Friday, July 20, 2007

The one that got away

(no weight to record--just flew home this afternoon)

I just returned home tonight from a fun trip to Vegas and am looking forward (ha!) to a weekend of packing all my belongings for my fast-approaching move to Phoenix. But tonight I don't want to write about all these positive changes/happenings in my life. I want to write about my "one that got away" because it is a topic that has been occupying my mind of late.

I think most people who have dated--men and women alike, married and single--have a memory of at least one person in the past who could've been That Person. I don't really believe in the concept of The One or soulmates. . . I think that most of us have a number of people with whom we could be compatible and that a great deal of dating/relationships is timing-related. Still, there are certainly some people who stand out from the crowd, for whatever reason.You can call that person what you'd like: my best friend calls these men her "what if" guys. I prefer the more fishing-related "one that got away." Sometimes this person is someone you dated where things just didn't quite work out; sometimes it's someone you didn't even date.

To fully discuss the person I think of as my "one that got away," I have to go back to a much earlier time in my life. We first met when I was 20 years old. I had already had my share of bad relationships with men. At the time, I was still in an "on again, off again" with a guy who had no ambition and was a habitual liar to boot; my last relationship before that loser had been with a thoughtless oaf who had a penchant for doing things he didn't remember when he was drinking. . . including hooking up with random homely women and assaulting people (not me, other guys). I could go on, but you get the picture. These men were representative of the kind of guys I dated during this time in my life.

In addition to the truly poor choices I was making with men--though I didn't have the insight at 20 to see that I was making poor choices; I just thought I had "bad luck" with men and was a loser magnet--I was also at a bit of a loss about what to do with my life. After 3 years of pre-med, I had recently come to the realization that I didn't want to be a doctor. . . but I hadn't yet decided what I would do instead. Because I knew I would eventually finish my degree and do something, I continued to go to school, majoring in psychology, taking a break from the hard-core sciences I'd been taking to prepare for med school.

My parents had been divorced since I was 9, and I had long since gotten over any trauma related to that event. After spending many years raising my sister and me, my father had finally remarried less than two years before this, when I was 18, and my stepmom and I did not get along. My poor relationship with her had negatively impacted my (previously close) relationship with my father. This never-before-experienced distance between my father and me contributed to my feeling groundless and without direction for the first time in my life as much as my lack of a clear career goal.

Now that I have set the stage by explaining where I was at in my mind and in my life. . . . allow me to explain how this person entered the scene. . . .

One of my courses that fall was an honors seminar about interpersonal relationships with a wonderful psych professor. The professor and the seminar were both top-notch; I could probably write an entire blog entry about all the things I learned that semester. But that's for another time. I am only mentioning the class because it is necessary to the story at hand.

One of the other members of this seminar course was a woman six years my senior who I'll call PJ. Now, nearly sixteen years later, I can't remember what led PJ & me to become friends with each other, out of the 12-15 other people in our class . . . but we did, and it wasn't long before we were socializing outside class. I don't recall our being particularly close, but through a convergence of various events, I began to spend more and more time with PJ: I finally had the good sense to end things with my current loser boyfriend, and two of my closest friends were both out of school for the semester, one having a baby, one on a work co-op gig in another state. In college, my circle of friends was not wide enough to lose three people with whom I'd spent the bulk of my time and still provide me with lots of social opportunities. In a sense, I began hanging out more with PJ by default than through any real active choice.

PJ had a boyfriend, J. In the normal way, what single person really wants to hang out with a couple? But spending time with PJ & her boyfriend J actually wasn't weird. PJ assured me one of the first times I went out socially with her and J that they were the kind of couple who preferred to hang out with other people; they weren't love dovey, more companionate & friendly with each other. And over time, I found that her statements were more true than not.

Though I couldn't tell you now my first impression of PJ, I distinctly remember the first time I met J. Several weeks into the semester, I ran into PJ & J on my way to the post office on campus between classes. I remember being very surprised by him on a couple of different levels; first, because he looked to be my age (remember, PJ was 6 years older than me--and that seems like a lot when you're 20--and I'd assumed that he was her age), and second, because he was far more attractive than PJ. I don't think I am being cruel or biased when I say that PJ, though she was intelligent and articulate, in addition to other good qualities, was by no means a pretty girl. A kind way of describing her might have been "plain." J, on the other hand, was attractive: regular features, a great smile (with teeth that had clearly had the attentions of an orthodontist), blond hair, blue eyes. J was average height and build--maybe just a little on the slim side. J was not *my* type, and he probably would not stop traffic, but he was good-looking enough for me to wonder what his attraction to PJ was. Let's face it, most men, particularly college-aged ones, are not much known for looking beyond the superficial.

As I got to know PJ & J better, both as a couple and as individuals, I learned that they had met while working together at a popular food service chain (which shall remain nameless to preserve anonymity). She had been the manager of the store where he worked part-time during one of his first years of college. Despite the difference in their ages (he was actually a year older than me, so 5 years younger than PJ), both PJ & J were starting their senior year in college when I met them. They both had the same major, which I will also refrain from naming. (Aside: this would've been my senior year, too, but for the fact that I was changing my major and trying to "find myself." Again, I digress; that's a whole other post. . . .)

PJ was J's first girlfriend, and I gathered that she had initiated their relationship. Despite his looks, J proclaimed that he had been a "nerd" in high school, spending more time with his computer than with girls, and had never dated anyone until he met PJ. . . never even went to high school dances. Interesting information to me with my small-town background: I'd never known anyone who hadn't dated in high school that I wouldn't have considered a complete and total loser up to that time.

From the first conversation we had, J and I had a genuine rapport. At age 20, it was really amazing to me how easily we could talk about just about anything; first time in my limited life experience that this had happened to me. We seemed to have the same frames of reference, the same ideas about many things. I can't adequately put it into words, but I will say that even now, at age 36, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have hit it off with someone--on a friendship level--right off the bat like I did with J. I don't think my experiences have been that unique; I think connecting with someone so easily and so early is rare. In some ways, it was almost as if we had grown up together.

It quickly became clear to me that there was a much greater affinity between J and me than there had ever been between PJ and me. I genuinely enjoyed his company. This feeling was all the more remarkable in that it arose with a friend's boyfriend; in college, I generally was glad if I could simply tolerate my friends' boyfriends. . . actually becoming friends with them was usually too much to hope for and out of the question.

Despite this connection I felt with J, I didn't at first have any romantic feelings toward him. After all, he was PJ's boyfriend. There are rules about these things. And as my feelings for him evolved, I assumed that because the two of them were in a committed relationship, the point would be moot even if I did like him as more than a friend.

Fall semester slipped into spring, and I continued to spend lots of time with PJ & J. My two absent friends returned to school, and they became casual friends with J & PJ, too; one of the friends even rented a room in PJ's house for a while. We all did the typical kinds of things college students do together in groups: we went bowling, out to bars, hung out and ordered pizza, etc.

Two events from that spring semester stand out in my mind. PJ planned to sell her house when she graduated, so by April she was fixing it up to put on the market; she stayed at J's apartment for a few days once while it was being painted. I called J's apartment to talk to PJ--I had never called him before, didn't even know the number until she went to stay there. When I called, she wasn't there. . . but instead J & I talked on the phone for about half an hour. That conversation was the first one-on-one conversation the two of us ever had. During that talk, J hinted--though he didn't come right out and say--that he didn't see a long-term future for him with PJ. Hmmmm . . . .

The other event that stands out is this: J & I were hanging out at PJ's house during finals week. We had finished our exams and were in the typical post-exams celebratory mood PJ still had another test she was studying for. At some point, our chatting & exuberance started to bug PJ; she suggested that if we were going to talk while she was trying to study, we should do it elsewhere.

I guess it didn't occur to J or me that what PJ really meant was that we should each go home. Instead, we went to a local "open all night" restaurant and talked for hours. It was during this talk that J told me outright what he had hinted about on the phone in April: graduation would be the end of his relationship with PJ. If I recall his words correctly, their relationship would "die a natural death" when they both moved to different cities, about 1400 miles apart. He preferred to end it this way, rather than have a confrontation. (In retrospect, if I heard this now, I'd think a guy was a total wimp for choosing this approach; then, I just thought J was trying to avoid unnecessary drama.)

After graduation, J and I didn't keep in touch. This was before the days of everyone having and using email, before the days of cell phones. In order for us to have contacted one another, we would've had to either put pen to paper and written a letter, or payed for a (not cheap) long distance phone call. He drifted out of my life, and though I never forgot him, I didn't think much about him. I had lots of other things to occupy me.

PJ and I did keep in touch, after a fashion. While J had taken a job in the same state where we all went to college--albeit three hours' drive away--PJ had moved several states away to live near a childhood friend of hers. We exchanged an occasional postcard or letter. Though we had each other's phone numbers, we seldom called.

Right after Thanksgiving, a little over 6 months after they had graduated, PJ called and asked if I would go visit J the next time I was in the city where he lived. (I visited there occasionally because I had other friends and my stepsister living there.) PJ said she was concerned that J was working too much and not taking time to be social and enjoy life. She gave me J's phone number and asked me to call him.

I called J soon after that. When he called me back a couple of days later, we had a great chat. All that rapport I'd felt when he was still in college with me and we were hanging out regularly was still there. We made plans to see one another when I would be in town in mid-January.

You can probably guess by now where this is going. J and I did get together in January, and during that visit, it became clear to me that he was attracted to me. . . . he tried, in a less-than-artful way, to put the moves on me, but didn't quite follow through, and nothing happened. When I returned to school, I sent him a Valentine's Day card telling him in no uncertain terms that I had feelings for him, too. He followed that card up with a phone call, and soon we were talking on the phone 3 or 4 nights a week and planning a weekend together in mid-March to celebrate our respective birthdays together (in addition to everything else we had in common, our birthdays were also 4 days apart).

J and I had a short-lived but passionate long-distance relationship beginning from that February phone call and lasting until after Easter. In addition to hours and hours on the phone, we spent three extremely memorable weekends together. In my naivete, I thought he was The One.

I cannot bring myself to write about why things didn't work out; suffice it to say that we both made mistakes that are typical of two young, inexperienced people. Things ended badly; I screamed at him over the phone for a good ten minutes while he was out of town for work, staying in a hotel in a remote corner of Arizona. He silently took my (deserved) abuse and made no replies except to acknowledge he'd heard me. He returned some of my belongings the following week with a letter apologizing for having hurt me, expressing his hope that some day I would be able to look back on our time together fondly, and telling me how much fun he had with me.

After the pain of our break-up had subsided, a few months later, I called J once when I was in his city. We couldn't see each other on that occasion, but I remember that he sent me a Christmas card that year and a graduation card when I (finally) finished college the following spring. He took me out to lunch that summer when I was in town to visit friends. We talked once on the phone shortly after I'd gotten my first "real" job in a small town about 80 miles from the city where he lived. During that phone conversation, he mentioned that he was dating someone. Shortly after that, I started dating someone myself; when my new boyfriend and I moved in together a few months later, he asked that I cease contact with J and I complied.

Over the years, I thought of J often, for several reasons. Of all the men I've dated, he was the closest to my "ideal" partner. The brevity of our dating relationship and the drama with which it ended also made him memorable. And frankly, the sex we had was exceptionally good. I can honestly say that I've never been with anyone better since. I have had a couple of experiences that equaled him, but none that excelled him. I am a little ashamed to admit it. . . but on occasions in my life when I have felt the need to fantasize about someone I've actually been with. . . J has been one of my most frequent fantasies. I figured he was safe to fantasize about because I'd never see him or speak to him again.

I always assumed that J had married and had a family, as most people do by their mid-30's. As use of the internet became more prevalent in the past 5-6 years, I had google'd him from time to time. I knew that he had left his first post-college job to go work for a biotech firm and later moved to Washington, DC, to work for a large, multinational investment firm.

And that's where things stood with J and me until the first week of June of this year. . . . when I realized that J had been searching for me and we got in touch via email. And I found out that--surprise, surprise--he was moving to Phoenix.

If you've read this blog, you pretty much know the rest. Maybe my obsession with J and "what might happen" is a little easier to understand. . . . given this history. I've long thought of J as my "one that got away." It's very seldom in life that we get a second chance at these things.


Anonymous said...

Ok first of all, I just saw your pic and wow, how cute you are!!!!

Secondly, this was a great story and I am so glad that you were able to reconnect. Fate is stepping in...