talking it out with Chi-guy (part 11)

About seven months ago…

I sent Chi-guy’s birthday gift off with a card that let him know what a great time I’d had on our day together. I wrote that I’d appreciated getting to know him better and thought he had a sexy brain. Then I added, “p.s. Next time, more touch!” I enclosed a little something for his daughter, as well, as her birthday was later in the week.

We continued to text each other throughout the week, and he thanked me for the thoughtful gift and my kind words.

Meanwhile, I had rattled off the story of my tragically sexless weekend to anyone who would listen — my girlfriends, my sister and even my mother, who said, “So you finally met a decent man!”

Just more than a week had gone by when we were able to talk again. He had just gotten home from a shopping trip to IKEA and recounted his purchases:  a full-length mirror, a dresser and lamp for his daughter’s room, a cinnamon roll and a cookie cutter.

“Cookie cutter?” I inquired.

“Yeah. I was reading the paper yesterday and well, you know, it’s back to school season, and there was an article with ideas for packing school lunches…”

The knowing mother, I chimed in, “so you’re going to make sandwiches in fun shapes for your daughter’s lunch . . .”

“Yeah, I thought that would be fun,” he affirmed. I swooned.

We chatted casually a bit and then I took a deep breath and began:

“So last time I saw you, I really enjoyed the time we spent together, until the end of the evening, which was very confusing for me…so I wanted to talk about that and try to understand what you were thinking?”

Him:  “Hmm…what were you thinking?” Coward!

Me:  “Well…do you remember when we had coffee last summer and you told me you were getting a divorce? …My heart went out to you because I know (even if we’re approaching this from different angles) how much it hurts and how difficult it is, and I felt so bad for you, because I could see that you were hurting. But somewhere inside, there was this little part of me that was screaming ‘YES!!!!’…

“Aw, that’s sweet,” he replied.

“…And I started thinking that there’s always been a kind of energy between us, and that we seem to have an attraction for one another, and we’re both recently single at the same time and – what an opportunity! I rarely travel to Chicago, and I’ve got three trips schedule for Chicago this autumn…I thought, you seemed in such a bad place last summer, that I would help you get your mojo back…”

“Oh…”

“I know, isn’t that noble of me? My intentions were soooo altruistic!” I giggled.

“Wow. I guess I just thought that we were flirting and that it didn’t really mean anything and I thought, ‘she couldn’t possibly want me.’ Besides, I think I’m falling for you…”

Now this is where a smarter woman, a woman who is more fully present, who understands how to communicate in a relationship would have stopped to savor the moment and, perhaps, to investigate. To this day, I wish I could go back and ask him to tell me more or explain what he meant. Or even just ask, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”

But I was not that smarter woman. No; I rambled on, intent on advocating my case that we should go to bed together. Me:  “Even if we were flirting, I was being very genuine about what I felt and what I wanted. When I told you that you have a sexy voice, I wasn’t just stroking you, I really dig your voice. There’s something about the resonance that drives me wild. And when I asked what it was going to take to get into your CKs, it’s because I genuinely wanted to get in your CKs!”

Him:  “But wouldn’t it just have been meaningless?”

Me:  “I think there’s a difference between casual and meaningless. We seem to have some concern for each other, and I think we could give ourselves a free pass, and share something really beautiful that doesn’t have to be about our future or anything. I think because we’re in a very similar place right now, we’d have a lot to offer one another – and it would be really fun!”

Him:  “That’s a good distinction. I wouldn’t have thought about it like that…”

I asked him about other things he had said to me that night, about The Road Less Traveled and his moral compass — did he truly intend to be celibate until his divorce was final?

“No. I’m a guy,” he said, “I’d like to sleep with any woman who I’ll never have to see or talk to again.”

We laughed; I admired him all the more for his candor. I went on to argue (again) that we were adults, we didn’t have to play games, we could be friends and lovers, too, and that the similar timing and situations made our circumstances all the more ideal.

By the time we finally said goodnight, I had spent the better part of an hour convincing him — I thought successfully — that it would be fine for us to sleep together. And before I’d even hung up the phone, I regretted it.

We were expressing our gratitude for one another when, suddenly, I realized there may be something special about Chi-guy, something worth holding out for. I didn’t want to be his rebound girl, after all. Rebounds never last. Here was a guy I loved talking with, who had genuine companionship potential, who was a loving father and making thoughtful changes in himself. And I no longer wanted to share myself with him for a cheap thrill.

I had no plans, no future in mind. We still lived in different cities and were likely to for some time, given the bonds of parenthood. But — and maybe this has to do with my seeing Eat, Pray, Love in the movie theater around that time — if ever I were to share something with Chi-guy, I wanted it to be when he had forgiven his ex, had forgiven himself and could believe in love again. And I would have to leap those hurdles myself, too.

I later recounted our conversation to a girlfriend. I told her, “I basically spent the majority of the time we talked trying to convince him that it was okay to go to bed with me. And now I don’t want to. I don’t want to be his rebound girl. I like him. He had me at ‘cookie cutter.’ And I think he said something resembling, ‘I’m falling for you.’”

“It sounds as though you two have something special,” she said. “You’ve been incredibly honest with each other. I think you need to tell him how you feel before you see him again.”

I meant to. As it turned out, I didn’t

the rest of the weekend (part 10)

About seven months ago…

After Friday’s disappointing ending, I continued to work through the weekend.

Saturday afternoon, Chi-guy brought his daughter to the public venue in which I was managing a promotion. I had gone back to my hotel room to change into warmer clothes for the evening. He texted me to see if I was around. I let him know that I was on my way back. When I got there, I had a few fires to put out, then finally checked back in with him. By that time, his over-tired child had caused him to leave. We had missed each other entirely.

“Will I see you again this weekend?” I texted. He didn’t respond.

I finally reached a girlfriend. “Tell me about it,” she said.

She listened and, at various points, said, “He said that?…But that’s good, right? That’s a good thing!” And then, “Clearly he knew what you thought was going to happen, and it was cowardly of him to do what he did. He’s hurting and sometimes men aren’t able to perform physically for a while after divorce, so it may be that he didn’t want to let you down. You can’t make assumptions or judgements right now. Will you see him again? Can you tell him that you’re confused and ask him about it?”

I would absolutely ask him about it; we had been candid enough with one another for that.

I didn’t hear from Chi-guy for the rest of the weekend. More than once, while back in my hotel room, I wept. This was about more to me than this particular guy. His polite brush-off of my advances had merely triggered all the pain, insecurity and baggage about rejection, being unwanted and unattractive that had built up in the last months of my marriage. He told me he found me attractive; he told me he wasn’t rejecting me; he told me he liked me. Despite all that, these ugly feelings poured out and into the open. Why? Because actions speak louder than words, and I had all-too-easily leapt to some unhealthy conclusions about what his actions meant.

Monday was Chi-guy’s birthday. I posted a greeting on his Facebook wall. I spent my morning on an architectural boat tour of the city, wishing that Chi-guy and I were enjoying it together. My longing, I have to admit, had more to do with commiseration or sympathy — misery loves company, after all — than with any desire for relationship.

When my cab pulled up to my home that afternoon, my son crawled into my lap before I’d even gotten out, as I was paying the driver. I immediately felt more grounded. Of course, the birthday gift, Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, that I had intended to hand-deliver to Chi-guy had arrived at my home. I unpacked my bags and focused on my children for the afternoon.

But I had also been thinking about this mess with Chi-guy. We had spent a really nice day together on Friday, and I was carrying around a lot of hurt based on a misunderstanding. I decided to set my own pain and baggage aside. It was his birthday and only a complete jerk would not call to wish him a happy one.

As my children and I drove to a late-day appointment, I dialed Chi-guy, fully anticipating that he would let my call go to voicemail. To my surprise, he answered.

“I wanted to wish you a happy birthday,” I said.

“How are you?” he asked immediately.

“I’m better, more grounded, now that I’m home. I really can’t talk right now, but what I can say is that I needed you to be much more clear with me about where you were at.”

“That’s fair,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“I was really confused, and I’m still confused and you pushed some buttons that brought up some baggage I need to deal with, and I’m hoping we can talk about it later.”

“I’d like that,” he said.

What guy ever says he’d “like” to talk about my feelings and confusion and some awkwardness that transpired?! This was certainly not what I’d expected to hear. I let him know that his gift had arrived and that I would send it.

Later, Chi-guy texted me:  “Sorry about the BS this weekend. You’re a good woman and you deserve better.”

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how my night with Chi-guy really ended (part 8)

About seven months ago…

After dinner, we both got up and went to the restroom before going out to the car. While our conversation had been easy, for the most part — imagine spending an entire day with someone you barely know and never feeling awkward or running out of things to talk about and allowing silence to be comfortable — there was something more. My mind and my body and my heart were all engaged, as though every cell in my body was at attention. Against all expectations and odds, despite his hang-dog expression and hunched posture, I was feeling alive in a way that I hadn’t felt in a very long time in the presence of this man.

I carefully checked myself in the mirror, re-applied lip gloss and emerged to find Chi-guy waiting for me. He seemed to be a bit reserved; perhaps his impeccable manners, respect for me or broken-hearted insecurity were getting in the way of what could happen…I felt compelled to take action to let him know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was prepared to follow through on every flirtatious text, email or phone conversation we’d shared. I leaned toward him and gently kissed his lips.

He recoiled, seemingly taken aback.

“That was nice,” I said awkwardly, trying to recover.

“What was nice?” he asked, confused.

“Dinner was nice. I really enjoyed it.”

And we proceeded to the car. I tried to regain the lightness we had enjoyed earlier and mentioned the possibility of one of those rooftop bars he had mentioned or the condo he had recently moved into. He was noncommittal.

We drove in silence for a few minutes before he began haltingly, “You know how we’ve been flirting…”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m interested in you.”

“The thing is, I like you.”

“I like you, too,” I said, excited to think we might be on the same page after all.

“But aren’t you afraid things are going to change?” he asked.

My mind began to cloud with confusion and my thoughts and words and what he was saying all jumbled together. I don’t think I ever managed to express that things had already changed, simply by his having said that.

I foolishly recounted the tale of my first post-marriage experience, in an effort to illustrate that we could be adults, both wounded but meeting on common ground, and that we could share something neither meaningless nor too meaningful…

We were now across the street from my hotel. We sat in the car for a few minutes talking, both of us inarticulately fumbling for a way to adequately express what we were thinking and feeling or the points we were trying to make.

“But what about next time you’re in town?” he asked. “What happens then?”

“We do it again!” I exclaimed, smiling broadly at the thought.

My points:

  • We liked each other — and it seemed we had for some time.
  • We weren’t in high school; being 40-something and divorced had bought us some hard-earned freedoms, namely not having to play “hard-to-get” games. After all, we’d both been married and had children — we no longer had virginity nor innocence to protect.
  • Neither of us was in a place to consider getting into a relationship. We could both be mature enough to be friends and lovers without jeopardizing the friendship.
  • We had a window of opportunity in which neither of us was in a relationship, and I would be traveling to Chicago twice more in the next several weeks. We could view these circumstances as a gift.

His points:

  • He was reading “The Road Less Traveled” and trying to do the right thing or be a better person or something — my mind could just not absorb the meaning of this at that moment.
  • He was still technically married and had never been unfaithful to his wife.
  • He’d met a woman recently who, when he explained his current life situation, had given him her number and said, “Call me when your divorce is final.” He found this refreshingly mature.* (What did that say about what he was thinking of me at that very moment?)
  • He told me the story about another woman — part of a married couple he knew — who had kissed him at a party. When he pushed her away she said, “I’m afraid I’m losing my moral compass.” He didn’t want to feel that way.
  • He told me he was “not really very big.” What?! Did he really just say that?! As if I could possibly have cared about his size! I am not the woman who believes bigger is always better, and I believed that this man was more than capable of satisfying me.
  • He told me that he was not a terribly strong-willed man and suggested that, if I were really determined, he might be swayed. But I had already put my cards on the table; I would not further embarrass myself by pleading or groveling. I had no interest in going to bed with a man who needed to be talked into it.

We were at an impasse. Chi-guy got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side, opened my door and held out his hand. He led me across the street to my hotel, said, “There’s not much to recommend me right now,” and told me about the first time we’d met:  “When I first saw you, I thought you were the most vibrantly sexy woman I’d ever seen.”

At this, my bullshit detector was going off wildly, because a) Eva Mendes exists and b) well, what more do I need to say?

He went on to tell me how surprised he’d been when I’d stepped away from that cocktail table and he could see for the first time that I was pregnant, and how he’d nursed a crush on me for some time. I listened, acknowledging neither what I’d thought upon our first meeting nor that I’d seen his jaw drop nor known of his crush. Within a few moments, he hugged me, planted a chaste kiss on my cheek and bid me goodnight.

Dumbfounded, I pushed my way through the revolving door back into my hotel.

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*With little introspection, I can easily concede that this is the mature and proper perspective to have, particularly if one is single and has not been through the long, painful, lonely and arduous task of dissolving one’s primary relationship. For those of us who have, we know that, oftentimes, a marriage is well and truly over long before the final paperwork is signed.

Chi-guy, part 3

About eight months ago…

One Friday I went to dinner with a colleague. He has a great mind and we always have fun talking together, and that evening was no exception. After dinner, I asked him, “what next?”

“You’re inviting me to your place,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. I wasn’t 100% sure where this was going, but I had a pretty good idea, as this fellow had been a little suggestive on occasion. I was still well within the time frame I’d designated for having casual encounters, so I figured, “why not?!” I won’t bore you with the details just now (you can find them here), but…I looked at the clock after he left; it wasn’t even 10pm.

I texted Chi-guy: “Just sent my date home. Ugh. U up?”

Him:  “For what?”

Me:  “Chat?”

Him:  “Oh, sweet! I’m out tonight. Tomorrow?”

Me:  “Sounds good. Enjoy!”

The next day, well after noon, I received this:  “I definitely had more fun than u last night! Call u after I get the little one to sleep.”

Me:  “If your fun night just left, I don’t want to hear about it. Talk later.”

Was I jealous of the thought that Chi-guy might have had better sex than I had the previous night? Or was a I jealous about the thought of him with another woman? Then it occurred to me:  I wanted to be the girl to recharge his mojo, dammit!

Chi-guy called at 11:15pm and we talked about relationships, marriage, divorce, children and more. He confessed that, leading up to the dissolution of his relationship, he’d begun to drink too much, maybe been a little depressed and other admissions that eerily paralleled the demise of my own marriage. At one point, he told me how the end had begun:  his wife asked him to see a counselor with her, a safe venue in which she could ask him to move out. The counselor advised him to respect her wishes, move out, cooperate and “make things easy on her,” because she would ultimately realize that he was not the problem.

“Dude, your counselor sucks!” I teased. “Mine told me to go out and get laid before my ex had even moved out!”

“I want your counselor!” he joked.

We confided and shared, comforted and laughed for more than two hours. His voice had grown more resonant than I’d remembered from years before and, while still not terribly masculine, there was something kind of sexy about it. I had always felt some sort of energetic connection with Chi-guy, but now a genuine emotional warmth was beginning to blossom.

Late the next morning I texted him:  “Can’t remember the last time I talked on the phone for more than 2 hrs and enjoyed it!”

Him:  “I know, so high school. Now I just need to hang your picture in my locker and give you a hickey.”

I immediately updated my Facebook status:  “Was just offered a hickey…tempted, but it’s not quite turtleneck weather.” Within moments, my bawdier girlfriends had commented, “Who says it has to be on your neck?” and the like.

“Going to wear your Letterman’s jacket everywhere. p.s. ck my fb status,” I texted.

Him:  “Now I see where u get your inspiration. If you out me, I will give you a hickey next time I see you! p.s. you’re going to have to give more than a hickey for my letter jacket.”

We bantered in high school terms for the day, until I wrote: “Why, I do believe you’re flirting with me!”

“I like flirting with you,” he wrote back.

And so my crush blossomed, and I began to believe in the possibility that Chi-guy could be back in action by Labor Day.

Meanwhile, my girlfriends were asking about the men in my life. I was still texting with Max, Anthony and Brendon, who were unavailable for various reasons, but gave my ego a little boost. Add Chi-guy — who was not a match geographically or astrologically. And I had dated a guy in college with the same given name, which sullied even that. Whatever this might be, it was going nowhere…but it might be a fun romp (and just what the doctor ordered).

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mourning among my adopted family

It’s been a rough couple of days, and I find I have a story to tell. Seems I usually do. Actually, this might be more like two stories.

When I was in college, I dated a professor’s son (actually, I dated more than one, but let’s leave the others for another time). His mother taught writing courses and was known to be tough and opinionated. So, of course I sought her out. Academically, she liked me.

My boyfriend / professor’s son lived at home, so there was that inevitable morning when I walked down through the living room and had to say, “Good morning, Doctor, I’ll see you later in class.” Since it was a small school, everyone in my social circle had heard the news by lunch time. This counts among the three most embarrassing moments of my life.

But the real story here is that, when the boyfriend went off to grad school, his mother, my professor, adopted me. I wasn’t her only adopted student but, because I was close to her son, I think she liked having me around as a way to feel closer to him. She fed me elaborate meals and played the piano and we talked about everything from art and politics to gender roles and sex. I met his two brothers, his nephews and niece, his grandparents… After college, I moved closer to his grandparents and would take his grandmother shopping, since she no longer drove.

The boyfriend and I had an off-again, on-again long-distance relationship filled with the usual yearning, expectations, longing and heartache. People around us sincerely believed we would one day marry. For a long time, I think we did, too. In the end, I lost the boyfriend but kept the family. My former boyfriend married. To this day, I call the boys my brothers.

We lost the doctor recently and, over the weekend, I celebrated her life with my “brothers” and “nephew.” A common theme at family occasions is the closeness I share with the eldest of these boys. Apparently this chafes the youngest, my ex, as noted by the middle son who remarked, “Yeah, I’ve heard all about it” not long after I walked into the house over the weekend.

I suppose there may be rules and boundaries that one ought to consider in relationship situations like this. But I’m not going to analyze them here and now. I simply want to share the reason you haven’t seen a post from me in a few days — I’ve needed some time to process a great loss for me personally, but even more so for these wonderful brothers from another mother. And I’ve needed to absorb and recognize that, however young and dumb and unable to articulate our feelings or negotiate our relationship at the time, I broke someone’s heart — without ever really realizing it.

I suspect there may be more to come on all this…after I’ve had a little time to put it into perspective.

advice from friends

Most of us could be a better friend to ourselves. By that I mean we allow our internal dialogue to run on, focused on our failures, our shortcomings, our fears and our doubts. If we actually confessed these same thoughts to a friend, he or she would say…well, probably something like the below:

From Max:

“Stop thinking about your marriage or life in terms of the failure. Instead, look at all that you’ve accomplished and gained in the past decade — you have a home and two beautiful children and more career and life experience. That’s a lot to be proud of.” He was right. Looking at my life in this way took some of the pressure off — it’s not as though I’m starting my life over from scratch, renting an apartment, my biological clock ticking as I desperately search for a mate.

Girlfriend Candy gave me this nugget:

“You are making all your dreams come true. You’re more than a writer; you’re a published author. Look at your blog and how it’s touched your readers — and you’ve made enough posts with enough content to fill a book!” That’s great perspective, too. Embarking on this blog has been cathartic emotionally, a great way to connect with some new people, and a way to discipline myself to regularly publish (which is difficult for my abstract-thinking, perfectionist side).

I am blessed to have surrounded myself with love as I go through so many challenges and changes! And, with all this support, I am learning to become a better friend to myself.

the list, or brown hair

I was relaxing over a glass of wine with a girlfriend while her husband went outside to rake the lawn one last time, even as the snow began to fall. He didn’t want there to be any leaves in the children’s snowmen.

“You’ve got it pretty good,” I told her.

She agreed. “Yep, I got the brown hair.”

And then she went on to explain:  Years earlier, she had been set up with a guy. There was no attraction, but they became good friends. He asked her what qualities she wanted in a mate. And so she shared a long list of the things she had been looking for in a man:  brown hair, tall, gets along with his exes, a big kickstand, and more…all in all, it was a pretty thorough list.

After a couple more years of still being single and becoming more discouraged in her search for a mate, my girlfriend exclaimed to her friend, “Could I maybe just get the brown hair? I’d settle for that.” And then she met her husband, who does have brown hair, is good-looking, gets along with his exes, earns well, is kind and thoughtful, has a big kickstand…actually, I don’t know about that, but it sounded good. Ultimately, I’m willing to bet her husband has almost all of the qualities she was looking for.

Every woman has a list of qualities she’d like to find in a man — I had one before I met my husband. And, as I mentioned earlier, a failed relationship provides great clarity — an opportunity to reflect on how our values have changed, what we might do differently, and the choices we might make more wisely.

So here’s the new list of qualities and characteristics I’d like to find in a mate:

  • Single / available
  • Great sense of humor / quick to smile / playful
  • Presence / capacity / bandwidth
  • Kindness
  • Great manners
  • Income / provider / success mindset (optimism, determination, perseverance)
  • Responsible
  • Committed / honest / faithful
  • Loves children
  • Dark hair, kind eyes, nice smile, strong jaw line, relatively fit
  • Reads / intellectually curious – talks about ideas
  • 36 – 46 years old
  • Thoughtful – holds hands, gives gifts (willing to buy dresses, jewelry, handbags*…)
  • Likes to touch and unafraid of public displays of affection
  • Even tempered and steady / able to manage conflict
  • Active / adventuresome / likes to travel & explore new places, foods, cultures
  • Genuine / authentic
  • In to arts / music, an aesthete
  • Non-smoker / addiction free
  • Taller than me (by at least 3″)
  • Has strong family relationships (and ability to be friends with exes)
  • Healthy boundaries with friends and family
  • Emotional resilience – gets up quickly when down

Know anyone?

*I know this one’s a stretch, but I’d love a guy who has the courage to try!