Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RS: Between Dates and Prunes

The whole dating thing certainly has its ups and downs. Not enough hours in the day is one of them. But I have met some wonderful people and had some wonderful experiences. There have been the occasional oddballs. One guy with the most beautiful skin I have ever seen also had an unavoidably distracting facial tic. I didn't actually mind that so much. I did catch myself staring from time to time and blinking my eyes in unison. From a distance, we must have looked like the the guy from The Bell and the Butterfly on speed. The guy in the book had more to say. Twitchy happened to be stunningly boring. Not entirely his fault. It takes two to be that dull. There was the bizarrely enthusiastic guy who was either a raging racist or had an extraordinarily misaligned sense of humor--or both. Don't get me wrong, I can find the humor in just about anything—I couldn't find the humor in some of his commentary that was laden with conspiracy theories and rambling diatribes balanced by a devotion to meditation that made me think that spending so much time alone with your thoughts may not actually be therapeutic. Then there was the guy who was just beige. Perfectly nice, perfectly normal, perfectly nothing. Nice hair.

There was the guy with the panic disorder who shook through dinner, like Katharine Hepburn in an earthquake. One guy sent me 14 e-mails in one day before asking that we talk on the phone. Seemed reasonable after such virtual discourse. Given the borderline stalking behavior, I said I'd call him. Problem was his "company owned his phone" and he could "only receive calls by appointment". When I tried, it was disconnected. I am pretty sure that he was contacting me from prison, but I can't prove it. When he professed that he was certain I was "the one", I knew we were destined for aggressive avoidance. Another professed his love for me and certainty that I was "the one" after several hours of phone conversation. He was very interesting, possibly a giant (I never got a chance to confirm), and verging on obnoxious. Not sure what makes me so appealing in the abstract, but apparently the reality is less definitive. I can't imagine what these guys are imagining, but it sounds loads hotter than I can ever hope to be. The worst date was dinner at a diner. He rattled on incessantly with breath control that defied belief. He acknowledged my existence exactly twice. Once to ask me a question about my family that was interrupted mid-sentence with one of those "oh, that reminds me of the time" tales that made The Iliad seem like O'Henry. The second tip of the hat was to ask what I was thinking about him. It's one of the oldest tales in the world, but I never believed it really happened outside of a stand-up comedy routine. It's not so funny that close up. Of course, I didn't want to be rude, so I told him I wasn't finished sniffing him yet. The guy at the next table laughed, giving me more attention than my date did all night. The guy at the next table was playing piano at Carnegie Hall the next night. I wished he would have asked me to go with him. It happened to be one of those times when the diner wasn't busy, so the waiter never came with the check. I kept hoping he would clear the dishes and I could signal that, no, we didn't need anything else, just the check. Finally, I waved my hand in the air like I was hailing a cab, making the universal "check PLEASE" sign big enough a waiter came over from New Jersey.

Evidence to the contrary, none of them was painful. It was just clear that there was no connection. It is simple, clean and easy.

There were unexpected delights. I got into a fight with one on the first date, basically told him the basis for a particular argument was not only bull shit but offensive bull shit. The second date was not nearly so contentious. It turns out he is charming and funny and incredibly sweet and I'll see him again. There was the one I talked with about death for more than half of our first date. He talked of his mother. I talked of my sister and grandmother. The five of us had one of the most wonderful conversations of my life. I left wanting to know a great deal more about the son of this amazing woman, and the more I get to know, the more I like. There were the two (separate dates, not Siamese twins) who didn't look a thing in the world like their pictures. Not better, not worse. I was attracted to both the pictures and the persons equally—they just were completely different. And I've already seen both (again, separately) again.

There have also been disappointments. One seemed a perfect fit who simply dropped off the face of the earth. Interestingly enough, he told me that he managed to stay friends with all the people he dated because he was upfront and honest with them. I got neither. Just a disappearing act. It stings a little, but dating a man who prances on stage dressed as a horse for a living, would probably have gotten old. I never got to find out if he was hung like one. The other wasn't as perfect a fit but a seemingly more promising possibility. He was far more selfless than I, far less self involved than I, a do-gooder. No one will ever confuse me with a do-gooder. And, as it turned out, he wasn't quite so selfless as I thought, actually fairly selfish, or perhaps thoughtless is a better word. Though I try to keep myself from getting lost too soon, I found myself getting lost in his eyes with particular ease. I saw something there. Something that made me want, I don't know, perhaps just to want. He disappeared too. Turned up eventually to tell me he'd chosen someone else. Well, not chosen so much, I hadn't been a choice. Well, timing is everything—or nothing.

Maybe that's the complication with this dating thing. What's the point at which it is okay to hurt? I mean, it hurts when it hurts; but what amount of time is realistic? We'd been on three dates. Perhaps it wasn't him so much as what he triggered. It took me a mighty long time to get over being left after 6+ years, left without honoring what our time had meant, that it mattered at all, that I was a consideration. This was three dates, and he'd been seeing this other person for some time before. I know the game, accept the rules, and play it myself. And it didn't hurt that he stopped seeing more or wanted to focus on someone else--I'm not sure that if things had played out further that I would have chosen him. It's the way he chose to tell me, or not tell me, or something. Perhaps it was that I was caught off guard again. Once again, I had seen something in someone's eyes that made me believe he was a certain person, a good person, a person good for me. Someone who would do the kind thing. Wrong again.

Linda Ellerbee recounted in her book, And So It Goes, that she advised her son the night of his first dance that he could address all questions about how to treat his date by doing "the right thing, you can never go wrong doing the right thing." I believed those words. Grieved over those words. And eventually abandoned them. When the process began for me, my very first date was a lovely young man who awoke things in me that had atrophied for nearly 5 years. He ushered me into possibility and embraced me kindly. He wanted me, wanted all of me, wanted more than I ever intended to give back. I knew immediately that it wouldn't work. He wasn't a good kisser. And I didn't know how to tell him. And I didn't know how to tell him I wanted to end it. And I didn't know how to tell him good-bye. Anyone of them a far kinder thing than I had courage for.

Perhaps this whole dating thing isn't just a collection of strangers parading through until you find the right one to join on a lifelong journey. Perhaps it is more a series of mirrors held up by strangers, offering a series of aching reflections until one comes along where you see the reflection of yourself being loved.

I've seen myself reflected in some toxic lenses before but the imperfections weren't detectable from this side of the glass.

The other one says he wants to see me again. I'm not sure. I've learned that sometimes people are just toxic. Not bad people, just toxic to you. And there is nothing to be gained from seeing them. I don't think he is one, but I didn't think the one who taught me that lesson was. Or is he just a victim of thalidomide kindness, like me. Maybe he will turn out to be a splendid friend. Maybe I should just close the chapter and turn the page, lesson learned. Maybe I'm just rationalizing because he held up a mirror and reflected back something I didn't want to see in myself, but it's there whether I look at it or not.

Maya Angelou says, "When you knew better, you did better." That hasn't always worked out for me. But maybe it is still possible. Maybe I can start to do the kind thing more often. It takes courage. It is frightening. It is far better than atrophy.

Well, gotta run, I have a date.


Anonymous said...

I'm just glad you are giving someone, anyone a chance to see how wonderful you are. :) jan

Anonymous said...

Yeah, he's wonderful. Michael (The guy who talks about death on a first date...my Judaism...really gotta watch that.)