My shirt was untucked so she wouldn’t see the pleats.
I was running late from work and hadn’t had time to change.
I pulled into a parking space in front of the jewelry store where I had promised to pick her up 20 minutes earlier.
I hope she’s not too mad, I thought.
I beeped my horn for her to hurry. Applebee’s was probably going to be slamming.
She tried to tell me about her day at work, but I was only half listening while answering some text messages and driving at the same time.
I can only do so many things at once, lady!
Rod Stewart was blowing my mind on the radio and I turned him up so she would know to change the subject.
We got to Applebee’s and sat down right away. The Olive Garden next door was packing them in because of unlimited salad and breadsticks so we totally lucked out at the neighborhood grill and bar.
I invited her to order anything she wanted… so long as it was on the Two for $20 menu. Like a boss.
She texted one of her friends, probably telling her what a charmer I was.
I’m getting lucky tonight, baby.
<Insert vinyl record-screeching sound here.> C’mon now. Non-punctuality? Applebee’s? Rod Stewart!?!? You didn’t really believe that.
Only the untucked-shirt part of that story was true.
I arrived right when I said I would.
I sipped a sugar-free Red Bull because I didn’t want to yawn during our dinner conversation. I brought her a bottle of water, just in case. She appreciated it.
She’d had a tough day, she said. She manages a jewelry store owned by a man she calls her dad, but who isn’t her biological father. The vast majority of day-to-day responsibilities at the shop belong to her. Almost every day, she experiences all of the negatives of being a business owner without any of the financial perks. I bet it’s exhausting.
It took about a half hour to drive to the restaurant. We were a little early but were still able to get a table pretty quickly.
She likes sweet wines.
I prefer dry reds.
So, we ordered by the glass.
The conversation was effortless. I remember being curious what we would discuss. Wondering whether personal topics would be broached.
Her divorce was finalized only a month ago. And from a separation standpoint—she is three months behind me on the healing curve.
She’s an incredibly open person. Just puts it right out there. No walls. I’m learning to appreciate that more and more.
It’s amazing what you can learn about someone in five hours—the length of our time together. More on that later.
Dating as a Divorced Adult
The stark differences between 34-year-old me and 20-year-old me were on full display last night.
I seriously didn’t think about sex one time. Okayyyy. Maybe once. But only because I have a man brain and she mentioned a couple tattoos.
Honestly, there was zero sexual tension as there would have been several years ago.
Maybe because we’re both still reeling from our marriages ending.
Maybe because it felt foreign to be sitting in a dimly lit restaurant with a relative stranger.
Maybe because we didn’t drink enough.
Maybe because we consumed 89,000 calories.
Maybe because she thought I was stupid and ugly, but faked it well.
Not thinking about sex is a wonderful thing. It helps you focus on substance. On listening.
And you are less anxious as a result. No one likes anxiety.
On the flipside, I was worried about feeling pressure because the stakes are so much higher now as an adult. At least on paper.
When you’re young and a date goes bad? Who cares?
I could have two more the next day!
When you’re Divorced Single-Dad Guy who knows approximately ZERO single people?
The field narrows.
So, it’s like: OMG! OMG! I gotta be amazing! Brilliant! Funny! Sexy! Skinnier! Richer! Stronger! Braver! Taller!
Because if I don’t, maybe it will be another seven months before I meet an attractive available woman to share dinner with.
When you’re young, you have your entire life ahead of you. You’re only worried about which club or pub or keg party you’re going to attend this weekend.
When you’re me?
You wonder how many weeks it will be before you’re even able to coordinate schedules to be in the same place at the same time again.
She has a very hectic professional and personal schedule.
I have my son half the time.
So, even if she wants to see me again—and I am inclined to ask—it could seriously be, like, January the next time we’re both available.
But maybe I’m just exaggerating. I totally do that sometimes.
A New Kind of Tough
This woman is a brand of tough that would take me a long time to fully understand.
Hers is a story filled with tragedy and heartache. And you only know it because she’s not afraid of telling you who she is.
She’s been through so much shit that she doesn’t know shame. She doesn’t know fear.
I’m whining about divorce all the time.
And divorce is just barely sneaking into the Top 10 of her Shitty Things That Have Happened to Me list.
I hesitate to share her story, even though three times she has told me to write whatever I wanted.
But I also want to give you a taste of who I spent five hours with last night. Because so much of it surprised me. That pleasant, smiling, pretty girl behind the counter of a family owned jeweler? How could she have baggage? How could she be tainted by all the shit?
Her mother abandoned her, leaving a 21-year-old father to raise a baby daughter alone.
Her father loved and cherished her. He painted. Made crafts for his daughter. Took her fishing. Loved music. Metallica. Aerosmith.
But we all have demons.
My date’s father was a drinker. Like my dad, in a lot of ways. Because he never had any of the problems commonly associated with alcoholism. He went to work. Maintained healthy relationships. Stayed out of trouble. No violence or sexual misconduct or anything like that.
He just drank.
My date recalled stories growing up in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her dad.
“I went for the coffee and donuts,” she said.
Sometimes, her father’s hands would shake from withdraw symptoms, so they would only fill his coffee cup a small amount to avoid spilling.
A total goofball, his adoring daughter called him.
Her father was killed in a car accident when she was 12.
Mom’s been gone forever. And then the person who matters most is gone, too. Out of nowhere.
My chest tightened as I started to see my date for who she was. As I started to realize the depths of trauma and tragedy that have touched her.
She started tearing up. She almost never does that, she said.
The waitress showed up right then. I hoped she didn’t think I made my date cry.
She regrouped quickly. Told me happier stories about her father’s art. She has one of the last paintings he ever made. Showed me a photo of it. A small boat nestled up against a palm-treed peninsula or island. Calm waters off on the horizon. I liked it.
She also lost a best friend unexpectedly. I don’t know the details. I just know she’s an only child like me and keeps her best friends close. Which makes it extra brutal, all that she’s endured.
By the time her failed marriage came up, I had a healthy dose of perspective.
A healthy dose of gratitude.
And an inkling of a clue as to the kind of woman I was with.
A special one.
Whatever Comes Next
She likes football.
And playing card games.
And non-traditional family.
She likes making crafts—really creative things with a needle and thread.
And designing jewelry.
She wants to learn how to play guitar to honor her father. She worries about her small hands, though.
She has reconnected with her biological grandmother who she didn’t know growing up. They sew together now, and have built a loyal and loving grandmother-granddaughter relationship.
She likes the number 13. I always have, too. We joked about how shitty 2013 was for us despite our affinity for those digits.
I have absolutely no idea what my future is with this woman.
I don’t know that it matters. Which was my favorite part of going on my first date in 14 years.
Because I don’t care what happens next. Whatever happens next will happen.
The world will keep spinning.
The sun will rise and set.
The clocks will keep reminding us that yesterday is yesterday, we can’t know what tomorrow will bring and that we only have right now.
And today I choose gratitude.
Because someone volunteered to share a moment with me.
Because someone trusted me enough to share their deepest wounds and vulnerabilities.
Because someone proved to me that no matter what happens next, there is life after divorce, there is life after death, there is as much life as we choose to live.
This too shall pass.
I’m inspired by her perseverance. By her courage. By her fearlessness.
I’m inspired by her ability to love after all of the, just, totally epic pile of shit she has endured since forever.
I’m inspired by her faith. That her spirit endures. That she wants to discover more, and be generous, and love her friends and family.
The world tried to break her.
But she wakes up every day, and says: “Not today, bitch.”
I can use a little more of that in my life.
And, platonic or otherwise, I hope to do that very thing.