Open Blog Weekend: Online Dating Sucks, Chapter 10 by John Gavin
My columns are written for all my readers – usually. But sometimes I get a little personal (and a little pointed). If there’s one column I could take back it would probably be the one you just read.
On a bright clear day at the end of February, as I was out for a ride, I decided to text Loretta. I probably had no business contacting her, considering the insensitive things I‘d recently done – and the fact she’d dumped me – but I texted her anyway. I sent a quick note – trying to come across all casual like – asking if maybe she wanted to get a drink later on.
I left out that whole, unpleasant ‘I haven’t seen you in weeks and I really miss you’ part.
She texted back that it’d been a rough day at work and that, yes, she could use a break. So we agreed to meet at a little place in the town where she lived and I pointed my bike in that direction.
When I got there she hadn’t yet arrived so I found us a little table in back and waited. When she walked in I got a warm feeling. Loretta Sayers came up to me with a smile on her face – which probably matched the one plastered across my face – and we fell right into an easy chat – almost as if the ‘I think we’re done’ conversation had never happened.
We talked for hours, during which I kept telling her “I like you”. I even texted that to her after she left. We were both very much ‘in like’ and happy to be back on speaking terms.
I can’t tell you how good it felt to fall back into our easy, playful way with each other, or how quickly the weeks apart were erased.
And right at the very end of February, on Leap Day, she channeled an old Irish tradition – one that says only on that day could a woman ask a man to marry – and made me smile when she good naturedly texted “Will you marry me?”
I responded with how sweet and witty I thought she was. And though I was still too cautious to do the funny thing and respond “Yes”, I hoped she would catch the fact that I never said “No” either.
For the next three weeks or so Loretta and I really enjoyed ourselves as we worked and played together. The work was on an upcoming presentation I was to give for my readers at a local club. And the play was going to the beach, and on hikes, and having dinner.
We were having the most fun we’d ever had to that point.
Soon thereafter I wrote a column entitled Love Story. Just after that I wrote another called The Birth of Love. They were good columns, and they said something about a part of me that I hadn’t been able to show anyone in a while. But they also weren’t totally who I was anymore, or at least not who I had let myself become. And I think I knew that might not lead to a good place.
Here’s what I mean: I’m a pretty good guy, but I’d fallen into some bad habits after my divorce. One of them was using more than one woman to meet all my needs. Rather than run the risk of hanging everything on one girl (who then held the power to pull the rug out) I’d got into the habit of having more manageable, mini-relationships with more than one girl.
I’d have one who met my intellectual needs – want a good conversation? Just call her. I’d have one who met my emotional needs – a shoulder to lean on? Call her. And there’d usually be one to meet my physical needs (but… sometimes… there’d be more than one). I know how bad that looks when diagrammed out – but that’s not how it looked in my head. I think that, like working in sales – or overdoing online dating – it didn’t fit exactly who I was, but it fit who I’d let myself become.
I used this habit, this thing I did, to keep my distance from any one woman. You see, if you’re getting all your needs met from more than one, you’re in less danger of falling for just one. Just one who would then have the power over you that you don’t quite seem to be able to give to one woman anymore. If for no other reason than that old vague, uneasy feeling that the thought of one woman, becoming the center of my life, leads to.
One day, as I was out for another ride, I started having those uneasy feelings – the ones that, no matter how much I try, I can’t bury – or drown. Sometimes when I have a troubled mind I’ll take a long ride to sort things out. There’s something about being on a motorcycle, with no stereo controls to fiddle with or seat adjustments to make, that causes you to actually focus on the things in your head – like what you’re doing to that girl you like.
I was having a great time with Loretta – but I was also hiding something from her, something that could ruin everything.
I’d started that day by climbing a small mountain I knew of. I got to the peak of it about dawn, and took some pictures of the sunrise and sent one to Loretta. After that I got on my bike and headed for the coast. I’m sort of funny in that the ocean has the effect on me of both settling me down, and helping me think.
After the beach I headed up into the coastal mountains where the twisty roads make me focus – I stopped there as well and took more pictures, also sending one to Loretta. Next I headed north, toward home. Well, technically toward my home, but someone else’s home lay north too.
I’d been thinking all day about Loretta, and how I’d like to see her, so somewhere in the mountains I decided to ask her to meet me that evening. She texted back and said yes.
When we met at a nice little place in her town we fell right into our usual warm conversation. And for the first couple hours it continued that way – we talked and laughed. But after a while I think Loretta began to sense the angst I’d been struggling with all day. And like anyone would, she tried to figure out what was behind the troubled mood she was starting to see.
She had a pretty good sense about me at that point, and so I have to wonder if maybe she knew what I had on my mind. Whether that was the case or not Loretta cut to the chase when she asked me again if I ever saw us getting into a relationship. But, as was my deal, I heard ‘relationship’ to mean marriage, or the loss of my freedom, or the end of the world as we know it – or some other damn thing that doesn’t make sense to anyone but me.
So I told her again that, no, I just couldn’t see it.
Loretta pressed me further – she couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t at least try. She was pushing me in order to get me to see what she saw – the possibility of something really good together. So I took a stand that I would regret as soon as the words left my lips – I told her that despite what we had, I was still seeing other women.
And not just seeing them, but I’d been intimate with one.
A look of deep hurt quickly came over Loretta’s face. I wanted to take those words back – no, that’s not right – I wanted to take the actions the words were about back. I wanted to erase the things I’d just told her of. But it was too late – it was out there and I had just altered the connection we shared – probably irrevocably.
Loretta stood up – slowly – like someone had just hung a huge weight across her shoulders. She shook her head as she glared me in the eye and said “I can’t believe you did that – I just can’t fucking believe it… that’s it John, that’s a deal breaker”. And with that she turned and walked out – leaving me to sit in the lousy mess I’d just created.
Nice job asshole.
I’d totally fucked up the best chance for a real relationship – with a woman of substance that I’d had in years. And I couldn’t really understand why, let alone explain it to anyone else. That thing guys have inside them that makes them get stubborn and dig in their heels and pretend like they don’t care they’re losing a great thing had just happened.
I’d been sitting there, in the mess I just created, for about five minutes when a text from Loretta came through. Here it comes, I thought – time to pay for what you broke. I don’t remember exactly what the message said, but that didn’t matter because the problem wasn’t what it said, the problem was the deeply hurt woman saying it.
Wow – I had just so fucked up. Which is what I was thinking to myself as I read the text. When I finished reading it and looked up that deeply hurt woman was standing in front of me.
And she looked shocked – I mean absolutely shocked – as though something beyond comprehension had just happened. In a way, it had. She couldn’t understand how two people who cared so much about each other, and had such a great time together, had arrived at where we were now. What I had to tell her was that we’d arrived there because of me. But I didn’t know how to say that – not that she could even have heard it at that point.
So I hugged her.
I hugged her hard and wouldn’t let go as she sobbed on my shoulder. And when the tears eventually subsided enough for her to be able to drive, she said she wanted to go home.
I remember walking Loretta to her car in sadness – complete and utter sadness. We were both wrecked – and if there was a fix I didn’t, at that moment, know what it was. I put Loretta in her car and watched her drive away. I rode home and crawled into bed, falling asleep in dread of the next morning – when I knew I’d wake up truly alone.
When I got up the next day all I felt was lost. I may have eaten something, or drank some coffee – or not – I really don’t remember. All I recall is that I went out my front door and just started walking. I kept walking for hours. I walked all the way out of town, and then I walked back into town. And that whole time I was texting Loretta, and calling her. But all the texts went unreturned, all the calls unanswered.
I walked for miles and miles – thinking about Loretta – and trying to get through to her – and feeling so alone.
When I got back to my place I called one more time – and was surprised when she picked up. She still sounded wrecked – and distant – but when I begged to come over she said, after a long pause, “Okay”.
The ride up to her house barely registered as my head spun with what I should say – and how I should say it. My actions had spelled out pretty clearly that I didn’t deserve this girl’s heart – yet I wanted to be in it none-the-less. But what I didn’t want was to go back to a situation where I could be sitting in the back yard one day and have the woman whom I’d made my future come out and tell me I was about to be her past.
So when I got to Loretta’s place, despite all that had just happened, I played the ‘safety card’ and asked if we could go back to the warm (safe) relationship we’d had when we were just friends.
She looked at me in that way you’d look at someone who was trying to understand but still just not getting it, and said, simply, “No”. She then pointed out we were no longer just friends – we were beyond that.
And she was right – we were no longer just friends. So then I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time – I asked her to be my ‘girlfriend’. To which Loretta replied “And what does that mean?”
I thought “How could you not know what ‘girlfriend’ means?! Now maybe girlfriend is a word women toss around lightly, but to us guys that word is a big deal… I mean like huge.
It means that we’re going to date just you. Period. We’re not going to have an online dating profile. We’re not going to make eyes at that girl at the coffee shop. We’re just going to date you and only you.
Okay, so where was I? Oh yeah, I had a girlfriend now… well I was pretty sure I did, anyway. After asking “What does that mean?” she didn’t actually say yes to me, but she did smile. And that sure felt like ‘yes’.
That was March 21st – the first day of spring.
After that we resumed our preparations for my speaking engagement. A couple days before the event the newspaper did a story on me and what I’d be speaking about – I talked to the reporter about online dating and relationship issues between men and women.
At the end of the interview she asked me – off the record I thought – if I was in a relationship myself. Still not yet fully comfortable talking about my new status (I don’t think I had told anyone yet) I said “No, but I’m open to the idea”. Those words were not well chosen – they were also not off the record. When Loretta read the article I got a text from her. Its only content was a sad face symbol.
The next night at my speaking engagement the place was packed – and while it started a bit slowly, when the questions did come they came fast and furiously. The women in the audience didn’t seem to understand how the male brain worked. But I noticed an interesting trend as I answered query after query on how us guys go about dating and getting into relationships – after I would explain what we were up to the women would sort of nod knowingly. What I divined from that is many women know, deep down, more than they realize about men.
It was as if they were saying “I thought that’s what was going on”.
Just as I was wrapping up a lady in the back raised her hand and asked if I was single. And this time I got it right as I told her no, I was not and – pointing to where Loretta was sitting – said I’m exclusively dating that beautiful woman right there. The audience burst into applause and Loretta showed me that beautiful smile I’d become so fond of – the one that kept me going despite all my mistakes.
Column 36 – A Love Story
(Okay, so I went straight from a column called How to Spot a Player to one called A Love Story.
Someone must have been feeling all warm and fuzzy – Loretta and I were doing good.
I think I was starting to see a vision of how things could be – maybe.
But it was a big ‘maybe’ – and one I’m pretty sure I’d almost given up on at this point.
I was going back and forth – sort of in that way you let yourself believe that something good is coming, then change the story so as to lower your own expectations.
But something good was possible – in fact the most possible it’d been for me in years.
And remember how I said, though my conscious mind got distracted, it was my sub conscious that seemed to steer me?
The choice of this topic seems a pretty good indicator of that).
My Mom and Dad were married for a very long time.
And it can happen – when a man has been married for a long time – that he becomes a bit low key in the ways he shows his wife how special she is to him. After enough years of marriage we guys can misplace our flare for the dramatic, and we can underwhelm when just the opposite is called for.
Upon the approach of my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary I think that might have been where Dad was headed. Not that that would have been an unforgivable thing, just the opposite really. Mom would have been happy with whatever he did – but then she’s like that. She was happy to be married to the man she loved – if he remembered an important date, well, that was icing on the cake. But left to his own devices, Dad’s celebration of their 40th anniversary probably would have included a trip to a restaurant they’d already been to, followed by the presentation of a gift that, while thoughtful, would likely not have been extravagant.
But my sister Colleen had other ideas.
In our family Colleen is the social maven and crusader for all things right and just. She was not going to let the planning of her parent’s wedding anniversary remain in Dad’s hands for long. By the time Colleen’s phone had cooled back down she’d arranged the perfect catered meal for the surprise party, attendance of 50 or 60 of our parents’ dearest friends, and the Bishop from the Sacramento Diocese to personally come and renew the wedding vows.
But those were not the most important calls Colleen made. The most important call was the one she made to Dad – during it she informed him what jewelry store they’d be going to, how incredible the ring was going to be, and to bring a credit card with plenty of room on it. When the big day came and Mom walked through the door on Dad’s arm, and all of us yelled “Surprise!” Mom’s tears of joy came quickly. When she stood in front of her friends and family, and the Bishop renewed her vows, and the love of her life placed a big, beautiful diamond on her finger, she glowed with a happiness only the luckiest among us have known.
That day was a culmination of sorts, and it was a long way from where they’d started. Mom and Dad first met at a wedding in England where (stay with me here) she was the maid of honor for her sister, who was marrying my Dad’s brother. Dad was his brother’s best man. The fact that Dad’s brother married Mom’s sister didn’t seem to have much bearing on steering them toward a marriage of their own. Dad was a confirmed bachelor, well into his thirties, and off seeing the world as a sergeant in the Army. Mom was a single career girl, living the life she pleased in London.
And so the two went their separate ways – for years. But all during that time there was an undeniable bond between them. They were attracted to each other and, in Mom’s mind, he was the man for her. His mind was a little less certain – as a man’s mind can be – but there was no avoiding the fact that she lived in his heart the way no other woman did.
They went on in that way until, 10 years after they’d met, Mom received a marriage proposal from another man. The man in question was very handsome and quite wealthy, but she didn’t love him. When Dad’s mother got wind of the proposal she wrote to Dad and told him what was happening.
Dad wasted no time in heading straight for England, where he swept Mom into his arms and brought her to California – and married her in the little army chapel on the Presidio in San Francisco. From there they went to Germany, where my brother and I were born. From Germany they were transferred to Georgia where my first sister was born. And from Georgia, after Dad left the Army, they drove across country to California where my second sister was born – and where we settled down and grew up.
We all lived there in a big house at the foot of a mountain. We were raised with love by a couple in love. My childhood was idyllic – and my parents were the solid foundation it was built upon.
We lived there for many years and, like a marriage that has lasted decades, we came to take all we had a little bit for granted. I don’t think we kids understood at the time the love story we were watching unfold. To us it seemed normal – even mundane at times – in the way that a peaceful and safe environment can.
As the years went on and we kids left to make our own way in the world Dad started to slow down a bit. Soon the big house at the foot of the mountain was too much for him to keep up with. With their children grown Mom convinced Dad they should move to a smaller place – and they did. With a smaller house all to themselves, and now both retired, they spent a lot of time together. They traveled often and their favorite places to go were usually near the water.
My youngest sister Kelly took a couple of pictures of Mom and Dad at the beach near Monterey one day that, in their way, sum up the two’s relationship. In the first picture, shot from the side to show their profiles, the old married couple is sharing a laugh. But in the second one the laughter has passed and Dad is looking out over the ocean, as though he sees something. Mom is gazing straight at him – with deep love in her eyes.
It was soon after that Dad began showing the signs of Alzheimer’s. Like good women tend to do Mom put Dad’s needs before her own and made his final years some of his best. When we finally lost him there was nothing that had been left undone or unsaid. It was a sad time for all, but for one in particular.
After Dad’s funeral we sprinkled his ashes at places important to him and Mom – places where Mom can still go to be with him – and to talk to the man she had loved, still loves, so deeply.
In writing about dating and relationships I cover many topics, some better received than others. I talk about the frustrations of trying to meet someone, the disappointments we sometimes face in our search, and the best ways to go about finding that person who is going to fit our life.
But there is one topic that always underlies the rest – and it’s the one that drives us to search the way we do.
My blog: www.onlinedatingsucksbook.com