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
affinity insanity, 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
lik likc 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
second third fourth 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)?