I’ve had a while to ponder this the third in a series of posts (to start reading from the beginning go here). I meant to write it soon after the previous one, but If life is a box of chocolates, then I keep getting the really bad ones…you know, the ones no one wants…the turd-filled kind. These shitty circumstances, and, it turns out, some deep-seated misgivings, stopped me from continuing after I came close to finishing a first draft of this. Circumstances included a trip to San Francisco to attend the annual writers conference and then yet another illness – this time the flu with a fever that made my eyes feel like they were on fire and my head like it would explode, the worst I’ve had since contracting dengue in 2003. It put me in bed for five days straight. My misgivings – the greater of the two obstacles – stem from the delicate nature of the matter at hand and, honestly, much like the illness, I don’t think I’m quite recovered. But like they say, there’s nothing like baring your soul to heal the wounds therein. So here goes.
After my existence was referred to as “Bukowskian,” I thought it high time I schooled myself on what exactly that means. I bought of a book of his poetry and stumbled across a piece, called The Crunch, that contained this excerpt:
there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.
people so tired
either by love or no love.
people just are not good to each other
one on one.
the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.
we are afraid.
our educational system tells us
that we can all be
it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.
or the terror of one person
aching in one place
watering a plant.
― Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell
Those last two stanzas punched their way home, leaving me slightly dazed, but determined to extinguish the loneliness my soul’s been steeped in. I was over being Bukowski’s poster child.
I returned to the online dating site. As you may recall from my previous post, I’d avoided putting any money on the line. Now when a check finally arrived for some work I’d done months earlier, I took it as a sign that I should pay for a full subscription. When push came to shove, I found myself hesitating though, going back and forth from the page that would take me to PayPal, to the page displaying the names of lots of presumably lonely men. It took me another day to actually click on the “Pay” button.
I know I’ve said it before, but I was surprised how scared I was, how much courage I had to muster to open the door fully to the potential relationships on that site. I wondered how I could be so fearful of exploring the online singles world and I was pretty hard on myself. Only now do I remind myself that I’d never done this before and I hadn’t dated for going on ten years.
Tentatively, I began the process of seeing who was out there. The first thing I noticed was that without exception everyone was “outside my match parameters.” I recalled the wine-fogged night I answered the personality profile and wondered if that wasn’t influencing the results. I also began to feel duped by the wily marketers who got me to part with my hard-earned cash.
The second thing I realized was that there were almost no surfers to be found. Not being a surfer was a deal breaker, much the same way being a smoker was. Eventually, it became apparent that I was limiting my options by nixing anyone who didn’t surf and focusing on guys from the west coast, so one day I decided to look outside those limits. I clicked on the photo of a guy I’d been intrigued by, one part because of his blue eyes, the other because of his nice suit. Unlike the profiles of a lot of men, his was complete and well written. He sounded like someone who cared a lot about helping others. I decided to reach out.
The process of getting to know him couldn’t have been more different than anything I’ve experienced before. Where relationships are concerned I’ve historically been a two-feet-into-the-deep-end kinda gal, but in this case our physical separation necessitated that we take things slow. I reasoned that this was precisely what the doctor ordered. Maybe this time I’d see the red flags when they were waving, rather than being blinded by proximity and, frankly, lust. We exchanged long letters – I have to call them “letters” because they were far too carefully penned and poetic to be lumped in with the texting-influenced one-liners that so many emails have become – they were heart-felt, emotions-on-the-page, revelatory letters of the sort I imagine people once wrote while courting over vast distances, long before the internet sucked up vast amounts of our time, back when people were promised to someone they’d never met. This guy could write! And he was opening himself up and being vulnerable in a way few men, in my experience, have been willing to do. My excitement mounted. And before I knew it, we were making plans to meet. I was headed home for Christmas and would be flying through San Francisco on my way to Canada, so once the craziness of the holidays was over, we would finally meet face to face.
I’m limited to a really bad internet phone connection from where I live, so I called him for the first time en route to Canada. Hearing his voice was unexpected and special in a way that comes from knowing a man’s dreams and desires, his heart, long before those words are associated with a specific tone and accent. It felt like we were doing everything backwards, but I reminded myself that I hadn’t managed to get the relationship thing right yet and this might be the way forward.
We talked for several hours many nights in a row, adding to the romance of our writings our individual voices and laughter. We discovered shared histories, philosophies, dreams that grew with each conversation. We anticipated our first meeting, planned romantic forays to points around the globe.
Along the way, there were plenty of signs that our meeting was not meant to be: his family life slowly revealed itself to be more complicated and drama-filled than I was comfortable with; his professional life seemed overextended; the head cold I’d picked up in November moved into my chest New Year’s Eve; the weather turned from frigid to freaky with talk of the here-to-for unheard of “Arctic Vortex,” huge accumulations of snow and blizzards wreaked havoc on airline schedules, delaying my departure by four days, exactly the number we planned to spend together.
What frightens me even now is that I didn’t heed all these signs even when, standing in line at the airport, shortly before learning I wasn’t going anywhere, he texted to say he had to cancel our meeting due to a family crisis.
We agreed our plans were on hold, not cancelled, and our conversations continued. But something had changed and when I returned to Baja, a gap seemed to open between us in proportion to the distance keeping us apart. I felt the dreams we’d co-created slipping into that gap.
Like I said, communication is tough from where I live. Email is easy, but phone calls not at all and something seemed to be swallowing up his desire to stay connected. Let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to connect with someone who has decided to disconnect. I kept my frustration to myself, but I didn’t understand how or why all the promise seemed to be evaporating, I just knew the loneliness and its twin-brother sadness was oozing back up around my knees.
The days dragged on into weeks during which he sent only two communications: the first to explain how another family crisis was demanding his attention; the second, a week later, to say that recent events made it clear he needed to give his complicated family all his attention.
Yup, a “dear-Jane-I-don’t-have-room-in-my-life-for-you” letter.
To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. I was disappointed and angry. I wrote to a friend I’d been keeping abreast of developments, “It would have been nice had he done the work to figure that out before I spent the better part of six weeks getting to know him!” But it wasn’t just the time invested. It felt like he’d just blown a hole in the bottom of my lifeboat and the dark flood waters were threatening my new existence. Our collective dreams were swept away in the deluge and into the void crept that familiar feeling of isolation, joined now by a sense of abandonment. You know that picture of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince standing on his tiny planet? That’s how I felt.
For several days.
Then reality crept back in and I realized how wrong this man was for me. How by clinging to him like a lifeboat that I thought could lift me out of my unhappy circumstances, I’d managed to turn him into what I wanted him to be rather than who he really was. I’ve known for many years and several relationships that I have a tendency to do this, but it was more than a little unsettling to recognize how easy it was for me to idealize even a relationship that hadn’t involved so much as a face-to-face meeting, let alone the intimacy of a kiss.
As I wondered how I might control this tendency, I remembered something that happened early in the process of getting to know him. I was walking down the beach, trying to discern if I should pursue a relationship with someone who sat well outside several parameters I’d discerned were important to me, when the word “trust” popped into my head. I decided then that I would trust in the intangible universal forces of good to take me where I needed to be, trust in the process, trust that I am exactly where I am meant to be. So I did. And in the process, I learned that it’s up to me to listen to my intuition and heed the red flags that tell me when someone is not the right person or this is not the right path for me. Yeah, 45 and still learning to trust myself.