It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and I have love on the mind. Let me start by saying that I’ve always been a late bloomer. I didn’t have my first kiss or boyfriend until I was seventeen (I somehow managed to miss out on the requisite pre-adolescent spin-the-bottle games). The other stuff came much, much, much later.
I was angst-y in my twenties, and I’m certain that I emitted a “stay away from me” vibe for most of that decade. It was terribly confusing to me that I sailed through my prime dating years without anything resembling a real boyfriend. My friends were befuddled as well and tried to set me up with their male buddies. I adamantly refused, citing extreme pickiness. Of course, I had a short-term relationship or two, but they were of the forced variety and I found true amor elusive.
Then one day, as my twenties were coming to a close, I had a revelation. I discovered that I had this soundtrack in my mind that kept repeating, “no one is ever going to love me.” It was so ingrained, I hadn’t noticed it nor had I realized how I was making it come true. I don’t know how it started, but it was there all right. How uncomfortable to see self-fulfilling prophecies in action. How sad. So I did something that was radical for me: I decided to throw away my impossible criteria for a mate, and just be open. If someone was foolish enough to ask me out with all my baggage and crazy self-talks, I would go out with him, dammit. I figured that at the very least, I’ll have a good yarn to spin.
And you know what? It was nuts. I clearly had a neon, blinking sign announcing “available” on my forehead, and guys started to ask me out on dates non-stop. One man actually ran after me in the streets of San Francisco, panting out a request for a get together. I said yes. And I finally agreed to be set up by those well-meaning friends (disaster, disaster-er, and disaster-est). I even took the plunge and initiated the asking on a few occasions. There was the investment banker, the lawyer, the writer, the sous chef (a fabulous tale I’ll have to share some time). The New Yorker illustrator, several businessmen, the co-worker, the academic, the buddhist who decided he was gay after dating me — my resolve faltered a bit after that one. There was a particularly sweet, much younger engineer who was so romantic and effusive in his sentiments for me. I thought he might be the ONE. Even a woman invited me out to a non-platonic rendezvous, and I considered it, but I decided that would be misleading since I’m decidedly heterosexual.
It’s a phase I think of as my “Rom Com period gone wrong”. The comedy of errors kept my friends in stitches during the recaps. I spent one date riding the bus aimlessly with an artist even angst-ier than I was. Think Before Sunrise with less attractive people and really boring, totally unphilosophical conversations. Another man kept telling me I had beautiful ankles.
These men were far more than their job titles, of course, but it was the way I thought of them. In most cases, I went out on only one date with each man. Chemistry is a pretty obvious thing, and not a lot of sparks happened. Over a period of about one year, I sampled amazing food at various restaurants and went to more bars and movies than I had in all the prior years combined, and though these dates were often uncomfortable, they were also undoubtedly fun. I suppose I should have been more cautious — given my uninhibited free-wheeling policy, one or more of them could have turned out to be a murderer. That would not have been fun.
In the midst of my harem-building, I met M. It’s one of my favorite stories. I was at my regular coffee shop haunt in San Francisco, writing in my journal as usual. It was a bustling and busy Sunday at the cafe, and I sat cozily next to a young-ish couple. After about an hour so, the woman asked if I would be around for awhile. “This guy,” she said, “he asked us to watch his laptop while he made some phone calls, but he’s been gone forever. Would you mind watching it?” I agreed, and they left. The laptop sat unattended for several minutes longer, and then the guy came back. He slid into the seat next to me looking annoyed that the couple was gone. Clad in a bright red floral hawaiian shirt over a yellow Che Guevera t-shirt, he was a muscular, good-looking man. Ken doll on steroids. I immediately dismissed him as batting for the other team; besides, I favored skinny, awkward, Jewish men in general, so I went back to my journal after informing him that I had been guarding his laptop. My suspicions were confirmed when one of the baristas, a friend of mine who happened to also be gay, solicitously started to wipe Hawaiian Shirt’s table, hitting on him in an oh-so-obvious way.
As it goes in coffee shops, Hawaiian Shirt and I began to talk, and I found out that he was an art major turned graphic designer turned start-up business owner opening up a new office in S.F., expanding his Seattle-based operations. This was during the dot-com era and everyone was opening offices everywhere. He was funny, but in a sarcastic way I wasn’t accustomed to. He talked ceaselessly of his business partner, who I assumed to be his boyfriend. So when he asked me for my phone number, my first thought was, “oh hooray, we’ll go shopping together.” I shopped a lot with my gay BFFs, and this being San Francisco, I had many. Imagine my surprise when we had our coffee date a week later. The rest, as they say, is history.
This is — in a rather convoluted way — a love letter to my husband. Who knows if our encounter was destiny or some star-crossed affair? Most likely not. All I know is that if I hadn’t decided to recklessly accept all incoming invitations at that very specific time in my life, I wouldn’t have learned what it feels like to unconditionally love and be loved. To see beyond the assumptions, to leap! Because that’s the life we’ve created together: one based on jumping into the unknown and trusting that we’ll turn out all right.
I hope you, too, have someone like that. It doesn’t have to be a spouse, but it could be a friend, a child (whether biological or adopted), a mentor. It doesn’t even have to be one person. I’m lucky to have several unbelievably kind people in my day-to-day that fill me up with goodness. Because love comes in all shapes and sizes, doesn’t it?
P.S. I’m liking my quick and dirty illustrations of constellations (practicing away at my digital painting!). Obviously, the love one is made up…
P.P.S Sewing is slow-going these days. I hope to have fun projects to share next week!