This is part 2 of a previous post. For part 1 click here.
After things crashed and burned with Eric, I suffered through the true heartbreak of losing Gabe. Funny how grief can wait in the shadows like that. The winter of my 28th year, I struggled through a deep depression. I went to work, then went to bars to drink and write, then home to drink and isolate.
Earlier that year, I had become involved with a Zen Buddhist center and I had thrown myself into a feverish pursuit of enlightenment. I had also become infatuated with a monk at the center, because you know, unavailability. With the recent, disastrous end to Eric that culminated in his dropping a few of my things off on my porch, wrapped in butcher paper that he had madly graffitied with a black Sharpie (things like “I AM NOT A PSYCHOPATH”, and “GLUTEN FREE BREAD IS DISGUSTING”), I decided that I was too easily swept off my feet by men and that a period of celibacy would do me good.
Thus began my 6-month period of self-imposed celibacy. My terms were no romantic involvement with men. No sex, no dates, no making out. I could still masturbate, and I took full advantage of that caveat. But rather than bring me clarity and freedom, the period of celibacy made me feel frumpy and muted. It wasn’t like I was fighting off advances either.
In that 6-months, a total of 2 men expressed interest in me. One was the landscaper at my apartment building. I stopped to chat with him one morning and we realized we had a friend in common. A few hours later he knocked at my door and asked if he could eat his lunch with me. I was in the middle of baking about a hundred chocolate chip cookies (eating had become something I did in lieu of dating), and naively thought he just wanted to eat indoors. After some small talk he tried to kiss me and I turned away. I explained my celibacy to him and I said that I would like to try be friends. He replied that he had a lot of friends and didn’t need new ones, then asked if we could just have sex. I repeated my celibacy deal to him, and then he said, “Why did you invite me in, then?” Feeling completely confused, all I could think to do was offer him some cookies. He took them and left. Awkward.
The other man in that 6-month period was cute and had really good boyfriend potential. We knew each other from the Zen center. He asked me out and I told him I wasn’t dating at the time, but would love to see if a friendship was possible between us and then, who knew? He did, apparently, because he came at me with the same line as the landscaper: I’ve got plenty of friends and don’t need new ones. (Incidentally, I have used this line countless times since then. It really is useful, if a bit harsh.)
My celibacy ended that summer, and I was making a new friend: Johnny. Johnny was the best friend of my sister’s new boyfriend. I had noticed Johnny before I met him. I was sitting on a bench downtown when I saw a gorgeous man cruise by on his bicycle. Everything about him was rakish: his blonde curls, the newsboy cap, his twinkly blue eyes and trouble-making grin. He looked like a writer who had cruised his clunky bike out of 1940s Paris. Not a week later I met him through my sister’s boyfriend and plummeted straight into infatuation. Johnny was wicked smart, brutally funny, and as prone to existential angst as I was. The four of us hung out all summer. We took picnics to the river, went to readings and lectures, drank cases of wine and scotch, cooked luxurious feasts and hosted parties, wandered the city markets, and three of us fell deeply in love. My sister and her boyfriend with each other, and I with Johnny.
I was not Johnny’s type. Johnny liked women who were thin, agreeable, and smiley. I’ve always been full-figured with a resting bitch face, and by age 16 I had become used to being looked over for the sort of women Johnny liked. I didn’t take it personally. These women looked like the movie stars and models that we are all supposed to idolize. Or at least they looked like the pretty sisters of those models and stars. And years of being ignored while my pretty friends got flirted with had lowered my confidence so that I was MORE prone to sink into the shadows and pray I’d go unnoticed. But Johnny and I did become great, great friends and remain so to this day.
I took a new apartment, and it happened to be 2 blocks away from Johnny’s (yes, total coincidence). I chose my apartment because it was right next door the the Zen Center, and I was even considering becoming a monk at that point. My unrequited love for the Buddhist monk had become a martyrish wound I carried with me. The monk was absolutely perfect in my eyes, and if I could never have him I would have to settle for a lesser man. Johnny and I were both unhappily single, and we would meet on one of our porches late at night with cigarettes and alcohol. We would sit and talk into the early hours of the morning, always feeling like we were right on the cusp of solving some great mystery of life or love or death or suffering. Though never stated aloud, we both felt like finding something akin to a soulmate would make our suffering manageable.
I dated a guy I met at a party. Johnny dated one of my friends. Both failed pretty quickly. Meanwhile, two friends at work had met serious boyfriends through ads on Craigslist. Still predating online dating sites, people were using Craigslist to find each other. While the idea of placing an ad for a boyfriend still seemed pathetic and even dangerous, I had to admit that my friends had both found boyfriends that were eerily right for them. I agreed to try it and wrote an ad. The ad was full of hyperbole and, I like to think, wit. It did not contain an image. The ad went live and… nothing. Day after day of no responses. My coworkers checked in to see how it was going and I was embarrassed to tell them that nobody had responded. “But how is that possible?” they wondered. “I had dozens of responses like, the first day!” Pink-faced, I mumbled that they shouldn’t worry about it. But my smart coworker asked me to check my email again. She gently pointed to my SPAM folder, which I clicked open to find 171 responses.
Giddy, I set about responding to each one. It seemed rude not to. It took a couple of days, but I narrowed the responders down to the seven most promising. A couple of message exchanges with them helped me quickly whittle it down to three. Of those three, one stood out pretty spectacularly: Joey. Joey deserves his own post, so I won’t go into his story here. But after Joey, I swore off mixing romance with the internet.
Two years and many terrible trysts later, my good friend approached me and asked if I would try online dating with her. She wanted to try it but felt afraid. Internet dating had boomed in Portland by then, but I still hadn’t visited any sites. I knew a few couples who had met that way, but they were an anomaly and people spoke about them in hushed tones (“They met on the internet! Can you believe it?”). So there was some shame around internet dating, a stigma, more so than there is now. It was implied that if you met your partner on a dating site you couldn’t get a date IRL (in real life). I didn’t consider joining a dating site to be a way to get into a serious relationship, but I thought it might get me dating more than I was, and I’ve always liked dating.
According to my friend, The Onion was the only dating site worth using. I don’t know if they still do, but the satirical newspaper had a dating site attached to it. So I set up a profile, messaged with a few people, and went on a date with one of them. A little over two years later we were married. And the rest, as they say, is history. A long, sordid history full of landmines, giddy crushes, broken hearts, divorce, hot sex, despair, and love.