My on-again/off-again significant other, Steve, announced he was departing for Arizona and would not be taking me with him. It was only supposed to be a vacation with his friend Howard, but it felt permanent, and the wound was personal.
I knew how much he loved the desert, and I felt pushed away from sharing that with him. Heartbroken at being thwarted, again, I went for broke. I would figure out what I liked and what I didn’t; it would be like trying on new clothes.
My Revolving Door of Post-Divorce Dating
No one would be excluded, and everyone would be considered. When my heart deflated, I’d contact someone new. It would be easy. I would never need to feel abandoned. I dreamed of meeting all of them, falling in love with one, and having it work out. I would be happy, and the rest of my life could continue.
I was sure I was going to marry the first man I met online. His accomplishments charmed me. A few days before our dinner meeting, he sent me photographs of new cherry blossoms against a royal blue sky. The angle was proportionate and artistic. He played the violin, too – in an orchestra, though it wasn’t the Colorado Symphony.
A gentleman, John met me in the parking lot of the restaurant I had suggested – Vietnamese, my comfort food.
John was slight. He wore a white button-down shirt with no T-shirt underneath. His hair was longish and curly. I like this. His hands were clammy, cold. I would have to work at not staring at his nose. It was enormous. He couldn’t help it. Would I hold this against him? I told myself to look past it, to focus on his hair or eyes.
We sat at a booth, and he handed me a CD of his orchestra’s music. I thanked him but thought it was odd.
He asked if I had eaten there before and I said I hadn’t had anything I didn’t like.
“I haven’t been here for five years,” he offered.
That’s the last clear idea I remember coming from his mouth. Between the ordering of the food and the arrival of appetizers and soup, John talked nonstop. I had never sat across from someone and listened to them speak that fast and succinctly. I watched his mouth, hands, and arms as they flapped and flailed.
He didn’t do anything offensive. He didn’t talk with food in his mouth. He used his napkin, and he asked me about my writing and my novel – but I only got out about seven words before he told me that his father had been an author of forty-one books and details about this I quickly stopped trying to track.
Toward the end of the meal, I separated my dewy skirt from the vinyl seat and rose to go to the bathroom. The quiet ballooned around me, but his voice ricocheted between my ears. I took my time washing my hands.
Back at the table, I asked him if he would like to share the tab and he brushed it away with an announcement that he had made $5,000 that day with a contract through his architecture firm.
I stuck out my hand, and he leaned in for a hug. Our shoulders barely touched; our arms formed a square.
The Luxury of Solitude
I got in my car, happy to go home alone. It was the first time I’d ever appreciated the luxury of solitude in the absence of a man’s company. I felt relieved and guilty for feeling relieved. Wasn’t I supposed to feel empty without a companion? I didn’t but I didn’t feel comfortable admitting that to myself either.
I wrote him an email the next morning saying I felt overwhelmed by our meeting, but I would still like to stay in touch. (I had to say that, didn’t I?)
As a consolation for not inviting me to go with him to Arizona, Steve gave me money to go away on my own. The day after my date with John, I went to Georgetown, CO with the intention of writing. I brought my novel with me but found myself so distracted being angry with Steve, I couldn’t write. When a couple checked in next door and immediately began having sex, my insult gaped.
The woman was loud and congratulatory toward “her man” as he banged her against our shared wall. I was on the phone with Steve while this was happening and told him I was going to leave as soon as we got off the phone. He told me to be careful driving. “Don’t drive too fast,” he said. I hated him for giving a damn from six hundred miles away.
I felt panicked when I returned home, and I wrote John an email. Maybe I had judged him too soon. I vented to him about my Georgetown experience, but his response was indifferent. I had been shoved off his assembly line of options.
Several months later, he passed me as I walked to a concert at Boettcher Hall in downtown Denver. A woman in a white satin ballroom gown trailed behind him. Her face creased with anguish. She held her shoes. He had grown his hair out even more and it flopped as he turned to snap at her. She ran a bit toward him. He threw a hand up and then down as though to shove her back.
He had done me a favor. Had things gone differently, I might have been the one trying to keep up with him, carrying my shoes.
My sister stopped me when I had hardly begun and asked if she would have to remember his name.
“Kevin,” I said. “Well, maybe.” I had a good time. We laughed a lot.”
I would write him an email late the next day and tell him I enjoyed our dinner. He would write back and tell me there was no chemistry.
Had he not apologized for having to mop his bald forehead several times throughout dinner because he said he was nervous? What was I failing to understand? We’d laughed and made great conversation. And he’d paid for the meal – a good sign in this modern-time, split-it-down-the-middle first meetings.
I told a friend a few days later, “Maybe he wanted me to be taller. Or blond.”
“Or to have a bigger nose and smaller breasts,” my friend chimed in.
My friend laughed, but I felt the beginning of a shovel digging into my chest. I doubted my laughter and his smile. Worse, he had not been the first to rebuff my interest. Kevin had fallen somewhere in the middle of this revolving door of online dating, and my enthusiasm for it was beginning to falter.
Let’s Talk About Sex – But Not Yet
It hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t want to meet someone until I came across Tony. We emailed a bit and exchanged phone numbers. His favorite and only topic was sex – positions, games, toys, and more. We were minutes into our first conversation when he made this clear. He was a swinger and knew of a few places in Denver. I asked him about being checked for diseases, and he said he had been clean for the last five years. He laughed but I shriveled.
“So, tell me, if I stop you in the middle of the street on our first date, put my hand on your chin, and pull you toward me for a passionate kiss, what will you do?”
I laughed, excited that he wanted me, but it was not my happy, comfortable laugh. “It would be okay.” Of course, that was the hypothetical, automatic, look-how-cooperative-I-am response, which smacked against a reflexive cringe.
He didn’t want to tell me about where he had been to college or what movies or books he liked, or even very much about his fifteen-year-old daughter.
I left on vacation to visit a friend in California before Tony and I could meet in person.
I called him from the airport, and he told me I was a decent person.
“No, I have never been to jail,” I said, deadpan.
He laughed genuinely. “I look forward to your return.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you when I get back,” I said, but the sound of his voice conjured an ooze seeping through the phone, something even turpentine wouldn’t sanitize.
My time away helped to solidify my thoughts and feelings about Tony. The subject line of my email was “On Second Thought.” I simply wrote, “We have nothing in common.”
Learning How to Decode Dating Emails
I became quite facile at decoding emails: who was desperate, who was fun, who was hiding, who was confident, who didn’t care. Would I forgive misspellings? It was about meeting people, not about how they organized letters, I thought, secretly defending these might-be suitors. Spelling was not an indicator of intelligence, my mother used to say. She, of course, was speaking of school-age children, not grown men who could not justifiably say they didn’t know how to look up how to spell a word.
Regardless, I forgave the spelling. Kevin had had two master’s degrees; his spelling was impeccable, but there was no chemistry. Correct letter order was not going to dictate attraction or good humor.
Mark worked for Comcast and lived with his parents – to help his dad, he said at first.
We did not email very much. What he did write was rife with grammatical and spelling errors, though he commented that he was “triing.” By this point, I had succumbed to the idea that good a writer did not necessarily mean good match, so we met for coffee on a Sunday evening. He looked a lot like Steve: blond hair, full, busy, neatly trimmed mustache. He was thinner, though, and more cowboy. He had the boots, blue jeans, and buckle. I didn’t know if I could get past any of this, but I sat and listened.
Mark was a Talker…
I ordered tea and a piece of pie.
He asked if I ate dessert often, and I said, “Sometimes.”
He prattled on about a woman he had met who had posted her sister’s photo online. He was disgusted to discover when they met that his correspondent was a good hundred pounds heavier than the photo made her appear. “I told her I was angry, too. That’s just not right. I mean, I can deal with a few extra pounds, and you can have dessert and you look fine, but that was mean!” He shook his head. “I’m a sensitive guy. You can take me to a chick flick and you might look over and see a tear in my eye. I’m not afraid to show that. I look like I would fit into the bar scene, but I like to go to museums and I appreciate art. I’m a good guy, and it seems like you like those things too, so I wouldn’t have any trouble doing that. I look like a biker type, but I’m not, and a lot of women think I look good because of the way I look, but I don’t want to be with just anybody.”
The pie was mediocre. I couldn’t see going to the museum with Mark. I couldn’t see anything but Steve.
He paid and walked me to my car. He gave me a hug and asked if he could kiss me. I offered my cheek. He hugged me twice more and managed to plant one on my lips. It was soft; he landed in the right spot.
He called me when he got home and said he was really glad to meet me and he hoped he wasn’t being too forward by calling me right away. I talked to him for a few minutes. I didn’t have any expectations, yet here he was. I toggled between resting on the pillow of his attention and wondering whether or not I should feel wary that he had hugged and kissed me three times and called to make sure I had made it home all right.
Mark called several times in the next few days. I garbled that I could only be friends and hoped that would scare him off, but it didn’t. I told him I was not quite over someone else, and he reassured me that we could just go out and do things, no pressure. He could be a good friend. I knew how that would go.
We would go to the museum, and I would want to call it good after an hour; meanwhile, he would be inviting me to get coffee and hoping for a leak in the flood-gates I was holding back. He would offer Kleenex and touch my hand. I would tell him a little or too much. He would press on for more, encourage me with a story of his own, and if I didn’t give in, he would be frustrated and want to know what was wrong with him. And on it would go.
In one of his phone calls, Mark unwound a yarn about his latest girlfriend. She would not leave him alone. He’d had to get a restraining order against her, and even that didn’t keep her at bay, apparently. That was the real reason he’d moved from Colorado Springs and in with his parents. What’s worse? A guy in his thirties who lives with his parents, or the reason why?
Did Mark have good intentions? Everyone totes a caravan of experiences in tattered, misshapen packaging. I couldn’t see clearly enough to judge his motives. I couldn’t see clearly enough to trust myself. I couldn’t see past his resemblance to Steve.
These one-date wonders exhausted me. People were not recyclable. If I were going to get involved with a man, I would have to accept him – quirks, flaws, and past, all of it. I couldn’t mix and match characteristics of one man with another. Relationships were capricious, animated, in flux, constantly. The equation did not always get solved or even balanced. One thing was made clear: I never wanted to go through a revolving door of post-divorce dating like this again.
Jane Binns grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and now lives in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of Broken Whole: A Memoir (She Writes Press, Nov. 2018), and the recipient of the Jack Kerouac Award for Prose from Naropa University, 1998. She shared custody of their son with her ex-husband until his death in 2014. www.janebinnswrites.com