December 2, 2010

Part Three: Steve

After Sam graduated, I found myself trying to move forward. A friend suggested online dating, which produced more than its share of really terrible first dates. Like the guy who wanted to meet in the school cafeteria - the entire date lasted about seven minutes. Or the guy who made me pay for dinner because he drove - I don't mind footing the bill, but really, he drove 1.2 miles, and I was vegetarian at the time, so the bill was comprised of my $4 plate of steamed veggies and his $28 sushi boat. Or the guy who went on a fifteen minute tirade about how the French are a bunch of "surrender monkeys" - though, admittedly, it was pretty great later when he asked my major,e-town map love and you could see his mouth opening and his foot heading right for it.

My first first date, though, was remarkable. Extraordinary. Life-altering. And over four years later, still capable of devastating me.

I got a great job in summer 2006, working on-campus with a bunch of my friends - we got to stay in the dorms and basically get paid to hang out all summer. Incredible! I usually moved back home with my parents for the summer, so this freedom was going to be life-altering. I made plans for the whole summer, with everything from the usual promises (lose weight, get active) to a few new resolutions (stop sleeping around). The eating went awry after a few weeks, and with all my friends around, it was a lot easier to choose laying around in the air conditioning and watching movies over going out and exercising. But somehow, I had lost about ten pounds, and I was feeling really positive. And so, I decided to give online dating another chance.

Near the middle or end of May, I met a guy that I was certain that I would marry. We were so similar - we were both shy, intelligent, and we had a mutual love for the music of Belle & Sebastian. His name was Steve, and he was 24. We sent each other e-mails at least once a day for over a month - always long, always very interesting. It was so different than talking to Sam or Scott - this love was a real love, a love without pressure or expectation. It seemed really genuine, and after being so completely devastated by what had happened with Sam, I was very deeply affected by the things Steve would write in his letters or say on the phone. It just seemed so much more genuine. For example: my maternal grandmother passed away shortly after we started talking, and it was one of my first times that I grieved the loss of a loved one. If for nothing else, I was grateful to have Steve in my life at that time for the kindnesses he expressed and the well wishes he extended my way.
I hope you're doing well. I just hope, above all else, you've found some good people to hold you. I've been falling asleep each night with twilight convictions of seeking you out to find out how you are and give you a big hug...
But of course, Steve was complicated - he had gotten married the summer before with a girl whom he had met in college and who had been his only girlfriend. a picture he had sent me, i hardly remember this faceThey were in the middle of a divorce, and with all the maturity of a 19 year old girl, I thought that I could have waited - and not only waited, but waited as long as necessary so that we could be together.

I like to think about the two of us at that point in time as two shooting stars falling towards each other. It seems lovely and romantic, until you realize that really, we're both burning out with each inch we travel. I wish that I had been more familiar with the idea of transitional objects, because then perhaps I wouldn't have fallen so hard. The problem was that we were both in the midst of serious changes in our lives. Could we have fallen in love and ended up together? Yes, without a doubt. But only at another time or in another place. Under other circumstances, things could have ended up much differently than they did. We claimed to be looking for love, when really, we were looking for distractions.

And, oh, the poetic distractions.
... there is physical attraction for me. I like that you're a little on the short side. I like your glasses, and your curly hair. I like that you don't wear much make-up regularly, and that you wear comfortable clothes. Your neck and shoulders look soft, and I want to touch them, put my face in them. I'm fairly certain I could lose myself to your eyes...

...right now, what I want more than anything else is to smile at you and see you smile back.
I suppose that I was even more vulnerable than before because of everything that had happened in the preceding few months. a very very very fine houseThe random hookups were fun but emotionless, and really, that was what I needed to feel satisfied. I fell for him, hook, line, and sinker.

Finally, we decided to go out, and since we were decidedly not the kind of people who would be content with dinner and a movie, we decided to vary the theme a little. There would be dinner, but the rest of the evening, we would be squatting in his parents' old house (it was empty, they had recently moved but the house hadn't been sold yet). When he came to pick me up, it was overwhelmingly emotional for me, and I was very proud of myself for keeping my composure. I was flooded with sadness and remorse for everything that had transpired with Sam, with Scott, with the others. This was the one I was supposed to have waited for.

Dinner was lovely, and near the end, he leaned in and asked if he could hold my hand on the ride home. It meant everything to me. I was aching over having given Scott nearly all of my most important firsts, but the pain was soothed by the simple action of him taking my hand in his. This moment was all ours.

In the vacant house, we took his laptop and went up to what was formerly his father's office. We laid on the floor with a nest of pillows and blankets, and began to watch a movie I had brought: Jean-Luc Godard's "A bout de souffle" ("Breathless"). We got about ten minutes in before I realized he wasn't watching the film, he was looking at me. I scooted a little closer, and he began to caress my face and my neck. It was perfect. We kissed, and it was the exact fireworks moment I had dreamed it would be. It was soft and tender and unlike kissing Scott, there wasn't emptiness. This wasn't a placeholder, a mandatory stop before whatever was to come next - his kisses felt like there was something much more emotional behind them. One kiss became two, and then three. The socks came off, then the overshirts, then everything else. Yes, it was a first date. But after dozens of personal and intimate letters, it felt like I was being reunited with someone I'd known forever.

And then, as quickly as it had begun, he stopped. He said that he was feeling conflicted, that he was technically still married, and that he could not go any further. Suddenly, we were Adam and Eve, postlapsarian. We were aware of where we were, what we had been doing, and what exactly we weren't wearing. We scrambled to get dressed, then fell asleep on opposite sides of the room. We woke the next day with noticeably decreased excitement about being together, but we still spent the day together the worst of it now, i can't remember your face- complete with the most awkward lunch at a Japanese restaurant where he put his wedding ring back on. (Lesson learned: sushi dates and me? Not meant to be.)

Interestingly enough, we maintained contact for a few weeks after he dropped me off that afternoon, and we had even planned on a second date. His letters became more and more rare, though, and their passion was proportionate to their frequency. Finally, a day or two before our second date, he sent me a letter full of sadness and anger. He was sick, depressed, and he didn't want to go out anymore. He said he would send me an e-mail as soon as everything got better; I was ready to wait for him as long as he needed.

I waited a day, and then two. Then a week, a month, six months. An entire year went by before I got another letter from him. He told me that he was sorry, that he regretted having hurt me, and that he wished me all the best. In retrospect, I should have realized that our "love" story couldn't have ended any other way. He had left his wife without saying a word - how could I have assumed that he wouldn't have done the same thing to me? But so many things conspired against me with Steve - I was young, I was vulnerable, I was in the middle of an emotional growth spurt. And so, I ached and grieved for much longer than I should have - how can a person justify years of sobbing and difficulty falling asleep when there was hardly anything lost in the first place?

In June 2009, I decided that the statute of limitations was up on my feeling bad about everything that had happened. So, I bought a round trip plane ticket, Chicago to Paris, and spent a week trying to enjoy life and forget about him. I brought printed copies of all his letters and left them in France. I wish it had worked as well as I had hoped, but his ghost continued to haunt me for a few more months.

I had always fantasized about a "Casablanca"-esque reunion where I cursed the fact that of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, he had walked into mine. But as it turns out, a friend request via Facebook is my generation's signature heartbreaking romantic moment. We were "friends" for a few weeks before I subtly removed our connection. He was seeing someone else, which wasn't actually the most devastating part, as I was nine hundred miles away at that point. The worst was realizing I had spent years aching for this lost emotional connection, and he seemed wholly unscathed.

if you've read all this whining, you deserve a gold medal, seriously
And so, that's where I am today. I waiver back and forth with uncertainty about whether or not I can ever trust a guy - what if he's sneaking off with some blonde neighbor? Or what if I'm the one he's sneaking off with? And what if he just up and leaves?

My weight-related self-esteem issues were a lot of what got me into this mess in the first place, and yet obesity has been my shield. Thanks to this body, I generally remain alone, and no one can hurt me or leave me. At times, it makes for a very lonely and sad life, but I've felt safe. I've remained obese for so long in order to assure that no one sees me as a love object - if no one loves me, no one will leave me. It's terribly backwards thinking, but then again, logic has never been my strong point.

I am not simply on a quest to lose weight. I'm on a journey of self-discovery and identity establishment. I am seeking health in every aspect of my life, a major component of which is emotional weight loss. Having written these stories down the past three days, I feel as if some of the burden has been relieved. There's an incredible lightness, and I'm just as proud of that as I am of all the physically lost pounds.


Amy said...

I am so sorry with how this one ended up. I can only imagine why you were left feeling the way you did.
We live in the age of internet and computers, and your relationship with Steve was so much more than one date...especially because you were convinced he was the one you were meant to be with.

I trust that when you meet someone next you will approach the relationship slowly and with trepidation given your relationship history, but that's what our past does to us... it's not something we can avoid.

I'll tell you this though, being in a relationship with the only real boyfriend I've ever had. Today is our fourth anniversary. When we met, I knew it was special... and that wasn't the first time I had thought that, but this time I knew it and he knew too. The book He's Just Not that Into You (I've never read it, but I've seen the movie and I know what it's all about) makes such a good point. When you're with someone you're supposed to be with, they want to be with you JUST as much as you want to be with and around them. Having dealt with self-esteem issues, I understand that this is such a strange concept... but that's partly how you know. I had my issues in the beginning of our relationship, and was so afraid of letting myself go and truly feeling what I felt in fear of him hurting me.... but at some point, you can breathe in your relationship and know that they are just as committed as you are.

Best of luck in this part of your journey. I really believe that once you love yourself and get to that point of knowing who you are inside and out, you'll find him and it'll be amazing... and everything you've ever hoped for.

Anne H said...

On-line dating....
That feeling like you've known the other person your whole life....
Been there - done that - bought the heartache!

Anonymous said...

While yes, these stories broke your heart and have given you this untrust of were a different person then. Who you are today will not be who you are 3 months from now. Things will happen and your attitudes will change. Look at your losing weight as chipping away at the layers of yourself. With every few pounds you lose, you get a little more confident, your self-esteem changes, you view yourself differently. You hold yourself to higher standards because you realize you are worth it.

The worst mistake you can make is to go through life worrying that the next guy will be anything like this guy or the guy after. Whoever the next guy is, just remember that he isn't Scott, Sam, or Steve.

Katie Warren said...

<3 these posts. I have so looked forward to each progressive post! I almost wish you had MORE! But of couse none of these ended well, so I wouldn't wish additional heartache on you...

Thank you for sharing so deeply of your life, Mary. I admire your courage and appreciate the honest of your words. =)

I am thinking the best ending would be if you married a man named Simon, or Spencer, or better yet with the last name Smith. Call me the queen of irony, but there are some good "S" guys out there I'm sure

jayme @ Losing Half My Weight said...

thanks for sharing these stories, mary. i heard much of my own experience in them, reminding me of past crushes and loves. there's one in particular - 10 years later - that i still have dreams about, still wonder how he is, still wish things could have been different. do i regret being with jim now? no.....but some people change you so deeply that they'll always be there, even if it seems to have been a one-sided change. i still get a shock when i see a picture of him or if someone mentions him. i used to feel ashamed of that (because i interpreted it negatively toward myself - that i didn't mean as much to him as he did to me), but not anymore. what good was there was a gift. and i'll always love him for it.

Life as a Caterpillar said...

Mary, you write beautifully

SG said...

wow. have you written a book? i would buy it. you convey emotion so well... i can feel everything you felt... so honest.