One Saturday night in the late fall of 2019 as I was putting my kids to bed, I got a text from my friend Christine. Are you awake? I just picked up someone for you. I showed him your picture!
I was laying down in Tommy’s bed, aimlessly scrolling through news stories and social media posts, but I sat up. Did Christine really just write that she had hit on someone for me?
What? Are you out? I texted back.
We are at a bar. Want his number? Should I give him yours? she asked. Then she sent a string of ideas about how I should start texting him, but I demurred—wouldn’t that be a bit weird? Okay, she wrote, and then sent a text to me and this guy that started with, I think you two should meet…
I laughed a lot about this with Christine later. “How in the world did you think to do this?”
“We were sitting at the bar next to this guy,” she said, “and I started talking to him and realized he was single and cute. So I decided that you should meet him!”
I actually ended up texting with him for a while. He seemed sweet and thoughtful in his replies, even correcting typos.
Eventually, we made a date. I showed up early to the metro stop where we would meet. He arrived even earlier.
He was a good guy, I could tell. Yes, maybe these little things like arriving early and correcting typos shouldn’t have been the only reasons I decided that someone was a good guy or not a good guy, but those details told me a story about him before I even met him: that he wanted to do his best in life.
And he was failing. I couldn’t tell this when I met him outside the metro, but I found out soon enough. When I walked up to him, all I knew was that he was a single father of a kindergarten boy and that he was decently interesting via text. Christine thought he was cute, and that counted for something.
He was cute. Not as cute as I’d imagined for a man who would make Christine give out my number at a bar, but still cute. He wore a button-down shirt with jeans, his dark hair a bit out of place and a backpack on his shoulder, looking every bit the urban hipster that I suspected he wanted to be. We hugged, and then laughed about the set-up. “This is the wildest set-up I’ve ever had,” I said, and he agreed. We started chatting easily, about our lives, about how I knew Christine, and within the first ten minutes, about his divorce.
He told me everything.
I was surprised at how easily he told me all the details. We’d only just met a few minutes prior, and I was already finding out about his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s postpartum depression and their ensuing marital strife and arguments. We didn’t look directly at each other when we were walking, so it wasn’t until we were almost at the restaurant that I looked right in his eyes.
And in them, I saw a wounded spirit.
We sat at the bar and talked about our jobs and our children, but then we veered back into discussions of his failed relationship and how he was going to move forward. Was it even possible to do so in midlife? What did it mean to date again? I told him I had wrestled with these questions for well over a year, and he nodded excitedly when I told him that things eventually had gotten easier for me.
He wanted, so badly, for this to be a date that might help change his life. I could see it. Maybe it was because he reminded me of myself, less than a year ago, looking to Derek to save me from my heartache. I wasn’t even conscious of it then, not really, but it was so obvious in retrospect. And right now, I could see how I wasn’t that person anymore.
I watched my date tell a story, and as he looked at me for some validation, I could see a familiar desperation in his eyes. He wanted for things to be easy again, and he had a glimpse of me and my relative stability, and he thought for just a moment, Maybe she will be the one to save me.
I mean, maybe he didn’t think these things at all. Maybe I put those thoughts in his head, because he had a look in his eyes that was familiar. I’m not supposed to be here, his wide eyes and hesitant smile said to me. Help me get out.
Of course, I couldn’t help him out. I could laugh with him and tell stories about living abroad and genuinely enjoy my time with him. We parted without making a second date, but when he texted me that he wanted to see me again—while I was still in the cab home from our date—I knew what my reply would be. I knew I didn’t want it.
I was honest, for once, and rather than lie and use widowhood as my excuse, I told him that we were in different places in our lives, and I didn’t think it worked for us to date. Just typing those words made me feel like I’d really arrived somewhere, though it wasn’t totally clear where that place was. It’s best for both of us if we go our separate ways, I wrote.
He replied thoughtfully. I understand and I appreciate your openness, he wrote, noting that we’d had a conversation filled with deep intensity, at least for him. Then he asked a question. I know you get asked all the time, but any parting words of advice for someone embarking on a new chapter?
I replied, Oh, just know there’s no timeline. I went in and out of ‘being ready’ like ten times. I finally got there but there’s a lot of false starts and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I hate the phrase ‘it’s a journey’ but…it kinda is.
He thanked me, and our text thread ended. Weeks later, I’d forgotten exactly what he looked like, but I remembered how he felt. He was wounded and lost, and he looked at me as though I understood how to get out of whatever he was in.