47. Closing Remarks

Deep breath.

I can’t believe it’s over. I can’t believe I’ve gone on twenty-three first dates – and thirty-six total dates –and lived to write about it. (I still marvel that none of those twenty-three were serial killers.) Mostly, I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from this experience.

Before writing this Closing Remarks section, I took about a two-month period of reflection. I did not date, although I did fall for someone who I can never be with.

In contemplating the last six months, I realized that I have changed dramatically when it comes to dating, and it’s directly related to two big truths stumbled on during my process:

BIG TRUTH #1: Dating is not about love; dating is about power. Love is about love, but that comes after the dating.

This one is hard to swallow. I want to be romantic and I want to believe that in dating, it’s all about two people’s feelings towards one another. But my experience proves otherwise. I started to realize (late in the game), that feelings aren’t enough until they are everything. Call it games, but power is extremely important when two people first meet.

I found myself way too often sitting by my phone and waiting for a text or a call. When it came, I found myself writing back too long of a message – giving away too much of myself. I felt very vulnerable. I thought this was the way to find love, giving yourself away.But I ultimately decided to cut my dates off after twenty-three, realizing something had been lost. To the men I truly cared about in the last six months (Ben, Peter, Matt, Benjamin), I gave a tiny bit of myself away to each of them – until I wasn’t really sure what was left.

This isn’t to say that vulnerability isn’t a good thing; it certainly is. In order to get closer to someone, you have to be somewhat vulnerable. But perhaps women should take more of a cue from men. Men rarely send paragraph-long text messages telling you every detail about their day (I didn’t really do this, but you get the idea), men don’t really sit around hoping their girl will call or text, men don’t dwell on the fact that the girl’s text said “yeah” instead of “yes” (come on, get real), and men let a conversation or even a relationship die when it should. Men just let things flow, and men often have the power.

What I mean when I say that someone “has the power” is that that that person has maintained a sense of who they are and they will not compromise it to make a square peg fit into a circular hole. I found myself constantly trying harder and harder to make a guy talk to me, or take me out, or care about me, when he just didn’t want to. What I really should have done was realize that I am worthy of finding someone who wants to do that of his own accord — someone who I don’t have to fight for power. It’s not that only one person has the power at any given moment – no, there’s plenty of power to go around. But it’s that often, women relinquish their power in order to be available/ready/vulnerable for their man. And men love powerful women, so in losing your power you also become less attractive.

I noticed the full effect of this when I started messing around on Tinder again after taking time off. I looked at messages I had sent and I wanted to reach through my iPhone and slap six-months-ago-Cassandra. Knowing that Tinder is used mainly for hooking up, I took it much less seriously the second time around. I put less pressure on myself in conversations and I didn’t really care if the guy was super-interested or not at all. For that reason, I was much more carefree and I didn’t force anything. I kept the power.

What I like about the concept of “keeping the power” is that there are no rules to it. I’ve now read eleven dating books, and nearly each one lays out rules. It’s trivial and exhausting. Instead, I view “keeping the power” as a general attitude. This can mean something different for me than it does for Sandra. One example: The first time I ever booty-called Ben #1, I felt extremely powerful. I sent him a text basically saying to come over because I would be home all night, and I didn’t do any begging or pleading or even much hoping that he would come. I just laid it out there and he could take it or leave it. And he took it.

For other women, this might not be a good idea. Texting someone they are casually dating and inviting him over may actually do the opposite of “keeping the power.” For certain women (and in certain relationships), this can send them into a frenzy where they obsess over what he will say and, if he suggests he might not come, they try super-hard to convince him – giving up basically all of their power.

It’s really all about your mindset. Can you handle sending that text message? Do you really want to see him tonight or would you rather spend a night pedicuring your toes and watching Girls?

The biggest thing I learned in reference to this truth is that I needed to do things for me;  that was the best way I kept the power. If Peter sent me a short text that didn’t warrant a response, I just shouldn’t have answered, rather than try to think of something to keep the conversation flowing. Forcing is never a good thing. When you’re a powerful, foxy young lady, you really don’t have to force anything.

BIG TRUTH #2: Men don’t see what they have; women see what they don’t have.

Sigh, we are all flawed.

It was quite convenient that while I was on my dating escapades, my six closest girlfriends in Chicago were all single as well. We talked about guys constantly, sharing what we had learned.

The most prevalent theme I picked up on is the difference between what men see and what women see.

Often, I stared at my girlfriends in awe. They’re so beautiful, smart, talented, funny. I could not understand what it was that their boytoys did not see in them. Granted, I did not date any of my friends so I don’t know what they are like to a significant other, but I found it hard to believe that the great qualities I saw in them would be any different when viewed from a date’s point of view. At times it made me nervous. If they can’t meet a good guy, how the hell will I? But in seeing how often we were all overlooked, I realized that sometimes men just don’t see what they have.

Of course, Big Truth #2 is a generalization, and it won’t be true for every man and every woman in the world. But from the guys that I’ve encountered and my girls have encountered, this seemed to be a common denominator. Why would a guy throw away a chance with Sandra or Lily? Why would a guy have one of my friends’ attention and then drop her like a hot potato the next minute? What an idiot!

I get it though. A person can be really beautiful and smart and awesome, but just not right for you. I experienced that with some of my dates. I thought Matt pretty much had it all and I did have some feelings for him, but when our relationship fizzled out, I couldn’t have cared less. I didn’t run after him and nor did he for me – because we are both separately awesome but not awesome together.

I also realized the other side of the coin in speaking to my lovely friends: women are the opposite of men because we often see what we don’t have. We say, “Bobby is so sweet and caring, he would never sleep with his secretary!” Even though we found her panties in his backseat. We come up with thousands of excuses and imaginary circumstances in our minds to explain phenomena in our relationships. It’s all because we don’t really want to see what we have — similar to the guys who perhaps don’t see what they have because they don’t want to. We would rather see something that we don’t  have.

I heard my friends come up with excuses for guys and glamorize and romanticize them nearly every weekend. I wanted to grab a few of them by the shoulders and say, “HE’S REALLY NOT THAT GREAT AND CARING AND LOVING. HE REALLY KINDA SUCKS ACTUALLY!” But I tried to be a little more compassionate.

The worst case of this that I experienced was Peter. I continued to see this guy as someone that he really wasn’t. I continued to come up with excuses for him and stand up for him when I shouldn’t have. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, it’s that he’s not the perfect guy my mind made him out to be.

Then there are the long-term relationships I had been in before this dating experiment. Most recently, with Sean, I tried to believe that he was someone who wanted to be on the same page as me and try to think about and plan out a future together. It took me forever to see what was really standing in front of me the whole time: a wonderful, mature guy, who just wasn’t where I wanted him to be in life and thus wasn’t the one for me.

All in all, every one of us just needs to open up our eyes and be real. Who is that person across the table from or sharing a bed with us? Is that the person we want across the table or in our bed? Be real and don’t be scared of the answer.

My Overall Opinion on Online Dating

You’d think that after all of these dates and all of my weird experiences (see previous chapter), I would have no faith left in online (and possibly offline) dating. That is not the case. In fact, I think I have more faith than ever.

The funny thing is that before I embarked on a twenty-three-first-date journey, I had never EVER online dated before. In a way, this was a good thing. As an online dating virgin, I had no preconceived notions.

I did have friends who online dated while I was with Sean. They had mixed reviews, but I didn’t let their stories affect me too much as I created my first profile back in May.

Maybe I’m just feeling really optimistic, but I learned a lot from my dates. Often I would get new recommendations for books, movies, TV shows, restaurants from them – even from the ones I just talked to and never actually met. I laughed, I visited a ton of new restaurants and bars, and I got a feel for who I really am when I am on a first date – a person I haven’t known for nearly three years.

The Phillip situation could have been better, had it not linked me up with a crazy person – but its one example of how you can run into someone who you may already know or have mutual friends with through online dating. Hopefully, this leads to a good friendship or relationship and not in a bombardment of outrageous text messages like my situation did.

Then there’s the fact that after five months of not seeing him, I actually reached out to Peter recently. I needed some advice regarding law school. He was cordial and it was a comfortable, easy conversation. I was relieved to see that at least one positive thing (me getting advice) came from us meeting.

It’s so cheesy to say that I will carry these twenty-three guys with me forever, but fuck it – I’m saying it. Those guys all had a big impact on not only this story, but the way I will continue to date in the big city, online or off. Even the really shitty dates (shout out, Ben #3!) taught me something.

The funniest thing I learned from online dating was the fact that it may possibly be the easy way out. I don’t know who started or “invented” online dating. Probably some crazy-man in his garage. But most likely he started it because, like so many online dating profiles I read said, he was “tired of the bar scene.”

Yeah, the bar scene is full of drunks and weirdos, but so is online dating – and online dating pretty much prominently displays these people in your face. (It was too easy to find screenshots for the previous chapter.)

For women, the bar scene is tiring because they often feel that guys are just looking for a one-night stand or a random hook up. Well, depending on the online dating site you use and the people you encounter, you may run across this even more often online, with the added shield of anonymity online meaning that people are even more bold than face-to-face at the bar.

Then there’s the money factor. It’s pretty expensive to online date – but love is worth it right? Well, it’s much cheaper than the bar. If a guy goes out with his buddies hoping to meet a girl at the bar, he’s most likely going to buy himself a couple drinks, pay cover to get in, and possibly pay for a cab or a bus to get to the bar. Once he meets the sexy girl across the room, he will probably buy her a drink – or four – and those aren’t cheap. By the end of the night, just trying to meet someone (to date or to hook up with), he has probably shelled out fifty bucks. That’s two months of Match!

In my opinion, online dating is way easier than meeting someone at the bar – for both purposes of trying to find true love and trying to find a hump buddy for the night. I think its way easier for a girl or a guy to meet someone they want to hook up with online, and its way easier to cut through the bullshit and find someone who really wants a serious relationship online.

My point of view definitely doesn’t take into account the fact that it’s also, unfortunately, easier to lie online than it is in person. No one will believe you are six-foot-two when they’re towering over you at five-foot-ten. And those sexy pics of you like two years ago before you gained weight or got that terrible haircut are just not relevant when you’re standing face-to-face.

So, if you’re choosing between the bar scene and the online dating scene, there are positives and negatives to both, but I honestly think online dating is easier. Think of it as home shopping for a boyfriend. (Though, you won’t get any buy-one-get-two offers here unless you come across a really open-minded guy…)

What’s Next for Me

For now, I’m just happy to not have two to four dates per week.

I’ve gotten back a lot of time after I stopped dating. In that time, I’ve fit in law school applications and editing this story. I’ve also spent more time with my friends, watching The Bachelor and going to winter bar crawls. I’ve spent a lot of time with Aline, who’s recently engaged, and planned with her excitedly about my soon-to-be-brother-in-law and her wedding. My brother’s move is just a couple weeks away so I’m sure some Sunday night dinners with him and my sister are in order.  And, as previously mentioned, I fell in love with someone I will never have.

I have more time for me now and I love it. I’m getting to know who I am as a single woman in Chicago — a person I have never been before. I’m planning what I’m going to do with my career and my aspirations for law school. I’m looking forward to the next year and I have so much exploration to do before I can even think about settling down with anyone.

But, I am not completely done with dating forever. I will date again and it will be a ton of fun. When I’ll start, I don’t know yet. Messing around on Tinder and even grabbing a drink with someone from the app is very different than mentally “getting back in the game.”

But when I do get back out there, I can guarantee I will do so as a very flawed person. I will continue making bad decisions, being way too silly on dates, journaling my experiences, and loving with my whole heart when the time comes to love.

I’ll continue to be hurt and hurt others again a thousand times, I am sure. But then one day, with one person, I won’t.

And then everything will have been worth it.

45. First Dates #24 and #25

The Monday after my second date with Benjamin, I’m in a daze.

Fueled by my desire to enjoy this journey I’m on and not overthink too much, I’m giddy about Benjamin. After all of the awkward dates, the creeps online, the creeps offline, the lonely nights, the disappointments, I hope to myself that this high lasts.

It’s not so much that I think after two dates that I’m going to marry Benjamin, so much as the relief I feel that I can still feel. 

After about fifteen first dates, Sandra asked me how many guys I’ve actually liked so far.

I answered, “Hmm…Ben, Peter, and sorta Matt. So, um, three-ish?”

The honest, true friend that she is, she flat out said, “You are too picky.”

I tried to argue with her that three out of fifteen isn’t bad. But the fifteen have already been “pre-screened.” It’s not that I’d only spoken to fifteen guys, it’s that only fifteen times had I agreed and a guy agreed to go out together. We passed each other’s First Level of Screening, the Second Level being the date. So, when I reexamined Sandra’s point, she was right. Three out of fifteen isn’t a great ratio. I started to wonder what was wrong with me. It is just maturity that causes me to look for more in a partner than I would have a couple years back? Is the pool of men that click with me diminishing? Am I being unrealistic about what I want in a guy?

Then came the dates with Patrick, Tom #2, Ian #2, and Marc. Suddenly my ratio went up. Out of twenty-two, I had liked seven. That gave me hope. But of those seven, I liked them in different ways and all had different unsuccessful outcomes. I only had that OMG feeling — that immediate spark, that thrilling excitement — with Ben and Peter. I thought I had that with Marc, but it was fleeting. So while my like-ratio may have been seven out of twenty-two, only two guys so far had really lit a fire in me, and both were at the very beginning. Did the crash-and-burn ending of Peter and I cause me to become guarded? Can I still feel what I felt for Peter, excitement with abandon, for another guy? Of course I knew I would eventually, but I feared that it would take some time to heal. And apparently it took until I met Benjamin.

The key to all of this that I have to continue to remember (and so do my friends) is that I crammed  the dating that a normal person does over the course of one or two years into six months time. Everything was fast-forwarded. The pain I felt after Peter needed to immediately be set aside so I could “get right back up on the horse.” Any disappointment from not hearing from Patrick or Tom #2 or Marc was pushed into the back of my mind so that I could go on my next date just a day or two later. It’s truly been exhausting and emotionally taxing.

So after two dates with Benjamin, I’m honestly terrified of having another Peter on my hands. Problem is, the feelings I have for Benjamin be may even stronger than those I had for Peter. And if it took “so long” (read: seventeen dates; Peter was #5 and Benjamin was #23) to feel something that strong again after Peter, how much damage will a let down from Benjamin do to me now?

I know this is all very bleak and depressing to think about. But a girl’s gotta be real. You only end up with one. You may date someone a few years, but in the end, you (ideally) marry one man — no girl dreams of divorce. You know that most guys you meet and date, you will not have a future with. I’m just trying to be prepared.

Regardless, I’m thrilled to have feelings again. Strong feelings, not “He’s cool and pretty cute” feelings, not gray feelings. But in the back of my mind is a shaky fear constantly reminding me to keep my feet on the ground.

Unfortunately, I am terrible at keeping my feet on the ground. Literally.

On my way to art class on Monday, I slip and fall on a patch of ice. I get up with the help of an old lady — yeah, that’s right, an old lady helped me get up; that’s how you know you’ve made it in life — and head right on into art class, clutching my left arm. I sculpt this funny-looking creature with one hand and pretend that my arm is just bruised, but by the time my piece is done, I’m in excruciating pain.

One urgent care clinic, two sets of x-rays, one Norco tablet (stronger than Vicodin), and five hours in the Emergency Room later and I’m in a sling with the diagnosis of a broken elbow. Awesome, just what I need before I travel across the country for five days.

I work from home the next two days. I’m apprehensive to drive with the sling and want to give myself time to get accustomed to it; plus it’s the week of Thanksgiving and no one is at my office anyhow. So I hang out on the couch with a couple ice packs, Rocco, my work laptop, and Detectives Stabler and Benson from SVU.

I text  Benjamin on Tuesday, noting that they should really make a frequent visitor’s punch card for Northwestern Hospital. I’d have racked up quite a few free visits by now. He asks me how it happened and how I’m feeling. I appreciate his concern.

Somehow, the trip from Chicago to San Fran on Wednesday is actually not that bad with one arm. I sit next to a very tired middle eastern woman who decides prior to takeoff that she’s going to put her feet up on the tray table between us — thankfully no one has the center seat. I watch the movie Jobs and remain confused about whether or not I’m supposed to like Steve Jobs (played by Ashton Kutcher — another person I’m confused if I’m supposed to like). By the time I land, meet up with my oldest sister Tais and two of her five daughters, and get back to her house an hour outside the city, it’s about three in the morning Chicago-time and I am wiped out.

I’m awaken around nine in the morning by a tiny little person. She just slightly turns my door handle and peeks her olive-skin face inside. Her big brown eyes study me. She’s wearing a bright blue headband and a pink jacket. What lovely color coordination.

When her eyes lock on mine, she breaks out in a toothy smile and giggles.

My nieces have to be some of the most beautiful people that exist. This particular one is a triplet and she’s five. Her older sisters, six and eleven years old, are in the kitchen munching on cereal when I drag myself out.

Before I know it, everyone is awake. Tais comes down in pajamas and hugs me tight to her. “So glad you’re here, sis,” she says. My brother-in-law, Chris, gives me a warm embrace and hands me a cup of coffee, his way of saying he loves me.

Then the other two triplets come tumbling down the hallway. They’ve recently taken up gymnastics, so all of Tais’ flooring is in trouble. Luckily they aren’t as clumsy as me, so I won’t need to worry about them hurting themselves. Every time I turn around, though, one of the five girls is doing a handstand against a wall. It blows my mind.

Today is Thanksgiving, so we spend the day preparing a glorious turkey (Chris and a couple of the triplets), all the scrumptious sides (Tais and I), drinking a lot of wine (Chris, Tais, and I) and getting to know the other two couples that join us for the meal. I’m so happy to be with Tais and Chris again. There’s a bit of a divide in my family; Tais has only remained close to me and her father. The rest of my family doesn’t know Tais and Chris the way I do.

The truth is I needed them so badly growing up. When my nuclear home was a battlefield in high school and I needed space, I just drove twenty minutes to their house. I slept over. I had deep conversations with them about life and what I wanted in a partner and in a family. We drank wine and we bitched about how people piss us off. I watched Tais give birth the first time around. Chris became a brother to me. So no matter what fighting happened between Tais, Chris, and the rest of my family, I stayed out of it. From when I first started seeking solace in them at age sixteen until now, they’ve always been a safe haven for me to escape to. They’ve always cared and been there for me when I needed them. That’s more than I can say for most of my family.

Now that they’re a five-hour flight away, I miss being able to drive to them. I miss being able to call Tais when I’ve had too much to drink at a party or when a guy is pushing me to have sex when I don’t want to and I need to GTFO. I miss Chris’ candid insight on how men think and why they can be such douche bags sometimes. And man do I miss those beautiful girls.

Sometime in the morning of Thanksgiving, Benjamin texts me. He says, “Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you’re not in too much pain.” I smile at the message. I reply back, wishing him a great day and letting him know that my nieces have thoroughly distracted me from my broken elbow.

I eat a ton and  before I know it, Tais and I are on her porch drinking wine in stretchy pants, watching the girls jump around on the trampoline. What a great way to end the day.

Friday we drive about two hours to a place called Twain Harte. It’s basically a mountainous forest area full of Christmas trees. Families come to choose their tree and the workers chop it down. There’s a gift shop with ornaments and free cider. It’s adorable. We have a blast. The girls and I play geography trivia on the drive up, trying to guess which state Acadia National Park is in (Maine) or which state is known as the Yellohammer State (Arkansas). When the girls are enthralled in Candy Crush and kettlecorn we pick up from a local corner market, Chris and I talk about dating and I fill him in on my last twenty-three guys.

On the way home, the conversation turns to our family and my brother moving to Chicago and how I wouldn’t mind coming out to northern California one day. The mountain ranges offer a sleepy backdrop for our ride back home, and I watch the sun setting in the distance. The landscape is a mix of mountain and dessert. It’s soothing, like falling asleep to an old western movie.

That night, I think about Benjamin. After two dates and a decent amount of texting, I feel fairly comfortable being excited about him. I’m not getting ahead of myself and considering what my name would sound like with his last name on the end of it — I don’t even know his last name. I’m simply basking in the pleasure of knowing that I have feelings for a guy who seems to also have feelings for me.

In the morning, I decide to text him to see how his time off from school is. I say, “I love it out here. I’m not sure I’ll leave. How’s your vacation going?”

The plan for the day is to decorate the tree and house and relax. It’s Saturday and there’s college football on all day long. I brought some work from home I need to finish, so I reluctantly pull it out of my bag and start working. It’s fortunate that noise doesn’t bother me, as the girls run around the first floor playing some sort of rendition of Tag and Hide-and-Go-Seek, but louder and faster.

I sent the text to Benjamin around eight in the morning California time, so about ten in Chicago. A few hours after I sent it, I still don’t have a response from him. I assume he was out late last night and is probably sleeping off a hangover. No big deal.

But twenty pages into my work, one and a half football games, and two glasses of wine later, and I still have no response. It’s been nearly six hours since I texted him.

Chris sits with me on the couch and explains football to me. I’m starting to get it. But when I ask him to explain men and this texting drought to me, he’s at a loss.

“It’s two dates. It’s not like he put a ring on it!” He says, looking at my disappointed face.

“I know that. But I don’t really text him often. I just wanted to see how his vacation is. I just find it weird that it’s taking this long. It’s, like, four o’clock in Chicago right now. USC and UCLA are playing in an hour. No way he isn’t awake yet.”

“Maybe he’s with his buddies watching the games.”

Good point. Maybe he is, but there are commercial breaks right? It takes just as long to send a text as it does to take a pee. I don’t expect a man to text me all day long — actually, I hate that. I get used to it in a relationship, but I don’t really like it. It disrupts my day and makes me feel obligated to tell someone what I’m doing at all hours. I’d rather just a text when something notable happens (like I broke my elbow or to say happy Thanksgiving), not to say “I’m eating Cheerios right now” — I don’t really need to know about that.

Maybe I was partly on edge because I had a strange dream about Benjamin the night before. In it, he and I were in a group of friends but he wouldn’t speak to me. One of the friends morphed into an ex from high school who started trying desperately to kiss me. I pushed him off of me, worried Benjamin would see. But by the time I was free from his grasp, Benjamin was gone. A girl next to me told me he left without a word, just disappeared. I woke up feeling uncomfortable, unsure of myself, and insecure about his feelings towards me.

But Saturday, Tais and Chris and the girls start to decorate not only the real tree we bought at Twain Harte on Friday, but also a smaller fake tree deemed “The Girls’ Tree.” This tree sports the less delicate ornaments and is for fun, while “The Grown-Ups’ Tree” is for show — on display at the front of the house.

I, on the other hand, clutch my wine, my work, my phone and the TV remote. I’m parked on the couch, grumpy and not feeling very Christmas-y.

“Come on!! Get uppppp and decorate with usssssssss,” whines Tais, imitating her kids. I crack a smile, put down the wine and help place glass ornaments all over The Grown-Ups’ Tree.

The girls get bored of being festive and go upstairs to watch Cinderella. We’re supposed to go to sushi in an hour. I told them I don’t feel good — partly because I ate too much turkey chowder at lunch and partly because I have a giant knot in my stomach that screams, “Ben isn’t into you! Give up! You were a fool for thinking he was!”

Tais and Chris try to console me.

“I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything that he’s not answering, Cassie,” Tais says as she hangs a little angel from a high-up tree branch. She can reach because she’s five-foot-ten.

“I texted him again to say I’m watching the UCLA game and still nothing,” I whine to Chris, hoping that he can appreciate me trying to tie football into all of this. He laughs.

“How long has it been again?” Chris is far more interested in this than Tais. Perhaps he’s preparing for his daughters’ own whining in a few years when they start dating.

“Like, eleven hours,” I say, defeated.

“Dude. It’s no big deal! Drink more wine! If he doesn’t like you, he can go fuck himself.” Oh what a sweet, sweet sister I have.

My phone choo-choo’s to let me know I have a message.

I glance at it.

“He speaks!” I say.

Chris laughs. “So you’re in a good mood now? Tais, we can go to sushi now. She’s not cranky anymore.”

“Shut up!” I say, playfully hitting Chris on the shoulder. “No, I’m not in a good mood. I still feel weird about this. But, fine, I’ll go get ready.” I storm off into the guest bedroom, jokingly acting like the sixth daughter they don’t have.

At sushi, the girls can’t sit still. I’m irritable. I eat a couple pieces of the gorgeously decorated sushi. It’s probably the best sushi I’ve ever had, but my appetite is shot. I don’t even eat a whole roll. I bite on my tongue and drink my water. The water has a cucumber in it. That pisses me off. I like cucumber but not in my water. They don’t even ask if you want it. What’s wrong with them?

In the car, I try to calm down. Why am I so pissy? I know I’m getting my period next week but come on. I’m in California with seven of my favorite people. I have one more day left to enjoy it. What the hell am I doing?

As is customary when I’m in unrest about a guy, I dream of Sean that night. It’s a very loving dream where’s he’s holding me close and kissing the top of my head. I feel warm and enveloped in love. But it’s fleeting, as was our happiness.

When I wake up, I’m a weird mix of excited for the day (sight-seeing in San Francisco) yet uneasy. Something feels wrong.

I slide in the shower, hoping the warm water will wash off my unrest. I run my hands over my body and my face. What is going on? Who am I?

In the steamy bathroom, I stand in front of the mirror. I look at myself, deep into my own shimmering green eyes. Who am I becoming?

I realize that the deep uneasiness inside of me comes from a place of disappointment. When I set out on this journey of 25 First Dates, I set out to learn and explore. I wanted to see Chicago, I wanted to understand dating in the modern world, I wanted to understand myself better. I set out to become someone stronger, smarter, realer. It didn’t matter to me if I ended up with a boyfriend or not. In fact, I felt that it would be better if I didn’t — partly because I’d have a stronger story and partly because then I could spend time reflecting on everything I learned before meeting someone I wanted a future with.

But this — this is all wrong.

I don’t want to be this woman. I don’t want to be the person who wastes an entire day staring at her cell phone, anticipating the reaction of a stranger. I don’t want to sit idle while my family grows up around me. I don’t want to miss a second of the tree decorating or the headstands in the hallway.

I have been focusing on men for so long now that I don’t like who I’m becoming. I’m becoming that girl that I watch in romantic comedies, that I console via text every day. I watch my friends go through this mental torture. “What does his text mean? When do I respond? Why didn’t he ask me to hang out today? Will he ever be exclusive with me?” I used to be the one my friends would ask this to. I used to have all the answers or at least pretend I did. Now I’m the one desperately asking the questions, obsessing, and letting life go on without me while I stare at a blank iPhone screen and wait.

In the last six months, I’ve dated twenty-three men. I’ve also made some phenomenal girlfriends in Chicago, created a home for myself that reflects who I am, slowly become good at my new job, bonded more than ever with Aline, cheered on as my older brother left a dead end job to create a fresh start for himself, reconnected with college girlfriends, learned I have cancer and then beat said cancer, earned an appreciation for my mother, seriously honed my sculpture skills, and taken this trip to visit San Francisco.

No big deal.

It’s been a beautiful six months. I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have all of the above happen to me. Yet I focused on the dating. It took until now for me to sit back and realize there’s so much more to my life that I haven’t appreciated.

The version of me on that Saturday in California is a version of me I never want to see again. I refuse to risk being that person and missing the forest for the trees. Missing the Twain Harte for the Christmas tree.

Some people say that knowing when to stop is a very important skill. I love wine, but I’ll never be an alcoholic. I drive fast, but I won’t go 100 mph on the freeway and risk my life. I once dipped my toe into a dangerous pool, and dove way too far in over my head — nearly starving to death. I won’t risk going too far in anything ever again.

Some women say “love will find you when you’re not looking” or “love happens when you least expect it.” I don’t totally believe that. What I do believe is that if you stay true to yourself and don’t lose sight of who you are, you will meet someone who is right for you. (And you won’t drive yourself crazy doing it). After that Saturday in California, I worry that I’m starting to lose sight of myself, and that’s the most important commodity that I have.

So there is no First Date #24, or First Date #25.

It’s time to live my life.

37. Sidenote: The Rolling Hills of Pennsylvania

Matt Date Seven

After my last good date with Matt, we don’t waste time planning our next one. It’s five days later on Monday.

I leave for a business trip to Canada on Tuesday morning so when I get home from work on Monday, I have to workout, wash Rocco, wash myself, pack my bags, clean my apartment, and get ready for my seventh date with Matt.

There have only been a few guys I’ve ever hung out with romantically seven times without being their girlfriend. And those guys were casual, fun, non-relationship relationships just before I moved from Pittsburgh to Scranton almost three years ago.

I’m not really in a rush to figure out where Matt and I are going. There are times I’m out with him and I think I really like him, and other times when all I can do is mentally list the reasons why I don’t want us to get serious. Who knows if those reasons are legitimate or out of fear.

Anyhow, after a thirty minute elliptical ride, a very messy and wet shower for Rocco in my apartment building’s designated Dog Washing Station downstairs, and my own frantically-fast shower, I run around my apartment naked trying to pack.

The dishes are being washed and the dryer is running. Rocco stares at me dashing from room to room, both he and I still soaking wet. He knows this means I’m going somewhere, so he gets antsy. But I don’t have time to pay attention to him right now. I do, however, have time for a tequila shot.

I don’t really know if going on 52 First Dates is going to make me an alcoholic…but it’s starting to feel that way. I’m out of white wine so I have to make my Dresser a shot instead. Unfortunately, I choose a really big shot glass and finish off the tequila in it. I think it’s more like a double shot. Fuck.

This makes packing really tricky.

But I persevere! I throw a bunch of sexy going-out dresses and strappy shoes in my bag. I grab a ton of jeans and comfy shirts for work. I pull my favorite over-sized pajamas out of the laundry and straight into the bag. Rocco watches, head moving back-and-forth back-and-forth.

Aline comes over to see me before my trip. Since I’m going on a date tonight and leaving in the morning, I most likely won’t see her until I come back. I’m embarrassed when I drop my water bottle on the ground. I mumble something about a tequila shot. She looks at me disapprovingly.

I have no idea how I pull it off but by 6:30, I am wearing a sexy-but-not-too-sexy-that-it-looks-like-I-want-sex red dress and my hair is silky smooth and straight. Aline says, “You look so beautiful!” and I thank her, remarking on how she’s so used to seeing me “all gross-ed up in sweatpants.”

But the first stop isn’t Matt’s, it’s the pharmacy. And of course I get stuck behind a very sick, very obese woman with swollen legs. Bless her heart. I do wish CVS would have another cashier on hand, however, because the woman proceeds to buy ten medicines and needs the pharmacist to explain all ten to her.

I get my pills and I’m running late but things get worse when I miss the exit to Matt’s house and end up in the heart of the South Side. Awesome. I’m at 47th street when I finally find my way back up north a bit and park outside his place.

He’s waiting for me outside and gives me that smirk that I really like. When I walk up, I apologize profusely as I hug him. He pokes fun at me, saying I was late last time I came over and that my punishment is that I have to buy dinner. I tell him that my punishment was having to go to the bathroom the last half hour and not being able to.

We walk two blocks from his house to a little Mexican place. Immediately, giant delicious margaritas are placed before us. His is mango and mine is a mix of strawberry and mango. It’s orgasmic.

This may sound wrong, but one thing I really like about Matt is that he likes to drink. When I dated Sean, I was constantly drunker than him. I pushed us to go out more and take shots with our friends, but I always felt like I forced alcohol on him and no one likes to feel that way. Honestly, he was probably just protecting me — staying sober so that he could take care of me if I got too drunk. But it somewhat alienated me instead.

Anyhow, Matt and I have gotten pretty buzzed on all seven of our dates and that is cool with me.

The food at this little nicely-decorated and well-hidden Mexican restaurant is really good. I get chicken tacos and I swear they are the freshest I’ve ever had. My margarita and his margarita disappear quickly and he orders another that he asks me to help him finish.

Matt points out a painting on the wall with a fairly obvious phallic symbol and we giggle through the margarita straws. We’re having great chemistry tonight and I feel really sexy. It’s a nice change. Ever since I got cancer and all, I’ve felt pretty gross from the inside out. Something about having a disease eating you from inside and you not even knowing can make you hate your body even more than you might already.

But I don’t feel that way. I’m reminded of Matt Date Six two days after my diagnosis, where he made me feel like I was a normal, happy young girl again. Not some cancer kid.

Anyway, he’s really charming and cute tonight and continues to poke fun at me for stupid stuff. He asks if I’d like to go back to his place (ooohh yeah, the magic words) and meet his roommate, Todd. Matt’s told me lots about Todd — that he’s messy and definitely not OCD about right angles like Matt is, and that he’s a six-foot-three pothead who is quitting his chemical engineering job without another one lined up. So of course I’m excited to meet him because he sounds funny and unpredictable.

We walk back down the street to Matt’s house. I’m kinda wishing we would hold hands, but then again not. I continue to feel this push-pull of wanting to be closer but not wanting to give up any freedom.

When we get back into Matt’s house, I’m feeling buzzed and Matt introduces me to Todd. And sure enough, he’s six-foot-three and unpredictable.

Matt gets us beers and we talk and drink on the couch. Todd plays some music from his laptop plugged into the TV that’s part-hippy-part-African-animal-sounds. I like it. Colors swirl on the screen and occasionally giraffes flash in different shades of yellow.

Todd smokes a little pot and I try to take as small of breaths as I can. I really don’t care if people smoke (although I don’t want to date someone who does), but I don’t want to smell it. My next door neighbor doesn’t know that, though, and fumes from her apartment sometimes seep into mine. I gotta talk to her about that.

Todd sits on a couch perpendicular to the one Matt and I sit on and Matt’s got his arm around my shoulder, his hand lightly grazing my skin. It’s electric. I am feeling so crazy-horny right now I worry my vagina will explode at any moment.

The beer is kinda heavy, strong, and bitter. That’s my favorite type of beer. I feel really hazy and wonder if the pot worked itself into my system without my permission. We talk about all sorts of things like Todd’s family, work, and how much Todd and I both hate getting our blood drawn. Matt jokes about how that stuff doesn’t phase him and how he used to tease his ex who hated it. I take mental note of that comment.

“Well, it’s getting late,” Todd says and stands up. He’s right. I check my phone and it’s nearly ten-thirty. I would normally be leaving now too but I don’t have to get up as early tomorrow since I’m flying out. I think Todd isn’t really tired, but rather just giving me and Matt some space to get all cozy on the couch. I saw the way his eyes glazed over us cuddling. He’s a smart (and considerate) guy.

Lo and behold, the second that Todd’s door clicks shut, Matt and I attack each other on the couch. This time, he’s not holding back. I really like how he kisses me. It’s soft but got some force behind it as if to say, “I’m trying to be careful, but I want you.” It drives me crazy.

After I-don’t-even-know-how-damn-long of making out on the couch just a few yards away from Todd’s bedroom door, Matt says, “I feel kind of bad…with Todd trying to sleep and all this lip-smacking out here….”

I moan and whisper, “Maybe we should move…”

I don’t think Matt says anything but he jumps up real quick and next thing we know, we’re in his room.

It’s clean and organized as I expected, because Matt really cares about that stuff. But it’s fairly plain. Just a queen-size bed against one wall across from a television on a dresser. We lay down on the bed with the lights on.

Now, I know I said I’m feeling all sexy and shit, but I’m not Giselle or anything and the lights being on is bothering me a little bit. I try to not think about it as we continue to make out hardcore on his bed. It’s getting really steamy and I’m definitely thinking that tonight is the night.

Time flashes by with our lips being pressed so hard against one another that they could bruise and our tongues fighting for attention and now I’m totally naked and he is too. How did that happen?

And boy does it feel good. We’re not having sex yet but — I mean – practically. He’s softer than I thought. He’s thin, but he’s not bony. Thank goodness. His skin is really smooth and his hands are pretty strong as they wander all over me.

Everything is warm and wet and gooey and wonderful. We don’t have sex, but we’re hooking up like it’s high school and it’s our job. Occasionally we take breaks to just lay there and breath heavily and kiss a little more.

It’s actually getting really late now, like one in the morning, and I’m thinking about leaving. I really wanted to seal the deal tonight, but I don’t think it’s happening. I’m not going to see him for two weeks on account of my travels, so I guess it’ll have to wait a while.

I look up at him, his skin all flushed with activity, and I tell him I have to leave. He tells me to stay. I think I could stay the night, but I don’t want to because I want to see Rocco before I leave. Ugh, priorities.

In a flash, because the goddamn lights are still on, I grab my dress to cover myself and try to put it on without him having to see much. He’s too busy with his jeans though, so I don’t think he steals any glances. And he’s a boy, so if he does he probably doesn’t see the same imperfections I see.

He walks me down to the front door and we make out. And then we say bye. And then we make out again. I’m kinda sad I won’t see him for a while, but I’m also excited for my trip. Excited to flirt with new guys. I may like Matt, but I’m still a single woman.

I get into my car and head home. I’m still a little buzzed (I know, I know, terrible to drive that way) and I sing really loud in my car — part of my Cancer Perk promise to myself. Speaking of which, I guess sex is not a Cancer Perk after all.

When I get into my dark apartment, I trip over my huge suitcase and I get ready for bed. My lips are nearly purple.

Rocco and I cuddle and I tell him I’m going to “mwiss woo vewwy mush”. He licks me which means “Me too”.

I reflect on my date as I lazily fall asleep, staring into the city like I do every night.

I like Matt. There’s no part of me that denies it. But what do I want from him? For starters, I would like to have sex. I think there are some things about us that might be sexually incompatible…he may not nearly have the sex drive or value it as much as I do. And I think he’s more insecure about himself than he comes off, but so am I — I’m far from perfect. But there’s a lot of unknowns until we finally do the deed, so let’s get this show on the road!

Do I want a relationship with him, though? I make a list in my mind of the things I don’t like about him and I try to obsess over each one, to convince myself that he’s not that great. Maybe he is, though. In all honesty, it’s not him…it’s me. I’m terrified of having feelings for anyone right now. Right now when I’m in the middle of this dating journey, right now after I had my heart stomped on by Peter, right now after I just got diagnosed with cancer. Right now is never a good time.

The next morning, Matt texts me really early. He says he hopes I got home safe and that I have a good trip. This is nice. It’s kinda the opposite of when you sleep with someone and then never hear from them again. Granted, we didn’t sleep together, but we took a HUMONGOUS step seeing as we just started really kissing on the last date. So hearing from him first thing the next day is like him declaring, “I am the anti-one-night-stand! I want to talk to you immediately after!”

I smile and text him back.

During my travels that day, which include a two-hour flight to Canada and a two-hour drive in Canada, I can’t stop thinking about my feelings for Matt. I can’t understand them. There’s an excitement there, but also a huge amount of restraint. Is this just the mature way of liking someone? Or are my instincts trying to tell me something? According to Sandra, I’m just being too guarded and I need to let go a little bit and continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. She’s a hopeless romantic after all, so I expected this response. Aline’s take is different; she’s much more cynical. She says I should continue to see him if I like him, go ahead and have sex, but don’t get serious. Just have fun. He’s probably not my next boyfriend, she says. I guess I’m okay with both of those outcomes right now. But I’d like to understand what’s going on in my head.

My dates used to be black or white: I was crazy about them or I never wanted to see them again. On the black side were Peter and Ben #1. On the white side were any of the other guys.

There was never a gray area, but now I’m drowning in gray.

Sebastian: As Smug as He Sounds

Sebastian started working with me right before I moved to Chicago. I always thought he was really cute. Ivy League educated, and boyish charm to match his baby face. That gets me every time.

So I’m excited to come back to Pennsylvania the weekend after training in Canada; this is the first time I’m single around Sebastian. He’s single too and the gossip is that he likes me and talks about me when he’s drunk at parties. What did I say, charming…right?

And things go okay at first. A group of my friends (Sean included) heads to a local bar for happy hour, then to Sebastian’s house for a bonfire, and then to another bar on a nearby lake in the rural heartland of northeast Pennsylvania.

People are drunk, laughing, joking, staring into the fire. I keep looking at Sebastian with those sexy-eyes. He’s cute and I want him. He flirts with me here and there. On the car ride to the bar, I sit on his lap and he puts his arm around my waist. I place my hand over his hand. I feel all warm inside. So once I get to the bar, I expect things will only heat up from here.

But that doesn’t happen. Sebastian heads over to talk to two older girls that he presumably knows, and he stays there for the rest of the night.

I’m really drunk and the whole OMG-I’m-back-in-PA-and-my-ex-and-my-crush-are-here-and-OH-YEAH-I-also-have-cancer thing kicks in so I drag myself outside for a good old cry alone.

I watch Sean leave the bar that night, and stay hidden in the shadows with tears leaping from my eyes. Everything hurts.

I stare up at the star-filled sky. In PA, you can see hundreds on a nice fall night. In Chicago, I see none. I think about the lake at Sebastian’s house and how still and calm it looked. I may have Lake Michigan now, but rarely does anything feel still.

It hurts because I miss it but also because I don’t.

It hurts because Sebastian doesn’t want me.

It hurts because it’s all still here. My life before I moved. And it’s moving on just fine without me, never looking back. But here I am, a sad girl in a pretty red dress outside a smoky lake bar, looking back.

Sebastian later pins this whole night on Sean being there, saying he couldn’t make any moves with him around. I find his attitude to be really unattractive, and I’m glad I never slept with him.

Oh well, he’s younger than me anyways. And as I said before, I need men, not boys.

Sean and The Inevitable

Probably the most impacting part of my trip to Pennsylvania is finding out about Sean and The Inevitable.

Because, at this point, I’ve gone on seventeen first dates and thirty total dates since Sean and I broke up. I’ve moved on in a sense: I’ve liked (obsessed over) and kissed and slept with other guys and I am no longer in love with Sean. Shit, I even moved seven-hundred miles away from him. But “moved on” is a relative term. Do you ever truly move on? I will always love my high school and my college sweethearts. I care about them deeply and I would do anything for them — but it’s just friendly, and nothing more. I don’t desire them when I’m alone and horny. I don’t miss their smells and their bodies next to me in bed at night. I don’t dream of them longingly after every shitty date. But with Sean, I do.

So when I find out about The Inevitable, my insides crumble to shreds.

The Inevitable is adorable. She’s local to the area, and Sean met her through another friend. She’s Facebook friends with my best friend, Lauren. She’s going to the parties I used to go to and sleeping in the spot I used to sleep in in Sean’s bed and taking pictures nuzzled in his neck the way I used to nuzzle. She’s probably coming up with pet names for him, and she’s probably just the greatest little ball of cute ever. And I.can’t.even.breathe.thinking.about.it.

I find out through a friend and at first it doesn’t hurt. But the more I let it sink in, the more I fall apart.

Not knowing what to do, I reach out to Sean. He didn’t tell me about her, but I want him to know that I know. I want to reassure him that it’s totally cool and that I’m happy for him and that if he ever wants to talk about girls, he can come to me. No matter what a complete load of bullshit all of that is, I feel like I’m supposed to say it. I’m supposed to be that good person to him that he was to me.

And he responds in his usual polished-perfect way, telling me that he appreciates the support and that he hopes I can come to him as well and that — and he emphasizes — she isn’t his girlfriend, it’s just a couple dates, and that he’s really not in the girlfriend market right now.

Two days later, Sean books a trip to see me in Chicago in November.

And so begins the mental mind-fuck torture of my nonstop thinking about Sean. Non-stop desire for attention and love and affection from him. I’m a kid whose parents decided to have another child. I’m the girl at school whose friends like the New Girl better. I’m the puppy whose been trumped by the New Kitten. Love me. Pet me.  Be with me. I need you and want you. Or do I?

I play games with myself in my head. Why didn’t Sean and I work out, anyway? Is it smart of him to visit? Will we drunkenly hook up? (Part of me wants this to happen…even though there can be no good ending to it.) Were we really as incompatible as I thought back in May and did I do the right thing ending our relationship and moving away?

The truth is yes. It didn’t work because it’s not supposed to work. At least right now. Sean is so shiny and clean and perfect. He’s routine, and he doesn’t deviate. He does what he’s told, as long as he morally agrees with it. He doesn’t throw wrenches.

But I, on the other hand, grab them and hurl them into any part of my life that even slightly suggests monotony.

He cruises, I swerve. I just need to remember this when the weather gets colder and the loneliness sinks in.

Just about the time when he’s visiting.

Joey RiDICKulous

Joey was always out of control. He’s been a wildcard since we met over a year ago on a fourteen-million-dollar project together at work. Not only is twenty-nine, he married with children, but he has outrageous mood swings — one minute he is in love with me, the next I am an evil bitch.

We’ve formed a weird “relationship” during the last year. We traveled together for work to Canada and Wisconsin and Philadelphia and despite his attempts to get me alone, I would never have betrayed Sean and always refused. I knew that being alone with Joey could only bring trouble, at least judging by the comments he made to me everyday. But something made me want him once I was single again — some bad boy image I was teenager-ly drawn to.

We make plans to meet for happy hour on the last day I’m in PA. I’m excited to see him. He may have up’s and down’s like the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, but he makes me happy. He’s funny, carefree and silly in a way no other guy in my life has ever been. His random video chats and stupid text messages never get old.

Anyway, we have a couple drinks and a good time. I talk to him about Matt and Chicago and Sean and my seventeen first dates. He may claim to be in love with me (and want to fuck me), but he doesn’t mind hearing about my relationships with men — I mean, he’s married so it’s not like we would work out anyway.

I hug him tight as I’m leaving, wondering in the back of my mind what would happen between us in a distant, other universe.

Joey sends me an explicit photo as I’m boarding the plane for Illinois.

Good old Joey, always knows how to pick me up when I’m feeling down.

Matt Date Eight

After Canada and Pennsylvania, I’ve had enough of the landings and takeoffs and hilly landscapes. I don’t want anymore rising and falling, dips and turns. I just want some stability and comfort.

First things first, I want black or white with Matt. So I invite him over the night I get back to Chicago.

By the time he gets to my apartment I am so tired from traveling, but I perk up when I see him. The last date was so good, I’m hoping for something explosive tonight. I shaved everything. So you know I’m expecting something.

But I’m deflated once again. Matt and I have a good night, watching hockey and How I Met Your Mother. But he makes fun of me more than he shows me affection. We fall asleep on one another on the couch until one in the morning and then I wake him up suggesting we go to bed (read: our would-be first sleepover), but he says he has to work and kisses me goodbye.

I thought that coming home to Chicago, back to the flat lands of the Midwest, I would lose the motion sickness. But it seems to be following me.

I am excited, however, to line up more first dates. The good thing about 25 First Dates is that I use it as my flashlight in times of darkness…my motivation when things get shitty. At every moment in time, there’s always a new person to meet, new adventures to have, and new lessons to learn about myself and the world.

Seasick or not, swerving or cruising, I’m ready to get going again.

35. Sidenote: The C-Word

The Tuesday between my first date with Tom #2 and my sixth date with Matt, I’m a very busy girl.

After work, I have to rush to the doctor’s and then meet Sandra for a play. I’m excited about both, weirdly enough, because I can’t wait to get my stitches out so I can run and go on the elliptical and stop waking up in the middle of the night paranoid I ripped my skin open. I’m excited for the play because I’ve heard it’s hilarious: The Book of Mormon, written by the writers of South Park, so you know it’s funny and offensive — a combo I  happen to like.

I sit in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. I really quite like this place. I normally don’t like doctor’s offices — who does? — but this one is somewhat stylish and extremely clean and quiet. It puts me at ease. The staff is very friendly; last time when I was checking out after my stitches, I ended up talking to the woman at the front for like fifteen minutes, telling her about my wallet getting stolen.

I’m texting with my best friend from college about what hair color to get next week. Lately, I’ve been feeling very drab about my looks — I am ready for a change. I ask her if she thinks blonde or a mix of black/red would be better. My hair is currently a light brown with natural blond highlights that looks red in the right light — I’ve argued with a million people about the fact that I am not a redhead, it’s an optical illusion. But I’ve dyed it red before, along with black, and different shades of brown; but never blonde. I send her pics of actresses with pretty hair and she sends me a couple back.

“Abernathy, Cassandra,” The nurse calls. She sees me stand. “You can follow me.”

I follow the nurse to a room in the back. She has me lay down face-first on a cold paper-covered table as she takes a look at my stitches. It’s such a nice office, overlooking Lake Michigan. I turn my head to the right to watch the sailboats sprinkling the water. In Millennium Park, little kids are running around with their parents and a couple dogs are loose off their leashes. I wish Rocco wasn’t such a rebel and I could let him off his leash; if I do, he runs full-speed in the opposite direction as if to say, “Catch me if you can!” and I really can’t.

“Ow!!!!” I screech. She cuts my stitches out with a little too much force that I wonder if she ripped the skin a bit. My left leg feels really warm as she wraps gauze around it.

“It’s definitely infected. We’ll get you on antibiotics,” She says. She tells me to stay on the table and that the doctor will be in soon.

When my doctor comes in, I feel really awkward. I’m laying on this table on my stomach with my butt in the air trying to turn my head around to see him and say hello. I feel like I’m about to shoot some kinky patient-doctor porno movie. The nurse sitting in the corner makes it even kinkier. I’ve probably watched porn like this a few times, in fact.

He works his doctor magic, looking at my wound and poking it a bit so that I have to yelp a couple more times. “I’m sorry, I just have to check it,” he apologizes. He puts some cold gooey stuff on it — presumably my antibiotic — and wraps a bandage around it.

“You can hop down and sit here,” he says, motioning to a chair next to the door. Thank god, I thought this expose would never end.

As I sit down, I’m thinking about the doctor and wondering if he’s married. He’s not a bad looking guy, with a great career. He’s so nice, and I know he’s young. I never bothered to look for a ring. What about the nurse? Is she dating? Wonder what horror stories she has. Or maybe she’s happily married and very much in love. Do either of them have kids? Did they ever break the rules and do it with each other? A nurse and a doctor…that’s hot. Maybe on that table I was laying on. They’d have to close those blinds though. I mean, I guess I never close my blinds when I have sex in my bedroom. But this is an office…How did they sterilize it after they had sex on it? I can’t believe I lay there — so unsuspecting. Did they try —

“You have cancer.”

I swallow hard. Did he just say that?

“…what?” My voice is just a whisper.

“Malignant melanoma. I’m sorry. The pathologist that tested it was shocked because you’re so young, so she sent it off to two other doctors at Harvard and they confirmed it. You’ll need surgery to remove the rest of the tumor.”

The doctor keeps talking but I don’t hear much. I’m blinking very slowly. Every ounce of blood that ran through my face minutes prior has now drained down into my chest. The stomach I once had has disappeared, replaced now only by aching hollowness. I know that feeling well from my anorexic days, but this is different.

Off in the horizon, sailboats continue to float. The world moves as it did three minutes ago, when I was on that table. But nothing is the same anymore.

I can hear the doctor still talking. He’s drawing on paper what they’ll have to do to my leg. I think I’m asking some questions, but I’m not really sure. I’m not actually here. I’ve slipped out of my cancerous skin and crawled into the corner.

My mouth tastes like bile and my hands tremble. The nurse leads me out to the waiting room to check out. I have a prescription waiting at the pharmacy, and I’ll need to go to a new doctor for my cancer because, well, it’s beyond what they can do here. What?

I stare at the seat where I sat a half hour ago, texting my college friend about hair colors. I long for that place again. I need to go back to before all of this.

My body feels frozen. I can normally feel a warm energy from inside of myself, but everything feels cold now.

Cancer? Is that what he just said? Is this a sick joke?

I have an hour before I meet Sandra, and I wander around downtown a bit aimlessly. I make it to the pharmacy okay. I text my sister and my brother and a couple others close to me and tell them the news. But as I write the messages, I don’t believe it myself. I imagine I’m actually at a computer, writing a story about a twenty-four year old with deadly cancer…not actually living it myself.

I don’t cry. I don’t do much at all. I just feel like I’m in that dreaming state, where nothing can hurt you. In dreams, you can fly and you can fall and you can get stabbed or shot and you don’t feel it. That’s how I feel now. Tell me I have cancer, I dare you. It’s just a dream, so it isn’t real.

By the time I meet up with Sandra to get some noodles before the play, it’s starting to sink in. I have told a couple people close to me other than my sister and brother in the hopes that telling someone makes it feel more real. I don’t want it to be real, but it has to be. I need to accept it.

I tell Sandra as we’re walking in and she’s shocked. “You don’t look like you’ve been crying or anything.”

Am I supposed to be crying? I don’t know how to feel right now. Suddenly dates, sex, hair styles, weekend plans, nothing is as important to me.

During the play though, I’m transported. I down two glasses of wine and laugh hysterically. My brother, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemistry, texts me nonstop questions about my diagnosis but I ignore them. For this three-hour block, I just want to be me again — twenty-four and healthy, happy as a clam.

The play is a satirical comedy about the Mormon religion, with some hits to Christianity and Catholicism as well. The language is explicit, as warned on the tickets. I definitely wouldn’t take a kid to see it, and I probably wouldn’t be comfortable with my parents there. But the age range was around eighteen up to, like, grandparents-old. The woman next to me was super-drunk and found every single line to be drop-dead hilarious. She alone was pretty funny.

We hear every curse word in the book, the F-word, the B-word, the D-words, and…yes…the C-word. It jolts me back into reality: I wish my doctor had said that to me instead of the other C-word. I probably would have handled it better.

The play ends and Sandra and I hug goodbye and I catch a cab home. In bed, I pick up the book I bought weeks ago and only started last night: The Fault in Our Stars. It’ll be a movie next year. It’s a wonderfully written book about a sixteen-year-old girl with cancer. When I bought it, I had no idea we would have something in common.

The main character falls in love with a boy named Augustus Waters — what an awesome name. The story makes me feel better about my cancer but worse about my love life.

I spend the next few days fairly depressed. I cry randomly — like in my morning meeting with three other guys old enough to be my father, and in my car driving home. I tell those three coworkers and their love envelopes me like a warm blanket. I call my parents the day after the doctor’s and tell them, hearing their voices waver in between my own sobs. I coldly text the news to some of my closest friends…it’s the best way I can tell them. I don’t want to make more phone calls after the ones to Mom and Dad. I tell my college girlfriends, who I tanned with nonstop a few years ago, and I urge them to get their skin checked. I keep reassuring myself that telling those closest to me will help me accept it and face this seriously instead of remain in denial.

I spend two evenings on the couch — extremely, extremely rare for me. Normally, I am out on a date a couple nights per week, or in art class, or at dinner with a girlfriend, or just strolling Lake Shore Trail. But suddenly my remote and furry blanket are my best friends.

I think a lot about the surgery I’m going to have, the stitches that could get infected, the scar it’ll leave. I think about how paranoid I’m going to be now with my floor-to-ceiling windows and ridiculously-sunny apartment. And I think about the stages of cancer and how, luckily, I’m in a very early stage but how for the rest of my life I will be scared of my own body — now I’m much more likely to have cancer again even when the tumor is removed.

I’ll have to have check ups on my skin every three months. I have a deadly form of skin cancer that kills over 10,000 people a year. Maybe it won’t be this tumor that kills me — but what about the next one?

I’m so down in the dumps for the majority of the week — understandably so, I think. Most of my friends are shocked and crazy-supportive. Some of my friends are just a bit surprised but shrug it off – Isn’t skin cancer, like, the weakest of all the cancers? – and that pretty much pisses me off.

At work, I’m a total bitch. I yell at this guy who annoys me all the time, and I start to suspect that I hate my boss’ boss. But to my boss and the guys that report to me, I’m gentle as a lamb. I am protective of them — they’re my work family. I don’t take out my anger on them, but I’m ready to take it out on everyone else. I’m like an angry dog, ready to bite anyone who fucks with me.

But after my really good date with Matt on Thursday night, everything changes. I sleep in late on Friday morning, I get myself my favorite panini from Starbucks, I actually look good when I get to work, and I honestly feel good for the first time since Tuesday.

The Fault in Our Stars talks about Cancer Perks. Typically it’s shit you get for free or whatever because you have cancer, like trips to Disney or a sick seat at a football game. I think a Cancer Perk I’m giving to myself is the ability to really see what I care about.

I don’t do much work on Friday. I have that “fuck it, I have cancer” attitude. It’s actually pretty sweet.

For instance, fuck all the fighting I did with my college girlfriend a few weeks back. We talked after I told her my diagnosis and she nearly brought me to tears with kind words telling me she’s here for me always, despite our arguments. She has a huge heart.

Fuck all the anger I have towards my parents for the chaotic and sometimes-deranged upbringing my siblings and I had. Mom and Dad did their best. Who knows if I could have done better, given the circumstances?

Fuck the voices in my head that tell me I’m fat every single day. I thought this week that perhaps cancer is a payback for what I did to myself in college — the starving, the hatred, the self-alienation. But all I can do from this day forward is to treat my body as kindly as possible. And in the end, I’d rather be a little fat than dying.

For those couple days that I became glued to my couch, I thought about saying “fuck dating” as well. I thought about scrapping this whole project. But in reality, I can’t. I shouldn’t. This project makes me feel like I have a purpose. I can help people out there. I can help myself. And if no one needs me out there, I at least need me. I decide that I’m charging ahead with the 52 First Dates, and in fact I am going to quadruple my efforts and pour my heart in soul into this.

Oh, and fuck engineering. I do it so I can pay rent. But in the end, writing is my profession. Writing is what I was born to do. So my motivation to write has exploded.

Could I die from this cancer? Yes. Will I? I don’t know. But for the time that I’m not dead, I need to do everything I can to live my life with a bigger heart and a wider smile. I need to dance more, sing louder in the car, take longer hot showers. I should wear what I want and say what needs to be said, the nice things and the not-so nice things — even if sometimes, it makes me look like a c-word.

Sidenote: Birthday Reflections

On the morning of my twenty-fourth birthday, I take my time getting ready for work. We have company Vice Presidents coming in tomorrow, so today the entire plant is frantically cleaning and painting. But I, on the other hand, am calm.

I’m actually late for work, and let my boss know. Maybe because it’s my birthday, I’ll get a pass. Really, I left home on time. But the stupid Starbucks I chose to stop at (not my usual morning Starbucks off the interstate, but rather one near my home) took forever to get me my simple order. I probably lost ten minutes in there. Either way, my boss is fine with my tardiness, so I chill out as I drive up to work that morning.

The music isn’t great on the radio, and it’s my birthday so I want to hear my favorite songs. I plug in my iPod.

The best part about my iPod, other than it used to be my brother’s back in the day so it’s one of the first iPod’s made, is the music on it. My Mac has been dying for a while, and I no longer download music illegally (unfortunately). Thus the music on my iPod is from 2008 and earlier. Which happens to be all the best music that exists. Save from a couple songs, I would be happy if we just froze musical time around fall 2008, when I started sophomore year of college.

For some inexplicable reason, I can’t stop thinking about Peter.

On our last date, we listened to 90′s music pretty much the whole night. First at the rooftop bar, and then laying in his bed after sex. I think I actually fell asleep to TLC.

I don’t know why he’s still back there, in the dark places of my mind. I don’t know why he’s tugging at me and poking me like a safety pin. Maybe I’m not fully through the Stages of Moving On. Maybe I’m in limbo, not ready to exit the Realization Stage. Believe me, I’ve realized his idiocy and our incompatibility. It’s more about accepting it now.

He can’t have South Loop. He can’t have Wicker Park. He can’t have TLC, 98 Degrees, and Puff Daddy. Those things belong to everyone. He can’t have them to himself and he certainly can’t have my songs.

I sit in stand-still traffic and I scroll through playlists. I pick “Top 25 Most Played Songs”. This is a good one.

Each of these songs take me back. I let my mind wander and drift to the guys I let “have” each of these songs.

I know it’s my birthday, and I should be happy. I should be celebrating and rejoicing my life. And honestly, I’m a happy person. I love my life. I have some phenomenal people in it that I would do anything for. I live in my favorite city in the whole wide world and I have a great job. I’m attractive, even though I often don’t think so. I’m smart, and I’m confident. What more can a person ask for than to live the life I have?

But even the happiest person in the world deserves a little bit of reflective time. And if reflecting makes them sad, it’s okay. We can be sad sometimes. And this morning, my twenty-fourth anniversary with the world, I am completely and utterly sad.

But why do I feel sad when I hear these songs and think of these guys?

Maybe it’s because I remember all the emotions that I felt when dating them. Maybe it’s because the hurt is still there, deep down inside. Maybe it’s because I let the guys affect me long after I should have. Maybe I see a pattern happening again now with Peter.

Here’s the playlist breakdown and what I see as I listen to each song:

“Addicted” by Kelly Clarkson

I see a freshman year version of myself. Frantically trying to make sense of being on my own for the first time. I’m still with a high school boyfriend, but I want to let it go. I want to be free. I want to meet new guys and kiss in dorm rooms and have loud, rambunctious sex. I do all of that, breaking Aaron’s heart. Then I fall in love with a sophomore, and break his heart as well. I feel out of control, confused, depressed. I miss home — a feeling I never thought I would have. I drink, I drink, I drink. I can’t fill the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. I stop eating. I drink, I drink, I drink.

“Downfall” by Matchbox Twenty

I’m about to start high school, only thirteen years old. I’m at a summer camp at Duke University in North Carolina for three weeks. When you’re thirteen, three weeks feels like three months. My friends and I make the most out of the summer. Truth be told, it’s “smart camp”. All of the “gifted” kids are sent here to take a course of their (or their parents’) choosing and after letting me take a film class one year, my parents insist on Algebra II the next year. But class doesn’t take up our whole day. The camp is made up of thirteen to sixteen year-old’s and what they don’t tell  you in the fancy brochures is that it’s basically Hook Up Camp. In week one, I fall for a fifteen-year-old Luke who appears to be ten feet tall and the most handsome guy I have ever seen. He kisses me late one night in his dorm room, only the second “real kiss” of my life. We’re not supposed to kiss here. But everyone does — and much more. I lay in bed every night that summer listening to this song and dreaming of Luke. When he disappears and I never see him again, my chest feels like it will cave in.

“Fast Cars and Freedom” by Rascal Flatts

I lay in Dan’s bed, stroking his arm with my hand. His roommate is sleeping and we’re just staring into each other’s eyes. Earlier that night, he played me Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide” on his acoustic guitar. But it’s this song that brings me back to him, because it was his ring tone back then. His voice is like velvet. His band toured Warped Tour. I think I’m going to marry him, despite the fact that I’m just seventeen years old. His body is twice the size of mine, strong and tan, so I feel engulfed in his arms. He kisses me softly as I fall asleep. We awake to his ring tone, blasting this song. But that’s the last time I wake up next to him.

“More to Life” by Stacie Orrico

I’m running on my university’s track. I’m always running; always out of breath. Chasing a dream of a body and a guy that I can never seem to get. This makes me run harder. The football team is practicing. Chris gives me a smile and a wink. We’ve been sleeping together. He’s from Tampa too, and doesn’t mind when I cry a little about being homesick because he is too. He’s one of those beautiful men who’s just plain stupid. Nothing going on upstairs, but plenty going on downstairs. I know he’s talking to his friends about me at practice. Good or bad, I’m not sure. I’ve been abusing my body so much, I guess I don’t mind letting others do the same.

“Sic Transit Gloria” by Brand New

Joseph and I sit in his bedroom. We’re sixteen and been dating since I was thirteen. He’s controlling, but I love him. He loves me too. We are getting married in a Catholic church and I will have to convert to Catholicism for him in order to do so, but I can do that. My mom was Catholic, so maybe that counts for something. He loves to play Halo on his Xbox while I watch. But today we aren’t playing Halo or watching TV. We’re just sitting and talking. And he grabs my hands in his hands and looks deep into my eyes and tells me that he cheated on me. And my face changes shape, the room shifts, the ground disappears, my voice emerges, loud and hysterical, my legs are jelly, the door is coming closer to me and I’m running. I’m driving and I’m crying. I’m thinking of crashing. I don’t know what just happened or how to handle my life. Then I’m suddenly in my bed. My sheets are soaked in tears. I’m screaming. My mother is holding me. My body is shaking. My world is turned upside down.

—–

A car horn blasts. I slam on the breaks. My hands are clutching my steering wheel like it’s the only thing holding me on Earth. Maybe it is. My knuckles are white.

I turn off the playlist. My heart is beating so fast. I really just transported myself back in time through the music. I do this often, but today it felt more real than normal. I have that little tickle behind my breast bone and halfway to my belly button. A pang of sympathy for the girl I was at thirteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.

I don’t want to be that girl anymore. I don’t want to feel that sadness when I lay down in bed at night. The longing for another human body that doesn’t long for mine.

I don’t want to want Sean anymore. Or Peter. Or Ben. Or anyone. But I know that part of life, part of growing up, is longing for people. Part of it is pain and sadness and frustration. Without those emotions, how do you find love?

I watched one of my best friends wriggle and deflate during her recent break up, I see friends of mine who have been single for a years desperate for love, I understand the maddening tactics and games played during dating as another of my girls starts to enter that world again. There’s no easy path to love, no easy path to happiness. Sadness will be there no matter what.

But it’s what we do with it that counts.

I’m determined to take the sadness I’ve felt in the past and make it worth it.

One song at a time.

15. First Date #9: Seth, or The Week When Everything Changed

Seth is damn sexy.

At least in his photos.

We started talking a week or so back, when I didn’t think there was much hope left on Match but wanted to stick it out a little longer. Then we’d made plans to meet on Thursday, making back-to-back dates with him and Paul a first for me.

Seth is from Florida, so we connect on that point. But he’s more of a beach bum who hopes to return to Florida someday, whereas I’d like us to detach it from the United States and forget it exists. He’s got blonde sun-kissed hair and some freckles across the bridge of his nose. His bright blue eyes are sharp as thumbtacks.

I’m so excited to meet him when Thursday rolls around. He hasn’t made firm plans of what we’re doing. We’re meeting at seven, but he texts me ten minutes before saying he’ll be running late.

I still don’t even know where we’re meeting.

I hope that this spontaneity means he’s crazy and fun, not sloppy and disorganized.

Also, I’m looking hot tonight so I feel good about this. I hope there’s at least some kissing action. It’s been a while since Peter and I last had sex and I’m starting to feel pretty horny lately.

I get a text from Seth asking to meet at a nearby smoothie place. Funny thing is, when I get to the address he gives me, nothing is there.

Am I getting Punk’d right now?

But suddenly there he is, in all his beach-God glory.

And he really is hot as hell.

So the smoothie place doesn’t exist because Google led him astray, and it helps us break the ice. We laugh about how spacey Seth is and how he needs to get his shit together. But it’s all in good fun and lighthearted. I suggest we walk down to Oak Street Beach Bar & Grille and we take the Lake Shore Trail along Lake Michigan. It’s truly a beautiful walk. Heading north to the bar, you see the gorgeous buildings on your left-hand side, the lake on your right, and behind you Navy Pier with the huge Ferris Wheel and sparkling lights. In the water, sailboats litter the horizon. The weather is perfect tonight, and it turns out to be an extremely romantic date.

At Oak Street Beach, we’re pleased to find they have a great array of 90′s music playing. My mind vaguely drifts off to thoughts of Peter and lying in his bed listening to 90′s Pandora…it hurts now to think about.

I drink a Miami Vice — the frozen mix of Strawberry Daquiri and Pina Colada — and we talk and laugh and sit closely. It’s flirtatious, laid-back, and cool

We walk back as the sun is setting. Truly such a beautiful night.

And Seth is beautiful too. He’s funny, and charming and sweet and — definitely — sexy.

But I don’t feel a thing. I wonder what the hell is wrong with me.

To my girlfriends, I say he was great. I say I was attracted. I say I was totally into him. I lie.

Because, really, I can’t stop thinking about Peter.  We haven’t talked in ten days; I know something’s up.

The next day, I have plans to play softball with Sandra and go out her boy Scott and some of his friends. I decide to invite Peter. I have nothing to lose, right?

Except my pride, my dignity, and the bittersweet comfort of knowing the agony is over. Sure.

So Friday morning I sit at work in a boring meeting and I send him a quick text.

Me: Hey. What are you doing tonight?”

Him: Hey. Going out with some law school friends to dinner. Then I’m not sure. Why?

Me: I’m going out with friends. You should come. We can tear up the dance floor again.

Him: Ha-ha. I have to get up early tomorrow. But I’ll let you know if I’m going to be out late.

And I had hope. It was that simple. All a man has to do to keep a little wimpy girl on his fishing line is to give her a sliver of hope. What really should have happened at this point is that I should have believed my friends. (See “Sidenote: The Stages of Moving On” — I was in the Backtracking Stage.) I should have taken Peter’s silence to mean he was over it. Which should have in turn made me over it. But I kept holding out for that little chance that he was just busy/got hit by a car/had a lot on his plate/had just moved/got some sort of text-message-finger-eating bacterial disease/got amnesia/etc. I continued to make excuses for him while he stayed silent and didn’t do a thing.

Saturday rolls around and he doesn’t text.

By Tuesday, I can’t take it anymore, and I invite Ben #1 over for some “television”. But this time, I’m determined to get physical, unlike last time — where we just…watched…television (what the fuck?!). We’ve talked here and there since then and I’m losing interest but gaining horniness. It’s like when a person eats for comfort, I screw Ben #1 for comfort. But truthfully, it brings me none. The sex lasts five minutes. Then I immediately want him to leave.

I feel more alone than ever.

For days, I am in a fog. It’s not that I was madly in love with Peter that’s bugging me (because I wasn’t…I didn’t even know him that well), but it’s that I was so blindsided. I truthfully felt this was going to beThe Next Guy. The Next Guy I have a relationship with. The Next Guy I truly care about. Maybe The Next Guy I introduce to my parents. I just had this feeling. And now my feelings were all jumbled.

I couldn’t let him off the hook this easy. I felt like I was dealing with a break up of sorts, and for that reason I was chewing off my nails and overeating and feeling shitty about myself. I needed closure.

It’s Wednesday, and I’ve had one glass of wine. A really BIG glass of wine. Okay, more like two.

I muster up the courage to text him. This may be the last time I do it. Hopefully, it is:

Me: I’ve had a lot of fun with you Peter. But I’m starting to feel like you’re not interested. If that’s the case, let me know. I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll understand.

Him: I’ve had a lot of fun with you too. I guess I’m just not looking for anything really serious. I don’t want to be a jerk or send the wrong signals so I realize I’ve been kinda quiet. But it’s definitely not that I don’t enjoy hanging out.

Me: I don’t know what gave you the idea I wanted anything serious either. I just got out of a two-year-long relationship.

Him: I guess I just assume all girls are trying to get serious. That’s what happens when you start getting old like me. It wasn’t anything you said or did so I’m sorry for assuming.

Me: You’re not old! and Yeah. I think it’s a common assumption us girls are used to.

Him: Well. Now that we got THAT out of the way, let’s hang out soon. Saturday?

Me: Sure. Sounds good.

And he does it again. He gives me hope. Granted, I’m a lying piece of shit to say I didn’t want something serious (or to imply that). I didn’t think I did when I first started dating, but with Peter I did. He must have sensed it. I think all men can sense it the way German Shepherds sense fear.

When Saturday rolls around, and I don’t hear from him yet again, I declare that it’s truly, finally, amazingly over. And in a way that’s a good thing; in a way it feels good. I’m tired of the emotion, I’m tired of holding out hope, I’m tired of wasting energy on this guy who totally doesn’t want me.

Looking back on it, so much went wrong with us. Here’s the laundry list:

  1. I didn’t immediately run away from him after the boob-grab on the first night. (Come on! Idiot!)
  2. I let him sleep over the first night.
  3. I let him get comfortable with me always initiating texts. I never made him work for it.
  4. He didn’t end things maturely by telling me what was wrong. I had to pull it out of him.
  5. He kept making me believe I would see him again, and then disappointing me.
  6. I didn’t cut my losses. I kept holding on.

Notice anything? There are more things I did wrong than he did in that list. Doesn’t mean he’s innocent, but I had to sit back and realize my errors too.

It was cathartic coming to this realization. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to constantly blame other people when there’s a decent amount of blame you should place on yourself. We can’t help it. It’s scary to say, “I fucked up.” Especially when it hurts.

I took a few days to really digest this heavy fact: I was largely to blame for the pain that Peter brought me.

Then I went through some funny feelings. At first, I decided to swear off men. I said, “No more of this bullshit! They all suck! It’s all their fault!” Then, I remembered the epiphany I had just come to…and that it wasn’t really all their fault. Rarely is something 100% one person’s fault (save from most murders and rapes — but we aren’t talking about shit that serious).

Then I thought I would just take a break from men not because I was angry at them and wanted to blame all my problems on them, but because I wanted to focus on myself. I wanted to “work on me”. I think this is an awesome thing for any man or woman to do. However, I scratched that idea real quick.

Because soon, I got a new idea. I want to help other people. Jumping back into the dating world after two years of comfortable, easy monogamy had been really hard. There were been times when I was hurt (Peter), shocked (Ben #2, Phillip, Kevin, and any of my time on Tinder), drunk as hell (Ben #1 multiple times), all lovey-dovey starry-eyed (Ben #1 and Peter), kinda scared (Don), and having the time of my life (almost all the time, but mostly Speed Dating). I really wanted to share the range of emotions with other women. It’s scary, it’s fun, it’s exhilarating. It’s dating in the modern world.

Whatever weird things I learned, whatever heartbreaks I endured, whatever lovely feelings I had, I wanted to bring the world along with me on this roller coaster ride.

So the idea for this book was born out of Peter breaking my heart. That’s truly making vodka out of lemonade, huh? Or whatever the saying is.

Sidenote: The Stages of Moving On

Sure, this is going to sound very immature of me but getting over Peter was really hard to do. I knew the right thing was to cut the cord, but I found letting go of all hope to be so depressing and damn-near impossible.

Looking back on it and all of my past breakups, I realized that there are very distinct stages of moving on. Sometimes we pass through one quicker than another, but  we almost always stumble upon these steps:

The Ignorant Stage

Ugh, this one sucks. Because this is the stage you look back on and you’re like, “Why didn’t I see it? Why was I skipping in a daisy field thinking life was all dandy while he was sleeping with my sister behind my back?!” (No, no, this didn’t happen to me. Thank goodness.)

In this stage, you really don’t know anything is wrong. Or, you are so good at fooling  yourself that even though you kind of think something might maybe possibly sort of be wrong, you just decide to think about something else. You tell yourself to “stop complaining and think about the positive” or you replay only the good parts of your dates in your mind. Of course you leave out the times when he grabbed your boob in the bar (Peter) or was nearly mad at you for being so stubborn and not giving into sex (Ben).

This is a tricky stage, because you can’t help but be in it. At the beginning of anything, you don’t want to rule a guy out immediately at the first sign of a flaw. You can’t just never talk to him again just because of one or two rude comments. Or he keeps staring at the waitress. Or he has this weird bull nose ring thing. Or he hates his mother. Whatever, you are an easygoing woman. You aren’t hard to please. It’s all good, baby.

Sure. It’s all good for a little bit. But we all have our gut instincts. I have learned to trust and then distrust mine over the years, but I’m working on trusting it again.

Being in The Ignorant Stage for too long may mean you are just too easy to please. You have got to figure out what you want from a man, make him stop wasting your time (notice it’s not about wasting his time) and end the relationship if he isn’t giving you what you want. Usually, being in The Ignorant Stage means you don’t value yourself enough to say “this isn’t cool with me”. Baby, you got to put yourself first!

Movies, books, television, society — every where we turn there’s another cliche about how women are so demanding of men, so overbearing, so high maintenance. So I, for one, am always trying to be less demanding. I am trying to be that “cool chick” who just rolls with the punches.

That’s fine to some extent. Definitely cool to let a couple things slide. But if you’re dating a loser and completely oblivious to it, you gotta start analyzing your priorities and making sure that you are at the top of the list.

The Million Excuses Stage

“He’s moving, so you know, he’s tied up with that.”

“Oh he’s just got a lot going on right now. I’m sure he will call me soon.”

“He’s super busy at work. That’s why he’s putting in late hours.”

“I think his mom is sick. So he hasn’t had any time to see me.”

“There was a lot of wind today. Blew his penis RIGHT into her vagina. Crazy!”

So many excuses! While you were busy daydreaming about your kids’ names and where they’ll go to private school and how big your yacht will be, your jerk date/boyfriend/fiancee/husband is off thinking of great excuses to lay on you. And your friends are taking notice.

There’s a thin line between The Ignorant Stage and The Million Excuses Stage and the difference is that either you are asking more questions (“How come you didn’t call the other night?”) or he’s starting to feel guilty. Either way, there comes a time in every a-hole’s life where he needs to conjure up some garbage to tell you so he can at least keep you strung along. It sucks.

Hey, guys. I’m not saying that women don’t do it too. We do all the shitty things that men do. We aren’t completely innocent. But, I hate to say it, men do it more often. So this is focused on the majority.

Your friends care about you. They ask how your date went or how your current beau is doing not so they can burst your bubble. Happy people infect other happy people. Your friends don’t want you to be a Debbie Downer or else they won’t want to hang out with you. Also, if they are with someone, they will be excited for you to have a new boyfriend they can double-date with. If they are single, they may be living vicariously through you. Either way, if you have good friends (which I hope you do), they only want to see you happy.

So when  your friend (or, often in my case, sister) says, “that sounds like a load of crap” maybe you should listen. I know, I know, it’s so hard to listen. Because, really, what do they know? They don’t know Ben/Peter/fill-in-name-here. How dare they tell me that he’s not right for me? Surely if Aline met Peter she would love him!

No, that’s just another coping mechanism I used on myself.

Sometimes excuses are real. Sometimes I don’t answer a text from a guy I really like because I really do have a busy day. Sometimes I get a flat tire — okay, that happens all the time because I am the world’s worst driver — and can’t make it to a date. Sometimes I’m sick and don’t feel like calling someone. Sometimes I fall asleep and miss his call. But you know what? I always apologize for it, and do my best to not let it happen again. And it’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t text you back right away. But if you ask a guy a question and he doesn’t respond to you in a day or two (or EVER), then you know he really doesn’t have a good excuse. Same thing if a guy blows you off, leaves town, sleeps with someone else (!), or just generally crushes your heart with no warning.

When a guy likes a girl, he will find time for her. This is a very important point that the wonderful He’s Just Not that Into You makes very clear. Pick this book up when you’re living in the Million Excuses Stage.

In my case, Peter never texted me. I always texted him first. In my Ignorant Stage, I thought it didn’t matter because he always responded and always wanted to go out again. So we did. But when I decided to invite him to a baseball and he couldn’t make it, I knew something was off because he didn’t counter my invitation with another date invite.

My friends and I talked about it and they could see the light while I was blinded.

“Maybe he’s just busy at work,” I would say.

Hold on. Red light here. Peter hadn’t even given me an excuse. Instead, in all my brilliance, I came up with one for him. Wow, that is another level of low.

I got the same response from Lauren as from Morgan as from Sandra as from Aline: Let it go. He’s not interested.

But I didn’t let it go. I kept on thinking of excuse after excuse for him. Man, he didn’t even need to lift a finger to text me one.

The OMG-Maybe-Everyone’s-Right Stage

Okay…put down the pint of ice cream and nobody gets hurt.

You’re starting to really question yourself when you make the shift from The Million Excuses Stage into this one. And your fingernails and/or sexy body are probably taking a beating from it because you are super anxious. I am a nail-biter and a comfort-eater so both of mine take a beating. (Note: This is not going to help you land the next guy.)

How many times can you relay the same story and ask the same questions to your friends and family about one guy until you feel like you’ve gotten enough opinions?

As many times as it takes to hear what you want to hear, most likely.

For me, I told the story of Ben and then the story of Peter to a trillion people. My therapist, my poor sister, Morgan, Lauren, Sandra, three or four other girlfriends I keep tucked in my arsenal, the cashier at the grocery store, the cab driver who took me home after a few too many, my pedicurist, that random lady knitting next to me on the subway…etc. You get the picture. People who are shifting from the Million Excuses stage to this one cannot stop asking for different opinions.

But once you’ve heard “he doesn’t like you” or “he sounds like a dick” enough times, you start to think that there’s a chance all your friends are right.

There will always be those really sweet, kind, naive friends of your’s that hear your story and hear you relay his excuses and they actually make more excuses for him. Such as this conversation:

…..

Read the full page under “52 First Dates” in the headings above.

First Date #5: Peter

After my date with Jerry, I basically sprint-walk to Wrigley Field to meet up with Aline and my cousin Carol, who was in town from Brazil.

The game is fun — we drink some cold beers, eat hot dogs, and scope out the men on and off the field.

The Cubs are killing it — which, according to many Chicagoans, is rare. They’re at 7-1 against the Cardinals when I start to get a little bored. I mean, there’s no action!

So I pull out my phone and see if I can find me some action on OkCupid.

Shameless plug for OkCupid: their iPhone app is great. It let’s me see just about as much as going on the computer does.

I have a new message from a guy I’ve been talking to for a little bit named Peter.

“Hey. Some of my friends are going out in River North tonight. Let me know if you’ll be out that way.” Peter then proceeds to give me his phone number.

I don’t really like when the guy gives the girl his phone number and asks her to contact him. It’s just lazy. But maybe it’s for the sake of time, I think, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

The message was sent hours ago, while I agonized about how to escape my date with Jerry. So I go ahead and text Peter. I tell him I’m at a Cubs game and have to see what my plans are for tonight.

I ask my friend, Sandra, if she’s interested in going but she has some stupid event for her mom’s company. Then I ask Carol. She’s a last resort here because Carol is twenty-one and full of so much energy. Every  night that she was in town, she asked me and my sister what was next on the agenda just about every second of the day. I worry that taking her out to a club with me would mean staying up until the sun rises. But I know she hasn’t been barhopping much since that’s not Aline’s thing.

Carol agrees and I tell Peter we’ll be there.

I am no longer excited about meeting a new guy. This is what a bad date does to you. It takes a ton of the wind out of your proverbial sails. For me, after a bad date with Jerry just hours earlier, I could really take or leave another date. But a little voice in me says, “What the hell? You got nothing to lose.”

On the train heading back towards my apartment, Carol starts to get real sleepy. I’m talking head-bobbing sleepy.

“What time is it?” She asks.

“Ummm….nine thirty.”

My Portuguese is really shitty but it works.

She’s shocked. “Already?” She asks.

Uh-oh.

Carol is tired! For once in her life! And she’d rather not go out tonight! What?!

She’s the guest and I honestly didn’t really want to party with her anyway, so I tell her it’s no problem and that I’ll see her tomorrow. I hop off the train at my stop and she and Aline continue on to Aline’s apartment.

Back in my own place, with my pajamas and Jimmy Kimmel beckoning me to rest, I start to question if I want to go out that night after all.

Do I really want another bad encounter? I’m exhausted from being under both the hot sun at the game and the radiation coming out of Jerry’s eyes on our date. I ask a couple friends’ opinions, but in the end I know I have to go. If it sucks, it’s just one drink and then I can cab home. If it’s fun, then…we’ll see where the night takes me.

I text Peter to tell him I’m not sure I am going anymore because my cousin isn’t but he eggs me on. I tell him I’m on my way.

From his pictures online, I don’t find Peter to be stunningly attractive. He’s got a very small face — tiny lips, small features, but pretty eyes. I’m a sucker for the eyes. He’s not super tall, but he’s fit. He’s got brown hair that he wears sorta short.

But when I meet him in person, I’m blown away. He’s so charming. He’s a lawyer in the South Loop and loves his job. He’s smart, but a little shy, which I find very endearing. He’s at the bar with a ton of his friends, and I feel warm as he introduces me to all of them. He’s genuinely interested in what I have to say and makes me feel at ease. He’s sweet. And I’m smitten already.

We stay at the bar from ten until about two-thirty. It was that good of a night. We drink, we talk, we laugh, we make our way through crowds sometimes holding hands, and we dance. The place gets pretty wild around one o’clock and Peter takes my hand and pulls me on the dance floor.

I am a dancing machine. Especially after about four drinks. Whoo, can I go wild. I also have a big Brazilian ass, so that helps.

Peter loves it. We get all steamy, grinding and rubbing our hands on one another. At one point, he turns me around and just kisses me. Just like that. He’s confidence is very subtle. It’s not glaring or cocky.

However, at one point, Peter does get too handsy. He lets his right hand wander up to my boob.

I know I talk about and think about sex a lot but I try to be at least somewhat of a classy lady. No boob-grabbing in public!

I swat his hand away, twirl around to look him in the eye and proceed to tell him how NOT COOL that was. He apologizes profusely and we dance for another hour.

My legs are crazy-sore when we start to walk home. I tell him I’ll be fine, but he insists on walking me all the way back to my apartment. I smile at the ulterior motive. I was going to cab, but I’m okay with some more Peter time.

When we get to my apartment, I tell him that he can come up — but I also tell him that I won’t be sleeping with him. This is something that you must tell a guy before you invite him up,  unless you actually will sleep with him, and in that case don’t say a word — just start undressing in the elevator.

Once inside my apartment, Peter is adorable trying to seduce me.

…..

Read the full story under “52 First Dates” in the headings above.

Update

Since I keep adding pages rather than posts, I wanted to post something to let my followers know. 

Check out the heading “52 First Dates”. I keep adding pages there, but WordPress doesn’t alert followers about new pages.

I am trying to add a page or two per week. Please send in your feedback!

Speed Dating: Round #1

I’m calling this “Round #1″ of speed dating because God only knows if I will go again in the next 10 months. Judging by Round One, going again will definitely yield me some great stories.

 

 

I’m running late, of course. Lately I can’t get my shit together. Plus I’m not all that excited about this event.

I know it’s going to be good writing material, but I also know I will have to meet some seriously shady characters. Oh well, I won’t be alone.

Finally, I see Hubbard street in view. I feel terrible that Sandra is alone waiting outside for the hosts to start letting people in. What if she’s totally weirded out by a creep while she’s waiting? Or, what if she starts talking to a hottie and steals him from me? Both would be terrible consequences.

I think I can see the bar from where I’m walking. There’s this big guy at the front door in a tuxedo. Little Sandra is standing next to him. She pops her head up and waves to me. I wave back, shuffling my feet and practically running to get there sooner.

She meets me part of the way, with her eyes widened and a half smile on. This is Sandra’s this-shit-is-awkward face. I return it back to her.

“So….you surveyed people going in?” I ask, partly sarcastic, partly nervous.

She cocks her head to one side and says simply, “Uh. Yeah. Not looking good.”

I laugh and we walk towards Big Tuxedo Guy. He’s nicer than he looks as he crosses off our names and shows us the elevator.

The bar is pretty nice, but it’s definitely not up to par with the rest of River North. The other bars in this area of Chicago are just gorgeous. Usually some sort of fancy flooring like hardwood or marble. The lights aren’t really neon, but sometimes they glow blue or red. Waitresses are hot. Drinks are strong. The clientele is either rich or saves up for a night out here. This place looks more like something from Tampa, where my parents still live. Tile floor, cheap bar, drinks are mostly the mixer, and the staff isn’t friendly (except Big Tuxedo Guy). But whatever.

Sandra and I check in and are given table numbers nine and ten. Good, we say, we will be right near one another and able to make faces and/or drop in on dates.

Luckily we paid thirty-five dollars for this event. Luckily we get about two of them back with a free Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Are you serious?

Sandra and I stand by the bar, clenching sickeningly sweet Mike’s Hard Lemonades in our hands as they coat our fingers in an icy condensation wetness.

I glance at the elevator. Then at her. Then at my drink. Then back at her. We give each other goofy half-smiles, eyes wide open. We burst into laughter.

“This is going to be real interesting…” She says, taking a swig of her Mike’s Hard.

“I need something stronger.” The lemony concoction burns a little as I shuttle it down my throat and plop the empty bottle on the bar. “Rum and diet please,” I tell the pretty little bartender as I hand her my bright orange Visa.

People start filling in, but I’m keeping my eyes down. I mention to Sandra that they shouldn’t have the groups mingle beforehand. It should be almost a blind date until the speed dating begins. They should seat the girls and then bring the guys in at once and start right away. We make this boring small talk for a while as we avoid talking to any of the guys.

One not-so-bad-looking guy comes up to us. I think he’s a mix of Asian and Latino. I really like white guys, but he is super nice and interesting and TALL. I love tall. I start to think there might some prospect in this one. But then the Interrupter makes his move.

Sandra and I are talking to Tall Okay Guy, when the Interrupter starts crawling towards us. He’s inching his way along like a scared kitten on a tree branch.

I’m already thinking he’s a creep from the way he’s creeping up on us, but I try to feign a smile. I flash my eyes at Tall Okay Guy so he knows that I like him better (that’s not really saying much, but men are so competitive so I offer it up).

Well the Interrupter sure is strange. He talks about his job as an IT Engineer even though he didn’t go to school for engineering and makes some reference to the Kardashians or something and I am immediately bored out of my brains. I’m throwing back my rum and diet like it was a tic-tac, and trying to just keep smiling and minimally talking. I have to bail Sandra out occasionally when it gets awkward between them, which is just about every four seconds.

The host of the event is a short strawberry-blonde woman. She’s wearing a cute gold skirt with a black top tucked in and black strappy sandals. Her hair is up in a clip with a couple strands hanging down. She’s very pretty and reminds me of a sassy, sexy comedian I saw on Comedy Central but I can’t quite pinpoint who. I wonder if she’s single. That would be somewhat ironic, right?

She announces that it’s time to start. So Sandra and I make our way over to tables nine and ten.

Now, nine is my favorite number, but I don’t make Sandra switch with me. Instead, I nuzzle my way into the corner seat and I have the lovely pleasure of finding out my seat is in Antarctica. The vent blows directly on me the entire night. Awesome.

It’s not quite what I imagined earlier in the day. In my head, there would be little tables set up around the room in a circle. Guy would sit across from girl. When the host announced time, the guys would rotate in the circle.

But there’s no circle and in my case the guy sits right next to me. There are booths set up and a long row of padded seating along the walls. What my mind pictured as a circle is really more like an amoeba and some people are really far apart (the girl across the room from me and the girl behind her) and some are close (the girl next to me and I are practically at second base right now). But there are candles and little tables oddly placed here and there and the music is loud enough I can’t hear Sandra, which is probably a good thing.

The night is a whirlwind and I can’t remember a single name by the end. I have one more rum and diet and become all loosey-goosey, ready to talk about what I do for fun and where I grew up and what sports I like. I laugh when things aren’t funny and I give tight-lipped smiles when dates walk away. I have a blast, personally. But I don’t meet any prospects. Here are the summaries of some guys I do meet that I just couldn’t resist writing about:

 

Skinny Energetic Indian Guy

This has nothing to do with race. I like Indian people! I like a lot of people. But this guy was so energetic, you would have thought he had a bottle rocket up his butt. He flailed his arms a lot and was very excited to talk about my career. I, on the other hand, was not excited about anything. He was very nice, but I just wanted to ask him to take an Ambien. This was a period of time in which my rum and diet barely left my lips.

 

Overschooled Guy Who Lit Up When I Said Engineering

So, I usually hold off on telling any guy that I am an engineer. It’s a secret weapon. Just like saying I am Brazilian (although that one I usually use as the hook to get them really drawn in, because who is sexier than a Brazilian?). And the reason I hold off on it is because guys usually love it. A girl who isn’t a nerd and isn’t manly, in a career that’s pretty nerdy and full of men? And it’s super blue collar. Like when a girl offers up that she hunts and fishes with her dad. That can be super hot to a guy. Even if what she really does is just hold his gun or fishing pole as he takes a leak.

But in the case of this guy, I get really bored really quickly because all he does is talk about school. He’s rambling on about getting his bachelor’s in Atlanta, then Master’s in Maryland, and then Ph. D. in the near future and my eyes are glazing over. Because he talks like he thinks he’s hot shit because of all his schooling. And that couldn’t make me sicker.

When he finally takes a break from his One Man Talk Show, he asks, “So what did you study?”

I take a limp breath and say simply, “Engineering.”

His eyes burst on fire. His eyebrows arch all the way back up into his hairline.

“Ohhhhhh really? That’s awesome!”

You can tell by the way he looks at me he thought I would say something stupid. Maybe he’s even shocked I went to college. Or that I can dress myself in the morning.

Again, this has nothing to do with race, height, hair color, visible scars. The guy was simply arrogant. And I don’t play that.

 

Black Close-Talker

When he sits down, the Black Close-Talker reminds me a little of Eddie Murphy. He’s really dark-skinned, with very nice eyes. He’s pretty thin and I wonder how old he is. How did he get in here? I don’t think he’s past twenty-two, but I have heard that black people age really well.

Right off the bat, I notice that he’s sitting way closer than anyone else has. My seating arrangement is not ideal since I have to sit next to the guys, not across from them, and my back is up against a wall. I am literally between a wall and a hard place (that is, if he’s attracted to me).

This problem doesn’t get any better. It only gets worse. He’s practically licking my face as he’s talking. I’m practically crawling up the wall.

Basically, someone should have just told this guy to stay on his half of the cushion.

 

Bathroom Guy

Women’s best kept secret is that the way to our hearts is through our bladders.

Kidding. Totally not true. (It’s through our boobs).

The minute this guy sits down, he’s antsy. He’s kinda like me: Latino with freckles all over. But he’s so Rico Suave, always looking around at other people, seemingly a little showy and concerned with himself.

Right when his butt hits the cushion, he says “My questions is…what happens if you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the date?”

I think it’s kind of funny and very much applicable to my life right now — my life always, since I pee just about every seventy minutes of the day — and I laugh. I say, “That’s funny because I have to go right now.” Oh yeah, that second rum and diet is working its magic, alright.

“Well then let’s go!” He says, half standing up.

“No!!” I screech. I don’t want people to think I am going off to hook up with him or something. Plus, I feel kind of bad. What if the host announces the next date and I’m not there and he has to sit there waiting for me? I will be embarrassed and feel like a dick.

“Why? Come on. Not together of course.” He’s oozing slime as he talks. Gross.

Finally, I give in. Or my bladder does. He sees me get up and he starts heading to the bathroom. Oh, good to know you aren’t a gentleman and you don’t wait for your date. At least I find this out in the first sixty seconds of knowing you.

I enjoy the bathroom much more than the remaining two minutes with him after.

Oh, and he messages me the next day.

Delete!

 

The Online Dating Pro

Online dating is an interesting thing. According to a study I read somewhere at some point in time, 74% of single people are currently online dating. So it’s ridiculously common. Probably the only thing that 74% of all single people have in common! Yet, it still embarrasses a lot of people.

I sort of understand why: it was so taboo when it first started. Like, how are you going to meet anyone on the internet that isn’t a crazy rapist-axe-murderer-drag-queen? Plus, you don’t need online dating unless you’re desperate!

But I think people’s opinions are changing as we become more and more comfortable with technology and social media connecting strangers together. It helps that our attitudes in general towards love and marriage are becoming more welcoming in all aspects, with more and more rights for gay people and a huge acceptance of interracial love as well.

Still, with all this lovely evolution happening, most people are not typically proud to announce they are online dating.

Everyone at this event is on the same website, except one guy who was brought by a friend. So we all know the truth about everyone in the room. There’s really no hiding, no shame, no judgement.

But this one guy who sits down with me is practically boasting the fact that he’s gone to a gazillion of these events. Shouldn’t the point be to find someone you like? Shouldn’t you not try to go to lots of these because hopefully you meet someone for you after a short time? Isn’t touting how many you have been too a little… counter-intuitive?

It turns me off. But hey, if it turns off the other girls in the room, at least this guy will get to go to more of these events! Win-win. Sort of.

 

The Christian Bale Sweater

I gotta tell you, I love Christian Bale. So I was excited when I spotted this guy who looked a little bit like the American Psycho himself. It was just a hint of something in his lips-nose region that reminded me of him, but it was enough to pique my interest.

Unfortunately, he was nothing like Christian.

Up close, he wasn’t well groomed and he sweated a lot. He either never washes his hair, or he was sweating way before he got to my table.

Oh well, I will keep holding out for you, Batman.

 

The Overly Confident Indian

Self deprecation is one of my favorite forms of humor. That’s something my ex, Sean, and I loved to joke about. This guy was like that, which made me laugh a ton.

He was probably my favorite date of the night. I wasn’t attracted to him because my stupid Attractometer is broken and stuck on “Caucasian”, but I had good conversation with him, mostly because he was very funny.

The funny thing about being funny is that sometimes you are secretly also overly confident. Those make the best funny people. Look at Daniel Tosh and Dane Cook (I know, I know, Dane hasn’t been funny since like 2007 but people once thought he was).

But I really don’t like overly confident guys. They make me feel insecure, which is a feeling that quickly pushes me into a galaxy far, far away from them.

So, alas, my comedian had to move on to bigger and better things: a girl who perhaps didn’t mind feeling belittled. Let’s hope not, though.

 

 

All in all, the event was….a disaster. No, I’m kidding. It was a lot of fun. Sandra and I now have some great stories to swap at the bar after softball this Friday. And I am left with sore fingers. (From typing this story, get your minds out of the gutter!)

I can’t wait for Round Two.

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