OK, so I'm dating. But it’s so much more than that. The connection is uncanny. I’m astounded how it continues to deepen. If I were truly social media oriented, I’d have changed my status on Facebook. Yep, James Gregory is in a relationship. But I’m neither savvy nor self-absorbed enough to think that a Friend I haven’t seen since high school graduation and a Friend who happens to be a former colleague’s ex-wife’s aunt care. (They’d rather see photos of the roasted potato broccoli pizza I ate last night.) So I share my news on an obscure blog. (This one, in case my reference isn’t obvious enough. Glad you found it as a detour on your quest to search “how to fix Trump’s hair”.)
But my non-Twitter friends don’t read my blog. They don’t know about it. I share things that are too honest, too personal for real life friends. (Being un-Friended in the real world stings too much.) For them, I go the old-fashioned route, sharing my take on “The Bachelor” and bemoaning all the shade sugar is getting these days during occasional one-on-one social encounters.
For once, I have something significant to say when a friend asks the obligatory question, “So what’s new with you?” Yep, so glad you asked!
While I’m gleefully giddy, I must do my best to tone it down when sharing the news. I’m acutely aware how sensitive one can be when chronically single. (My last relationship ended in 2004.) Sometimes I’ve felt more hopeful, even inspired, after hearing about someone else’s new love. But that’s fleeting. It always spins back to another rip in my crepe paper coat of armor. What’s wrong with me? No one will ever notice me. I’m destined to die alone. When being single seems like a state of perpetuity, it’s difficult to ignore the hole, the missing connection. Another person’s newfound love can be celebrated, but it also wounds an already fragile lonely heart.
So I proceeded with caution in sharing my news with two of my single friends. Over an afternoon coffee, I patiently let my retired teacher friend go through the motions of debriefing me on events of his life in the past few weeks. A bronchial condition. A visit from an ungrateful nephew. A tense encounter in the checkout line at Safeway. (Thirty items is not “Express”.)
Oh, the restraint! Thou shalt not blurt. How many more sad-sack anecdotes before my big news? Alas, the weather rant came next. Yes, it’s cold and, yes, there’s snow, but it’s not raining. Isn’t that the silver lining in Vancouver? I don’t think Oprah is a jumping-the-shark moment for “60 Minutes” but I’ll nod if that helps us move on. And can’t we both agree that your building manager—whom I’ve never met—is an asshole and a lazy one at that? Was I a cup-half-empty guy too during all those years being single? Hard to recall now that my mug is overflowing.
At last, the focus turned to me. Where to start? Do I take it chronologically? How do I condense twelve hours of glorious anecdotes into five minutes?
“I met someone. I’m in love.”
Oops. I’ve been known to give away movie endings, too. But this proved to be a prudent way to share. I’d said what I needed to say, albeit not as much as I wanted to. I’m in love! I’m in love! I’m in love! My friend was then free to ask as little or as much as he wanted. And, to his credit, he asked enough to stretch out our conversation ten minutes, maybe fifteen. He smiled. He congratulated. He shared in my joy.
And then he said, “I think it’s safe to share this now.” As he searched his phone, he talked about watching an old, old (1980s?) episode of a Canadian game show I’d never heard of while he was confined to the sofa one afternoon—bronchial condition reality. It took several minutes for him to find the video he wanted so he spouted off random rules of the game show, some sort of two-against-two trivia contest with the kind of measly prize payoff that’s typical of cheap Canadian productions. (Box of Tim Hortons donuts, anyone? Maybe a baseball cap with a moose on it.) At last, the video. Two sisters competing against “friends” Tim and Fabio.
Oh, no. Ick. Tim. He was a guy who seemed gaga about me in the summer of 2014. Until he wasn’t. Chucked me like a concrete block into the ocean. Why the f*@k did I need to see the clip? Funny? I responded with a shrug and an eye roll. Five seconds and I’d seen enough. “You’ll be happy to know they lost,” my friend said. “And Fabio’s the only one who got them points.” Why would that make me happy? My new guy makes me happy. Nothing more required.
Later in the day, I picked up another single friend for dinner and, as he got in the car, he rattled off a conversational “agenda” for our meal. (He’s a lawyer, but that’s not a good enough excuse.) Items 1 and 2 were about recent trips of mine but then he added, “And then I’ve got something important I want to talk to you about.”
Naturally, I wanted to go right to what was “important”.
“You’re driving,” he said. “We can wait ‘til we get to the restaurant.” Really? Maybe my friend doesn’t know me that well. It’s only been twenty-one years, after all. But I tried to give waiting a go. As we drove, we chitchatted about the latest highs and lows of his pie pursuits. (Yep, he’s obsessed with the pastry. It’s an endless pursuit for the perfect slice. His most rhapsodic moment came from a particular pecan pie at DFW airport five years ago. Aside from a Japanese women’s church auxiliary apple pie sale one weekend each October, it’s been a disappointing quest ever since. And, no, I’m not making this up.)
Pie talk out of the way, I pressed for him to get to the important topic even though I had ten minutes of driving left. Seems he’d gotten together for dinner a few weeks ago with some friends from our past and my ex had organized the whole thing.
Ugh. My ex. A seven-year mess that began well but devolved into an abusive relationship.
My friend talked about sitting beside my ex the whole time and how nice he was. Was this the “important” news? Was my long-time friend dating my ex?! Didn’t he remember how miserable my ex made me, how much I suffered?
Then he said, “I think you two should get back together.”
Clearly, he remembered nothing. I shook my head, emphatically said no and, as luck and good travel time would have it, pulled over to drop him off to get a place in line while I parked the car. This was a bigger What-the-F*@k moment than Game Show Tim & Fabio. Here I’d suggested we get together for dinner so I could talk about a new man I loved and, first, I would have to recite a series of indignities I’d incurred with my ex. To be fair to my friend, I’d never fully spelled it out before. They’d remained in the same social circles and I didn’t need friends to take sides after the breakup. Besides, I was too ashamed of all I’d endured for so long.
While standing in the crowd in the restaurant lobby, it only took a minute of listing terrible experiences for my friend to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.” But I went on. I needed to be clear that my ex had caused real damage despite all my efforts to block and repress the vial that spewed with each left-field rage. Never again.
More apologies. My friend was mad at himself. Not his fault. Thankfully he had a pizza menu to peruse before shifting to the truly IMPORTANT topic of the night: new love, better love.
And so, after a couple of unexpected detours, I’d managed to share my news. The ghosts from dating past were most unwelcome, but they served as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’ve struggled mightily in recent years. I spiralled from alone to lonely to bleakly desolate. Somehow I rode out the worst times and survived by merely existing when that was the most I could muster. I got better—not completely but enough to feel again and enough to want to risk sharing myself with another. I’m with a man who gets me. I believe he won’t ridicule me. He makes me feel cautiously confident. He makes me want to be well and to be invested. I’m one of maybe three people on the planet who hasn’t seen a “Ghostbusters” movie of one gender focus or the other so my pop reference may be off, but I’m feeling deserving this time around, I’m experiencing things fully aware and this time I’m determined that nothing’s gonna slime me. No more being spooked by ghosts and, if I’m lucky, no more singlehood. May status reports be a thing of the past!