The Butterflies Effect

The last few years of my marriage, I became insular. I would accompany my ex to gatherings, and I’d sit there, unable to think of a thing to say and unable to meet new people. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to people, or even that I lacked the will to do so, but because I had no idea how to start a conversation. When I got a job at The Container Store in Reston, I didn’t particularly bond with my colleagues, and it took me three years to be comfortable enough to be myself around them. This came up during one of my employee evaluations, so it was noticeable. When I started work at the DC Container Store, I was there for a year before I quit, and I had not, by that point, made friends. There was a guy I talked to regularly, and there was my crush, who I followed around like a lovesick kitten, and that was it. Once quarantine happened, I lost any progress I had made in that front. Since I’ve been half-assed dating over the past six months, I’ve had success chatting with the women because they led, and I just caught up.

I’m very comfortable in silence, and I can ride an elevator all the way to the top (which in DC is only ten stories) with someone and not have to share a word. Since we’ve returned to the office, though, a situation that makes me extremely uncomfortable, as in middle-schooler-at-a-dance uncomfortable, and that’s when I’m in the break area with my new crush.

I’ve gone over this before, but I love having crushes, and I never look at them as anything more than just butterflies fluttering around my ribcage. In the case of my last crush, she was in her early twenties, fresh out of school, and I had no doubt that everything I found charming about her would absolutely irritate the shit out of me if I experienced it for longer than an hour at a time. In the case of my new crush, I know nothing about her, except that she’s cute, and that’s no basis for a relationship. She looks like she’s in her mid-twenties, but she has her own office, and my boss doesn’t have her own office, so that has got to put her squarely in her thirties (that’s two things I know).

Every day she walks by my cubicle on her way to the water station/break area (so I guess I know three things about her—the third is that she’s hydrated), but she looks really irritated every time she walks by, so the excuse I have made not to talk to her is that I didn’t want to be messing around in that. However, I stepped into the break area to find paper towels my second day in the office, and she was there. I braced myself for what was bound to be an uncomfortable (for me anyway) silence, but when I did discover the paper towels, I announced my relief, adding, “I knew they were here because I saw them in the trash.” She said, “As long as you don’t take the ones from the trash,” and she laughed uproariously. So she has a sense of humor (four things I know about her), and she’s got a husky voice like Katherine Hepburn (five things).

The next time I interacted with her, it was the next day, and I made a point of going to the break area when she walked by. Somehow I started a conversation with her and made her laugh some more. I can’t begin to express what a big deal this is to me, for all the reasons I outlined above, and because my inability to have conversations doubles when attractive strangers are involved. But I made a joke about pinching on St. Patrick’s Day, and she laughed, the kind of laugh you throw your whole body into. But the following week, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her.

While talking to my Wellness Coach, I made it clear I wasn’t proposing marriage. All I was doing was having a thirty-second conversation. If that failed, my life will not have changed in any way whatsoever. My homework assignment was to compliment something she was wearing, and how hard could that be? On Tuesday, I did it. Today, I had a brief conversation with her about Turkish coffee. So not so hard at all. The tendency of humans is to lose excitement for things that are no longer novel, but every time I talk to her, I want to tell everybody. This is a huge accomplishment for me.

I am reminded of my roommate in Jersey City, and how, every time I expressed an interest in someone or talked about my crush at the time, she always said, in an almost scolding voice, “You never know!” And so I leave you with that. Will I continue to chat with this woman? Will the skills I’ve picked up in my thirty-second conversations translate over to the rest of the world? You never know.

You Can Tell by the Way I Use my Walk

Anybody who’s ever met me in person knows I have a very distinctive walk. I don’t just go from Point A to Point B, I go from Point A to Point B in style. It’s a weird kind of strut/stride/shuffle, as if I’m listening to the opening chords of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees on a permanent loop. I walk more like a normal person now, but whenever I’m ready to have an adventure, even if that adventure is going to Safeway to buy more pancake mix, my walk is confident, with zero fucks to give.

Meanwhile, somebody might have noticed that there are no recent pictures of me. I am violently opposed to being photographed, and I really try to avoid mirrors. Even as I was doing it, I wondered exactly what it was about my image that bothered me so much. I can look at old pictures just fine. I’m comfortable in my own skin, for once, and pretty laid back about my appearance. I’m not hideous.

Finally, I figured out why. It’s because I don’t recognize the Jeremiah I see. As a novelist, I see myself as the main character in a story, and the character looks like me in my late-twenties or late-thirties (except with gray hair). Since then, I’ve put on about fifty pounds (I lost a lot of weight last summer, but I gained a lot of it back in the winter). I wear the weight relatively well, i.e. I am not obese like President Trump, I just appear to have the advanced stages of a dad bod. Again, I’m not hideous.

However, when I imagine myself in the world, like I’m on a date, I picture myself rakish and stylish. You know, the hero. But when I picture myself as I really look on that same date, I see someone bumbling and oafish because the hero is NEVER fat. When I think of myself the way I really look, I’m awkward and self-conscious, but when I picture me as the hero, I am badass and ready to take on the challenges of the world.

I think it would help if I could see other people who looked like me, but they’re not in TV or the movies unless they’re farting. What counts as morbidly obese in Hollywood is a little chubby to the rest of us in this country. When Thor put on weight in Avengers Endgame, it was treated as one hilarious fat joke after another—even his mom had to take a swing at him. I can’t look to entertainment for role models. As for the people around me, most who live in my neighborhood are extraordinarily fit. So I got nothing. I feel lonely here with my belly (which my cat loves, by the way).

Now that I’ve identified the source of my hang-up, what can I do with it? I’m fine with things the way they are, but I can’t avoid mirrors forever. Even if I manage to lose all of this weight again, that is a slow process, and I’ll be living in this body until I get to that point. Eventually, I’m going to have to come to terms with how I look.

Going out with a Whimper

I’ve been half-assed online dating for a while, and I’m just not feeling it. I’ve been on a dozen dates with women, and they have all blown me off afterward. It doesn’t really bother me because I’m not actually attracted to them—I think they were cool, and I loved hanging out with them that one time, but I just didn’t feel it. I pictured very clearly being with one of these women, but it wasn’t because I was really into her, she just seemed to be my type, and she seemed to be attracted to me. That is not the basis for a relationship.

I’m finding that happens a lot with the pre-date contact too. I am happily chatting with a woman, and for some reason that isn’t clear, they stop responding. It doesn’t really affect me in any way, and I don’t have anything invested in a relationship with them, so I just don’t care. When I cruise through the available women and find someone I actually am attracted, it’s like I send my hello message into a black hole, never to be seen again.

What did sting was in December, when I found out one of my coworkers is into a lot of the same pop culture as I, she leans politically the same way I did, she’s weird and whimsical, she made me laugh a lot, she thinks I’m funny, and she’s a writer. We spent a conference together, working at an information booth for thirteen-hour shifts with nothing to do but talk to each other (we had created a system that made it easy for attendees to find the information on their own, so they didn’t need to talk to us). We attended several receptions together, hanging around almost exclusively with one another and taking cabs back to the hotel together. We had in-jokes. We waited for our plane together. We made a great team. I found out at the last minute that she was asexual too, which took away some of the pressure building as I contemplated what a relationship would be like with her. And, as soon as we returned to DC, she ghosted me. Whatever spark I felt wasn’t shared. The good news, which I never forget, is that I got to spend several uninterrupted days with someone awesome. The bad news is that it didn’t go any further.

All of this has got me asking, what am I looking for, and what are these women looking for? I’m not looking for sex, and at least one told me explicitly that she was. I’m not really looking for companionship—I have that kind of relationship with my roommate—and it’s clear that a lot of women my age are divorcees looking for a second or third husband to retire with (there’s a monetary aspect to my rejections too). I found what I was looking for with my coworker, and that was just being in the right place at the right time, not about pouring through hundreds of profiles and right/left swiping.

But take these women away, all of them, even my coworker, and I’m not missing anything. I live a pretty idyllic single life, and I’m not sure I’d appreciate someone barreling in and rearranging that. I have someone who will miss me if I don’t come home, who I can talk about my day with. I think I would like to cuddle with someone, is that something to base a relationship on?

I’m not sure what conclusions I am supposed to come to with this. My whole attitude about dating feels like depression, i.e. doing something when all you want to do is nothing, but I’m not depressed. The fact is, I’m just not into it, and it shows (one of the dates I went on later told me I looked bored), which I’m sure is the main reason I keep running into these dead ends.