“It’s fine, especially if you’re not looking for anything serious.”
My eyes darted back and forth between two women, a friend and a fellow partygoer, having one of those conversations that went from ‘Nice to meet you’ to ‘I’ve been in therapy for eight years’ in 7.6 seconds.
Frequenting such upstanding apps as eHarmony and Match had resulted in stories like this. And this. Annnnd this.
“Oh really? You would like the guy I just met a couple of months ago. Caramel skin, dark hair, green eyes…”
“Why didn’t you like him?”
“Too young for me, but he’s perfect for you.”
I watched the conversation between my friend and a complete stranger unfold, wondering if it would outlast the Prosecco supply.
“I’ll see if I can find his number.”
I blinked. Hang on. What just happened here? A stranger we’d met an hour ago was giving my friend the number of a stranger SHE met three months ago and… My head started to spin, not unlike when my girlfriends plan things.
Then I started to wonder… Was this really any less creepy than swiping your finger across a stranger’s likeness to indicate that you might want to share awkward conversation and unlimited breadsticks? Was this, in fact, a far more appropriate vetting system?
The next morning, the woman from the party called my friend.
“Hey, it’s Stranger Lady from last night! Great news! I found Stranger Guy’s number!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, my friend texted Stranger Guy with a few cute lines and a couple of photos of herself.
What do you think? Should we create an app for this?
No… You’re not. You’re not ready. Stop. I see your face. You’re not ready. I’m not messing around.
Are. You. Ready?
Oh. Okay. Fine. You want my credentials:
Years 0 through 21: Unrequited Love
Years 21 to 31: White picket fence
Year 31.5: Divorce
Year 32: Rebound from Hell
Year 32.5: Rebound from Hell: Fully Reloaded
Year 33: 10 Dates in 10 Weeks
Year 33.5: (Elective?) Celibacy
Year 34: Well…but he’s so nice…
Year 35: (Elective?) Celibacy Reboot
Year 36: TBD
Where were we?
Do you think it’s looks? Do you think it’s money? Do you think it’s who you know?
I’m not the funniest, smartest, richest, or most beautiful person you’ll ever meet.
I’m not being modest. I’m being honest. If they paid me for cellulite and drunken snafus I wouldn’t even have to be writing this right now.
But look at Year 33.
See that? Ten dates in ten weeks. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s a thing I did. Me. A textbook introvert who would rather Tweet-watch a show with a group of strangers than have an actual conversation. I think MeetUp is a place where people go to avoid their families on not-real-holidays like Memorial Day. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I eat tortillas in front of the refrigerator wearing pajama pants held together by a safety pin that I may or may not have inherited from Laura Ingalls Wilder.)
And out of those ten dates? Eight of them asked for a second one.
During this phase of, er, prolific dating, my hair changed. My weight changed. I think my job even changed. None of that mattered. No one cares. People only care HOW YOU MAKE THEM FEEL.
Except a few.
A few people who really love you.
And why am I telling you all of this?
Because no one asked me for a third date those few people who really love you need to include YOU. I grew up feeling rejected (see: years 0-21), and now, I suppose, to prove a point, I can (kinda) get anyone to (sorta) like me anytime I want. And so can you.
Okay fine. No one promised me candy if I climbed into their van, but someone from Match.com texted me out of the blue.
“Hey! Would you be up for a cup of coffee sometime? I know you said you’re in a relationship but nothing wrong with friends. This is George, the goofy guy from [nearby town].”
George and I had made it to the texting stage back in early April, when I was in the middle of my ’10 first dates in 10 weeks’ phase. We were all set to meet for First Date Coffee when I decided to cancel to pursue a budding romance with someone else. George was very understanding.
His text, now three months later, threw me for a loop. My budding romance had turned out to be anything but, and I’d since sworn off dating with the type of fervor usually reserved for monks and fruitarians.
I stalled for two days.
“Hi George!” I eventually texted back. “Good to hear from you! That sounds fun – although as friends, we can meet for a drink instead, because who cares about first impressions?!”
We quickly settled on meeting date and location. He suggested the very place I was going to recommend, which seemed to bode well. But did he really think I’d meet him if I was actually in a relationship?
“No f^&*# way,” said my girlfriends. It was a hot topic over happy hour that Friday. “He saw you were back on Match.”
It was true; after a 10+ year failed marriage, two eHarmony heartbreaks and several Match.com face palms (about which I hope to eventually tastefully blog), I had recently logged back onto Match, browsing the bottomless pool of misguided selfies. Each time I thought about messaging someone, I came to my senses.
Leading up to the non-date date, my anxiety morphed into full-on dread. I reread our text exchanges from early April. They were pretty funny. Was I going to have to start shaving my legs again?
On the big day, George and I arrived at exactly the same time. He was tall, nice smile, put together, friendly enough. Definitely nervous and trying to hide it. I was always nervous, too, but if there was one thing I’d learned over the past year: I rocked at first dates. The formula was simple, and had nothing to do with any merit or attractiveness on my part:
“Are you a drinker?” George asked as we walked toward the bar. I shot him a look and he laughed.
He never asked if I was, in fact, seeing anyone, and throughout the night, kept leaning his arms across the table. At one point I had to put my hands in my lap to avoid contact. Which meant I couldn’t reach my wine. Bad move, George.
In response to several of my comments about food, music and movies he replied, “You’re earning points with me.”
Comments like that used to make me blush and giggle; now I just wanted to go home and watch Little People, Big World.
I thought the restaurant closed at 10pm and I could make a smooth escape after two hours, but we wound up talking until nearly midnight.
I feared an awkward hug goodbye in the now-deserted parking lot, so I waved, shouted something about owing him a few book titles and bolted. He looked so taken aback that I wondered if I’d ever hear from him again.
He texted twenty minutes later.
He said he was glad we’d met, and sent a few Instagram clips of him singing. We’d talked about his musical pursuits, but I was surprised to receive four 15-second videos.
All you could see in the videos was his phone, while he earnestly sang over the likes of Seal and Extreme.
After a few moments’ debate, I replied, “NICE!! The last one was my favorite.” Technically, it was true.
The next morning, he texted, “I wanted to ask you, are you booked up over the long weekend? I’m thinking that I could be coaxed to sing you a ditty for a payment in fine wine.”
“Usually I pay based on performance,” I cheekily replied, agreeing to meet for a second date on Sunday, my next available evening.
I ignored his LinkedIn request.
On Wednesday (two days after our initial meeting), he texted, “For today’s entertainment, here’s a humor article I wrote in 2009 for [website name].”
He had never mentioned an interest in writing, but I dutifully clicked on the link de jour.
“The website was blocked by my work filter!” I replied, secretly relieved.
“Hilarious,” he said, and then copied and pasted the entire article into a text message.
I was running late for a meeting, so put my phone away, planning to read it that afternoon. Which I did. And. Well. Okay. So.
Here’s the thing.
Well it isn’t that…
You see what I’m trying to say is…
It doesn’t even matter how good or bad the article was. Right? Do people do that? Should I pass out blog business cards on first (non-date) dates?
And here’s where I need your help. How would you have responded? I’m not sure I made the right decision.
If you thought my year of eHarmony heartache (as evidenced here and here) might have deterred me from online dating, guess again.
For the past several months, I’ve experienced the highs and lows of Match.com. Stay tuned for future posts, Your Facebook Profile Says You’re Still Married and No, Thank You, I Would Not Like To See A YouTube Video of You Surgically Removing Your Toenails.
One might consider these experiences a sign. Take a little break, Jules, a little step back, they might suggest.
Ha!” I say. “Show me a REAL sign.”
Last night, I was getting ready for a third date with a delightful gentleman who discovered my blog before we ever met, so let me just again say he is especially delightful (and owes me a guest blog post).
He was picking me up for dinner, so I straightened up the house, got all dudded up, lit a few candles (to cover up any Eau De Dog-who-really-needs-a-trip-to-the-groomer) and anxiously awaited his arrival.
Ten minutes before he was due, I blew out the candles. One of them was the sort that has a tea light heating a scented wax cube.
It was resting atop a wall sconce. I lifted it down, let’s just say, a tad carelessly.
Suddenly, all the hot, melted wax sloshed out.
Onto my face.
Onto my white dress.
Onto my couch.
It was red.
Have you ever had any last-minute blunders while getting ready for a big night out? (Come on, I know for a fact one of you has had a run-in with a curling iron.)
It was three days after Christmas, and he was finally back. Tim had been visiting his family down in Florida over the holidays, missing my momentous move to my new apartment.
In 32 years, it was the first time I’d ever lived alone.
I spent the days leading up to Tim’s return getting both the apartment and myself ready: Tree decorated, curtains hung, hair cut, freshly laundered linens… I did everything short of bake cookies (though I almost did that, too). When Uncle Jesse started barking, I ran downstairs and flung open the door.
“Hi!” I exclaimed.
Tim seemed put off by the dog, who was clawing his way up Tim’s torso, but we finally managed a hug.
“I missed you!” I said.
“Yeah, me too,” he replied.
We’d been dating nearly 6 months. Tim was a quiet finance guy originally from Pennsylvania; I was a sarcastic project manager from Jersey. After my first epic online dating fail following my divorce, I wallowed for a month before accepting that the best way to get over a broken heart was to fall in love again.
I cautiously returned to eHarmony in June, and was once again matched with a 32-year-old tall, slender, blue-eyed, brown-haired conservative, but this time, he lived only 15 miles away instead of 3,000. Better yet, he was a runner, and given my recent affinityinsanity, he caught my eye right away. It took a few weeks, but eventually Tim asked for my number and we made plans to meet in Manhattan, near his office, for a drink.
After each of our first few dates, he asked, “So, when can I see you again?”
My family and friends got a good vibe from his pictures, and once my sister met him on our third date, she approved. I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt, but I definitely liked him. He seemed intelligent, mature and kind, an interesting mix of shy and outgoing. Occasionally he dropped a funny line, although he couldn’t spell worth a liklikc lick.
On our fifth date, Tim asked if we could see each other exclusively. I said yes.
In September, he called while I was lying on the bottom bunk of my temporary bed. I had finally sold my house and was staying with my parents while interviewing for jobs in the area. All of my stuff was in storage, my entire future up in the air; after a divorce and job lay-off, I longed for nothing more than stability.
“So there’s something I have to tell you,” he began, “And I don’t know why I didn’t just bring it up earlier when you asked me what I was doing next weekend…”
My stomach dropped. Oh, here it comes. I finally let my guard down and now he’s going to tell me he has a wife.
“I’m going to a bachelor party in Vegas next weekend. I was going to tell you earlier, but I forgot and then when you asked what I was doing, I don’t know why I didn’t just tell you, because now it looks really bad…”
“So I guess apple-picking is out,” I replied. Aside from having already made specific plans with me, his voice dripped with guilt.
I wanted him to continue being honest with me, so I accepted his apology and [pretended to] let it go. Two weeks later, I prepared for my first official marathon. Tim was going to come out to Long Island and stay overnight, cheering me on for the big event. A few days beforehand, he texted.
“I’m really sorry, but I forgot I have a wedding this weekend.”
I looked at my phone in disbelief.
“Are you serious? Whose wedding?”
“Don’t worry. Not mine ;),” he replied.
“I can’t believe this,” I wrote back. I made a mental list of all the times he’d bailed or rescheduled over the past two months. Like the night he was supposed to meet my parents for dinner. And forgot he had a basketball league outing. Every time, I reacted like The Perfect Girlfriend. Not this time.
Three days later, I finally agreed to talk to him on the phone. “This has been a pattern,” I explained calmly, my heart racing. “And if I can’t rely on you, we have nothing.”
“You’re right, Jules, I know. It’s inexcusable. I’m stressing myself out by not being organized. I just went through my calendar for the entire rest of the year.”
I liked the humble, mature way he dealt with the situation; it felt worthy of a secondthirdfourth fifth chance, though most of my friends violently disagreed.
From then on, he was careful not to break plans with me. In October, he invited me to spend a long weekend out in Pennsylvania visiting his family.
“Your brother is introducing me to everyone as your girlfriend,” I teased.
“I would consider you my girlfriend,” he replied. “How do you feel about that?”
“I feel good about that,” I said casually. Inwardly, I beamed.
“You two complement each other beautifully,” his mother whispered in my ear when we left four days later.
Later that month, Tim got drunk at a costume party and dropped the L-bomb. “I think about you all the time,” he slurred. “Don’t break up with me. Please don’t break up with me.”
“Aw, why would I break up with you?” I asked, trying to console him while that funny feeling tingled in my gut. He wouldn’t answer. I ignored it. He was wasted.
On Halloween, he gave me a card that read, “I’m so happy I get to spend my favorite holiday with one of my favorite people. Love, Tim.” I propped it next to my nightstand where I kept the flowers he would sometimes send me.
Tim spent Thanksgiving with my family, and by December, we were dropping L-bombs stone cold sober. He bought me Book of Mormon tickets for Christmas, and we planned to run the Disney Marathon in January down in Florida.
When he showed up on December 28th at my new apartment, I was bursting with anticipation. It had been ten long days since we’d seen each other. One of the last texts he’d sent had been a series of hearts.
I poured us both a drink and gave him the grand tour, asking all about his family Christmas trip. My life was finally coming together: New job, new digs, new relationship. We took a seat on the couch and I tried not to wonder why he was sitting so far away. He kept turning down offers for dinner while we made small talk.
“My eHarmony subscription expires soon,” I said, pulling out my laptop. “Look at the cute thing they sent.” I showed him the PDF storybook detailing our online romance. He leaned over my lap, smiling, asking questions.
Three hours later, I excused myself to use the bathroom, and when I returned, thinking we’d finally start making out, Tim was standing by my bedroom window.
“We need to talk,” he said.
My mouth went dry. I crossed my fishnet-clad legs and hugged my arms over my tight pink sweater. The outfit was brand new.
“I know I’ve been distant lately,” he said, “and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking…. Maybe I’m just not ready for a relationship. Things have gotten really serious… and… I just don’t think we’re right for each other.”
I stood there in shock. He’d introduced me to his parents! We had plans! When he’d shown up at my front door that evening, he’d held a Christmas gift from his brother – a Disney gift certificate with a card that read, “Can’t wait to see you in two weeks!”
“I’m completely mortified,” I breathed, one hand on my chest, not even bothering to hide my tears.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m really sorry.”
“Well as much as I’d love make this even more awkward…” I said, gesturing towards the door. He wouldn’t leave. Did he want me to tell him it was okay? That I understood?
“Is there something I did? Someone else?” I asked eventually. If he wasn’t going to leave, maybe I could get some answers. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.
“No, no, no,” he replied, seeming sincere. “You’re so great, that’s why this is so hard. I’m really sorry, Jules.”
After what might have been 5 minutes or 15, we stood by the front door. He placed my apartment key -the one I had just given him as a Christmas gift- on the counter. I nearly gasped; it felt like another one of his sucker punches. I stared at the key, wondering why he still wasn’t leaving.
“My key…?” he asked eventually, his eyes darting between me and the floor.
I lifted my hand to my forehead. “Oh, right…”
I found my purse and knelt down, rooting around until I hit the fancy little gray key fob that opened the doors to his building. I painstakingly pried it from my keyring while he watched.
“I’m really sorry,” he repeated, backing away.
I sunk down on the couch, feeling him hesitate, hovering over me. I vaguely heard the door close, my mind swimming and yet entirely still.
Did he come all the way here just to get his key back?
Have you ever had to ask for your key back (or been asked to fork one over)? What’s the biggest item you’ve lost in a break-up (besides pride)?
“I can’t believe that was you in those pictures,” Frank slurred from the passenger seat of my car. We were sitting outside of my parents’ house after a night of playing cards with my family, where drinks had been flowing.
He hesitated and then added, “I know this sounds bad, but I never would have dated you if you still looked like that.”
“I know,” I replied. Oh, you wouldn’t date a girl who was 120 pounds overweight? Knock me over with a freaking feather, Frank.
“I do love you, Jules,” he said next, and I burst into tears.
“I didn’t know what to do or think when you wrote it in the sand [last month when you visited me on base],” he continued. “It really surprised me.”
“I know, I know, it was too soon,” I blubbered. “I’m still afraid to say it out loud. I’m just really scared.”
Frank was a Navy pilot and newly divorced like me. We had met on eHarmony three months earlier, and despite a 3,000-mile gap between us, romance bloomed. (For the rest of the story, I give you: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.) He was smart, driven, handsome and creative, and showered me with attention and affection.
Meeting him felt like destiny, making sense of all of the winding, fragmented roads that had led me to that point.
In March, Frank and I met face-to-face for the first time in Seattle. It was sublime. Now, in late-April, he was on my turf: New Jersey.
I had planned a jam-packed agenda for his visit, including trips to New York City and Philadelphia, and then a flight to Chicago for BaconFest 2014 to ring in my 32nd birthday.
After my meltdown in the car outside of my parents’ house, we carried on as if nothing had changed.
During the 3-hour, traffic-filled drive to Philadelphia (Day 6 on the itinerary, in case you’re keeping track), Frank was chattier than usual. Maybe he was bored, riding shotgun instead of piloting my Hyundai Sonata. He suddenly started talking about his family and religion.
“I am bat-crap crazy,” he drawled, “and so is everyone I know, and you usually only hear about people like me on the news.”
[Editor’s Note: I may be paraphrasing.]
His Tennessee accent was strong, even after eight years in Washington state. I swallowed and kept my eyes on the road. Sure, we were very -very- different people, but after all, I didn’t want to date myself, did I?
“This is fine,” I thought. “Maybe I could be the kind of girl he grew up with. Maybe I could drink the Kool-Aid.”
By the time Frank kissed me goodbye at the Chicago O’Hare Airport, I was spent (and sweating bacon grease). Eight days straight with someone you’ve only met once before would have been exhausting for anyone, but when you’re an introvert? Grueling.
When I got home, I still wasn’t sure how to feel. Something was definitely off, but so many things were on. For the next four weeks, I fretted over where we stood. Another nibble fell through on my house, which had now been on the market for over five months, and with no new job prospects on the horizon, I started babysitting. To make matters worse, Frank’s texts went from nonstop to frequent to sporadic.
“Going out with the guys tonight for drinks and then unknown fun,” he said one night in mid-May.
“Enjoy your mystery fun,” I wrote back, my heart sinking.
“I will,” he answered, and I imagined him cackling evilly, relishing in this torture, this test to see how far he could push me. I wanted it to work. I wasn’t ready for the alternative.
A week later, I woke up to an email entitled, “[No Subject]”. Frank had sent it after midnight Pacific Time.
“Jules, I hope you have enjoyed a fun and relaxing weekend with nice weather. There is no easy way to communicate what I need to communicate so I’m being straight to the point…” it began. It was a very nice letter.
So nice it almost covered up the fact that I got dumped.
All right – your turn! Terrible break-up stories: GO!!! (You can even tell them in 4 parts if you want. I’ll bring the Ben & Jerry’s bacon Bloody Marys.)
“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.
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.
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.
That morning, Frank made green smoothies at his house and brought one for me for breakfast. It was delicious.
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.
“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.
After missing both his ascent and descent (thanks to my sheer blonditude), Frank led me over to the tarmac to snap this photo:
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,