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…)?
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.
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’srules. 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:
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 innocent guilty.
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.
“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.
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)?