, comfortable and tongue in cheek.

I had never been so earnestly wooed.

It was working.

eHarmony-Frank-candlelit-dinner

Next up: eHopeful Part 3: High Altitude! (Don’t worry. I’ll wrap this shiz up in Part 4.)

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Dating, Wipe the Drool

eHopeful Part 1: The Ascent

Meet Jim Bob Frank. Let’s call him Frank. Because frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Okay, yes I do. I soooo do.
Wait, yes I do. I soooo do.

When I joined eHarmony last year -because it seemed the most upstanding of the popular online dating sites- Frank popped up as a match almost right away. For those of you unfamiliar with eHarmony: a) Lucky! and b) They don’t trust you to wade through the man pool on your own. You take what they send you, and what they send you is based on their road-tested algorithm.

Sometimes they even have faces!
Sometimes they even have faces!

It was slim pickings out there, I could already tell, so the fact that Frank lived 3,000 miles away was of little concern. He was my age! And flossed!

I chose the least pushy of my options and sent Frank a smile, then waited with bated breath. By the next morning, we were corresponding through the protective nest of eHarmony’s guided email program.

THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE.
THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE.

I soon learned Frank was a conservative Navy pilot from Tennessee (stationed in the Pacific Northwest). I was a liberal project manager from New Jersey (stationed in suburban New Jersey).

Frank grew up with debutante balls and sweet tea, dogs roaming the family farm (and constantly getting hit when they wandered too close to the highway…seriously, how many times did this have to happen before you did something about it, Frank?! Don’t they make leashes in Tennessee?!). I grew up with Green Day and Trader Joe’s, roaming any one of the six mega malls near my house.

But if eHarmony said we were a perfect match, who was I to argue?

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Did I mention he was an excellent speller?

We’d both recently endured traumatic divorces, but felt ready and excited for a new relationship. It took three weeks of novel-length letters before we exchanged actual email addresses, and another two weeks before we chatted in real time.

The first phone call was abysmal.

Our emails had been full of clever subject lines and sweeping romantic gestures. Our first phone chat? Stuttering and sweaty palms. The conversation felt forced, dry and unsatisfying. (Er, that’s what she said.) This is never gonna work, I thought.

After we hung up, two and a half brutal hours later, his nervous laugh echoed in my ears. My stomach flip-flopped. There was just something about it. Deep, sincere and rumbling. It reminded me of an old friend.

I couldn’t imagine not hearing that laugh again, and two weeks later, found myself saying, “Why don’t I fly out to Seattle so we can meet?”

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Okay so maybe patience isn’t my strong suit.

 Stay tuned for eHopeful Part 2: We Have Lift-off!

How long would you correspond with someone before forcing the issue volunteering to fly 3,000 miles to meet?

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