On the plus side, I can cross "Date a Possible Sociopath" off my bucket list.
I'd so much rather check off that Springsteen dedicated "For You" to me at a show where I finally sat front row.
But maybe that experience is happening next...
Yes, I'm choosing to look on the bright side of things. And, make no mistake; it's a conscious choice. Some days optimism is harder to execute than the stomach crunches my yoga teacher makes me do while I plot her demise and then pay her.
Maybe I should have known going in: he was exactly the opposite of what I usually like. A business guy who leaned Republican. A man who, when I asked, "What do you want to do in life?" responded with, "Make money." That response might sound like a choir of angels in the distance to some girls. But to me? It just meant he wasn’t going to be The One.
See, I have a habit of being attracted to men who are passionate about jobs that do not pay well and who look vaguely homeless. My friend Joanne put it best: "Nell likes guys who look dirty but actually smell good."
She's not wrong.
And yet, here I was, suddenly smitten with a man who clearly bathed regularly. In fact, he had more grooming products in his bathroom than I have in mine -- the good shit too. Let me put it this way -- he had an electronic Clarisonic face cleanser brush. I have one too. Does nothing say "compatibility" more? It does not.
It all started kind of slowly. Dates here and there. Sushi and long talks and television shows brought us together. I introduced him to "Parks and Recreation." He showed me "Shark Tank," which I kind of loved, and "Gypsy Sisters," which I thought was a joke until some of the gypsies threw down in a very real way on someone's front lawn after removing their shoes, cause apparently gypsies have better traction in bare feet. And traction is important when you're gripping your cousin's cranium in your muddy palm and flinging her across a partially seeded yard.
See? Being with him taught me so much.
The truth is, it started getting good. I found him endlessly interesting. He was smart. He was articulate. He would call me after his work was done for the day to decompress. He talked about business in a way I began to understand, and he sought my advice. I have no business background myself, but I'm part of a family that knows of such things, so I had incidental knowledge to contribute, bracketed by the logic that often seems my most dominant personality trait. Sometimes I appreciate that quality within myself; other days, I wish my most dominant trait was hair that didn't frizz in humidity.
But if I frizzed at his house? No problem. He had a flat iron too.
I gave him a copy of the novel I wrote, and he read it, telling me that writing was in my blood. He encouraged me to start a blog. When I hesitated, asked me what I was scared of.
He was direct. His questions pushed me to figure out what I really was scared of, and I realized that the answer could actually be: fucking nothing.
He encouraged me to embrace my competitive side – and it’s not like I hadn’t lived boldly before. I began to feel even stronger than usual.
I started to like having him by my side.
He met my parents -- and they loved him. How do I know? Because I got a text later that night from my stepfather, Jack, who was born with a great head of hair and without the capacity to lie, even if it's to make someone feel better.
"You might have finally met someone who is worthy of you," he wrote.
I have that text still.
"You know more about Film than anyone I've ever known," he would tell me with a smile on his face. He appreciated the knowledge and passion I had for what I did for a living.
He became my new favorite person.
I decided he looked like a polar bear, so I bought him a stuffed version. He named it Tyrone. As someone who has named all of her stuffed animals since birth, this action meant a great deal to me, though I would have chosen the name Otis.
He was incredibly handsome. How handsome? How much time have you got?
He was also really arrogant, but I found that side of him very funny. And the truth is that I like challenging, assertive men. It's why I adored my father. It's why I am so close to Jack. It's the reason I can play and win Sarcasm in a tournament. I am drawn to the edgy guy who not everyone understands.
"He might be just the right kind of asshole," I said to my best friend Becky late one night. And, knowing exactly what that meant, she was happy for me.
His mom came to town near the holidays. I'd heard a lot about her, and when I told my sister she was a southern lady from North Carolina, Leigh asked me if I thought she'd be like a Designing Woman. (Where would we be without sitcom references? I mean, not a day goes by where I don't quote "Seinfeld" at least twice. Becky recently asked me if it was possible to have "just a little grace," and it instantly reinforced why I love her.)
But yes, his mom was like a mix of Suzanne and Julia Sugarbaker, which is to say that I instantly loved her. She was at once girlish and wise, and her warmth radiated from her pores. I'm not sure if it’s inappropriate to call someone's mother "adorable," but she was. And she liked me too. That part, frankly, wasn't surprising. I'm a really nice girl.
"She loved you," he said later when we were alone, drawing a heart with his fingers.
That was a good night. We lay together, watching an old episode of "The Sopranos," and as Christopher shot someone, I thought I might just allow myself to let my guard down, finally. We made plans for New Year's Eve and he walked me outside, essentially carrying me down his icy driveway that didn't allow proper navigation in my 5-inch heels, and he kissed me goodnight.
It was the last time I ever saw him.
He was busy with his mom. He got sick on New Year's. He kept postponing when we were going to get together.
The Christmas presents I had bought for him sat in a pile on my dining room table, the festive snowman wrapping paper mocking me each time I walked by.
"Is everything okay?" I asked him. "What's going on?"
Just work craziness, I was told.
I stopped believing him after a week.
I rang in the new year alone, and he didn't call to wish me a happy birthday on January 6th. I texted him, and I was informed he didn't think he wanted a relationship. I sat on my sofa next to my dog, bawling my eyes out as she tried to nuzzle close, while every ex boyfriend in the land texted me birthday wishes -- and I was leveled.
He got in touch a couple of days later and apologized and asked for another chance. He'd been hurt badly before. Trusting was hard for him. And Springsteen's "Human Touch" started to play in my head on a loop: "So you've been broken and you've been hurt. Show me somebody who ain't," and I wondered if I could accept that this was who he was and that he was vulnerable, and that he wasn't used to being vulnerable, and could I move forward? I wasn't sure, but I wanted to try. I thought he was worth trying for.
We made plans for that Sunday. At that point, we hadn't seen each other in weeks. A little after three, I got a text that he was out with his mom at the outlets and maybe we could reschedule?
I broke. I'm actually surprised it took me so long to do so. I let loose a litany of reasons I was angry, the biggest being that he could have arranged his day to be able to do both activities. I mean, I'm a lot of things, but a fucking asshole moron is not one of them; I'd never tell a guy to bail on his mom. That's like Human Being 101.
He never responded.
From that day forward, there was not a phone call, a letter, a text, or a message written in the sky. And I searched those stars every night like I was Copernicus.
I wanted to be angry. I wanted to feel rage. But all I felt was stunned.
I stared at my ceiling all night, every night, not sleeping. Then I went to work and taught slasher films through a fog. I stopped looking hopefully at my phone. I stopped feeling hope at all.
I had dinner one freezing night, just Jack and me. I brushed tears into my hair over sushi, and he held my hand and told me he loved me.
"Want me to destroy him?" Jack asked.
"Let him!" Becky screamed to me later as we spoke on the phone.
"If you go near him, personally or professionally, I will never speak to you again," I told Jack.
"Okay," he cheerfully responded, forgetting the offer instantly. He's a man who respects my wishes, and besides, he had pharmaceutical buildings to construct, and it would be Yankee season soon. If I didn't want it, he'd devote his energy elsewhere.
I grew up idolizing the nasty characters on "Dynasty," but the truth is that I don't want to hurt anyone with a dramatic flourish. I don't want to put that pain into the universe, not when my own universe was being defined by it.
And now some time has passed, and I'm okay. I don't understand what happened, but I don't feel like I need to anymore. I'm not even angry with him. I still miss him, and I've stopped beating myself up for that. He meant something to me. It is what it is.
"If he reappeared in your life, would you consider taking him back?" my closest male friend recently asked me.
I didn't respond. I just looked up at the stars.