The restaurant where I met Bear for our first date has closed. In the three years that I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I saw restaurants wink out like dying bulbs on every block. I saw new ones burst into the old spaces. There was a quick current, a constant cycle. Only the fantastically innovative or legendary or totally necessary remain. And ours was never that. It was always only pretty good.
But still, it seems a little sad that New York has taken away our table, by the wall in the back. And that the entryway where I stood waiting to see him for the first time is now chipped and forlorn. In the city, life moves impatiently on and on. There isn’t time or money to maintain all of these nostalgic spots. The next thing is supposed to be better.
I met Bear for the first time three years ago, this week. He was bigger in person than I’d expected. But then, I hadn’t really tried to picture him. His nose was surprisingly delicate, and upturned. It made him look boyish and vulnerable. I always notice noses. A self-conscious habit, born of worrying about mine. I always vaguely thought that I would end up with a man whose nose would dwarf mine, so that mine would finally feel feminine and fine. Sort of like my friends would sometimes say that they would only marry a guy over 6’2″. So tall! (The one who insisted on this the most vehemently has been with a man who is a good several inches shorter than her for, what? Four years now?)
Isn’t it funny how we set these little rules for ourselves? Not the kind that matter enormously if they’re broken. But still, rules. I will never wear yellow. If I don’t get a book published that means I’ll have failed at life. I won’t gain any more weight. My eventual partner has to be really musical.
I thought that I would marry a man who was really musical. I have never cared about height, but I hoped for a big, proud nose. I thought he would be Jewish. I thought a lot of things. I didn’t have an explicit list. I didn’t have an explicit date for when all of these qualities needed to come together and present themselves to me in the form of my perfect future husband. I just had this sense that when I found the person I would marry, he’d, you know, have curly hair and long, tan fingers, and he’d write non-rhyming poetry.
If I had never tried online dating, I would have never met Bear. Seriously never.
He isn’t like the other people I’ve been around. And at the same time, he’s somehow so much like me that when we met, I was perfectly comfortable almost immediately. The way his humor worked. His inward-turning, self-deprecating, world-aware sensibility.
I love the internet for this. For introducing me to people I never would have met otherwise, but who are exactly the people I am drawn to.
I am not a risk-taker, I don’t think. Zip lining was one of the worst experiences of my life. I kept repeating, aloud, to myself, midair: “I am not supposed to fly! I am meant to be on the ground!”
So that tells you something.
I am not the kind of person who is even brave enough to date online. But I did it anyway, because my friend talked me into it, and because I was sad then, and because I told myself that I didn’t even have to meet anyone in person. I could just write, online, which is fine, right? It’s easy. It’s painless, maybe. And then Bear wrote to me, and he was good with words. He was funny, and he knew who Barbara Kingsolver was and he did not say anything sexual or even very flirty. Instead, he asked me good questions and also silly, light questions. Writing letters is a great way to get to know someone. By the time we met in person, I already knew him. There were no more basic questions, but we had things to say anyway.
By the time I met Bear, I knew how he sounded. The softness of his voice caught me off-guard, but the words he chose were already familiar. I knew his tone. I knew something about his cadences.
There are lots of big, obvious things about Bear and I that make us sound like we don’t make any sense together. I’m the artist, he’s the businessman. I fight to define myself inside a snarl of ambition and passion– trying to make a name for myself doing things that begin at my center and squirm into every last capillary. He seems able to work and work without regard for his own happiness or even interests, in order to carve out a secure place for himself in a world he perceives as fraught with risk. I am heart, he is head.
But of course there’s more to it than that. I am plenty head, and he is the most tender, gentle, loving man I’ve come across.
And I am so thankful that I went online. That I set up my dorky, earnest, slightly sarcastic profile and dove into a sea of strangers, hoping vaguely to bump into love out there. Hoping more distinctly to feel more confident.
Three years ago, I was waiting in the entryway of a restaurant that was still thriving and loud, clutching a handful of Spanish flashcards,which I blindly flipped through, and waiting to meet a twenty-five year old boy whose voice, in writing, was just the right combination of hesitant and comfortable. I had no way of knowing that three years later, the restaurant would be gone but I would still be with him. I had no way of knowing that I would figure out in the next year that I should be a writer and not a professor. That I would have this totally new, totally different, much braver, much happier and scarier life.
I’m sort of glad the restaurant’s gone, honestly. Now we don’t have to eat there for anniversaries and stuff. I never liked the food.
You never know what will last, I guess.
But in New York, it probably won’t be the restaurant.
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Note: I know, I know…Online dating is not an arena full of the happiest stories. I have friends who begin to despair after a while. Who come home with absurd tales about the people they’ve met. But then sometimes…like the guy who wanted my friend to pretend to be his mother. On the first date. But then sometimes it just suddenly works. Not with that guy. But with someone else you never expected.
Online dating success stories? Horror stories? Tell me!
Unroast: Today I love the way my shoulders look with their faint (very faint! sigh…) tan.
Check out the eShakti discount for ETDC readers at the bottom of this post if you’re looking for cute summer clothes!