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Not Quite Dating

When I moved to where I am now, a bit after the divorce, I hadn’t seen anyone for over a year. The last time I was with someone, I was married. I was scared out of my wits at the prospect of dating.

I had the thoughts of ‘Who the heck would ever want to see me?‘ mostly because of my lack of confidence after the divorce, but also because of the crazy schedule I have with my kids. I also thought ‘What do I possibly have that anyone would be attracted to‘? Although I’m in good shape, I’m bald, I’m fifty-three, I’m a low level nurse, I don’t have money, I live in a less than desirable neighborhood because of money issues and, well, I have nothing. Most men in my age bracket are already well established, with homes, have older kids, or kids out of the house, go on vacations, have a certain level of financial stability and most women my age expect the same level when dating. And the avenues in which to meet someone around my age is severely limited. Bars are not an option and I’m not a barfly. Hanging in the park? It’s like opening a butterfly net and waiting for a butterfly to enter the net. Go to a grocery store and hang in the aisles? I couldn’t take a night class with my schedule. I was at a loss.

Compelled by staggering and overpowering loneliness sitting in a one bed apartment, I joined an online dating service. How awkward and anemic I felt as I filled out information in the required fields. I felt scared, weak about not being able to find someone on my own and nervous about the prospect of meeting someone and who I would attract.

I was so nervous, that I couldn’t bring myself to respond to a few initial emails. I’m certain that it seems silly to you reading this, but I was alternating between feeling strong and self-assured, but worthless and devalued. I felt as if I were someone who was fluffing up who he is – putting on a false brave and confident face, but underneath, being a failure who had ‘issues’.

I did gather the courage to go out and meet someone after we corresponded multiple times. She was six years younger than me, cute and she had a bubbly personality. From the beginning we talked about our ex’s and our divorces. After a few-and-far-between dates she was the one that actually leaned over and kissed me because she could tell how hesitant and nervous I was. Imagine that? A fifty-three year old man that couldn’t make the first move? I later felt ashamed about that.

Due to my schedule, we could only see each other sparingly, and that became a point of discussion between us. She wanted more time, a signal that I was committed. But, I was hesitant for many reasons. One reason was that I couldn’t know, or I couldn’t feel, that she was ‘THE one’ – the woman that I wanted to spend all my time with. Two, and most importantly to me, was my single-minded focus on working as many hours as I was physically able to in order to secure as much money as I could.

As I look over the above paragraph, I need to be more honest. I felt, despite my earlier statements, that I could ‘do better’. In hindsight, I was a cad and a loathsome man because she was the only one I was seeing. She invested heavily and without hesitation and I was tenuous and being opportunistic. I was dating her and feeling more confidence because of the experience but every so often fleetingly thinking that someone better would come along and thus, I was not putting as much effort into keeping the relationship as fulfilling as she was. I was sometimes distant, and also most times scared of committing. How does one who is still feeling the scorched earth effect of divorce segue into developing a new-found relationship that is permanent? When she began saying ‘I Love You’, I was again, scared. I used the term once in a great while back to her, but most times as an endearment and not out of passion and dedication.

As to my working all the available hours I could, I didn’t slow down my work schedule for her. Quite the opposite – I would take any opportunity to work and would have a schedule several weeks in advance of where I needed to be and when. It began that I was so drop-dead tired from all those hours, that on a night when I didn’t have my children, and I wasn’t working, I would come home from my full-time job, sit on my couch and literally fall asleep from maybe 4:30PM – 5:00PM, until I woke up at midnight, or later. Then I would go back to sleep, work, and it was a night with my children. Then the next night it would happen again. Many times I would wake up from falling asleep on the couch to find a phone message from her asking if we might see each other for an hour or so. Or worse, I would have agreed to see her, only to fall asleep and not call her back at all. Other times, on a rare night when I didn’t work or have the children, utter ennui would hit me and I would stay alone, busying myself with ‘little things’ around the apartment and never ‘got around’ to calling her. She left a few times because of my not fully committing and my  purposely not fitting her into my schedule. Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, it was one of those times.

My alternating Christmas schedule with my children last year, called for me to pick them up them Christmas Eve and keep them overnight until they were picked up Christmas morning at 10:00AM. I couldn’t stop thinking the whole time I had them that they had to leave their Father at 10:00AM the next day – on Christmas morning. This fifty-three year old man, on Christmas Eve, would sometimes go into his bedroom, shut the door for a few moments so the children couldn’t see him, and cry at what hadn’t even happened yet. Just the jarring thought of spending Christmas alone, without my children – was devastating and anxiously crushing my heart. I would dry my eyes, apply eye drops to hide the redness, wait a few moments, and come out and continue watching Christmas shows.

After a joyous Christmas Morning filled with presents, Christmas breakfast and picture taking, I had to very quickly keep things moving along helping them to dress presentably, pack up their clothes, pack up their presents, walk them to her car … and away they went with wide Christmas smiles and an opportunity to open more presents.

I blindly walked back into my apartment filled with red, blue, silver and gold ornaments hanging from red ribbons attached by hooks to the drop-down ceiling, the Christmas tree brightly lit up and winking at me – the bottom emptied of presents, Christmas lights twinkling on the frosted windows, reams of colorful wrapping paper strewn about, Christmas breakfast dishes still on the table, mugs of half empty hot chocolate on the counter and a deathly silence.

Probably as dramatic as any stage actress, I crumbled to the ground and sobbed. I sobbed loudly and without control until I trembled, until my stomach ached, until mucus hung disgustingly from my nose and with my heart violently creased.

I was, once more, inevitably, and predictably, in solitude, with Christmas day and Christmas night spread before me, surrounding and cruely taunting me.

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