I wrote a lot in college, but that was way before blogs so I have notebooks somewhere crammed full of ink. I worked at the downtown San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina, and I’d head down to work early and sit at The Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse, next door at the touristy shopping village, and amongst the books, at a table between the poetry and the philosophy, I’d write about everything. I’d describe people and the things they were doing as practice in observation and detail. I’d pull a Bukowski off the shelf and read and then I’d scribble my own odd and over-caffeinated poetic ramblings. Then I’d go to work and serve expensive wine and nice meals to tourists and business travelers in crystal goblets and on bone china plates.
After graduate school when I got all technical and started making money from being all technical, I quit writing for the most part, and only really took it up again after my divorce a few years ago. In recognition of this return to something that really makes me happy, my ex-wife bought me a divorce gift: an onyx and silver Mont Blanc pen. When she gave me this pen she said: “Someday you’ll be sitting in a coffee shop or something and this pen will be a conversation starter. A pretty girl will see it in your hand or in your shirt pocket. She’ll see that little white peak and she’ll know it’s a Mont Blanc.” Sure, it’s a little bit pretentious to assume that a $200 pen would make a significant difference, but it’s just a simple fact that I like more sophisticated, more wordly girls. Maybe it’s not a key indicator of worldliness and sophistication, but it’s an indicator nonetheless.
I’ve used that pen for three years now, both sailing and ashore. My notebook and my pen are my loneliness crutches — they’re what I did while alone on my boat or now when I’m alone in a cafe or a restaurant and want to keep myself busy and not just stare at my phone or a bar’s television. I’ve filled notebooks, ships logs and travel journals with roughed-out blog entries, sailing adventures, poems, screenplay ideas and even some novel outlines. I’ve done a lot of writing practice and when offshore I’ve even pre-written emails I’d transcribe later when I felt like turning on my computer. I’ve gone through six or seven refills.
This re-immersion in writing and creativity has made me an exceptional online date. I have a great story that includes lots of travel, passion, adventure and the pursuit of a better sort of life. I can write and talk about almost anything; I said in a dating profile once I can talk “from huntin’ to Hemingway, Joseph Campbell to nanoscience, which makes me great arm candy at holiday parties. Plus, I own my own tux!” I photograph fairly well (from some angles better than others). I’m kind and generally friendly, and when I’m intrigued I can talk on the phone for hours like a teen-aged girl.
So what’s the problem? The problem is I’m actually too good at online dating – at sharing my cool story and listening to cool stories, becoming too interested too soon in someone I’ve yet to meet, and twice now in the last few years I’ve flown to different corners of the country to meet girls I’ve been fascinated by in email, IM, text, phone… only to find at the very first glance (or smell, or touch) that there was absolutely no chance of anything working out longer-term. And in the end, the in-person failure of this deep virtual connection always hurts one or both of us.
I was in San Diego, November of 2007, when I saw S_’s online profile at Match.com. She looked amazing — cute and sassy with her perfectly-formed sentences and textual wit. She appeared on my screen as a suggested match after I’d written someone else (“Here are some other users you might like…”). But she was all the way back in Seattle. I read her profile and was intrigued but bummed that I hadn’t seen her profile before I’d left Seattle. But I emailed her anyway, something to the effect of: “I’m out of your range, both age-wise and distance (I just left Seattle a month ago on my way down the coast), but I just wanted to let you know your profile made me smile. You sound amazing and cool and sweet. Best of luck to you. Take care.” And she wrote me back, her tone almost arms-crossed-pouty, harumph (which is the perfect way to get to me) about how it wasn’t fair to write her something so nice but to be so far away and on my way farther.
But we didn’t let it go. We emailed a few times, and email led to instant messaging, which led to texting (drunk-texting, even), and finally, while IM-ing and wondering what we’d think of each others’ voices, I just called her. For the next few weeks we talked nightly, sometimes for hours, or sometimes she’d not talk at all and just listen as I rattled off anything — I’d make up a story about nothing or I’d recount a sailing adventure as she drifted off to sleep. She loved my voice and wouldn’t let me stop. She’d sigh contentedly and I’d lay there on my boat and enjoy the sound of her contentedness.
I was visiting my boys in Florida when S_ and I decided we’d had enough — we absolutely had to meet. It had been five or six weeks of… yes, really, falling in love without even ever having seen the other person. I wrote her a poem because she’d never had one written for her, which I thought an injustice; every girl, by the age of 29, deserves at least one poem. This was hers:
One day maybe we’ll recall
How it was unpredicted,
How suddenly it settled in,
How thick, how heavily it lay,
Debilitated us for days…
But for now we sail along,
Carefully with radar on.
Stay warm and peek out now and then
To see it lift, or maybe fade,
But hope that it will always stay.
And another, an untitled, never-delivered haiku:
Spring thoughts in Winter.
Breaths rise with expectations.
And us, still unmet.
I re-routed my return trip to San Diego to make a three-night stop in Seattle to meet S_ and also get into the office. Because we had a meeting with investors my company even picked up the hotel room.
When I first saw her at the airport, she was amazing — everything I’d hoped. She was wearing white jeans and a light blue shirt. She had big gorgeous brown eyes and amazing hair to match. She was just as fit and as glowingly beautiful as she appeared in her photos. I could go on and describe every detail, but the only detail that mattered, ultimately, was this: upon the first kiss and the follow-up first hug, I knew immediately that I didn’t like her smell. And it wasn’t her fault — she wasn’t dirty or neglectful. It wasn’t her perfume, shampoo or soap. It was pheromones, body. It was smell you can’t wash off or cover.
There was some research done that I’m too lazy to look up right now, but basically there were ten women and ten men. The men worked out in these t-shirts and when the shirts were good and sweaty, they handed them over and the researchers had the women smell them one-by-one and rate the attractiveness of the man who’d worn it. There were some likes, some loves, some ho-hums and some turn ons, but one result was surprising because of how utterly distasteful this smell was to the woman. It turns out the woman and the man were related.
I’m positive I wasn’t related to S_. I didn’t recoil and I wasn’t even offended, but there was something about that most key of senses that wasn’t working for me. I tried my best to work through it because I so wanted her to be as perfect there as she was in every other way, but in the end I had to end it because it felt somehow like nature was trying to tell me something. How do you tell someone “I don’t like your smell”? Well… you don’t. You spoil the night and the weekend at 11:45 on a drunken New Year’s Eve, after she’d taken the train down from her family’s visit to LA to see your boat, your home. You tell her that you’ve decided for certain that you don’t want to have any more kids.
Since I’ve been here in Panama City, Florida, I haven’t met a single girl I’ve been interested in dating. This is an exceptionally churchy town in a county that voted 70% for McCain this past presidential election. Those are two fairly significant impediments to finding a girl who won’t despise me and my beliefs, let alone be a soul mate. So I set up a profile online and set my location to Washington D.C. (which is where I’ll be, starting sometime around mid-June).
Less than a week after I set up that profile, I started talking with E_. Smart and artistic, we hit it off right away, and in less than a week we’d already exchanged enough emails to believe that there was something good there. We talked for hours on the phone, and after just two weeks I cashed in some miles and flew to D.C. to see the city I’ll be moving to soon and to meet a girl. It was almost like I’d completely forgotten about S_ and the whole idea that you simply cannot fall for someone until you explore way more than what you can share in text or voice. This first meeting, too, in the metro station outside the airport, was much less than expected, and this time without even a hint of physical attraction.
So after all of this, once again I’ve got mixed feelings about the whole idea of connection-creation via remote communication. It would be great if someday those over-blown expectations would be met, but I’ve taken a significant step backward and modified my approach (if you can call it an “approach” at all). I hid my D.C. profile and have decided to just stick it out here in Florida, solo and content until the actual move. But if nothing else, my trip to D.C. for that date showed me what a great city and what amazing and beautiful people await me. After the failed date I spent two days walking around the National Mall, seeing the sights and museums like a tourist but feeling like that city — if it were a bit warmer — would be just the place for me.
I heard the sounds and smelled the smells of a city, my good shoes clomping past drum-beat buskers on the Chinatown sidewalk and Rodin busts at the Hirshhorn. I felt the echoes and marble-slab vibrations at the Lincoln Memorial.
And yes, of course, while out at dinner one night I even met a real-live girl. Beautiful and brilliant and even more world-aware than myself, she was there with a friend as I sat down a couple seats away at the sushi bar. I pulled out my journal and my pen and began working on something — maybe it was the beginning of this entry, which started as simple frustration over yet again unfulfilled expectations. At one point her friend went to the restroom and I said something about the fact that they’d been speaking Spanish. Maybe I said something about Mexico. We talked for a couple of minutes and I told her I was in town for a failed blind date but happily looking around anyway as I’d be moving there soon. Her friend returned and they got back to their food and their conversation; I got back to my writing.
A little while later, as she and her friend were trying to sign their checks, rushing to make a late-night movie, the waiter’s pen failed them. “May I borrow your Mont Blanc?” she asked, saying Mont Blanc with a perfect French accent.
She signed her check, pulled out a business card and wrote her number on the back. “That’s my non-work number, if you have any questions about the neighborhood….”
I smiled, thanked her, and remembered how nice it is to meet a real person as the first step towards connection — to know right away that the attraction part is there. Most of all, it’s nice to know that no matter how meaningful the words may be later, how sweet the voice on the phone if that happens, how pretty the two-dimensional photo, how perfect the giggle, there’s a real, physical frame of reference that your nose, your eyes and your body have already pre-approved.