“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?
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,
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!)
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Meet JimBob Frank. Let’s call him Frank. Because frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
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.
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.
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?
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?”