I’m dating a man who’s wonderful. He’s very handsome, professional, funny, fun, and absolutely, unquestionably, fabulous in the sack. He cares for me without hesitation and I never have to question the depth of his love.
I left my ex-husband in August 2017, and put my profile up on Match.com in January 2018. Steve saw my profile and, despite his solemn vow to steer clear of anyone without a full-body profile picture, he considered my head-shot selfie and sent me a message.
I don’t remember exactly what he said in his initial text, but it was clever enough to spark my interest. A couple weeks of banter later, and we were meeting for our first date at a nearby restaurant. Just drinks, no commitments.
I figured that I would have to go on a date eventually. Even though I was (and still am) committed to being single for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to have some fun. This date was almost like taking medicine. It was a necessary step towards moving on. There would be many of these, I was sure, before I found someone who was truly compatible.
It was Friday, and I’d just returned from a business trip in Nassau. I was wiped out and, truth be told, probably more than a little hung over. I was lying in bed thinking that a nap would be as good as a date and almost blew it off, but in the end I made myself wash my face, put on some makeup and a low-cut blouse, and drive to Fratello’s.
I sent him a text on the way and let him know I’d be about 15 minutes late. I blamed it on “chick time,” (preparation time in the alternate women-only universe where 1 minute is approximately equal to 15 Earth-man minutes.) I didn’t realize that he took a look at that text and almost left. He’s a fan of punctuality.
The bar at Fratello’s is upstairs. I felt my face go numb as I scanned the downstairs crowd to make sure I didn’t recognize anyone. In case you’ve never had one, that’s the first sign of a panic attack. Usually, after I feel my face go numb, I start to lose sight. Everything just kind of closes up like an old-time movie fading to black. I’m always sure I’m going to pass out, but that’s only actually happened two or three times. Normally, I just stand there and breathe until I can see again. Don’t ask me if I’m okay, because I won’t be able to talk. The hostess kept asking me if I’d like to be seated and how many were in my party. Silence. About the time she was getting ready to ask me if she should call an ambulance, I felt blood start to move upwards through my carotid arteries again.
I made my feet move and, even though I couldn’t feel them touching the stairs, I made it to the top without falling backwards. About halfway up, I looked at the bar and saw him. He’d chosen a corner seat facing the stairway. He recognized me and smiled. He actually looked like his photo, dispelling the first myth of online dating: everyone posts an old photo in order to look five years younger and twenty pounds lighter than they really are.
He has a big smile. The kind of smile that’s as much sparkling eyes as grin. The kind of smile that only a genuine person can have. God doesn’t give those smiles out to just anyone. It makes you feel like you’re something special, like just laying eyes on you has made him truly happy.
I think I kissed him on the cheek, but I was just coming out of my panic attack, so I’m not sure. It could have been a hug or a warm handshake. He had a Martini in front of him and asked if I’d like something to drink. “I’ll have a glass of white wine, please.”
“Really? You want a white wine? Not a drink-drink?”
“No… I really want a Cosmo, but it’s our first date and I didn’t want to seem like that kind of girl.”
“Have it!” He laughed as he flagged down the bartender and placed the order.
Conversation was easy. It’s always been easy. He has a million stories that no one in their right mind would believe, but he can back every single one up with cold hard proof. I’ve never been one to hold back either. You don’t have to know me long before you have a clear picture of my history — all of my neuroses and psychoses.
An awkward couple was sitting on the other side of the corner talking. She was a petite blonde who looked like someone who sells real estate. He looked like he was probably between jobs. We struck up a conversation with them and found out that they, too, were on a first date.
“Wait,” she said. “You’re on your first date? You look so comfortable — you’re a great-looking couple! I would have thought you’d been together for a long time.”
Dating myth two busted: you actually can find someone you connect with, and the connection can be fast and strong. It can be strong enough that even outsiders notice.
The woman’s name was Laurie, and she’d driven up from somewhere in Massachusetts to have a date with a guy that didn’t look too spectacular. It turns out that they’d met on a free dating site. Moral of the story? Fork out the money for the real dating site or you’ll end up wishing you were with the guy on the other side of the bar.
“Listen,” Steve said to me. “I’m sorry if this is a dealbreaker, because I know your profile said you don’t smoke, but I’m going to go outside and have a cigarette.”
“Oh! I’ll go!”
He gave me an everyone-lies-about-smoking-on-Match.com grin, and we walked out into the freezing February-evening air.
“Do you want to smoke in my car?” I asked.
Just in case you’re not sure, only a seasoned smoker smokes in their car. I was busted.
We sat in the car, he with his Winston and I with my Virginia Slim Menthol Ultra-Light. I wish I could remember what we talked about, but it probably went something like, “So what else did you lie about on your profile?”
We finished smoking and started walking back toward the bar. “Do you want to make out in the parking lot?” he asked.
“Yes!” I said a little too eagerly. “Yes, I do!”
He put his hands around my waist and we kissed. You know those movie scenes where the camera circles around and around the kissing couple? It gives the viewer a sense that the feeling is dizzying. That’s exactly how I felt. Spinning. Completely swept off of my feet.
We made our way back to our seats and I told him that he absolutely had to meet my neighbor. Long story short: my next-door neighbor and I had grown up in the same tiny Ohio town — 700 miles away — and met for the first time when I walked out to see her sitting on our shared balcony. She was my “sister from another mister.” I bonded faster and harder to her than any man ever. “Let’s go get her and make her come to the Wild Irish Rover with us!!”
He followed me back to the apartment where we parked and ran upstairs to knock on Heather’s door. She answered in her jammies, a Corona Light in one hand and phone in the other. I didn’t tell Steve at that point, but only 2 hours earlier, when I couldn’t decide between meeting him or a nice snuggly nap, Heather pushed me to go out. She also offered to give me the fake-emergency call at the one-hour mark in case he was a loser and I had to get out of the date.
We made her rally and Ubered downtown. The band at the Rover was great; Heather and I danced while Steve watched.
“Can I buy you another drink?” I asked him.
“I don’t know… if I have another one, I won’t be able to drive home.”
“Have it,” I smiled.
We’ve been together for two years now. They’ve been two of the most tumultuous years of my life – finalizing a divorce and moving and trying to finagle single-motherhood, but he has been my buoy. I can’t count the number of times he’s kept me from going under. Every single time I hear his voice on the phone, I feel the stress flow out of my shoulders like water draining from the bathtub. Every single time I see him, we have more fun than the last time we were together. I’m still spinning, but I’m grounded. Is that possible?
My two younger daughters aren’t fans of this relationship. They don’t know him well, but they’ve made it clear that, just because I love him, doesn’t mean he has to be a part of their lives. He doesn’t, of course. In fact, he’s been extremely conscientious about making sure that I always put them first. I wish, though, that they could see and appreciate how happy he makes me – even if they don’t understand why.
I remember being their age. The world revolved around me. No one understood my angst, and I didn’t care about anyone else’s feelings – least of all my mother’s. I was consumed with the idea of going to college and leaving my incredibly tight group of friends. If my mom shared anything with me about what was happening in her life, I don’t remember it. We had an understanding. I worried about me, and she did too – along with everything else.
I can say with surety that the second any of my daughters bring a boyfriend home, I’ll be there to welcome him with open arms and to make him feel like part of the family. I’ll make his favorite food for dinner and put clean sheets on the bed for him. I’ll stay up late asking him about his siblings and his summer vacation plans. I’ll make sure that I have makeup and decent clothes on, so the girls won’t be embarrassed. I’ll probably even clean the house. I’ll go the extra mile.
Maybe it’s difficult because they’re afraid he’ll take all of my time. Maybe they don’t like this because they secretly want me to get back together with their father. Maybe it’s just for spite. In any case, I’m tired of it.
I brought the subject up with Maggie. “Why do you think you and Jillian haven’t been able to give Steve a better chance of being accepted?”
She responded that she thought I could do better. …..Ouch. Her disregard for him hurt me. “Mom, everyone should be able to be single and comfortable with themselves before getting into a new relationship.
“Ok…. I waited 6 months before putting that profile on Match. How long a waiting period would have been sufficient?”
I also thought about the loveless months leading up to my departure from the family home. I had essentially been “on my own” for much longer.
“I just don’t think you had to stick with the first guy you met. There could be lots of other people out there who’d be better for you.”
“Wow,” I sighed. “I feel like Steve and I are a great match! We have a wonderful time together, he always makes me laugh, he cares for me completely, and we’ve never had a fight.”
“See?!” she fired back. “That’s not normal! That’s not healthy! Healthy couples have disagreements! I think he has a lot of the same characteristics as Dad, and you just don’t see them.”
Her whole comment threw me. First of all, fighting is not a sign of a great relationship. The fights I had with their father were devastating, emotionally draining, and ultimately fruitless. It’s okay to disagree with your partner, but you can talk about your viewpoints with an overarching feeling of respect and love.
“What characteristics do you think they share?” My mind was racing, thinking about every single thing that Steve has done with me and how one might liken that to my ex’s actions, which were consistently impulsive and oftentimes downright harmful to my children and me. I couldn’t come up with a single thing.
One thing that I did in the past, was to give up my home and proximity to friends and family to move in with my ex-husband. I was 22, and I was sure that he alone could fill the friend-family void. He was my everything; besides, I could always visit. But, being 11 hours away from Mom and almost that many hours to my best friends had more of an isolating effect than I’d anticipated. When I wanted to go home to Ohio, I would either have to drive the 11 hours or spend money that I didn’t have to fly. To top it all off, he always wanted to come with me. No… it was more than that. He insisted he’d come with me. The few times I went somewhere on my own, he punished me in bizarre ways.
When my grandfather died, he stayed behind while I went to the funeral. I tried to call him that evening, but there was no answer. I tried to call again a little later but there was still no answer. At 2am? Still no answer. As it turns out, he’d gone to The Haluwa, a polynesian dive bar, and gotten arrested for disorderly conduct (drunk) and assaulting a police officer. I know that doesn’t seem like direct “punishment,” but when I was away, he would always behave like a naughty kid with an inattentive babysitter.
When he was with me, though, he wasn’t much better. On a long-weekend trip to the Poconos to see a big group of high-school friends, he was jealous that I was spending too much time with them and ignoring him. Just a few hours after arriving, he started to pack our stuff. He said we were going home (a solid 6-7 hour drive.) Somehow I changed his mind, but I was hurt and frustrated. When I went back upstairs, my friends could easily see from my swollen eyes that I’d been crying. They knew something was amiss.
I suppose I gave up a lot of myself and who I thought I would be and what I thought I was capable of accomplishing throughout my years with him. I don’t regret any of it, because the result is that I have three perfect daughters whom I love to the deepest part of my core. I may always wonder, however, what I would have become under different circumstances….
The girls don’t know all of the details of my relationship with their dad, but maybe they’re afraid that I’m giving up too much for Steve. Maybe they think I’ll lose myself (…again.) I’ve been tossing around the idea of buying a home near Steve, and maybe all of their negative feelings are tied to that idea. Maybe the girls just don’t want us moving in together. Maybe they’re afraid that I’ll lose my identity.
I’m tired of hoping they’ll come around, and I’m starting to feel a little resentful – which isn’t a good feeling to have, particularly as a parent.
In an ideal world, the kids would love Steve as much as I do. We’d be able to do things like go out for dinner or vacation together, and everyone would feel comfortable, loved, and happy. I’ve always been a people-pleaser. I’ve made it my personal mission to make everyone in the whole world happy. Sadly, that doesn’t always pan out. Most of the time, I have trouble simply making myself happy.
In the real world, I need everyone to be respectful of each other – and of me. In my mind, that respect means that everyone, despite how they feel about me dating Steve (or dating anyone else for that matter), supports my decision by being kind and allowing me the freedom to spend guilt-free time with him. I respect my girls’ advice and appreciate that they want the best for me. I also need to respect my own instincts and feelings.
In the end, it’s just going to be me. My oldest has already moved halfway across the country, my middle is away at college, and my youngest is a few short months from high-school graduation. They’re going to be gone, and I’m going to be alone. If they’ve imagined that I would be with someone different, I may disappoint them. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.
I think it’s time for a change. Rather, I think it’s time to refrain from change. I want to stay with this man who makes me feel so good and brings out the best in me. This time, I feel like I’m going in with my eyes wide open. It might not be perfect. Maybe I would be giving up too much to move in with him. The thing is, I’m ready to put down the white wine and pick up the Cosmo. It’s time to trust the only person who will be with me all the way to the end – me.