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After a few wandering-in-the-desert years when it came to relationships, life delivered a lovely surprise. I found someone who made my heart thrum. I didn't know that was possible for me anymore. But there I was, thrumming away after just a few months of texting, instant messaging, and finally Skyping with him on our matching Apple devices. The Millennials had nothing on us.
I knew him in high school from Chess Club, but we never dated. And I hadn’t seen him since. We reconnected through Facebook, and one day he surprised me with a message in my inbox proposing coffee on a day when he’d be driving through my city. I accepted -- reluctantly. I’d dated only sporadically since my long-term marriage ended five years ago, and at best, found it painful. And I tend to avoid pain.
I was both relieved and disappointed when he cancelled due to a late start to reach his destination. When he suggested breakfast on the morning he’d return home, I agreed. But this time it was my turn to cancel; illness was my excuse.
Our half-hearted attempt to get together may have failed, but it did launch an avalanche of communication between us. Speed-texting became part of my skill set. After three months of indulging in a virtual connection with lots of flirty repartee, we decided it was time to see each other in person. By this point, I was eager for a face-to-face. I liked him. We had textual chemistry.
Are you nervous? his text teased.
Not at all, I lied.
I was both excited and nervous. After all, it’s easy to come up with witty dialogue during texting because of the think time we can allow ourselves. And when he told me he wanted to see if I was as funny in person, the pressure was on. Would a real date make or break us, I wondered.
We lived in opposite corners of the same state, almost five hours apart, with careers and lives separate from this little fantasy, so finding a mutually agreeable time to meet wasn’t easy. But it finally happened. We planned lunch in a city located halfway between us.
I entered the restaurant on a sunny Saturday afternoon and spotted him right away. Breathing deeply in an attempt to present a state of calm, I watched as he rose confidently and sauntered toward me, a half-smile on his face and an appraising light in his eyes. After a quick hug, he led me to our table where the wine flowed as smoothly as the conversation. Following lunch, a walk around the cherry-blossomed city led to more conversation and laughter on a park bench in the square. My hand fit his perfectly. We were totally relaxed and comfortable as if we’d never been apart, although we’d never really been together. When it was time to leave for our respective homes located in separate directions, we shared a kiss. No surprise to me that sparks flew. What did surprise me was the goofy smile that split my face the whole ride home.
And while the in-person date neither made nor broke us, it did leave me wanting more. More time. More talk. More him. He’s perhaps the only man I ever dated who understood my literary allusions. He didn’t look at me like I was nutty when I said something like, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.” Not only did he know what a voracious reader I was, a fact I often hid from the men in my life, he wanted to know what I was reading. We discovered we’d both been influenced by many of the same authors during our life, and even read and discussed The Alchemist during our text-dating. Pretty sexy, huh? Was it just possible that after all these years I met someone who really got me? That's such a young person's term I know. But that's what I felt like: a youngster flying on the high kite of life.
We managed two more exceptional dates, but it quickly became obvious that getting more wasn't going to be easy. Besides the distance that separated us, he was raising a tweener from a freshly failed marriage. I have three children scattered across the country who believe reconciliation between their dad and me is still a possibility because we’ve remained friends and present a united front when it comes to them. Many red flags waved as high as my kite.
Perhaps the red flag that concerned me the most was my surprising behavior. Here I was, a mature buttoned-up school administrator acting like a schoolgirl. Every time a new text message chimed in on my phone, whether at work or home or out with friends, I hoped it’d be from him. Insane, I know. I’d also read the research. In the first few months of a relationship, we are likely running on oxytocin, which interestingly enough considering my lifelong affair with the substance, is a chemical found in chocolate. The chemical creates a sense of well-being and bliss. Some psychologists tag this as a period of temporary insanity because those mind-altering narcotics, which interfere with the ability to think clearly, kidnap our brain. I clearly wasn’t thinking clearly. I'd strayed from my comfort zone, and that was starting to feel, well, uncomfortable.
My frustration peaked one rainy evening after returning home from an outdoor music festival with girlfriends. Cold and damp, I climbed into my empty bed.
I typed a message to him: Wanna slow this thing down?
His reply was immediate: What thing? Us?
I stared at the word us. Has there ever been a sweeter word? But there is no us, I thought, looking at the blank pillow beside me.
The truth was I needed to return to our positions on the chessboard when we first started this game, when we were more evenly matched, and he wasn’t the Knight running away with my heart. I was too invested emotionally and needed time to reassemble my feelings. I longed for my missing sense of control. He told me he wasn’t happy about it, but said he understood. He would give me some time.
“So not a breakup, but a step back,” he summarized, after we’d talked in circles for a while, having moved to the phone by this point.
Despite what we said when we discussed our new status, the step back proved to be a game ender. I asked for some emotional distance, and boy did I get it. Not a word in three days.
When I could stand it no longer, I sent one more text: Missing you.
His terse reply didn’t arrive until late the following day: Funny, I thought you would have forgotten all about me by now.
Who could have predicted how hard it would be to forget someone you connected with mainly though broadband? Even today, the chime of an incoming text sends my heart soaring, the Pavlovian response to his texts still with me weeks later.
I committed a Fatal Move. He cleared the chess pieces from the board and packed them away. My regret matched his woundedness. Life handed me an invitation to play. I peeked inside the envelope, intrigued by what lay there. I tentatively joined the game, but then foolishly interrupted play because I couldn’t be sure that I would come out with all my pieces intact.
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