You need to grieve the stories of what might have been.
There. I said it. Ronne and I have discussed this a lot in the past. I’ve been working so hard to be present these past few months and I’ve been doing a pretty damn good job at it. I’m learning how to hold those I meet with an open hand, not imagining the possibilities of what might be but rather just enjoying the current moment of what is. It has been (and is) a beautiful experience. I’ve been so proud of myself for leaving the past in the past and the future till tomorrow. And then, a while back, in the midst of all these pieces you have been reading…
I met him.
If you meet a man who can quote the entirety of The Princess Bride and wears matching socks, you should probably run in the opposite direction. This man will, without question, steal your heart. He will remove it directly from your chest, while it still beats, like you are participating in some sort of Indiana Jones movie ritual. And you will hand it over willingly.
Run, child. Run.
We will refer to him as the Dread Pirate Roberts because of his knowledge of the cult 80’s fairytale classic. The one and only selfie he swore he had ever taken looked like he had been ripped directly from a 50’s TV show, handed an iPhone, and told to pose in a bathroom mirror. He was handsome in a way I have rarely seen; not classically so, but in a strong way that commanded your eyes to acknowledge his beauty. His thick, dark hair waved perfectly back and a piece escaped in the front to point down over his eyes which told me, “you, Melissa, are in trouble.”
Sometimes, he did that. He said my name.
That’s my weakness, when a man says my name. Don’t ever call me, “baby.” I’ll probably flip you off and use a few choice words. Call me a “gem” and I may throat punch you and leave you to choke out in the dust. But call me by my name and mean it and you may just get the chance to call me, “darling,” one day.
I think the first surprise came when he told me where he had made reservations for dinner and asked if I would like him to pick me up or meet him there. I was floored. Shocked. I had never had a man offer to pick me up. I was both astounded and extremely uncomfortable. I told my therapist that at some point maybe I will FINALLY learn it isn’t my job to teach the entire world a lesson. Unfortunately, that evening was not it. “Huh,” I said, “I’ve never had a guy ask to pick me up before. That’s fascinating.”
There was a pause, “Is that the chivalrous thing to do? I could be wrong,” he replied. And then I nailed him and cringed inside as my quick, sharp words sent via text, “I mean, in 1980 when my parents were dating, I think so. Or if I was in a relationship with someone because I hate driving. My general rule is never get in a car with a man I don’t know. You feel very safe but I’ve never met you. I would love for you to come pick me up, but I have my rules for a reason — I should stick to them.”
“Why didn’t you just say, ‘That’s very kind but I’ll meet you there?” my brother asked an hour later as I hurried to get ready and he prepared to watch a football game. I groaned, “Because I’m awkward and it is my lot in life to be the MOST awkward. He’s going to hate me.” He gave me the Bernie Sanders side-eye and didn’t say much. My confidence wasn’t all that high and my nerves were at their utmost. The woman of “I’m Just Here For the Cheeseburger” was nowhere to be found.
I layered on the gold eye shadow, donned my leather pants and swingy off the shoulder sweater, and curled up my sassy new cut. I sent a selfie to my boys, “I’m not f—-ing around tonight.” But it was all bluster. I was nervous…a little terrified…and I couldn’t figure out why.
When he walked in the door of the restaurant, I lost my breath a bit.
Dread Pirate Roberts is the kind of man who stops the conversation in a room. He wore a tweed coat over a grandpa cardigan, dress shirt, and jeans. I marveled at the deepness of the dimple peeking out of the side of his face when he smiled at me. He hugged me and I, of course, made him shake my hand. He looked surprised and nervous but agreed. It was solid and firm. When I explained why, he asked if he could have a do-over. “My hands are freezing. That wasn’t a good handshake. I can do better than that! My dad always taught me to shake firmly,” he said. My dad had taught me the same, that it was a measure of someone’s character to shake with strength. As we reached the table, he pulled out my chair and helped me off with my coat. I was a little surprised.
I was unaccustomed to being cared for in this way.
The combination of comfort and nervousness I felt in his presence was unusual. When I told him how my brother had yelled at me, he laughed and said his sister had told him the same thing from the other side, “That’s so creepy! You can’t ask to pick up a woman. That’s not how it works anymore.”
And that’s when our stories began to come out. He was a few months out of a long-term relationship. Later in the evening, I would find out just how long. I told him some stories and he told me a few and our eyes kept locking, causing us to forget that there were stories to tell. When I told him about my Two Date Rule, he laughed. “You think too much, Melissa.” I studied his face, suspiciously, “What does that mean?”
His eyes were were a mix of amusement and mischief and something that didn’t so much scare me as drew me all the way in. He was Puck and Peter Pan, but all grown up and far more dangerous to my heart.
“I will never break your rules, but I plan to show you how they aren’t necessary.”
I stared at him and a feeling spread over me that I hadn’t felt in the course of my dating experience. This one, what if I were to break my rules for him? That is a ridiculous thought.
This is immediately what I told myself because there we were halfway through a first date. A first sushi date, which if you’ve never been on a sushi date…they go quickly. There isn’t much food. It’s sushi. It’s small. You use chopsticks. And there we were halfway through a first SUSHI date and my heart was yelling at my brain, “THIS MAN IS GOING TO MAKE YOU WANT TO BREAK ALL YOUR RULES.”
My brain was like, “okay…yeah, right…whatever.”
And then he looked at me and said, “By the way, I hope you’re okay with a kiss. Because I plan on kissing you when we leave here.”
What? What kind of man was this?
I think I floated up out of my body for a moment and just observed the whole experience from outside of it. In case you’re wondering if I have a rule about that, I DO. I may have a tattoo and drink scotch and go on Tinder dates and wear red lipstick and say, “fuck,” but it will probably shock you to know that I don’t kiss on the first date or generally the second date or even 98% OF MY DATES. It’s not really the point of my dating experience. If I wanted to kiss someone I would, but I’m not going out on dates to make out with people or have sex…I’m going out on dates to experience humans and learn their stories. This is less Sex and the City and more The Andy Griffith Show. We are all about actual pie here.
But when he told me that he had plans to kiss me, all I could think was, “Yes, I want to do this.”
It was early in the evening when our meal ended and he looked at me and said, “I’m not ready for this date to end.” I wasn’t either, so I suggested a place we could grab coffee. He paid the check, helped me on with coat, and guided to me to the door. I curled my hand around the crook of his elbow as he walked me outside. As I reached to open my car door, I felt a tug at the belt of my peacoat. His finger was hooked in it and he was pulling me towards him. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he said, looking down at me. And then he was.
First kisses are generally easy. Or terrible. Or nothing to write home about. Second kisses are usually better because everyone is comfortable. But first kisses, like first dates, are rarely life altering.
He kissed me in 8 degree weather and the heat of that kiss caused me to forget that Winter was a season which had ever existed.
My hands clutched the sides of his dress shirt, as his coat and grandpa cardigan gapped open. His finger slid along my face, then twisted in my curls. The kiss ended and I stood there dazed for a moment.
That doesn’t happen to me. I don’t lose my shit. I don’t forget how to breath or speak. I said something inane and hopped in my car to head to our next destination with him in his Land Rover following me. I called Micah. I was rambling and my words were running each other down with their speed and lack of clarity. He laughed, “You’re going to be okay. Breathe. Break the rules, bro. Breaking the rules is cool, bro.” He had said something similar to me almost a year prior about love and it turned out to be utterly disastrous advice. I reminded him of this and he laughed some more.
A few minutes later, I pulled into a parking garage with Dread Pirate Roberts a few spaces away. He was waiting to take my hand and face the icy wind with me. We reached our destination and cozied up to tell more of our stories. I was surprised at the depth of conversation which came out. We talked about faith, which I never do on dates, and family. But also, there were moments when we said, “That can wait…that’s something that can be discussed later.” At one point he leaned in and said, “Would you like to go to a play with me? I think that would be fun.” I agreed and pointed out that it would be our second date. He informed me that he thought it would make a better third date and he thought we should have another date in between. I smiled hesitantly as his eyes twinkled and again my heart yelled, “Break them. Break all the rules.”
“You know,” he said, “you can run, but I’m going to pursue you.”
I stared into his eyes and wondered if that was true. Everything about the feel of him was solid. It felt whole and real and true. “I am who I say I am, “ he said, “You don’t have to be afraid.” I smiled and didn’t say much in response. And my heart was yelling, “Break them. Break them for him.”
At the end of the evening, he kissed me again. He kissed me and I felt words, as though the primal part of my soul had awakened, remembered who it was, and then began to speak for the first time.
It was then that he asked me what my intention with dating was. Maybe this story would end differently if I wasn’t honest or if I was better at only telling half-truths. But I am a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of human.
I told him.
I reminded him about the Two Date Rule. I told him that it wouldn’t be a forever thing…eventually I wanted to meet someone and build a family. I told him about my great love. I told him truths, the ones I don’t say to strangers. The ones I don’t tell my dates. I told him.
We made plans to see each other as soon as he got back from his business trip that week. But life and love and all the pieces of our hearts are far more complicated than we would like them to be.
The next day he text me to say, “You’re wonderful. Our time together was so intense and unexpected. I want to keep seeing you but if you break your rules you’re going to get serious and I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
I laughed and laughed and tried to keep making myself laugh.
Because laughing seemed like the best alternative to crying. I hadn’t walked into our date with any intention to break my rules. His eyes and voice speaking of how unnecessary they were had begun breaking down walls I didn’t realize I had raised. I told him this and said, “I’ve learned I don’t know what comes next. I have and do write a lot of stories but I cannot write my own. I get to live only one moment at a time.”
There were a few more words I said. I told him he was spectacular. And that was it. I haven’t heard from him since. The man with the dancing pirate eyes and the grandpa cardigans who caused my universe to split down the middle disappeared.
At first, I felt a lot of things. I judged my feelings. I yelled at myself in the car mirror after feeling particularly gloomy when he didn’t respond, “What the hell is wrong with you? It was only one date. You don’t get to fall to pieces over one date.” My soul felt cold and I felt like I had lost something. I kept asking myself the questions, “how can you lose something you never really had? How can you lose something you only held for a single moment? How can you grieve for something that was never really yours?”
And then Ronne said, “Somewhere a long time ago I remember us talking about grieving stories. That it was ok to grieve stories.”
And I remembered, you don’t get to choose who makes you see the future. When you are living fully in the present, someone can explode into your world and make you envision a life you hadn’t planned on imagining. And then they can disappear. Completely.
Grieve the story that might have been and keep walking.
Because this is what I know with every fiber of my being…Love finds you. One day it will. And true love…the real kind…doesn’t disappear. It may split your universe down the middle but it will also stay right there to make sure it gets sewn back up again. It will walk in your door. It will keep showing up. It will remain. Great love will deliver on its promises. My slightly bruised heart has not even one doubt.