I fly out to the East Coast for a convention in a major city. There’s a para guy on Paradevo I’ve been chatting with who lives in that city, and I suggest meeting while I’m in town. At first he seems enthusiastic, and we even agree on a date and time. But then when it comes to confirming and deciding on a location, he flakes out.
Oh well. It’s slightly disappointing, but I’ve learned not to invest too much emotional energy into these online-only relationships. If you can even call this a relationship. We really just exchanged emails for a while, nothing more. Besides, I had a strong feeling from our email exchange that this guy is gay. He talked about attraction to men but sounded very conflicted about it. I tried to let him know that it’s fine to be bi, I am too. But I suspect that he’s actually 100% gay and is trying to force himself to date women.
After the trip he leaves me a voicemail where he recites "The Road Less Travelled" in the voice of a mad enthusiast, and tells me he made a movie about time-traveling whalers, which makes me want to meet him even more. But I don’t hear from him again, alas.
In what feels like either a practical, rational decision or utterly giving up, I expand my online dating search to able-bodied guys living in Central City. On OkCupid I find a guy named Dean who seems promising—some common interests in books and music, reasonably articulate, nice enough picture. We start exchanging emails.
Dean tells me among other things that he’s the grandson of John Dillinger. I look up John Dillinger’s Wikipedia page and compare his mug shot with Dean’s profile photo. Except for Dillinger’s 1930s pencil mustache, they do look alike, in a standard white guy kind of way. It’s a brag of dubious value.
I ask if we can talk on the phone, and he says yes but warns me he has a stutter. It’s ok, I assure him, I understand, it’s not a big deal to me. Upon calling him, though, it’s clear that this is not just a little hesitation, no, on certain words he gets really stuck. I try not to comment on it or do anything that would make him self-conscious.
We discover a mutual love for Battlestar Galactica and The Simpsons. Seems promising. I ask if he would consider a relationship with someone who lives so far away and he says he doesn’t really know, maybe. It’s not a promising beginning. But I have to stay overnight in Central City the next weekend for work, so we arrange to meet anyway.
I stay at a hotel downtown, but I’m free for dinner so he comes to pick me up in his car at my hotel. I immediately regret this meeting place because the front of the hotel at six pm is mobbed with people coming and going, the pick-up and drop off point a mad crush of cars, taxis, and tour buses. I crane my neck out, leaning as far into the oncoming traffic as I dare, wondering how I will recognize someone I’ve never met in his car in the dark, with glaring headlights all around me.
Dean told me he drives a silver Honda so when I see a likely one I lean even further out and wave my hand frantically. He pulls up and I jump in. Once again I’m meeting a guy for the first time in his car, which always feels so weird and awkward.
“I’m glad I got in the car with the right person and not some random stranger,” I joke.
“I dunno, it c-c-could have b-b-been,” he says.
“I have f-face b-blindness,” he explains as he pulls away from the hotel. “I c-c-c-can’t recognize anyone’s face. Everyone just looks the same to me.”
“Wait, I assumed you recognized me from my profile photo. How did you know that was me just now?” I ask.
He shrugs. “You were the person waving at me, so I t-t-took a guess and it was c-c-c-c-correct.”
Great. I really could have ended up in the car of a random stranger, or rather he could have picked up anyone else and assumed it was me. He seems so nonchalant about it. What’s up with this guy?
Dean drives around the corner to a parking garage, and we walk to a touristy diner, the kind of place with inflated prices for mediocre food. It’s not at all where I want to go, but there aren’t many options since this neighborhood is mostly hotels and office blocks, and Dean makes it clear he doesn’t think it’s worth searching for something more high end.
I pick at my grilled cheese sandwich, wondering if I’ll be rewarded with a stomach ache later for eating dairy.
“I’ll pick up the tab so you’ll have to put out,” Dean says, in a lame attempt at a joke.
“Haha,” I say flatly, with a wan smile.
“Just k-k-k-k….k-k-k-k….k-k-k-kidding,” he assures me. It’s not much of a joke. Why do guys think it’s ok to say sexist things as long as it’s with ironic detachment?
I change the subject.
“So, John Dillinger, huh?” I ask. “I read his Wikipedia page and it lists a wife and a mistress. So was one of them your grandmother?”
“No, they weren’t m-m-married. Dillinger p-passed through the town my grandmother was living in.”
“What? That’s it? You don’t even have any proof? Did she ever say anything?”
“N-no, it’s just a guess.”
Of course it doesn’t matter at all if he’s related to a famous criminal or not, but the way he said it before sounded like it was really true. I press him some more and he admits no one else in the family thinks so, he just decided on his own it might be true. It sounds like bullshit to me.
We chat some more about some of our common interests: Japanese anime, foreign art house movies, sci fi movies and TV shows. When it comes to talking about pop culture, we finally hit it off, excitedly bouncing from topic to topic.
As we talk, I make the startling discovery that his stutter is triggering my dev feelings. I sit back and watch him, fascinated, as he talks endlessly. He seems to get stuck on certain consonants more than others. Occasionally he’ll give up and pick a different word, but usually he fights through to get it out. When this happens, usually on a k sound, his whole face and neck contorts, muscles bulging, as if he physically can’t produce the sound. But then other times, usually in the middle of a word, the k sound slips right out like it’s nothing.
I would not have put stuttering on my list of dev attractors. I had a professor in grad school who had a pretty bad stutter, and I certainly was never attracted to him. A different memory, one I haven’t thought of in years, suddenly resurfaces. When I was thirteen at sleepaway camp, we had some ridiculous sensitivity training workshop. I was placed in a group where one of the male counselors read a story aloud while feigning a stutter. This could have been a disaster but at least to my thirteen year old ears it sounded really genuine and sincere, so much so that I wondered if that counselor had a stutter when he was younger that maybe he had overcome. In any case, he was gorgeous, and listening to him talk was super hot. So I guess that dev desire has been there all along, lying dormant.
After dinner, I invite Dean back to my hotel room. He seems a little emotionally cold, which I don’t like, but we sure have a lot in common and that stutter has me super turned on. I figure, why not.
He leaves the car in the lot, because it’s just a short walk. Along the way, we stop at a pharmacy to pick up condoms, which is decidedly unsexy but necessary. I curse myself for not thinking to bring any with me.
Sneaking him into my hotel room that is paid for by my work, though, that feels gloriously sexy and dirty. I do him shamelessly, and it feels great. He’s not too bad, even though it’s just plain vanilla sex.
I tell Bebe that I met someone new in Central City. She and Mike are trying to work things out, and she’s gotten over being angry at me for not being more supportive when she first told me he had cheated on her. I don’t have anyone else to go to art house movies with, and neither does she, so we sort of make up.
I tell her about Dean as she’s dropping me off at home one afternoon after a matinee.
“So what’s he like?” she asks as she pulls into my driveway.
I put on a dreamy, smitten expression. “He has a stutter.”
“It’s so fucking sexy.”
Bebe curls her lip in disgust. “You’re weird.”
“It’s hot,” I insist with a grin as I exit the car, refusing to back down or explain.
“Whatever,” she says. I slam the car door.
I’ve told many friends about being a dev, and never gotten a single negative comment. Their reactions ranged from neutral (Rachel: “That’s different”) to supportive (Sarah, scoping the Smiley Guy for me) to jealous (Lulu: “I wish I had a kink!”). And of course Kara, who was like, no duh, it’s always been super obvious. But Bebe is the first person I have told who was judgmental about it.
Oh well, I just chalk it up as another reason she’s not a good friend, and vow not to talk about it with her further. Still, it is fun to freak her out by flaunting it in front of her at least the one time.
I go up to Central City again to see Dean for dinner, and again things seem to go pretty well, although I don’t go to his place. The next weekend, Dean comes to visit me. The first thing he says as he walks in the door is, “Wow, this town really is a shit hole.”
I make a face at him. Yes, I have nicknamed this place Craptown, but I haven’t told him that. I’m stuck here for the foreseeable future, and I’m trying to make the best of the situation. It doesn’t help to hear him say something like that.
“It’s not so bad,” I say defensively. “The problem is the main road into town from the freeway takes you right through the worst parts. It’s really shocking how much poverty and neglect the city allows.”
He ignores me. “And the churches!” he continues. “I’ve never seen so many churches in my life. There’s literally one on every c-c-c-c-corner.”
“I know,” I admit, defeated. “It sucks that everyone’s social life here revolves entirely around church. Why do you think I had to go to Central City to meet someone?”
Dean laughs. “This place really is a shit hole,” he repeats. “How c-c-can you live here?”
“Well, I tried to get a job somewhere else, but failed,” I say with annoyance. He knows this already. “So does that mean you don’t want to date me because you don’t want to drive out here all the time?”
“No. I don’t know. It’s t-too early t-to make that decision.”
I change the subject, showing him around the tiny house and offering him a drink of water. I set our water glasses down on coasters on my new coffee table and we settle into my fancy new couch. As usual on a Saturday morning, I’m listening to This American Life on NPR. I ask Dean if he doesn’t mind listening together, and he’s up for it. He’s a fan too.
“Actually, I used to know the ex-girlfriend of Ira Glass, Anaheed Alani,” he says. “They were t-together a few years ago but then they broke up.”
Not two minutes later, on the broadcast Ira Glass makes a passing reference to “my wife, Anaheed.”
Dean and I stare at each other in surprise. “Whoa!”
“I guess they g-got married,” he says. It’s such a strange coincidence. We lie on the couch, listening for the rest of the hour. This is nice. I’m enjoying cuddling with him, adding him to my relaxing weekend routine. We seem to get along, and we like the same things. Maybe this could work out.
When the show is over, we get up. Dean turns suddenly in front of the coffee table. He’s wearing a long, heavy leather duster jacket which he has not taken off inside for some reason, and the edge of the jacket catches his water glass, knocking it to the floor and shattering it.
“Sorry,” he says, sounding not sorry at all.
I clean up the water and broken glass, trying not very successfully to hide my anger. I know, it’s just a cheap glass, it was an accident, I shouldn’t get so bent out of shape. But dammit, I was really attached to that glass. When I lived in the house with Nam and Kara in college, my first time living on my own, I bought a set of six deep blue glasses. Cheap ones from a big box store, but it was one of the first things I ever bought for my own household. When I moved out of the house, I didn’t wrap them properly and dropped the box, breaking all but one of them. I’ve kept this one ever since, and if I’m honest, it’s a link not just to that time of my life but specifically to my relationship with K.
So yes, it’s stupid. I shouldn’t care. I’m way too attached to material objects. Even recognizing, that, still I can never let go of anything. And I feel like somehow him breaking my favorite glass a bad omen for any potential relationship. I don’t say any of this out loud, but even oblivious Dean can tell I’m upset.
“I said I was sorry, ok?” he says petulantly.
“It’s fine,” I reply through gritted teeth. “Never mind.”
I hate feeling like I’m the crazy one. But the more I try to tell myself the glass doesn’t matter, the more upset I feel about it.
We hang around aimlessly for the rest of the day. Later, we’re sitting at my dining room table and once again Dean is nattering on about some book he read. I barely listen as I stare at him. He’s a pretty average white guy, with brown hair and blue eyes and a sharp, prominent nose. From one angle, he’s startlingly handsome. From another angle, he’s, well, kind of unattractive. I’ve never seen anyone with such an ambiguous face.
But none of that matters. Every time he gets stuck on a word, I get that dev feeling in my stomach, a sudden twisting stab of pleasure. He stutters a lot, so it’s happening over and over again. The evening sun angles in through the window behind him, bathing him in a golden glow. Every time he stutters, my stomach clenches, like a tiny fraction of an orgasm. I’m awash in the endorphin rush and my eyes glaze over with desire.
I feel like I’m in dev heaven. I could sit and watch him talk forever.
When I can’t stand it any longer, I take him to the bedroom and we skip dinner because we’re having sex. Eventually we fall into an exhausted sleep.
The next morning I take him out to breakfast. I order the local specialty, a dutch baby, which is a giant puffed up pancake with apple and cinnamon inside. I’m trying to feel indulgent and happy but Dean is spoiling the mood by being utterly emotionless.
“I had a good time. Thanks for coming over,” I say.
“So, um, I know we live really far apart. Is that going to be a deal breaker for you?” I don’t want to ask this again but I feel like I have to.
“I don’t know, maybe?”
I set my fork down, suddenly not enjoying the pancake. This is not the answer I was hoping for.
“Well, do you want to get together next weekend?”
“Yeah, ok. I guess.”
I don’t know what to do with this half-assed answer. It’s neither a no nor a clear yes. But I do enjoy talking to him and the sex is good, so I decide to keep trying.
When I call Dean on Friday to set up a plan for the weekend, he’s lukewarm and limp.
“I dunno, I’m just really t-t-tired. I think I need to relax and do laundry t-t-tomorrow,” he says.
“What?” Instantly alarm bells are ringing in my head. I’ve been down this road so many times before, although usually it happens at least a few weeks or months into the relationship. These cowardly assholes will never own up and just say they don’t want to see me anymore. Suddenly the guy who at first moved heaven and earth to get in my pants now is beset by other demands on his time. It’s nothing but excuses, feeling tired, vaguely unwell, needing to complete a million trivial errands. But laundry, really? That’s his fucking excuse?
When I asked him on our last date how he felt about the long distance thing, he said he didn’t know yet. He sure seemed to enjoy the sex, but when it comes to declaring even the most preliminary emotional connection, he’s maddeningly vague and not sure how he feels yet. It’s not like I’m demanding he declare his undying love, or even the much more restrained “I like you a lot.” I would be satisfied with “I’d really like to see you again” or “I can’t wait to see you next weekend.” Instead I’m getting excuses about laundry.
“Are you sure?” I ask, trying unsuccessfully to minimize the irritation in my voice. “If you don’t want to see me, just say so.”
“I told you, I’m not sure how I feel yet.”
“Come on, I get that it takes time to decide to commit, but either you like someone and want to try to make it work or you don’t.”
“I don’t know what else t-to say, I’m just not sure.”
“So how long until you decide you want to be with someone?”
“I dunno, months? Many months.”
Oh my god, what nonsense is this? “I know what I want,” I say.
“I get it, you’re a strong, self-determined woman,” he says, but in a mocking sarcastic way, like he knows this is what he has to do to humor the feminists long enough to get laid.
“Ugh! Ok, fine, whatever, call me again when you’re not tired.” I hang up in disgust, but then immediately doubt myself. This seemed like such a promising relationship. Why am I blowing it all up so fast, and over nothing?
It feels like Hot Wheels all over again. And every other time I totally lost my shit when a boyfriend or even just a friend changed plans at the last minute. Maybe I’m the one with the problem, and I just need to learn to be more relaxed and flexible already.
When I look back on my years and years of failed relationships, it doesn’t feel good. People always say, when none of your relationships work out, the common denominator is you. Maybe I’m the crazy one. I feel like I’m just repeating what happened with Hot Wheels, getting angry for the slightest change in plan. But is it so wrong to expect some indication from Dean that he wants to be with me more than he wants to do laundry?
Dean emails me on Sunday night.
Hey, how are you doing? I am feeling soooo much better. Yesterday I got so much more done than I usually do. [blah blah blah, details about his day cut]
And maybe this is wussy to send over e-mail, so I won't go into it in great detail, but after our call Friday, I felt a little irked, I felt as if you were dumping on me. But I shan't whine over e-mail. :)
Now I’m really pissed off. Fuck him and his you’re a strong woman sarcastic bullshit, one minute mocking me and the next playing the submissive victim.
Well I thought that if we talked it out I would be less annoyed, but since we talked I've still been angry. You blew me off to do laundry. Your passive, noncommittal answers about whether or not you want to date me are hurtful. If the distance was that big an issue for you, you could have made up your mind about that already. For heaven's sake, it's not like I'm asking you to cohabitate. Either you like me enough to make time to get together, or you don't, in which case it's not worth the effort. I'm not going to sit around and wait while you decide if you feel that initial spark or not--it's damned insulting.
Ok. I don't know what to say to not make you annoyed and pissed off. I feel that there's much more on your mind than me putting off our meeting 'till next weekend. I have a lot of sentences in my head, but I feel they could be taken as negatives despite my not meaning them that way. And apparently I’m already insulting you, for which I feel sorry. So I’ll be a good midwestern boy and keep my lip buttoned. :)
In any case, though I have been enjoying talking to you a ton, I can't imagine it being anything other than incredibly awkward if we got together next weekend, and I’m very bad at walking on eggshells. You didn't give me a lot of latitude on this, did you? It seems you have a pretty low opinion of me, and I don't know how to behave properly towards you. So I don't see how we can pursue a relationship. Which really sucks, since you are a really cool person, and I hope we can keep talking. In any case, I can't imagine you having a hard time meeting someone, you are a geek guy's dream.
Well fine, I don’t want to see him either. I should tell him to fuck right off with this half-assed bullshit. But because I can’t ever let any relationship go no matter how terrible, I call him to talk it out some more.
We have one of those long, pointless, frustrating, exhausting relationship talks, which is ridiculous because we've only been on like three dates. Nothing is resolved, and I feel like in the end I’m the one who sounds certifiably crazy. I hate to feel like the bad partner, or like I have to apologize for my actions, which is what I end up doing. I also hate the way no one ever wants to work on a relationship, but just bails at the first sign of things not going well. Maybe my problem is that I just have to try harder to keep a relationship going.
When I ask him how he feels about dating long distance, he gives the same passive, non-committal answer he did before he even met me. I just get the feeling that he is not that into me, but for whatever reason won't come out and say so, but prefers instead to let things limp along indefinitely. I think that's bullshit. I'm sure he sees it differently, and thinks I'm overreacting to nothing. I'm not totally sure I am doing the right thing in breaking things off with him, but there has to be that initial spark, right?
After we get off the phone, I’m still filled with doubts --was it merely self-destructive of me to sabotage a relationship which had started out so promising? Am I really incapable of getting along with anyone at all? But it seems the root of the problem is that he is a pretty unemotional guy, and clearly wants a much more distant, uninvolved kind of relationship than I do--I could be wrong, but I'm sensing serious commitment issues. If all these things are true, then things would not have worked out anyway, so better to find out now. But that's a big IF--I could be wrong.
What if I'm really just being manipulative when things don't go exactly my way? It could also be that my desire to get married and have kids will drive away any potential partner, a dismal prospect. In short, I'm feeling frustrated and stuck.
I resolve to cut him off completely, but can't quite bring myself to do it.
Dean calls me again a few days later, and we have another long torturous conversation. It takes a ridiculously long time and much psychodrama to come to the obvious conclusion that there’s no way we can pursue a relationship. I can't date someone who doesn't know if he likes me or not. But we keep getting distracted from the psychodrama to chat about Battlestar Galactica, so clearly there is some connection.
We agree to be strictly platonic friends at least for the time being. I predict that will fizzle out fairly quickly as we are both too busy to make the long commute for someone who is just a friend, and for a meeting that will no doubt be extremely awkward. Well whatever, I brought this all on myself. We'll see how long this friendship thing lasts, but at least I can keep my integrity without being completely ruthless. I just can’t ever be the one who lets go.
As this is all happening, I get an unexpected email from William:
Looks like I'm headed to Seoul for a short trip in April! Too bad you won’t be there but maybe you have some tips or things I should seek out anyway?
He follows this with a random, unexplained link to a DVD of a classic movie.
What is he doing in Seoul? And what has he been up to lately? We’ve remained pretty close friends, and last I heard he was dating a Korean woman—is this a sign that things are getting more serious with her?
As usual, two cryptic messages from William that beg for further elucidation... so are you still seeing Julia? Are you going to S Korea to visit her family? And is the DVD a gift for her? Details please!
Cryptic messages allow you to project large scale fantasies onto what is actually a very small canvas.
I have to laugh at that. I feel like that sums up my entire relationship with him, and with so many guys I’ve dated before and after, including Dean.
William explains that the trip is for work. He broke up with Julia and isn’t seeing anyone right now. He writes,
My fantasy image of the relationship keeps colliding with the reality. My take is that Julia wanted me to basically be obsessed with her (not really my style), and she displayed little kindness or generosity when the relationship did not go her way. The penalties she would impose when she felt slighted were immense. On multiple occasions we would have some incident in, say, the late morning, that would then color the rest of the day all the way through bed. I played my part in all this, of course; I was really trying to raise my "understanding" and "communicative" aspects when I think in retrospect I should have said, respectfully, "hey if you can't move on then let's get together another time because I don't want to focus the entire day around this issue."
Ah well there was much more of course.
I'm trying to get my desire to go on dates up past the minimum bar again. The idea of being in a relationship just stresses me out now.
Reading this fills me with self-doubt all over again. I know I have often been just that kind of woman he describes, in fact, both Dean and Hot Wheels would probably describe me exactly like that, to the nth degree—wanting them to be obsessed with me, punishing them when things didn’t go my way, especially when they changed their plans about visiting me.
I hate it when I act like that, but it's hard to break out of, because I can't just put my feelings aside--they HAVE to be expressed somehow, and the more I try to frame it in a communicative kind of way sometimes the more it becomes a drawn-out ordeal of mutual psychoanalysis and "sharing" that in the end seems merely exhausting and futile. But I've found, I tend to do that with guys when things just aren't right all around, and I'm trying in vain to make it work. I guess the only solution really might be to end the relationship, even though my instinct is to hang on.
I try to take this philosophically, not that I am a crazy bitch, but that this is the result when an emotional kind of person tries to date someone who distances himself from his emotions. When I'm much more into the guy, I don't act like that. Maybe it’s just a sign that in spite of our many mutual interests, things with Dean would never work out.
I share this over email with Lulu, and she responds with some grade A girlfriend support and advice:
Ugh, men. Fuck em! Fuck em all! Well, not really, not all, but you should be discerning b/c you are just so great! And you know, maybe I am prejudiced but there has to be a male counterpart of me, in the sense that, some man must find you endearing, kind, nurturing, wicked smaht (boston accent), fun, neurotic (in a cute, Jewish way), beautiful ( that smile gets me!) and overall pretty damn cool!
Her message makes me feel so much better. I reply,
Yeay! Thank you so much for that!! I really needed to hear it :D And you know the same goes for you too. When you were here in Central City I remember thinking over dinner how much I enjoy your company, and your smile gets me too :)
That said, I am not feeling very confident about my interpersonal skills at all. I feel so overwhelmed with all the things I have to deal with in my job, I just want to hide, and as a result I haven't been working very efficiently, which in turn makes me more worried. Bleah.
For the month of April, Dean and I email a lot, but only about TV and other superficial topics. At the end of the month, I make the mistake of letting him know that I’m spending the weekend in Central City again, to meet up with Kara and Nam and another friend from college. Dean asks if he can join us. I don’t want him crashing our reunion, so I say not this time, maybe later.
I realize as soon as I send the email that I really don’t want to see him ever again. Then in May, I start seeing someone else and stop writing to him completely.
Dean keeps sending me links and short emails about TV shows for the next few months, but I don’t write back. I don’t owe his lukewarm ass anything. In March 2009, that’s two years after our very brief dating attempt, he sends me the following email:
Message: did. not. like. that. ending.
Sig file: "I reject your reality and substitute my own" - Adam Savage
What the fuck is this nonsense? I don’t bother to write back. He probably forgot about his sig file, but the combination of his lame-ass message and that sign-off just sums up everything about him that I can’t stand. When I was right in front of him he couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to visit even one time, but now that two years have gone by, he’s realized maybe he made a mistake, and he’s retroactively rewriting everything that happened, to imagine what might have happened if we had stayed together.
To put it another way, he’s only sure he wants to be with me after I rejected him. The hell with that.
In July 2009, he tries again, in the most passive way possible, by emailing me a link about some pop culture nonsense, presumably hoping that I’ll find it funny and start chatting online with him again. I don’t.
Too late, my dude, too late. You were right, I had no trouble meeting someone else.