She couldn’t think of anyone she knew who enjoyed being alone when they were single. In a relationship, tons of her friends, herself included, desperately wished for more alone time, craved it, but as soon as they were single alone time became a hazard. Alone time meant being forced to reflect on everything that happened, it had the potential to make you bitter. It also had the potential to make you better…but few people recognized this. No, most people, suddenly single found themselves rushing out to meet someone new without doing any of the work on themselves that would keep them from repeating the last mistake, or the one before that, or the one before that, or….
She was no exception to any rule. She wished she was. She loved the idea that she was different. Never a “girl” like those “other girls” she knew how to keep sex and love separate, she knew that makeup was rarely necessary, she knew lingerie was for six months or more in and not the very beginning. She knew beer was the answer to everything that could possibly be wrong with this world. And she knew that an ice hockey game made a great first date. She knew all sorts of things.
And she was tragically wrong about them all.
She’d been through her fair share of terrible relationships and more than her fair share of good relationships. The problem, or so she thought, was finding her pattern: if she could discover “the guy” she kept dating that always ended so badly, she could stop dating “the guy” in the future. She just had to recognize who he was early enough not to repeat the pattern. So she sat and had herself a long think. She thought and thought and thought. She used a single piece of paper per man, his name in the center, a large circle drawn around it, branches out from that circle with more circles. All the good, all the bad, all the cliche. She wrote everything she could think about each man from his appearance to his personality to his habits.
She then tried to find the similarities. Good similarities she labeled on a new clean sheet of paper: Good. These were the things she knew attracted her to these men and made the good parts of the relationship good. Bad similarities also got a clean sheet of paper labelled bad. These were all the qualities that made the relationships fail, even if they weren’t the one major nail in the coffin, they were certainly contributors. She made her lists. She read her lists. She decided she knew her patterns they were clear.
She always fell for the guys who could make her laugh (good) and who took control (bad). She always fell for the guys who also liked to drink good beer (bad) and who she could have long talks with every single day without running out of fodder (good). She always fell for the guys who had dreams and passions and goals (good) and who put their work ethic first in all things (bad).
It was interesting to re-look at some of these qualities she’d previously thought were good. After all, what was wrong with a strong work ethic? Work was important, money was crucial not just to survival but to a decent life (unfortunately), so what could possibly be wrong with a strong work ethic? Except it meant they were over-workers. They literally put work first. If it was the birthday event that had been planned months in advance or stay late at work because there was a crises, they’d stay late at work and miss the event. That can only happen so many times before you begin to question your value in a relationship, or your value as a person.
She decided to keep both lists taped inside a cabinet door where she could see them every morning upon waking and every evening before sleeping. She would have these traits ingrained in her mind and look at any and all new potential mates through the lenses of Good and Bad.
Not too surprisingly this did not work. It was not possible to find the one for you using a short list of acceptable and unacceptable qualities. There was far too much grey area in between. For example, what about the guy who ticked all the good boxes, none of the bad boxes, but for whom she felt absolutely zero affection? Or the guy, same story all the boxes, who spent his free time gaming and had only read the books required in his classes to graduate. This guy had never read a book that wasn’t assigned to him…unless you count gaming magazines, which she didn’t. Clearly the lists weren’t working.
Where was the flaw? Ah, she began to see that she hadn’t really given herself a fair shake. Nervous not to become the eighth grader who insisted that her next boyfriend be blonde and six feet tall and all the vapid things, she’d hardbanked the other way and ended up with not enough qualifications, and certainly not enough that mattered for a mature relationship.
She began a third sheet of paper, meant to encapsulate all the Good, all the Bad, and all the Necessary. Her new list was much more realistic, and could perhaps be considered a stretch, after all, she did spell out exactly what the man must be able to do (make coffee) and what the man must not be interested in (football). She considered removing the football thing, she did want her next partner to have his own interests outside of her life, she felt that was healthy, but she left it in because quite frankly, football people are football people year-round, not just during the months the infernal sport is played (which also seemed to be growing to cover the entire calendar).
She removed the two Good and Bad sheets from the cabinet door and posted just this one now: The Good, The Bad, and the Necessary. She looked at the paper every morning upon waking and every evening before going to sleep. She made sure that the now much more complete and accurate list wasn’t missing anything G, B or N. And after just one week of creating this new list, she met a man.
The man she met was not at all like she had expected. She’d heard the term “barrel chest” before, it was always coming up in steamy summer reads, but she’d never thought it was a legitimate description for a man’s chest, until now. He wasn’t ridiculously tall or ridiculously short like the guys in her past, no, this man was perfectly average in height although his presence made him seem quite a bit taller. He definitely made her laugh (good), spent many an evening cosied up to the fire reading (good), and he had a cat (good).
There didn’t appear to be a single thing about this man that wasn’t absolutely perfect for her, and she began to be more and more concerned that he was in all actuality a figment of her imagination…or a fake. They began spending two evenings a week together, then four, then six. They began seeing each other earlier in the day and remaining together until later into the night. It was a whirlwind of perfection and she didn’t trust it.
At one point, before they’d even kissed, they’d been having a moment, out by their cars, stalling, pushing out the time til they absolutely had to leave each other until the last possible moment. The lights of the businesses around them were slowly ticking off. The air around them was quickly turning colder. They’d both begun to sort of hop in step to keep warm, laughing at themselves and each other, and their breath on the air. He’d started to lean in towards her and she knew without a doubt that he intended to kiss her. Rather than lean in as well, which she very much wanted to do, she skittered like a filly that hadn’t been broke. She was slightly embarrassed, wondered if he’d noticed, if she could still take it back and fix the moment.
He was smiling. He’d leaned back to standing, his arms and hands by his side, his eyes telling her he saw her. “There’s no rush. I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked.
She nodded. Partly furious with herself for ruining an otherwise perfect moment and partly in awe that a man had seen her, finally. They went their separate ways, he waited to see her get into her car and start it up before he got in his and drove away.
She returned to her home. Opened her cabinet door. Looked down the list slowly, reading each word out loud and thinking on it for a moment or two before moving to the next. Yes, it was true, he was all the things GBN. And he was something she’d never thought to put on the list. So she added it, before turning in to sleep:
A Man Who Sees Me
~~~That’s one hour~~~