You know that cliché about how you’ll never find something as long as you are looking for it? And by it, I mean love. I used to hate when people would tell me that, particularly because I was seldom (in my opinion anyway) looking for a man. I mean in junior high I was looking for someone to connect with and in high school I was certainly lonely and at times looking for love (mainly on long off periods from star-crossed flame “Chris”). But I was never going to change who I was to be with some guy (probably part of the problem back then, I mean it is high school). I was young (oh listen to me, I’m not even thirty – geez), or you know, sixteen, I was completely dense, naïve and innocent when it came to boys. I was shy, or felt shy. I guess I didn’t act shy around anyone as much as I did, guarded. But I was dense. I never knew when a guy was flirting with me and if I did, I could never consciously flirt back. I could flirt back in the way of teasing or giving the guy a hard time (but I’m not sure how this was different from when I wasn’t flirting).
I remember this guy, my freshman year of high school who randomly came up to me and asked me how I liked high school so far. I liked him, there was something about him, something I couldn’t name. He wasn’t hot, but what a mischievous boyish face could do to me was ridiculous. So, what did I do? Bit his head off of course! I was defensive and tried to brush him off, which made him push, which made me bristle and become harsher. If I didn’t fancy him, I would have played it cool, but I was no longer at the wheel in that moment. Of course, he thought it was hilarious and tried to get a few of our mutual friends to introduce him. We never dated, we became good friends during sophomore year, then mortal enemies junior year (he acted like a douche) and by senior year we tolerated each other. Translation: He would tell me how much I wanted him, and I would point out he was not nearly man enough for me (or something like that). Really we just traded insults without the malice (most of the time).
When I wasn’t dating Chris, I was mostly single. There was “Paul” the college guy. I dated him when Chris and I were in our final go-around. I broke up with him because I wasn’t over Chris. He was great to me, and overall a good boyfriend, but while I felt affection for him, there wasn’t any spark for me. He later told me years later that falling in love with me was easy, but being loved by me was hard. Probably because I never moved past the ‘I like you more than usual’ when it came to him. I dated a few other guys in high school, including a closet case, and many a jock. Of course, the jocks were quick to dump me because I didn’t worship anyone, spoke my mind (always) and didn’t give it up.
In fact, my rule for several years was “no nakedness”. This followed me throughout college. It wasn’t a religious thing, because I am not religious. I was the hardcore feminist who was into Spice Girls before they were popular and all things “Girl Power”. I thought of my body as a temple so why not be way choosey about, well everything. Friends thought I was a prude, but because I was all about sexually liberating women and not judging anyone (it just wasn’t for me) my friends didn’t seem to mind (though a few felt weird talking about such things around me, even though I was cool with it – talk away). And of course any guy I danced with, dated or made out with (in high school, this meant I was dating them, in college, not always), called me a tease. There were times when I pushed buttons and even acted anti-guy, like the time I wrote a column for my high school newspaper (I was a columnist and the Assistant Entertainment Editor) called: Men Are Scum, Boys Are Worse. I did this to push buttons and to get certain points across in the most shocking way possible (and boy did it work, at least the buttons part).
I think when I started college, I also started ‘looking’ but at the same was taking on way too much in terms of academics and extracurriculars and supporting myself financially while doing it. And yet, I think most of my actual dating took place during my freshman year and senior year of college. I was in another ‘complicated relationship, but are we calling it that’ kind of situation sophomore and junior years of college, but I also was very turned off of dating in general (we’ll call him “Matt”). I was a sexual assault/domestic violence victim advocate and got to see the worst of humanity on a daily basis, most of the offenders (notice I did not say all) were men. In fact on one ‘off period’ with Matt, my voicemail was, “Hi, you’ve reached Michael’s phone, if you’re a girl say something witty at the beep. If you’re a guy don’t you dare leave a message you [curse word, name, curse word, name, curse word, curse word, name, name, name].” My mother was horrified when she first heard the message, though that only proved it was a voicemail greeting worth keeping (and it stayed on for about three months). I hadn’t learned how to separate myself from those I helped (and I never did master it). It made the very thought of keeping company with a guy make me seriously ill. We’ll call these my angry feminist years.
My senior year I was back to dating, nursing wounds from Matt, now that we were seriously over, and had some epic failures of relationships that did not last long, as well as some incredibly healthy ones. Of course, even the nice and healthy relationships carried an expiration date called ‘graduate school’. I wasn’t about to try the distance thing. Maybe it was the lack of pressure that made it work. And the best part was that both guys (yes two, but not at the same time) were moving onto better things as well. One was French (no lie, and yes that accent makes you melt months after it first worked its magic on you) and the other Middle Eastern. Maybe, I had subconsciously decided to forget American guys (I mean this was when Bush was still in office).
When I moved to Los Angeles, I was interested in casual dating, rather than relationships. Graduate school took up about thirty hours a week (probably more like forty) and I was working fifty to sixty hour weeks at my main job while doing tons of this and that on the side for extra cash (LA is frigging expensive!). I wasn’t as selective as I had been back in Nebraska. Before, I had put guys through the ringer before I agreed to a date. I was a huge believer in pre-dating. But in LA, I wanted to meet new people and screening takes work! I didn’t go out with strangers and I didn’t do blind dates, but I didn’t drill a guy or do my own version of Carfax on him before we went out either. (Hey, my grandfather was a famous private detective – there are books and movies about him, and I fortunately inherited his detective gene.) I figured that if a guy didn’t set off a red flag, and there wasn’t a reason upfront to say no, I could do dinner. Worst case it was a free dinner. I met a lot of crazies, a lot of shallow guys, a few guys who lied about being single, but I figured it out before date two would ever happen, and a few guys who lasted a few dates.
Nothing serious panned out until I met Joe. I loved Joe, part of me did and he was a prince at first. But then he became something else, something horrible, something dangerous. He was the last guy I seriously dated before my husband, and the most toxic of them all. I realized around the time I was graduating from my Master’s program that I had become one of the people I used to help. He never laid a hand on me, but the threat was always there, so I made a choice to leave. And for that reason, as embarrassing as it was for me, I left Los Angeles period. When the veil had been lifted on Joe, I realized he was much too unstable and none of his exes ended up ‘all right’ unless they left geographically speaking. I wasn’t going to try to be the exception. I was smart, secretly plotted and effectively disappeared. It was the end of a twisted love story.
Even though Joe was awful, I mourned him and our relationship. It didn’t matter if he cheated, or if he was both using and dealing drugs (something I was not wise to until the end, right before I left) and it didn’t matter that he made me feel real fear. I had loved him once, and he had loved me, at least he felt the closest thing to love that he is capable of feeling. Since Joe, I have become somewhat paranoid about my personal information and I often change things up – probably because every few years he tracks me down and I’ll receive a text or email and the account or number will change. Because of both Joe’s toxicity and my unresolved feelings for him, nothing really came to be when I moved back to Nebraska. I did go on a few dates, but there was never a second. And I was back to my own version of Carfax well before a guy knew how to get a hold of me.
And then I got sick. And my life became doctors and hospitals and preparing for the end. And then I got better when I wasn’t supposed to. After coming back from death (since I actually died, ‘the brink of’ doesn’t really fit) I was not in a place where I could conceive a romantic relationship. I had just won the fight for my life and after only two months of being chemo free, I was focused on recovery, staying healthy and making a new life for myself, in a new set of circumstances. I needed to heal, get to know myself again, love myself and make a life beyond just surviving. And I needed to do all of this alone. It was the first time I felt content with being alone, rather than anti-guy, or healing wounds left by relationships past or simply too busy. While my illness taught me to never say never, I wanted to get myself together before I even considered romance. It would be inconvenient. Of course, that is exactly when the universe decided I was ready and sent the love of my life my way…