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Chemistry and "Ladders"

Being a man in the world of dating, relationships and sex.
June 1, 2009
“I know now why you cry, but it is something that I can never do.”
(The Terminator, in the movie Terminator 2 – Judgment Day)
“We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.”
(Thomas Merton)

It’s been said that when the student is ready the teacher will come. Growth isn’t about steady progress so much as brilliant epiphanies punctuating the journey through an otherwise barren landscape. I recently had such an epiphany.

While on a photo shoot in the Columbia Gorge I swung through Portland and met a woman for coffee that I’d been corresponding with online. We’d found each other at and exchanged emails and phone calls for a few weeks. This was our first meeting face-to-face. She was everything I expected… vivacious, adventurous, and strikingly beautiful, with dark brown eyes that caught the sunlight like gems and a smile that would melt the polar ice-caps. As the hours flew by, our conversation explored nutrition, overseas missions, personality types, and our own personal histories. By nature, I’m a heart-on-the-sleeve sort of guy—the same man on the outside that I am on the inside (and unlike so many other men these days, exactly the man my online profiles present me to be). It didn’t take long for her to get to know me.

Eventually, the conversation turned to online dating and our own experiences of getting to know each other through that tenuous medium. When I asked her for her thoughts, she gazed out the window for a moment and grew pensive… the kind of pregnant pause that tells every veteran of a man’s dating world that the pin has been pulled from the hand grenade. “Well…” she said, “I can tell that you’re a sensitive guy… vulnerable, and perhaps a bit of a pleaser.”

Sensitive… vulnerable… pleaser.

Grenade flashes have a way of illuminating everything with a cold, peculiar kind of clarity that reveals what a gentler light cannot, and somehow compliments the shrapnel as it penetrates you. I said nothing of it at the time, but as I listened to her and nodded politely the last two years of my dating life passed before my eyes. For that matter, so did my 13-year marriage and a good chunk of my adult life. I knew immediately that there would be no second date… I was finished.

At that point I suppose I should’ve thanked her for a lovely visit and excused myself. Why waste her time or mine any further? But I was enjoying her company too much, and I knew we’d never see each other again.

As I walked her back to her car she told me that she’d begun seeing another guy whom she’d met four days earlier. She didn’t feel comfortable dating more than one man at once, but had decided to meet me anyway, she said, because she’d committed to do so (This in itself was revealing. She and I had been corresponding for considerably longer than that, so if I understood her timeline correctly, this guy—whoever he was—had some kind of electricity or charm that all but instantly surpassed everything I had built with her over a period of weeks… something that I’ll bet didn’t involve being “sensitive” or “vulnerable.” ;) ). She asked me if I wanted to stay in touch as friends, but she was worried about my feelings (what with my being a “sensitive” guy and all… which of course, only emphasized how weak I must have seemed in her eyes). I explained to her that I was sensitive, but not fragile, and that staying in touch as friends was fine. If things didn’t work out with her new relationship perhaps we could revisit the possibilities. But even as I mouthed those words I knew that would never come to pass.

The next day she sent me an email apologizing for how she’d handled our visit. “It was not my place to give you suggestions on "you", when I have my own issues that I am working on,” she said (which she had in fact done). “One of the things I have learned… is that a common tendency is to "fix" others, which keeps us out of our own discomfort.” Once again, this revealed how thoughtful, caring, and committed to her own spiritual growth she was.


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