Saturday, January 17, 2009

Perfect man

Before Christmas, my delightful cousin Megan flexed her charismatic muscle to get some free tickets to the Hubbard Street Dance Company. Her boyfriend's (now fiance's) brother is a dancer there. She gave them to me for Christmas. I took Jacob as my date and met him at the theater after class.

We had a fight almost immediately.

This is not unheard of. I can be both passionate and demanding. Jacob has figured out how his life works best for him and isn't willing to be pushed around. I love that about him.

But it means that sometimes we are on opposite sides of an expectation and that feels bad. So, we exhibit bad feelings with our behavior. I get impatient and when that's confronted, I explode with a torrent of complaints, mostly undeserved. He gets tense and crosses his arms and opens his eyes really wide until we're in a better place to have a conversation.

Those are actually descriptions of our worst. The reality is that we've lived enough life full of enough introspection that when he feels himself withdrawing, he'll come over and hug me and when I notice myself getting impatient, I sometimes tell him that I'm upset but I just need a little time to cool down. That's us at our best. In between are a variety of combinations. We're also getting good at recognizing and diffusing one another's disquiet.

I have dated men before who did not fight.

At all.

It was hell.

Nothing ever changed or got better or moved forward.

I like this man.

So, this fight on that night was skewed heavily toward the best side. We resolved it and kissed each other in the cold, blowing snow on Michigan Ave. Then, went into the show. We sat down next to a man who was probably 5 years older than I, broad-shouldered, lanky and woodsy with red hair and beard and goofy eyeglasses that were missing an earpiece.

Just my type.

A little outside the mainstream with the tall, dark and handsome going for him. I'm a sucker for it every time.

The three of us got into a conversation and his dossier just kept getting more and more familar.

"What do you do?"


Folks, we have a winner here. Probably a full third of men I've dated were not gainfully employed in any regular way.

"I'm living off some savings and I charge my roommates too much."

Excellent. Kind of an asshole but honest about it. Melt my heart.

He had a backpack full of paperbacks on the seat next to him that clearly screamed, "I'm intellectual! Ask me about any great thinker and I'll shrug my shoulders with disdain. Mention Charles Bukowski and I fall down in figurative worship." Goodness, do I fall for the brilliant and cynical. A healthy majority of relationships have been with men of this sort.

When he told us he was trying out online poker for a living but that it wouldn't be worth it if he didn't make $50,000 a year on the heels of a story about winning at backgammon against a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I was sunk.

Overwhelming expressions of self-confidence. I fall for it every time.

When I asked him if working full-time at online poker would cause him to miss people, he communicated an emphatic no.

Ah, be still my heart. He's anti-social, too.

If he told me that he didn't have a cell phone or a car and that he could stop smoking weed whenever he wanted, I'd have won some sort of prize for meeting the perfect Frankenstein of my ex-boyfriends.

At some point in the conversation, I leaned in close to Jacob and whispered, "This guy is completely my type, but I much prefer being here with you."

Afterwards, I played out what a relationship with that guy would have been like. Charming phone conversations, interesting dates, fantastic chemistry. But then, at some point, I would want something from him. Anything. As small as rescheduling a date or as large as wanting him to take me to the airport. Or to meet his friends. Or to stop dating other girls. Oh sure, before this he had been the perfect gentleman with my requests. But hindsight revealed that he wanted to do all those things anyway. Or, at least, they didn't inconvenience him. But after a few months, I will want something that he doesn't want to give.

And he won't do it for me.

And a pattern will ensue of struggling, forgiving, remembering what I liked about him, and thinking that if I'm just more vulnerable and honest and clear, he won't object this time. Thinking that if I sacrifice for things he wants that are inconvenient for me, he'll follow my lead. And I start to drift because I can't trust that when he challenges me it is because I have been unreasonable or if it is because he doesn't want to set a precedent for giving in.

And the die has been cast. The word "unreliable" starts to float around in my head. Sometimes I break it off and sometimes I stay stuck in denial until he does.

I told this story in a charming and delightful way to Jacob in the taxi but as I got to the end, I realized that the final phrase wasn't true for me anymore. I didn't put up with this guy's shit for very long at all. And I told him it was shit, which is a huge step for me.

It was terribly liberating. I've grown past the stage when I was held in the thrall of these dark, brooding poet-types. It was gradual growth. There were emotionally distant guys disguised as nice guys. There were actual nice guys in there with whom I just didn't click. But the process of dating after my divorce has led me to this new place where romantic heroes are not the rugged, self-sufficient cowboy but are instead smart guys who value relationships.

I'm lucky enough that Jacob not only values being in a relationship enough to make the necessary sacrifices and to expect the same from me, but he also values me. Me, all by myself. Not just what he can get from me to boost his self-esteem. And I feel the same way about him.

It's a good stage of life to be in. Even if things don't work out with Jacob (God forbid), I am free to bypass the bad boys and go straight to what's good for me. In the past, I didn't want to miss out on the experience, on the good story it would make. But now, I can see the common theme of emotional unavailability that ran through all those stories and their predictability makes them uninteresting. So, I'm ready for a new genre. No more murder-mysteries; I'm ready for some good, stable, imaginative, interesting and enjoyable science fiction.

1 comment:

ABG said...

You had me at hello. Thanks for this, R. I've been having some of the same reflections--same gratitude towards D over the last few weeks. Unbelievable almost to say it, but it was great mercy that I grew out of my verson of poetic brooders in time to be fully alive in a real love relationship.