Life is schooling me so hard right now I can almost tell you what the names of my classes are:
Time Management 101
Pro Se Divorce
Remedial Dating for 30-Something Quasi-Beginners
In the name of throwing myself into the study of Remedial Dating, I fired up the ole online dating profile again, chatted with a few dudes, and met up with a guy last night. I’ll call him Ted. That’s not really his name, but he looks like a Ted. I kept almost calling him Ted by mistake.
Luckily, I didn’t have that many opportunities to accidentally call him by the wrong name, because Ted did most of the talking. Mostly about himself.
So the date? Kind of a dud. But I left feeling really good, because I learned some valuable lessons.
First, I was a little nervous to meet him. I’m human; everyone wants to be liked. I was afraid he might not think I was attractive, or he might think I smelled like cigarettes and be turned off, or he would learn something about me he didn’t like. Or what if I said something dumb and embarrassed myself? Or what if he got to where we were meeting first, and I didn’t recognize him and stood there looking around the place like a weirdo? I don’t think I gave much thought at all to what it would be like if I didn’t like him, and that’s what ended up happening.
Ted is a nice enough guy and all, but his separation is even fresher than mine (though his divorce is finalized–as of the end of last month). And he is clearly not over his marriage. We spent the first hour talking about his ex-wife, his divorce, his relationship leading up to his marriage, his child, his custody arrangement, his divorce attorney, and on and on. Meanwhile, he didn’t ask me any questions about myself. He didn’t even ask me about my kids, which was weird, because that seems like the most natural topic between two parents, and we talked a lot about his child. Sometimes when I started to say something, he’d interrupt me to elaborate further on whatever point he had been making. Sometimes when I did get to talk, he seemed totally uninterested in what I was saying.
Ted also put his foot in his mouth a couple of times. First, it was to tell me about a terrible, crappy restaurant this other girl invited him to on a date, and the restaurant turned out to be one of my favorite places dating back to my childhood and where my brother is currently the manager. Whoops! Second, he tried to tell me a joke that he had actually learned from me in our online exchanges. Doh! Then at the end, he paid the check but tipped only $3 on a $24 bill.
I’m not saying I had a terrible time, but I was glad to finally leave.
So my first lesson was that meeting people for dates should not be an occasion to be nervous about my own faults and foibles, nor to worry that the guy won’t like me. Yeah, maybe he won’t–but maybe I won’t like him, either. He’s human, too.
The second thing I learned was that even though I was a little nervous to meet Ted, I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I was to meet the Fella. All those months ago, as curious as I was to test the online dating waters, I was also slightly terrified of the awkwardness I was certain would accompany meeting strangers from the Internet who surely would have much more experience than I did with dating. I had no idea what I was doing. I had just come out of an eleven-year marriage with the only man I had ever been in a relationship with. I tried not to be terrified. I tried to come across as having this swagger: I don’t need a man! I don’t care what you think! I’ll tell you what I think about THAT!
The swagger wasn’t a total facade. I acted the way I authentically felt. But I wanted to protect myself, too.
The first time I met the Fella, I was so nervous that I was visibly shaking at one point. My anxiety was like a buzzing chainsaw: frightening, thrilling, and dangerous. But last night, because I had already faced so many of the unknowns that scared me when I met the Fella, my concerns about meeting Ted were only a dull hum.
And while Ted pushed his hands through his hair and told me what an emotional hell his ex-wife was putting him through, I wondered, was I like that? Did I go on and on about Lou and our drama and the events of the distant and recent past, the clues I had that something was amiss, the various crimes of my marriage? Did I do that–and do I still?
The second lesson, ultimately, is that I may have done that, but I think I’m done doing it. Or at least, I think I’m done doing it to the extent that it will cloud out other things and make me oblivious to the people and things I’m neglecting while I obsess.
The third lesson is that I’m actually in a much better, stronger, more dateable place now than I was six months ago. This is a place where I knew I’d arrive, but I wasn’t sure when because there are no directions to this place. No map. You just have to keep walking. Sometimes you see signs that remind you you’re heading in the right direction, but you don’t really know you’re in the better place until you get there.
And this lesson I learned from Ted last night and after breaking off contact with the Fella last week. Because the Fella held my hand while I walked the balance beam away from my marriage. More than once, I thought I was falling, and he steadied me. When he took his hand away, I wasn’t sure at first I wouldn’t topple right over. But I didn’t. I’m still balancing, this time on my own. And I don’t have to reach for anyone’s hand.
Perhaps I should try to be mindful of a fourth lesson, lest karma come to bludgeon me for displaying any inappropriate swagger. I humbly submit that many hands help steady me when I begin to lose my balance. This has been demonstrated by the kindness shown to me by many friends near and far in response to these entries over the last several months. There is a whole, great world of wonderful people out there. I know it now more than ever.
I leave you with this verse from “What Do You Hear In These Sounds” by the great Dar Williams, whose songs have new meaning to me with every new phase of my life. This lyric popped into my mind as I drove home last night.
And I wake up and I ask myself what state I’m in.
And I say, well I’m lucky, ’cause I am like East Berlin.
I had this wall, and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks
And I could hear their radio.
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing,
And they’d know that I was scared.
They would know that I was guessing.
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling
And their calling out–just like me.