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.
Posted on December 4, 2013, in 52 First Dates, Anorexia, Book Chapters, Family, fear, Love, memories, Relationships, Sex, Therapy, Work, Writing and tagged 25 first dates, 52 first dates, chicago, exploring, family, first dates, love, men, online dating, san francisco, sex, single, travel, Women, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.