In 5th grade, I “dated” Heather DuBois, Selena Southwick, and Patricia Scarlatta. By “dated,” I mean we declared some attraction toward each other. Nothing happened. Heather and I were together until John Lansdowne bought her a white teddy bear for Valentine’s Day, which she brought to class to show me and demand to know what I was going to do about it.
“Nothing,” I said. I hadn’t gotten her anything for Valentine’s Day. I figured if some other dude wanted to waste his money getting my girl a gift, good. Saved me from having to splurge. What did I care what some other guy spent his money on? Heather wasn’t a possession to be battled over and claimed. This wasn’t a game of RISK. If he wanted to treat her like an animal and think her could bribe her away from me, he would learn to his dismay Heather was a three-dimensional, independent, prideful being.
It turned out my advanced perspective on gender politics went unappreciated in elementary school. Heather dumped me.
Selena and I dating amounted to no more than someone telling me in the lunchline one day that she liked me, and asking if I liked her. I remember thinking, “She’s cute. Nothing offensive. Who am I to turn her down? What am I, George Michael? [remember: this was 1988] She’s cute. Yes. I like her.” Surprisingly, from that hot-blooded beginning, nothing flourished.
Patricia Scarlatta was an early indicator of what would be a lifelong preference for Italians, Latinas, and Jewish girls. We spent an entire afternoon passing notes back and forth (Courtney Brodt was our intermediary) getting worked up about meeting up after school and “going to 2nd base.” I had absolutely no idea what this meant. I was 11 and still thought I was going to grow up to be a professional baseball player. I was mildly offended that girls talked about whatever it is they were talking about when they used baseball terminology. Still, Patricia was pretty, and she was going to show me something I hadn’t seen before. I knew, without knowing what “2nd base” was, that it would win points with my friends when I told them I got there.
Then class ended, and I started talking to Kirt Merritt about which way you had to go to get through the Great Palace in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and I boarded the bus happy to go home to my Nintendo and leave Patricia behind.
Nearly a quarter-century has passed since then. Many things have changed. My hairline. My waistline. My voice is deeper. My debt is higher. I’ve loved a few times, and been loved a few times, too. One thing has not changed: women are beyond my comprehension. They’re like chemistry–a subject I know is important, and something that makes sense after the fact, but in the moment when awareness/comprehension is called for, my brain goes all…inert.
If you’ve ever seen the great British sitcom “Coupling,” Jeff Murdock’s struggles to talk with women seem only slightly exaggerated compared to my own.
In 2001, a few months after finishing my undergrad studies, I was on a fishing boat with an uncle visiting from out of town. He’d met my girlfriend at the time, who as a woman and a scientist was doubly unfathomable to me. We were lazing out on a boat, catching nothing, when the conversation turned to my relationship. My uncle approved–if not specifically, than in a particularly general sense.
“Hold on to her if you can,” he said. “You don’t wanna be single in your 30s.”
My uncle was not single in his 30s. No man in my family was. So I wasn’t sure where this advice was coming from. Still, I tucked it away, not too concerned about it. After all, I was 22 and had girlfriends since I was 16. This was pre 9/11. American life was a line graph pointed steadily upward, just like my life. What, me? Worry?
I remember being 16 years old, waiting in the parking lot at the Irondequoit Tops supermarket while my mother was inside buying that night’s dinner, and coming to the sincere conclusion that I would be alone the rest of my life. I came to peace with this fact. I was 16. I was an idiot. I really did think the fact that I hadn’t had a relationship up till then confirmed I just wasn’t the type of person to have a relationship.
I remember being 28, 29, having burned through the casual hook-up years of my mid-20s, and coming to the conclusion that I would be alone the rest of my life. I came to peace with this fact. I was 28. Still an idiot. People around me were married, or marrying–not all happily. But they had kids. Or dogs. Sometimes both. I couldn’t find a steady job. My cat died. I didn’t know if I wanted kids. I figured I just wasn’t the type of person to have a relationship.
Now I’m 34 (not for long). I’ve had some winning nights meeting girls at bars, but it’s not really my game. I mean, I can downshift my personality and do it. Kobe Bryant can get you 10 assists some nights. But that’s not Kobe’s game.
So most of my feminina-interactions come from OK Cupid, which is to volatility what Watergate was to scandals. The. Mother. Of. I’ve learned from my time on OK Cupid that I’ve learned almost nothing from when I was 11.
One night I talked to a girl who’s cute and clever and has an interesting, respectable, vibrant career. We spoke for a half-hour. The moment the conversation was threatened with its first lull, I said I needed to go lesson-plan and bailed. I was afraid of what the pause might become.
Another night I spoke to another cool girl. In truth, she spoke, mostly, and I listened. 90% of the time I tried to say something, she just kept going. When the conversation ended, I felt like it’d gone pretty well. But then I realized it went well because it was impossible to have a lull with this girl. It was also, unfortunately, impossible to have a conversation.
One girl I met went into instant heavy-flirting mode. My ego, still scabbed a bit from being dumped, reacted to this like a flower to sunlight. We started emailing each other, furiously. Playful, fun, suggestive flirting. It seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. But she kept asking me questions about myself, and I’d answer, and ask her questions about herself…..and she never answered those questions. Just kept throwing questions at me. It became conspicuous: she would not share any thoughts of her own, but she wanted to know everything about me. She was like the Borg from Star Trek…like she was going to swallow my consciousness and move on. You could tell she was a swallower. Still…that wasn’t gonna cut it.
Which leads to the latest development, the one that’s forcing me to realize that everything I’m dealing with and wondering about, all the everything that I can trace from me at 11 to me now, has nothing to do with these women specifically, or any women at all. It all has to do with me.
I met someone from OK Cupid a week ago. Unlike MANY of the people on that site who post pictures, this girl actually did resemble her photos. She’s a beautiful woman. Clever. Creative. Even a little corny. We met at a park on a day when it was 80 degrees, but the kind of 80 degrees where it’s October and it’s not supposed to be 80, so it’s super-windy and you know the temperature’s gonna drop 30 degrees that night–like, hurricane 80 degree weather. Absolutely perfect weather to meet a woman in the park. The leaves were falling and whirling about. I felt comfortable with her immediately. We walked around for awhile. She showed me a section of the park that was all bamboo; someone had cut a walking path in it, so you could stand and be surrounded by dozens-of-feet-high bamboo on all sides. It was so cool.
We sat on a bench and talked for awhile. Talked about backgrounds. Histories. Made each other laugh. Lamented not being able to spend more time together that day. Agreed to see each other again soon. Maybe Wednesday. Maybe Friday. Definitely ASAP. There was text flirting. She’s a writer. Writers are good at text-flirting. Maybe too good.
Long story short: I don’t think we’ll see each other again. I think if we wanted to, we’d both work to make it happen. So far, that isn’t happening. I’m wondering what is happening. Maybe I didn’t look enough in-person like I do in my pictures. Maybe she’s as busy as she says she is–she does sound crazy busy. Maybe she met someone else recently–very recently–and it’s easier to let a non-viable option drift than be severed. Maybe it’s none of these things. Maybe it’s nothing at all. Maybe.
Maybe it shouldn’t matter to me, one way or the other. Maybe I should remember what I was telling myself that day in the park, when I was walking toward her for the first time: “Just be in this moment. Remember how you’re feeling right now. No matter if anything comes from this day or not, remember the way you’re feeling right now. How often in life do you get to have this lightweight joy fill you? No worries. No thinking. Just feel. Just be.”
I’m 34 and trying, instead of wondering whether I’ll be alone the rest of my life, to wonder what I want to do with the rest of my life. Maybe I haven’t landed yet. Maybe I need to take root before I reach for the sun. Maybe it’s dark because it’s dusk. Maybe it’s dark because dawn is nearing. Maybe I’m nocturnal. Maybe I’m still an idiot. Maybe I’m not. Maybe it has everything do with me. Maybe it has nothing to do with me.