I didn’t have the absolute best dating luck in the beginning. The first girl I ever made out with committed suicide. My first REAL girlfriend cheated on me while I was laid up for the summer with a broken ankle. I got engaged to my second. But she was settling for me. Once she got accepted to Harvard Divinity School for her graduate degree she moved away and called the engagement off less than a month later. My third serious girlfriend broke up with me while I was in a month long residence course in the military. We were sequestered in a section of Ft. Bragg, NC, cut off from the rest of the world. Of course, she didn’t really tell me that she was breaking up with me. This was early in the days of usable cell phones, when they were becoming affordable and small and not everyone had one yet. I sure didn’t. So we communicated a lot via old-fashioned mail. One day the letters started coming back to me. It wasn’t until I graduated the course that I finally got her on a landline and got some answers.
Years later she tried to get in touch with me. We haven’t been super close, but we check in from time to time. A couple of times she wanted to get back together, but I could just never trust her again. I can’t really explain it, but she was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back. After that I definitely turned turtle and I don’t think I ever opened up as much or was as sappily, openly romantic again.
When I was a kid, I was way more painfully shy, awkward and introverted than I am today. I was a senior in high school before I really ever asked someone out. And those “asks” probably didn’t go well. I think my Dad knew, but didn’t have a clue what to say to me. He was always on the extroverted side: no such thing as a stranger, just a friend he hadn’t met. And apparently he was a little bit of a player back in the day so he just couldn’t relate. I never really moped about it much, but once he felt the need to try and cheer me up a bit. I actually think it was when I didn’t make a basketball team in junior high and his pep talk had nothing to do with dating. He just admitted that he grew up gawky and awkward and had to get by on his personality. He told me to hang in there, that when I was 30 I’d be a catch. When I was 13 or 14 that wasn’t a helluva consolation. I can remember when I was finally in my 30s and things didn’t really get better, thinking I’d been cheated!
That girl texted me today. She’s working for a florist and doing all these arrangements for Valentine’s Day. She’s single, so that’s a special kind of hell. “You did a lot of cute romanticy things for me when we were dating. I appreciate those things so much more now. It’s been years since anyone tied my shoes. And years since anyone did anything really romantic for me.” Now to be clear, I don’t have a creepy foot fetish. She’s 4’11” and had tiny feet. I used to love to tie her little sneakers for her.
Anyways, it was… something. A weird validation or something. I’m not happy to see her life as the big mess that it is. Yeah, there’s a petty part of me that is happy that the woman that broke up with me way back then now wishes she had someone like me. But it’s more a validation that the work I’ve done over the years is good. Getting over the things that happened in the past and opening up and making myself vulnerable is essential for connecting with people, for making good, lasting relationships and reconnecting with that goofy, romantic side of me is fun.