Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chapter 14: Out of the Blue

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. At my darkest post-divorce moments, I sometimes thought it never would, or maybe that I didn’t want it to. All the cliché song lyrics reverberated in my head (“I am a rock, I am an island;” “once bitten twice shy;” “here I go again on my own”) reminding me to be a strong, independent woman. But now a different type of song lyric calls out to me because:

I have a boyfriend!

Yup, it’s true. I am dating a guy who comes complete with a bona fide title and Facebook relationship status. As silly as the term “boyfriend” (and frankly the significance I attach to the Facebook proclamation) seems at thirty years old, what else am I supposed to call him? My “suitor?” My “significant other?” My “friend?” My “lover?” The “guy I’m seeing?” Problem is, he is all of those things, and they are all embodied in the term “boyfriend,” so that’s what he is.

This whole thing may seem to have come out of the blue given the nature of what I have been writing. It certainly caught me by surprise, all starting with an e-mail message I received last Monday.

I am no stranger to an e-mail (or now text or Facebook message) popping up now and again from a “blast from the past.” I have remained cordial, if not friendly, with many of my exes, so it is not uncommon for them to check in with me once in awhile (or vice-versa). These messages are always unexpected, but are sometimes pleasing and other times jarring. One example of the latter springs immediately to mind. On the eve of our wedding, James was checking his e-mail, which he did only sporadically. In his inbox was a message from an old flame of mine, congratulating me on my upcoming nuptials. It had been sent weeks before through our wedding website, and the sender did not realize the e-mail address on the site carbon copied both of us. James was furious that someone from my past would still be e-mailing, asking why we were no longer friendly. It took quite a bit of soothing and reassurance on my part to diffuse the situation, and I questioned whether it was worth it to have these exes lurking in the background when I was about to commit my life to one man. But you can’t control who contacts you, I decided.

On the other hand, hearing from an old friend, whether it was a romantic relationship or not, can be incredibly gratifying. The advent of social networking sites has certainly helped further that cause. I have found over the years that these olive branches seem to come in bunches, without any discernable correlation. The last few weeks were one of those clusters. The week before my birthday, I received a message from Owen (of baby mama drama fame), asking if I wanted to meet up. Interested to hear what he’d been doing since New Year’s, I agreed and we went to an industry event together. It was nothing remarkable, but just interesting to see my old buddy after months of exile.

Then a few days after my birthday, I received a Facebook friend request from someone I had relationship with years ago. It was a long distance thing (he lived in Florida), and ended up not working out despite my best efforts to the contrary. During our time together I traveled to visit him, called often, e-mailed and instant messaged, but there was little in the way of reciprocity. I was at a time in my life when I was willing to come up with hypothetical situations to give a guy the benefit of the doubt (“Maybe he didn’t call because his phone battery died.”). After a particularly fervent bitch session about my absent beau, my friend Lauren once commented to me that, “your back must hurt from carrying this relationship.” Lauren’s words stuck with me, and when the phone calls from Florida started becoming fewer and farther between I realized there really was no relationship to fight for. I ultimately chalked the failure up to the distance and the fact that he probably just “wasn’t that into me.”

His friend request caught me by surprise, but the message that came shortly thereafter really threw me for a loop. In it he explained how sorry he was for how our relationship ended and filled me in on the successful path his life had taken since we’d last spoken. He then added that he was “very thankful, because it was the motivation of messing up our relationship that forced me to move forward with my life.” He said he’d thought about be over the years, which surprised me since I felt like I’d been written off. Reading his side of the story, and hearing his reverential tone, put salve on that old wound and reassured me that putting ones heart on the line was not merely Pickwickian foolishness.

Also in that cluster of “blasts from the past” was a birthday message from my high school sweetheart, checking in to see how I’d fared over the years. This was in addition to various social events I attended with old flames who were now shelved in the “friend” category.

Perhaps the most shocking of all was the birthday e-mail from Ramón (whom I had called “Andres” in previous posts but am using his actual name now, with permission). Ramón is someone I knew at MIT. He lived on the same floor in my dorm freshman year, and had a relationship with a friend of mine towards the end of college. For the last two years he drove me from New York to Boston for my annual trip to attend Suzanne’s birthday party. I didn’t know what to expect going in to that first trip in 2007. I would see him occasionally in mixed company, but I’d never spent time with him one-on-one.

During the drive, our conversation flowed relatively easily and we all had a great time in Boston. Ramón and I repeated the trip the following year. He seemed to be much different than the guy who had hurt my friend in college, but that side of him was all I had previously heard about as she didn’t tell me about their relationship until after it was over. Post-collegiate Ramón seemed kind, responsible, sociable, generous and complimentary. The last trait took me by surprise when he directed his compliments towards me, about the outfit I was wearing or the joke I cracked. I wasn’t sure at the time if he was just trying show how much he’d changed or if he was just being himself. Either way I began to understand what my friend may have seen in him years before.

Ramón joined Facebook in early February of this year and sent me a friend request. I hadn’t seen him since he showed up to my joint birthday party with James the previous April. He worked a block from my office, so we agreed to meet up for a drink in the neighborhood. As we sat chatting in the café, he inquired about James, not knowing we’d been divorced for months. I cleared that up quickly, and our night continued on (and on, and on). While both of us had gone into the evening with intentions to simply hang out as friends, by the end of the night a spark had been ignited.

Ramón and I began dating, seeing each at least once a week and speaking on the phone regularly, and I was having a great time with him. Suzanne’s birthday was in early March, and Ramón invited me to stay with him at the hotel in Boston, which I gladly accepted in favor of Suzanne’s sofa. We had an amazing romantic weekend with one glaring exception. On Saturday night we hit the town, with drinks followed by dinner followed by more drinks. When I woke up in the hotel bed in the middle of the night, disoriented and drunken to find Ramón watching television across the room… one thing led to another and, well, as they say, “nothing good happens after 2am.” It was our first disagreement and I felt horrible that I’d instigated it. It wasn’t a blowout, but it put a damper on an otherwise perfect weekend and made for a quiet drive back to New York.

We continued seeing each other and things seemed to be back on track. I took him out for his birthday, which fell a few days after Suzanne’s, and gave him several gifts that I had put some real thought into. I tried to tell him and show how much I appreciated and respected him. I went out with him to meet his friends, and I told mine about him. Oftentimes it seemed like we shared a brain. The phrase “I was just about to say that” was constantly being uttered by one of us.

My grandmother, while driving me to high school one day, told me to seek out a companion “who has a shared background.” For her it was her childhood friendship with my Grandfather’s older sister. She became my Grandfather’s third wife when I was ten years old, and while they had not seen each other for many years it was that formative connection that provided the basis for the relationship that will last them through their twilight years.

I have taken what she said to heart, and understood it to mean the shared background could be anything that shapes who you are as a person, such as hometown, culture, religion, or in my case with Ramón, getting our asses kicked by the same university for four years. MIT is a very self-selecting school, and the kinds of people who get accepted and choose to attend are a certain breed in and of themselves. An MIT student’s innate thirst for knowledge is generally a much stronger character trait than any other, and in that regard I found a kindred spirit in Ramón.

With James, our common ground was much more superficial, and I tried to use all those little commonalities to fill the mold cast by my grandmother. I realize now that liking the same song, for example, should merely be the drywall standing atop a strong foundation, and not the foundation itself. By mid-March I was beginning to feel that Ramón and I had built a strong foundation.

Then one night we were out on a date. We’d had dinner and shot a game of pool before heading to another bar for some beers. In our conversation, he mentioned that he didn’t like how I frequently compared him to James (like I just did above, for example!). In my mind Ramón had many similarities to my ex-husband, but to show how much I appreciated him, I tried to tell Ramón the ways he was the better version. This was especially true in regards to their relationships with their respective children. Ramón feared that I was only with him to make up for my past mistake. I tried to explain that I was intending to be complimentary and let him know that given my history my craziness and insecurities were bound to surface. Yet the more I spoke, the deeper I seemed to dig myself into a hole.

When I arrived home from that frustrating date, I received an e-mail from Ramón. He had decided that our conflict resolution styles and views on relationships were too different, and that there was “somebody out there better for each of us.” He felt that we would have lasted either “two more dates or at least two more decades,” with the same negative outcome either way.

I was so shocked and hurt that I couldn’t imagine carrying on from there as friends. I decided to stop communication with him, which was extremely difficult. I would walk down my block and hear the cars blasting the songs he played on our drive to Boston. I worried that I would run into him on the street near our offices and not know what to say. I reflected on our relationship in my writing, and just couldn’t understand how a person could go from so enamored to dumping someone over e-mail in a matter of hours.

About three weeks later, on the eve of my birthday, a message from Ramón popped up in my inbox. In it he wished me a happy birthday and wrote, “After everything you did for me on my birthday I thought it would be rude for me to ignore yours,” and signed it using the moniker I’d given him in my writing. It was one of those jarring re-emergences, and it left me flummoxed.

I wrote back, saying:

I'm not really sure how to reply to this... Hearing from you is like ripping the scab off a nearly healed wound. I've been trying to move on and learn from all my past experiences (in part by writing a bunch, which I see you've read) so that I don't repeat the same mistakes in the future. It's been hard because over the past couple weeks I have had a few dreams with you in them, and I wake up happy until I realize they were just dreams. So while my conscience understands where you were coming from and that I have to accept it, my subconscious is still in denial or something. I guess it's a little ridiculous to have taken it so hard, but that was the first time I'd really opened my heart up to someone since my divorce, and now I feel pretty foolish for doing so.

He responded to my reply with some kind words, and I left it at that. I was turning thirty the next day, I was single, and I didn’t want to stir up more drama. Just weeks before I’d envisioned he would be the one with whom I would celebrate my birthday. Instead, a line from a Whitesnake song skipped on the turntable in my mind: Here I go again on my own... I knew it was time to move on.

Then last Monday evening, again out of the blue, another e-mail from Ramón graced my inbox. It’s subject? “Egregious error.” Curious and excited, I opened it. It was the kind of note any jilted woman would hope to receive from a man she cared about, a request for a second chance.

I immediately thought, “This is the sort of thing that would happen to the leading lady in a movie, not to me!” And so, in shock, I read and re-read his message.

He wrote that one of the main reasons he called our relationship off was fear. When faced with our conflicts, he was afraid, in part, to revert to the guy he was when he dated my friend. He indicated that his fear oftentimes resulted in bad decisions, and wrote, “The choice I made to end things between us feels like the worst of those bad decisions.”

I thought about his note the rest of the night and into the morning. Ramón’s timing was perfect in one respect. The night before I received his message, I decided to get on the wagon in terms of drinking because I didn’t want to have it influence any relationship I had in the future. He indicated in his e-mail that he had done the same, for the same reasons. He also said he understood if I weren’t willing to just take him back, but he simply wanted another shot. I decided that since the only thing he did to hurt me was cut me out of his life, I would meet up with him if only for coffee to see what he had to say. In case I needed another indicator, while I had been pondering what to do, I continually caught myself smiling. That was a good sign, right?

We met that afternoon at a coffee shop near our offices, ironically called “Peace & Love.” The conversation started off a bit awkwardly, but soon we fell in to our old familiar banter. Ramón invited me to dinner, and then followed that up with the suggestion we grab a drink somewhere. That drink consisted of sparkling water for him and fruit juice for me, of course, given our new teetotaler status. We held each other’s hands at the bar and discussed what was transpiring between us. I went home that evening feeling very optimistic.

The next day I told Ramón that I was “all for forgive and forget and second chances and fresh starts” but needed reassurance that he wouldn’t suddenly bail on me again. His reply was extraordinarily endearing and very much in character:

I once saw a Military Channel show about pilot training. It was talking about airplane ejections. Apparently in fighter jets an ejection is nothing more than a controlled explosion, and is therefore quite violent and excruciatingly painful. As training potential pilots are strapped into a device that mimics an ejection for two reasons: 1) to practice survival techniques for ejecting (the forces are so great about 1% of the candidates have a leg bone snap in the training), and 2) to understand exactly how bad an ejection is and therefore fundamentally understand it's an option to be avoided at all costs.

I wish I could have had similar training. But now that I understand what it means to pull the emergency lever on somebody I care so deeply about, I am supremely confident I will treat that action with the apprehension and respect it deserves.

After receiving that explanation, I felt confident I could safely pursue a relationship with Ramón. We discussed how to approach our rekindled romance. Everyone (from my best friend to my Gram) who heard about us warned me to take things slowly. Yet that didn’t seem to be our style. We followed up our “second first date” with lunch one day last week, spent practically the entire weekend together, and then had dinner yesterday. We have already made plans for this weekend and for various events in May. The past week has been filled with stories, like-mindedness, canoodling and laughter to the point of tears.

There are moments we look at each other in bewilderment, wondering how it took us this long to get to where we are now, and how quickly we got there once we started down this path. The other day over coffee, he joked that he is the kind of guy who waits three days to call a girl after getting her phone number. But since he’d had mine for three years, I joked that he’s gotten the units wrong in my case!

Things with Ramón seem much different this time around. Our conversations, in addition to consisting of the interesting topical fodder we’d always shared, have gone to a deeper level. I like to attribute some of that openness to the fact that Ramón has been an avid reader of my blog (Hello, darling!). I have been so honest with the public, and myself, that I think it has helped him understand me better. In turn he is much more open and compassionate with me (He showed up this weekend with a birthday gift for me, the sentimentality of which a thousand times over made up for the fact he wasn’t there on the actual day). Plus, to add even more support to our foundation, he now knows pretty much my whole history and I, his – both the good and the bad.

People always cite the importance of communication in a relationship. Speaking for myself, as a socially awkward nerd trying to reform, communication isn’t my strong suit. I think because we were forced to be open with each other to rebuild our mutual trust the second time around, communication now comes much more effortlessly. In fact I feel this newfound transparency has entirely compensated for the time we lost while we were apart, and as a result spending time with him feels both so comfortable and yet still so new.

Several months ago I saw two teenagers in the subway station making out and staring deep into each other’s eyes, as if they were the only people on the platform. Feeling cynical at the time, I thought to myself “Well, I will never feel that way again.”

There is something about young love, like that I witnessed, which can never be replicated. But when I am with Ramón those charming stirrings are brought forth (mostly in the form of butterflies in my stomach, which I can safely say I have not felt in many, many years). I have renewed faith that a relationship can be honest, exciting, safe, caring, and passionate. This feeling was only augmented when I walked out of my apartment building this morning and saw a pregnant alley cat weaving amongst the budding tulips in the garden, and I thought:

Life can begin anew, especially in the springtime.

So that is how, out of the blue, I went from a sullen, single thirty year old to feeling like a giddy teenager. The idiom “out of the blue” originated in1837 in Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution, in which he referred to something as being “sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue,” referring to a bolt of lighting that come out of the clear, blue sky. While our burgeoning relationship may have been reinstated as instantaneously as that lightning strike, I take comfort in knowing that when I look up to the sky, the sun is in fact shining down on me.


Ian said...

"As silly as the term 'boyfriend' seems at thirty years old, what else am I supposed to call him?"

I myself have always preferred "the guy that I'm banging." That's how I like to be thought of, anyway.

Anonymous said...

lovely to read a happy post =)