A little less than three years ago, I had a few dates/hang outs with a woman with whom it was never going to work. We were at significantly different stages of life, and while we had some fun, she saw earlier than I did that we didn’t have enough to sustain anything longer. Retrospect has proven her right, and we have sort of maintained an acquaintanceship since. (This isn’t the rant – I have no resentments about that time or relationship that didn’t materialize.) I ran into her recently and had a brief conversation about how things have been going, and the subject of online dating came up. She asked how I was handling it, and I said something about how I don’t take rejection as personally as I used to (which is true for the most part.) She said she wasn’t being rejected but that she was dejected because everyone out there is just so “uninspired.” To be honest, it was a surprising remark. Maybe it’s the difference between dating in your 40s and dating in your 20s. Maybe it’s the difference between being a man and being a woman. But I think more than anything, at least from where I am right now, I see that I am truly happy with my life, grateful for every little thing that I get to experience, and curious about other people as they are, rather than as something they aren’t. I once heard it said that “it’s your job to find something interesting about everyone you meet – it’s not their job to show it to you,” and I’ve found that so profoundly helpful in terms of accepting life as it is.
When I woke up on Monday, March 18th, I was mostly refreshed, fairly wide awake, and overall in good spirits. I had a few things to do before I got started with my job, but had plenty of time to reflect and relax before things got underway. After a few cups of coffee, I realized for what feels like the thousandth time what a very different place I am in today than I once was.
Two years ago, I woke up very differently, although so similarly to many Saint Patrick’s Days prior. I had a skull splitting headache, a broken heart, a fear that I’d made mistakes that would be impossible to reconcile, and a growing realization that I had some consequences ahead of me. I still don’t remember everything that happened the day before, but I knew that if I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet, I was definitely getting closer, like an anchor skipping along the sea floor before it finally comes to rest.
It’s not that I have no good memories from my drinking days. There were times that I had a lot of fun. And in many respects, some of those experiences probably served some purpose. But eventually, the consequences caught up with me, and they outweighed the benefits pretty quickly.
Today, the consequences of deciding to quit drinking, to turn my will and life over to the care of God, to make amends for the wrong things I did before, and to do my best to serve others have also caught up with me. Every day gives me new opportunities to be grateful. My bills are paid – not just on time, but often early, and my credit rating has skyrocketed from what it once was. I don’t wake up with a splitting headache unless it’s due to actual illness. I have clarity about how to handle relationships, particularly ones that are difficult. I’m not as afraid as I used to be. I wake up with a sense of anticipation and excitement for the day, and at the end of the day I have a greater capacity for review and reflection as I fall asleep with peace and serenity, with more hope for tomorrow than I ever had before.
Allison married Kevin Bannister, her first boyfriend. Not Rob Gordon, who had been her makeout partner for approximately two hours over the course of two weeks, before the Rockford Files.
Or so the story went.
It’s funny how things go sometimes. The Reverend, referenced in a previous post, recently posted pictures from Paris, where she and her daughter are visiting someone who is clearly a special friend who came into her life “over the last year and a half.” Doing the math quickly, it appears that he is likely the one who frustrated her into getting into online dating and consequently meeting me. I get to be a footnote, if that, in The Story of Them and How They Fell in More Love in Paris.
When I write the story of my life for myself and play the broken hearted jilted protagonist, it’s hard to keep things in perspective. It’s hard to remember that even though I am always the audience of my life story, my limited role in anyone else’s is reality too. I don’t know how things will turn out in the long run, but I’d say the odds are that I’ve ended up better off.
So far, Lent this year has been, unfortunately, much like “ordinary time,” as it is called in the church calendar. Not only have I not been as observant of spiritual realities as I idealistically hoped to be, I’ve only gone maybe one day without social media. While not having any apps on my phone has limited me somewhat, and I haven’t done any personal posting, I have logged in and observed others marking the time as I previously did. And perhaps the worst part is that I haven’t been nearly as present as I thought I’d be, even with limited social media.
But today is another day, and every moment is an opportunity to start again.
I grew up in a church that wasn’t especially sacramental. We observed the “ordinances” of baptism and communion, but much of the historic mystery of faith remained, well, mysterious to me for many years. My first wife’s family was Catholic, and although they were largely observant, they never seemed especially overcome by any of the mystery of faith either. It wasn’t until I entered recovery from alcoholism that I began to really appreciate the actual depth of Christianity, and even that came about after some time spent deconstructing what I had grown up with, since, as my sponsor pointed out, maybe my conception of God wasn’t quite really God.
This year, I’ve felt called to set aside social media for the forty days of the Lenten fast. Giving up certain foods has never been terribly hard for me, only because there are so many other foods to eat. Giving up alcohol nearly two years ago, while not without its particular challenges, wasn’t really that hard in contrast with the life I got in exchange. But social media is an insidious one. I genuinely feel a sense of connection just snap in half when I turn it off – perhaps all the more reason to do so.
But here we are, day one. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
A little over a year ago, I decided I was ready to try the swipeathon dating apps to see what all the fuss was about. A couple of days later, I matched with a very pretty woman whose profile simply said “Reverend.” It turned out that she, like me, was a former minister, and that we had several friends in common from seminary and ministry circles. After a few minutes of really fun banter, we decided to meet the next evening.
When she walked into the coffee shop the next evening and spoke my name, I felt a warm glow descend over me like a comfortable blanket, and the look in her eyes felt like home. We talked until closing time, sharing story after story of our respective journeys and opening up to each other about our struggles and challenges. We laid our cards on the table, from our respective divorces to our various mental and emotional health challenges. It felt safe. It felt natural. It felt real. After closing, we walked across the street to a bar to get something to eat, and we continued to talk until the place closed. We agreed to see each other again, and the next day enjoyed lunch together when she happened to be downtown. A third very fun date took place a few days later, and then spent a mutually agreed upon week apart, since she had a friend who was going to be visiting from out of town.
Over the course of that next week, a few things happened that I hadn’t anticipated. Some of my insecurity from previous relationships seeped in, and I started to wonder if she had forgotten about me. When we exchanged text messages, they were typically short, and she once said “thanks so much, friend” to me. While I was certainly rushing to assume anything beyond an affectionate friendship after three dates, I could tell she was pushing me away.
And then my mom died.
I let the woman in question know about what had happened, and received back a short message telling me that she would be willing to meet with me to talk the following week, but that I needed, in the meantime, to take care of myself and my family. I was, naturally, preoccupied for the following week, but found her brevity and lack of engagement confusing.
When we finally met, she informed me that she had actually had no business being on dating sites given the state of her life at that time. She admitted that she had been seeing someone who had disappointed her, and that she hadn’t expected to meet anyone with any depth of character or with whom she could make any actual connection. “What we had was real,” she said, “but I’m just not in a place where I can really experience that, and I don’t see it happening any time soon.” She offered to be friends, but I gave her a self-righteous and cocky speech about how I had no interest in being friends, that she was making a mistake, that she would miss me, and that she would simply have to wonder what we could have had. I kissed her goodbye, and walked away.
While this felt like the most triumphant version of the way a breakup movie should end, it wasn’t. We went our separate ways, experiencing whatever triumphs and defeats our respective lives held. A number of months later, when I was working through a few things in my own journey, I sent her a message apologizing for the way we parted ways, and told her I hoped she was doing okay. She politely thanked me and wished me well.
It used to be that when people parted ways, they parted for good. In the days before social media, we said our goodbyes and resolved ourselves to permanently wonder about the other person. There was no way to check on anyone once you’d walked away from each other. For all we’ve gained with the changes in technology and time, and despite the obvious advantages of being able to maintain friendship over miles and space, we have also undeniably lost a few important skills, such as how to say goodbye with grace and dignity, and how to move forward with life once someone has left it. No moment seems final anymore, and perhaps that’s why it’s so much harder to accept when a moment really is final. At some point, you will say goodbye to someone, and that really will be the last time. The hardest thing to accept, sometimes, is that there also might never be a way to fix, heal, or improve what happened. Sometimes we heal and help each other heal. Sometimes we wait to see if time can heal what effort can’t. And sometimes we must make our way wounded, hopefully not harming anyone else in the future.
I wish I had handled things better when I had the opportunity to. While we had some differences that might have become problematic or at least challenging later, the connection we shared, even for a short time, reminded me of the best ways that people can be together, and gave me a hopeful glimpse into the kind of life, relationship, and intimacy that I long to have again someday. I don’t ever expect to see her again in person, but I hope that despite everything that happened in that short vignette, we can both be better versions of ourselves as we live the lives we each have.