Before the Model and Small Town Guy, there was the Grad Student, who I shared an office with back when I was a teaching assistant in graduate school. We shared our office with a territorial control freak who banned us from the office whenever he had appointments with other students but refused to leave when either of us had appointments. I wish the control freak nothing but the worst, including a lifetime of loud neighbors, entitled students, and colleagues who ask "just one more question" at the end of every faculty meeting.
Unlike most of the guys I've had crushes on, the Grad Student actually liked me back. We became friends after I confided in him about my struggles with my dissertation, and we hung out several times. He told me that he liked that I sometimes bought Starbucks gift cards for homeless people so they wouldn't get kicked out of cafes. He said that his ideal woman had my best qualities.
But on the night that I was in the emergency room because I got diagnosed with a neurological disorder, I tried to call him. I was scared and I wanted to talk to someone who wasn't a nurse, a doctor, or an orderly. But he said he couldn't talk. He was at a bar with his friends.
He didn't call me to check on me until several days later. He said that I called him at a bad time. I said that I was going through a bad time and I only wanted to talk to him for a couple minutes. I didn't expect him to drop everything for me every time I needed him, but I also didn't think he would blow me off when I was in the emergency room because he was getting drunk with his friends. I'll always be there for you, he had told me before all of this happened.
We both successfully defended our dissertations and earned our PhDs at the same time. He left for a tenure-track position at a small liberal arts college in another state, whereas I was offered a visiting faculty position at a college in Small Town. He didn't even say goodbye.
The pandemic gave me a good excuse not to date anyone last year. But now, things are opening back up again. I thought about doing online dating again, probably on Bumble, but I'm reluctant to do so, for several reasons:
1. I'm afraid that the Model will be on Bumble again, like he was two years ago when I reconnected with him. I don't think I have the willpower yet to say no to him, and I do not want to go down that road again. Even if I got to be with him again, he'd still go running back to his girlfriend like he did last time, and I'd end up worse off than I was before.
2. There are way too many guys on both Bumble and Tinder who are using fake pictures. One guy used Channing Tatum's pictures but claimed that his name was "Adam" and that he worked in marketing. I don't understand why there are so many "catfish" out there. Do they think that once they meet the women in person, they will be automatically forgiven because of their "great" personalities? Or do they have no intention of meeting in person because all they are hoping to get out of this are pictures of women's boobs?
3. Now that I'm 40, I'm considered "undateable" by many guys my age, who are pursuing women my students' age (late teens and early twenties). When I was on match.com and okcupid, guys specified their age range for dates as 18-28, even when the guys were in their late thirties. I teach young women who are in the age range that these guys want, and they think that anyone over the age of 25 is old.
4. Most of the 30-something or 40-something guys around here who are willing to date women my age are divorced with kids, and some of them are still married but claim that they're "separated" (Sure, pal. I'd believe that if you hadn't accidentally or perhaps just stupidly included your wedding picture in your dating profile). I dated a single dad that I met on Tinder; he said he had a preteen daughter and that he hoped to find someone who would be a good "mother figure" to her, before telling me that he thought she would like me a lot. (I remember thinking, Whoa, slow down! I don't even know your last name yet!)
5. I've literally tried almost everything to meet someone. I joined a youth group at my church when I was in my twenties, where I had a crush on a great guy who fell for someone else in the group. I went to a speed-dating party. I joined not one but seven online dating sites, some of them more than once. I dated more guys than I care to count, and I failed to make a real connection with all of them. I became friends with Small Town Guy and fell for him, and then I watched him fall in love with someone else. I met several guys through a Meetup group here in College Town that met at a bar every week to play board games, but they were more focused on playing board games than socializing.
I know that there are good men out there. One of my colleagues married late in life, to a man who works at the college where we teach. One day, she texted him and remarked that she forgot to bring her favorite dessert in her lunch. Without being asked, her husband went to one of the dining halls on campus, bought the dessert, and dropped it off at her desk as a surprise while she was teaching. Small gestures like that gave me faith that not all men are like the ones I dated.
But I didn't think that making a real connection with someone would be this hard, especially since it came so easily to so many other people. I know someone who literally took a walk and met her future husband (she went hiking and met her husband in a park, where he worked as a park ranger).
I always thought that by the time I was 40, I would have met someone special by now. "You'll meet Mr. Right someday, when you least expect it," people always said. But I never did.
After the Model broke my heart, I briefly went to therapy, though with a different therapist since my former one still lives in Chicago. I couldn't afford to continue, but the therapist said something that struck a chord with me: "I think that your difficulty letting him go has something to do with the way your mother treated you."
I was surprised because I'd barely mentioned my mother during the therapy sessions. But then afterwards, I remembered the time I came home from my first school dance in tears because no one asked me to dance. The next day, my mother got mad at me for something, and she said, "No wonder no one wants to dance with you."
When I was a kid, I was different from the other kids because I wasn't good at cheerleading or sports. I was always reading, and I kept to myself. In grade school, the other kids made fun of me. They knocked me to the ground and threw balls at me extra hard at recess (we weren't playing dodgeball). They called me names and laughed when I cried. "It's because you have a bad personality," my mother and father said. "There's something wrong with you." They later said the same thing when they talked about the fact that I was the only one of their friends' grown children who was still unmarried.
For a long time, I believed that my parents were right. I thought that the fact that I stayed home on prom night (and on the nights of most school dances) and didn't go on my first real date until I was in my twenties meant that I was unattractive. I'd look in the mirror and think, No wonder no one wants to dance with you.
So, I became a workaholic instead. I focused on earning three degrees, including a bachelor's, a master's, and a PhD. I became a good teacher and taught dozens of classes in writing and literature. I kept my nose to the grindstone for so long that one day I looked up and I was thirty-six, and my youth was long behind me. I didn't get to enjoy being young, I thought. And there was the Model, with his irresistible grin, holding his hand out to me. He was the kind of guy I'd always been attracted to but who never even noticed me, and yet he did. It was flattering, especially after all those years of loneliness and rejection. I knew he was wrong for me, but then again, the guy who on paper was perfect for me (Small Town Guy) didn't want me. So, I went against my instincts and said yes to the Model, and well, if you've been reading my blog for a while, you know how that turned out. When he broke my heart, my mother's cruel words echoed in my head all over again.
The first time I read the definition for an "introvert", I felt a sense of relief. It made me think that maybe there wasn't something wrong with me because there were other people out there who were like me, people who disliked parties and preferred to be on their own most of the time.
Fans of the TV show Sex and the City often compare themselves to the four main cast members: Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. But I think that I'm actually more like Mr. Big. When Carrie asked him what he wanted, he replied, "Exactly what we have. You have your own place. I have mine. We're together when we want to be, and we're apart when we want to be."
That, to me, sounds ideal. I prefer to live alone, where I don't have to quarrel with anyone over whose turn it is to do the dishes or clean the bathroom. I prefer to have full control over my finances rather than share an account with someone, so that my partner won't say something like, "You spent how much on Taylor Swift concert tickets?"
I also don't want to devote every weekend to whomever I'm dating. I don't want to spend every night with him. I don't want to spend hours on the phone with him every day.
When I was applying for teaching positions at various colleges, I liked that I could apply wherever I wanted without having to worry about how it would affect someone else. I liked that if I got a job offer, I had the freedom to just pack up my things and go, rather than turn it down because my partner didn't want to move.
I also like that if I want to travel somewhere on vacation, I don't have to go visit in-laws or go somewhere that I have no interest in. I have the freedom to go where I want to go.
After I got diagnosed with a life-threatening disease for which there is no cure, it made me realize that I want to spend the time I have left focusing on what makes me happy. Dating did not make me happy. I did it because I didn't want to be alone and I thought that my "happy ending" included true love, as is shown in so many movies, TV shows, and books. But I've started to think that my destiny is not tied to anyone else and that maybe there is a reason I kept striking out. Maybe on some level, I didn't want to be in a relationship with anyone, but I was in denial about that because it went against the "happy ending" so many people wanted. Maybe true love is not in the cards for me. That makes me feel sad because although I do prefer being alone a lot of the time, I don't want to be alone all the time for the rest of my life. But at the same time, maybe it means that there's something else meant for me, something that could make me happy.
On the one hand, I don't want to remain celibate and live like a nun for the rest of my life. This is surprising to many guys my age, who are looking for relationships and someone to settle down with, whereas I just want to have fun (does that make me like Samantha? I don't think I want to have that much fun.) But on the other hand, I don't think I want to do online dating again anytime soon. I'm pretty burned out on dating altogether. I don't want to spend more hours poring over guys' dating profiles. I don't want to make boring small talk on first dates. I don't want to get my heart broken again.
Maybe I could still find someone special by chance, like other people over the age of 40 have done. But I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, I want to focus on the other things in my life that are important to me: getting published as a scholar and as a creative nonfiction writer, achieving more success in my career, maintaining my health, paying off my debts, and traveling around the world. I could still have a full, happy life, even if it's a life where I am alone.
What about you? Do you believe in soul mates or the idea of a romantic destiny? What does your "happy ending" look like?