Disclaimer: This blog post is memoir. It reflects the author’s present recollections of experiences over time. Some names and characteristics have been omitted or changed, some events have been compressed, and some dialogue has been recreated.
Can I cancel? I really want to cancel.
I stared at the clock. It was 4:30pm, a.k.a. Online Dating Witching Hour, when single, 40-year-old women’s nervous systems kick into high gear and Fight-or-Flight battles with Reason.
I was feeling especially cagey about that night’s online date because, just the night before, I’d gone on what initially seemed like a great first date with someone who might make a wonderful friend, only to have him proposition me and then backpedal by explaining that he “understood women” and knew I had taken my purse to the bathroom “because I had had [my] period.”
Doooon’t cancel. You know how bad that feels when it happens to you. Plus, this is a midwest guy. He’s not going to talk about periods.
David and I had matched on Bumble about a week and a half earlier and he immediately explained that he was en route to Bend to spend Christmas with his dad, splitting his time between Bend and the midwest.
“I moved to [the midwest] about 7 years ago,” David wrote in his first message to me. “With my no [sic] ex-wife. When we separated I have been spending more time out in Bend with my Dad. Love both places.”
“I read that a few times,” I wrote back, “asking myself, ‘Oh lord, what is a no ex wife? Is this another ethically non monogamous dude?’ and then realized you probably meant ‘now ex wife’? …Correct? (You can never be too careful on these apps.)”
“haha yes, I did. I saw that after it was too late. But I hear ya, I’ve noticed a lot of that on here – I’m definitely not that.”
I suggested we meet at one of my favorite casual restaurants downtown for a drink when he got to Bend, and when our date night arrived, I decided NOT to cancel and dress up in a black top and skirt.
David walked in ten minutes late looking a little flustered, having gone to the wrong spot in the sprawling restaurant. He was tall and dressed like a midwest-meets-Bend hipster: plaid shirt, vest, wool beanie.
“Are you a hugger?” I asked, rising to greet him with a smile.
“Absolutely, yes,” he said and hugged me in a way that showed he meant it.
Well, he’s definitely cute, I thought as we took our seats. He hadn’t been smiling in any of his dating profile photos and I was pleasantly surprised to see how charming he looked when he did, which was often and easily, just like me. The conversation started slowly and I struggled to get us away from mundane small talk. I bet he’s bored out of his mind and can’t wait to leave.
“So this is actually my first ever online date,” David confessed.
“THAT IS NOT FAIR,” I immediately blurted.
“I just had a good feeling about you,” he shrugged.
“You hit the jackpot,” I teased. “That really isn’t fair.”
When we finished our second drink, I was surprised that David both insisted on paying (a growing rarity in the online dating world) and then said,
“Should we get another somewhere else?”
I suggested a nearby bar and as we made the short walk, I cautioned,
“I’ll need a chivalrous arm because the entire parking lot is a sheet of ice.”
He offered his right arm and I got the sense that that one small gesture healed something inside both of us. We ordered whiskey cocktails -he again insisted on paying in an easy, swoon-worthy way- and we settled into a more intimate, relaxed conversation, diving into topics like veganism, financial security, and, of course, cheesecake.
“I’ve been wanting to try to make a vegan cheesecake now that I know all of the best vegan dairy products. I could make you one for your [upcoming] birthday if you’ll be in Bend!”
“I could be in Bend for my birthday,” he replied without hesitation. He made several similar comments that night that had me feeling confident I didn’t have to worry that he owned a house 2,500 miles away.
“So what are you looking for?” he asked at one point.
“A partner,” I replied immediately and he nodded, seeming not the slightest bit surprised.
“I’m beginning to see that you really need this,” he teased at the end of the night, seeming much more at ease, as he again offered his chivalrous arm all the way back to my car. This time, the insanely icy sidewalks almost took us both out.
“So how does this work? Do we exchange numbers?” he asked once we reached my car. I nearly melted at his naïveté. He took out his phone and I gave him my number.
We texted until midnight and all I could think was: This guy is out of my league and I NEED TO LOCK. IT. DOWN. Smart, handsome, polite, artistic, sensitive, financially secure, active, a dog lover and foodie… He spent his free time doing creative and varied hobbies and had built a community and life for himself that mirrored what I had in Bend. He was even left-handed like me, and it didn’t hurt that his teeth were perfect and he smelled great, too.
“So are we calling today our first date or is it just the Crazy Vetting one?” I texted.
“Well, whatever you call it I liked it and I want more.”
“I learned from true crime shows that once you let them take you to a second location…it becomes a first date.”
“Call it what you want so long as I get to take you on another date.”
“Looking forward to gripping your manly chivalrous arm next week [when I get back from a Christmas trip].”
“I look forward to that, too. I still have a moment I am thinking about when I was just looking into your eyes and thought, ‘huh, this girl is hanging out with me? That feels really nice.’ Just a simple acknowledgement, and appreciate that, wherever it goes from here.”
The next day, on the long drive to the Oregon coast with my “Bend sister,” Erin, I immediately warned her,
“I’m not going to be able to shut up about David, so should I just get it all out now?”
She laughed and let me ramble about all things Amazing David for at least an hour.
“He remodeled his kitchen himself – and it’s my dream kitchen! He taps his own maple trees! He paints! He sails! He plays hockey! He does yoga! He said he’s working on a cookbook with mostly vegan recipes! …I should probably try to go on a date on the coast just so I don’t get too obsessive.”
It was a tactic I’d picked up from a respected friend (now married via Tinder): always keep 4-5 guys in the rotation in the beginning so you don’t get too hung up when one doesn’t text (or winds up claiming he has an alien blood type). This adopted strategy kept me from texting David a ton over the following few days, although we did exchange several messages each day.
“Do you mind if we play things by ear on Monday? I might be wiped when we get back,” I texted. I was eager to see him, but wanted to bring my A game. He assured me he’d make himself available whenever I was free.
On Monday, I decided I couldn’t wait another moment to see him and we arranged to meet at a nearby, mellow restaurant with lots of vegan options. This time he was only a minute or two late, and when he walked in, my face exploded into a wide grin.
“Hi,” he said, smiling from ear to ear. His eyes sparkled and I could feel his expression reflected in my own. He looks SO happy to see me. We hugged and everything felt warm. Good. Right. Conversation flowed and we shared a giant salad with tempeh and vegan wasabi mayo – a combination we both couldn’t get enough of.
“Did you know they don’t use real wasabi in the U.S. because it’s too expensive?” David asked. “It’s actually just horseradish.”
“Are you serious?” I replied. “What is real wasabi then?”
“It’s a plant in the radish family that only grows in Japan.”
“Holy crap it’s already almost nine,” I said later, the past three hours having flown by. “Excuse me, I’m going to use the restroom before they close.”
When I came back, we chatted some more and I wondered why no one was bringing the check. The waitstaff was already putting chairs up.
“I guess we should get the bill?” I finally said.
“Oh, I paid when you were in the bathroom,” David explained.
As we walked outside, I was struck by how small I felt next to him – not a common feeling at 5’8″. We stood in front of my car silently for a moment, his eyes glowing. He leaned forward and placed the most gentle kiss on my lips. It suddenly occurred to me that that was likely his first kiss since his divorce.
It was snowing so we didn’t linger as long as we both wanted to. The next night I met a friend for drinks and when I checked my phone, I saw a message from David.
“Hi, I’m finishing up dinner with my dad – care to hang out with me for a short bit?”
I was exhausted and about to head home, but couldn’t bear the thought of this wonderful man thinking I wasn’t excited to see him. Besides, he was only in town for a few more days. I told him to come over to the bar. David chatted easily with my friend, foreshadowing the next two weeks where he’d seamlessly immerse himself in my world.
We shared another chaste kiss in the snowy parking lot and David joked,
“Hopefully the weather improves so we can make out.”
The next night we played trivia with a few friends, one of my favorite hobbies. The brewery was crowded and there weren’t enough bar stools, so he stood behind me the whole night, reaching his hands through my overalls and around my waist. Instead of feeling self-conscious that a handsome man was touching my stomach, I leaned into his chest.
“Do you want to come inside?” I asked him when we got back to my apartment.
“Do you want me to?” he replied.
“Yes,” I said without hesitation.
We chatted for a while on the couch before kissing.
“I really can’t figure out what you want,” he said, pulling away.
“What do you mean?” I giggled in reply.
“I’m like, does she want me to kiss her, not want me to kiss her? I can’t figure you out. But I keep coming back for more.”
I giggled again.
“You have a wall up,” he said, intensely holding my gaze. “Why?”
Tears sprung to my eyes.
“I’ve really been through the wringer.”
He placed a palm over my heart and rubbed my chest soothingly. No one had ever done that and I was moved beyond words. We talked for a long time until he said,
“Do you feel that? Your wall is starting to come down.”
As we made out, he often paused to stare at me intensely and I tried not to shy away from this person who was so disconcertingly vulnerable. We talked and kissed for hours before he went home, and the next morning, he texted,
“I’m at a coffee shop with vegan breakfast options. Can I bring you something?”
Normally a text like that would have me internally screaming, “Ack! No! It’s the morning and I’m gross!” Instead, I found myself replying,
“I would love that, actually.”
We spent the better part of every day together after that, each day me asking,
“So, when do you have to get back [to your midwest home]?” He had originally intended to leave shortly after Christmas.
“I don’t know yet,” he would reply, eventually confessing, “I can’t seem to leave you, even though I’m making things more difficult for myself [with work and the house by delaying my return].”
We jokingly (but not) talked about him buying property in Bend after I learned that he didn’t actually split his time between Bend and the midwest. I also learned that he was still dealing with messy divorce paperwork, so “no ex wife” was an apt descriptor after all. But it was too late; I was already in too deep.
“I’m falling for you,” I said on New Year’s Eve, my voice wobbling.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I’m not ready for a full-blown relationship right now,” he said, tears in his eyes. “But I guess I already have hurt you.”
“I told you on our first date I was looking for a partner!”
“I know,” he replied. “I guess I’ve been selfish. I just haven’t been able to stay away from you. I wasn’t expecting this.”
“I’m solid in what I want; I’ve been at this dating game for ten years [since my own divorce]. I want this to be real, not just some summer camp fling. I’m scared this is just an escape for you, but this is my real life. I let you into my whole world.”
“How can you say this isn’t real?” he said, tears landing on his cheeks.
On his last night in Bend, I cried for hours.
“I don’t plan on seeing other people,” he said, “But probably for different reasons than you. I need to focus on healing.”
We agreed we’d continue to talk and video chat and not see other people without telling the other first.
When he left, his text messages slowed and his phone calls were non-existent. A sinking feeling took over, punctured by random moments of hope when he’d text things like,
“Want to meet me in Mexico for my birthday? I’ll buy your ticket.”
“Well there’s only one answer to that question!”
Even though we made a couple of plans to see each other, he never followed through and I eventually confronted him via text. He immediately called.
“I’m completely humiliated,” I cried into the phone. “I bought bathing suits for Mexico! My friends keep asking about you! I’ve been solid and honest with you about how I’ve felt and what I want. You put all of this effort into ‘breaking down my wall’ and then look how you’ve treated me!”
“I know. I know. You’re right. About everything. I’m so sorry, Jules,” he said with his usual unguarded sincerity. “I got back home and everything just hit me and I chose to just not do anything, which was the shitty thing to do. But I wouldn’t be on the phone with you right now if I didn’t care about you. I didn’t expect to go on my first date in 13 years and connect with someone like this.”
Two hours later, we were back to flirting.
“I got my hair done today and I didn’t even send you a selfie,” I teased.
“Send it now.”
I did and he made a suggestive comment, prompting me to laugh.
“I like picturing you doing that little giggle of yours,” he said in response to a laugh I only seemed to do around him.
We joked some more and got even flirtier.
“Well, at least we know we always have that part,” David said. I, for one, knew I’d never been so attracted to someone -physically, spiritually, emotionally- in my life.
After that phone call, I was sure we’d stay in regular contact, but once again his texts disappeared. Completely defeated, I finally texted him that I would “let him off the hook” and start seeing other people. We agreed to have another video chat.
“Based on how things have been,” I began, “I’m just going to carry on with my life and not expect anything from you. No texts, nothing.”
“What are you trying to say?” he replied, seeming offended.
“I want to be in touch and stay connected, and we could use this time to get to know each other better, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s actually happening.”
“I selfishly want to stay friends so that maybe in the future I’ll still have a shot with you,” he confided. “But I know you don’t trust me anymore so that probably won’t work.”
Throughout the long chat, he said sweet things about all of the time we’d spent together.
“The day we went to the nacho place was one of my favorite times. That was a perfect day. I remember sitting there at the bar waiting for you and feeling so proud that I got to be with you and like I was the luckiest guy in the room.”
I reminisced with him, wondering if, one day, we might get back to that perfect place. I wished we could be there now. Instead, he knew I had to end our chat to go on another date. I couldn’t wait around for months, or even years, hoping he’d one day be ready for what we seemed to so clearly have.
“Well… I’d better get going…,” I said after we’d talked for two hours.
His face crumpled and he began to cry.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That just really hit me. I wasn’t expecting that [to hit me so hard]. I’m sorry.”
We said goodbye and the only text I got from him came days later, asking if I’d gotten the sweatshirt he’d mailed to me weeks earlier (one of his that I loved and he’d wanted to surprise me with). I said it hadn’t arrived and heard nothing from him after that.
“Just think of all he’s going through,” a close friend said when we did a deep dive into the situation. It had been well over a month since our last exchange. “He’s dealing with all of the ex settlement shit. He’d have to tell his family and friends he started dating the first woman he met – online. He has a therapist telling him not to get into another relationship right now. He knows you’re dating. And you didn’t text him on his birthday. He probably thinks you’re mad, that your friends hate him, that YOU don’t want to hear from HIM. Maybe he thinks you got the sweatshirt and never said anything. I think you should reach out and tell him you’re not mad, just sad, and hope he’s healing.”
I took a deep breath. I’d already given her my rock solid counterargument of, ‘Or he’s over it, never felt what I felt, and I’ll look even more pathetic.’
Two days later, I bit the bullet and took her advice.
“Welp, the sweatshirt never came,” I texted, “but I promise I wouldn’t have burned it [like we joked about]. 😆 I was sad to not text on Valentine’s Day and your birthday, but I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was. I feel like it’s important to say I’m not mad, just sad, and I hope you’re healing. ❤️”
I hit send and tried to come to peace with the idea that he might never reply. A little over five hours later, he did.
“Hi, thanks for texting it’s good to hear from you and I appreciate you saying that ❤️. I’m sorry I never resent [the sweatshirt], it just felt weird to me given our talk. It was a tough birthday this year but I think I’m doing ok. I hope you (and uncle Jesse) are doing well out there.”
I burst into tears which turned into sobs. His response felt so…distant.
I waited an hour and a half before deciding I needed to say more. What did I have to lose?
“I’d left the door open based on our last video chat,” I wrote, “especially in terms of keeping in touch (which is where I thought we’d landed), but have been interpreting the [six weeks of] radio silence to mean you’d prefer to not be in each other’s lives… Either way, the earlier sentiment stands and I’ll be thinking about you. ❤️”
He replied two days later with a typo-riddled message.
“Hi Jules, I know we did. I’m sorry I am not in a place to do that and I’m sorry that you are sad 😞. I appreciate that you are understanding of me and what I have going on.
“For what it’s worth I also want to say this because you should know it: I think you are an amazing person. You are super funny, I haven’t laughed as much in a long time. you are kind and thoughtful, I still feel so thankful that you put together all that food for my road trip. I appreciate you let [sic] me hang out with you [sic] friends who are all so welcoming, thoughtless [sic] and awesome people in general. I throughly [sic] enjoyed just talking with you and all our great conversations. I think you have great morales [sic] and love how you stick to them while also being understand [sic] and compassionate to others. You are also very pretty and I appreciate how you take care of yourself and Uncle Jesse ❤️”
I read his message twice, surprised when only a single tear fell. After another moment, I clicked ‘Archive,’ and after a few moments more, started to feel my heart lighten.
It’s tempting to give up, but with each heartbreak (this one arguably the worst since my divorce in 2014), I’ve started to better understand how our capacity to love expands indefinitely. Just as when we welcome a new child or pet into our lives, we don’t trade old love so we can afford to love this new being.
I know now that I don’t need to “get over” this love. I just need to make room for new love.