Thursday, December 22, 2011

Breakup gifts

Last night, I came home to find a gift of a somewhat cheesy little gold necklace with a dragonfly pendant waiting for me, along with a note from Doctor O:


I'm afraid I have sad news. I've decided to start an exclusive relationship with another woman.

I've been seeing her a couple months longer than I've been dating you. Only in the past two days did our relationship progress to the point where we both decided to explicitly agree to stop seeing other people.

I wanted to tell you in person as soon as possible, but despite Love Letters' ideas, it's often difficult to make this happen in real life. I fear if I delay any longer that it would be unfair to you, so I apologize for this email version, but I really wanted to try to see you in person. I also didn't want you to alter your plans or make you unnecessarily worry about what we'd be talking about.

I think you're very special. Though I'm not certain how you feel about me, I definitely feel you're "my type" and I've enjoyed getting to know you and I find you very attractive. It simply appears I've met you at an inopportune time--I'm insanely busy with work, and I started dating the other woman earlier when I did have more time. Otherwise, who knows what might have unfolded between us. Nevertheless, since I'm very serious about my commitments, I'm going to give my new relationship everything I have and with regret I'm going to have to say good-bye to you.

I still got you a gift because I wanted you to know that I treasured the little time we've spent together. You're a terrific woman, Heathen. I wish you the very best.

While I find it a bit strange that my Instaboyfriend was seeing someone else he was excited about even as he was saying things to me like, "I told my mom about you the other day. I told her that you are kind, pretty and VERY stable," and was inviting me to parties to meet his friends, I have to give Doctor O props in his breakup technique. I couldn't help but compare the thoughtfulness of this breakup (after five dates) with the utter thoughtlessness Dreamy displayed in our breakup after a year and change. So, I've decided to remember Doctor O fondly, as a kind, somewhat odd but very communicative guy, and to mail him the Christmas gift I bought him after he told me he had one for me.

I hope he enjoys On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, about a relationship that fails on the first night of a marriage. It seems even more appropriate now than it did when I bought it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The power of suggestion

Doctor O invited me this weekend to a holiday party at a friend's house in his building. "Funny story," he said when he told me about it, "Last year, I got really sick not long before the party. I thought I was better, but then I collapsed in the middle of the party. Good thing my place is right across the hall! I just dragged myself over there."

I laughed, then forgot all about his story. We had a nice time at the party, eating yummy chocolates and chitchatting with some of his friendly neighbors. But after a while, one of the friendly neighbors who had been asking me lots of questions stopped asking questions and started talking about how frustrated she has been lately at work. I began to get bored, and to notice that the champagne I was drinking was going to my head a bit, and that it wasn't helping the sore throat that was just beginning to develop. Then, I noticed that my vision was getting black around the edges and I was feeling woozy. I put my champagne glass down and tried to surreptitiously move about without seeming like I wasn't listening to the woman's monologue, which by now had stretched long past ten minutes. I ran my fingers through my hair, pushed up the sleeves of my sweater, and wondered if there would be a short break in her story so I could excuse myself to go to the bathroom. Nothing was helping, so I started coaching myself: "Heathen, do NOT pass out. That would be really embarrassing. You can prevent it if you concentrate hard enough." (I have a history of passing out occasionally, once every five years or so, due to low blood pressure.)

To my relief, the blackness started to dissipate. I smiled and tried to tune in again to the friendly neighbor's ongoing monologue. By now she had moved on from her particular situation to the general sexism rampant in her profession. The blackness faded to the very edges of my vision, but then it turned around and came back, stronger than before. For a moment I tried to push it back again, but soon I was past the point of caring. Next thing I knew, I was looking into Doctor O's face as he said alarmedly, "Are you all right?" He had caught me mid-tumble.

Hopefully that lady will think twice about telling a really boring story next time she's at a party. I wonder what will happen next year at this guy's party?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


A friend and co-worker of mine started dating a man recently, and it soon became apparent that this was going to be an Instaboyfriend situation. Within two weeks, they were introducing each other to friends and spending entire weekends together. She was sleepy every day at work from staying up all hours of the night talking on the phone with him. He told her he felt the term "girlfriend" didn't sound serious enough to describe their relationship. At the 5 week mark they met each others' families. At week 6, he told her he's in love.

During a recent crafting session with my friend M, I related all of this to her.

"I wish that would happen to me!" she sighed.

"Me too," I agreed.

Who doesn't want to skip all the pain of dating and go straight to Instarelatioship? It sounds so appealing -- skip the questions about if they're seeing someone else, where this is heading, whether you should keep dating other people, and go straight to comfortable commitment. But shortly after week 6, the downside of Instaboyfriend reared its head when I came into class one day to find my co-worker looking depressed and exhausted.

"I think we're breaking up," she whispered to me as soon as the kids were busy with their work. She surreptitiously peeked at her phone to check for text messages from him. "He told me he wants kids, but now he says he's not sure. He's not sure he wants kids, AND he's not sure he wants them with me."

I've experienced Instaboyfriend situations many times at this point, both personally and through friends. Several Instaboyfriends ended up as good, solid husbands. My high school boyfriend's parents married after they had known each other for just a few weeks, and they still seem very happy. One friend introduced a boyfriend of two weeks to me as her "partner;" six months later they were married, and not long after that came Instadivorce. La Moustache was my Instaboyfriend, who told me just a few weeks in that he could see us getting married. Apparently, this was much harder to envisage several years later.

After that experience, I took things very slow with Dreamy. We didn't exchange "I love yous" until we had known each other for 6 months, and every step we took was slow and deliberate. And in the end it didn't matter; our relationship didn't have a very solid base despite our caution.

Now I have a bit of an Instaboyfriend situation on my hands again. Doctor O is making it clear that he likes me, a lot. He pulled his online dating profile two days after we first kissed, giving as his explanation that he doesn't want distractions from work. He showers me with compliments and tells me that he likes me and feels good with me. He's a divorcé who's a few years older than me, and he's very open about how much he wants to remarry and have kids. I'm not gonna lie: I like being wooed in this way. Because I like him a lot, too.

All of this is making me wonder, how fast is too fast? Is it an automatic red flag when someone wants things to move quickly? Was my co-worker making a mistake by allowing herself to get swept off her feet? Did I end in that quagmire with Moustache because I let things go too quickly, or because he was a master of deception? I don't have answers to all these questions, but my conclusion is that it's a personal decision. Of course feelings are tenuous after a few weeks, but that doesn't mean they won't morph into something more real and solid. (If they're the kind of person who meets people frequently they feel that way about, that probably IS a red flag.) Dating means putting yourself on the line, and no matter how you go about it, there's always the possibility of failure and hurt. That said, there is such a thing as too fast for ME, and I've made it clear to Doctor O that I'll go at a speed I'm comfortable with. I declined his invitation to go out on a second date two days after our first, and my dating profile is still active. And I'm also eagerly awaiting our next date.

In the end, my co-worker and her beau had a lot of long, difficult conversations and decided to stick things out. He's in therapy. She's thrilled and glowing again. I'm crossing all my fingers and toes for her that things work out. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but I think there's a good chance it will.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Just say no

I've become aware of a problem I have recently: It is very difficult for me to say no and disappoint people. I came to realize this soon after Dreamy and I broke up, when, after overcoming my initial sadness, I felt a huge sense of relief. It dawned on me that I would have broken up with him much earlier if I hadn't felt bad about disappointing him.

I actually did try to break up with him in early August, on the eve of Ms. Swamp's wedding to the Sensitive Bostonian (now my brother-in-law). I felt weird bringing Dreamy as my date knowing that I'd probably break up with him soon, so, on my friend Miami Nice's advice, I called him and was brutally honest. I told him that I'd still like to go through with our plans to attend the wedding together and go on a vacation together, but I didn't see a future for us. He asked if there was any chance I'd change my mind, and I said I didn't think so. And then he said that he was fine with coming to the wedding and going to Costa Rica, and we did those things, and I pretended to myself that I'd changed my mind even though I hadn't really and even though I often felt that I'd much rather be by myself than with him.

In the end, things worked out fine. His departure for New York made for a convenient break, and I don't regret staying with him for those extra couple of months. In a way it made it easier to remember our relationship fondly, since I had a lot of negative feelings toward him over the summer that dissipated during the early fall. Dreamy wasn't a bad guy; we had a pretty good relationship, even though we weren't right for each other. But I wonder what would have happened if he hadn't moved to New York. How long would I have continued to try to convince myself that maybe I'd start to feel in love with him again? And who did I think I was doing any favors for by staying with a guy who I knew I didn't want to marry? Having experienced several times how difficult it is when someone (La Moustache, the Brazilian) didn't want to be with me but had trouble telling me so, I know firsthand how much easier it would be if they would just say it.

Now I'm faced with the task of disappointing someone again, a guy I've gone out with three times and had an unpleasant, makes-me-want-to-scrub-my-mouth-out kiss with at the end of our third date. I was pretty sure after our first date that I wasn't into him (as were some friends who happened to be in the same bar and were observing our interactions), but I kept going out with him partly to make sure, and partly because it was easier than disappointing him. Now the time has come, because I REALLY can't go through with another one of those kisses, and I've set myself a deadline of 3 p.m. today and pulled out Ms. Swamp's much-used breakup email to revise and send off.

The good news is I'm also dating someone who I like a lot, who is smart and interesting and likes me too and tells me three times before every date how excited he is to see me and wants to make me dinner next week (date #4). I'm excited to see him, too, and to get to know him better and continue adding to the lists of green, yellow and red flags in his section of my Man List. And if I should uncover some red flags in my research, please remind me to SAY NO.