Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Story with a Happy Beginning

I have a confession to make. After dating hundreds of men over the course of my spinsterhood, after too many first dates to count, after believing my heart must not function like everyone else's and, most significantly, after the epiphany of January 3rd that showed me that indeed, my heart was NOT functioning like everyone else's -- we have a finalist. Incredibly...incredibly...as hard to believe as the size of the iPod nano and Dick Cheney shooting his friend's face off, I’m actually seeing someone.

I’ve pulled my profile off of all dating websites, stopped seeking out the left hand of every cute guy I talk to and started wondering what the young folks are using for birth control these days.

I don’t know how to tell you about him, or about me with him, or about how we met or anything. Sooooo, here’s a story.


Doink!

At work in the restaurant, he was in his element. He’d started as a dishwasher at the age of 16 and spent two decades working his way through several jobs in the industry. Better at partying than at school, he’d always been the class clown and his co-workers liked his easy approach, his goofy jokes and his constant desire to make everyone happy. He loved restaurant life with its teamwork, its mealtime tidal waves of customers and the way he could easily read people when their need for food or drink brought their true natures to the surface.

But for all his charisma on the job, he was lousy at dating. He just froze up. As a result, his only romantic relationships were with the women with whom he served tables, tended bar and cleaned counters. Unable to function very well socially outside of the job, the restaurant was his entire world.

By the age of 38 he was the general manager of a large restaurant in downtown Chicago. It was an excellent job and he devoted all of his energy to it. He had a great staff and a beautiful building. But as the general manager, he couldn’t date anyone he worked with. They were all his subordinates and he couldn’t break his personal code any more than he could violate company rules. He spent his first three years there mastering the never-ending tasks of a general manager, but he spent parts of his fourth year anticipating his 43rd birthday and wishing he weren’t always alone on his days off.

****

She had no problem with nervousness on dates. At the age of 39 she calculated that she’d been dating for 24 years which meant she must have gone out with over a billion men. Although most days it felt like two billion. Earnestly longing for a relationship she could settle into, she also had certain standards. She knew her future partner would be just as extraordinary as she. Their vocabularies would span lakes, his mind would be so agile it would occasionally surpass hers and everyone would admire their beauty and know that these two attractive, brilliant, fascinating people belonged together. There would be no ordinary romance for her.

But finding this romance was turning out to be extraordinarily difficult as well. She had tried every dating tip she had ever received and she had read every book on relationships that anyone had ever thrust into her jewelry-bare hands.

Nothin’.

And although she had a masters degree in English literature, she had skipped from job to job and was currently exploring life as a waitress. Even her broad employment experience, through which she’d met thousands of people, hadn’t yielded that lifelong match.

She had no problem finding men that wanted to be with her, but she just never felt more than a passing interest in them. Her mind was too sharp, her education too prolonged, her humor too quick for any of them. And she dismissed entire populations out-of-hand. Why even bother dating someone without an advanced degree, or who lived in the suburbs, or who had never been to Europe? Her soul mate would be distinguishable by how far he stood out from the ordinary people. She even weighed first names carefully and would insist “There’s just one name I cannot date. I will never be able to go out with anyone named ‘Bob.’”

***

Bob needed a server. Regina needed a job. When she applied at his restaurant, Bob recognized a good employee and offered her a position. Sure enough, Regina learned quickly, carried herself with poise and professionalism and turned out to be an excellent server. Before long, Regina noticed that Bob was the best manager she had ever had: organized, communicative, funny and very supportive of his servers and kitchen staff. She appreciated him as a boss and enjoyed his personality. Bob was very funny and he made work fun. Regina liked his tall, lanky walk and his calm response to problems. He was so good at his job and at making everyone feel at ease, Regina immediately preferred working with him. It was the best job she’d had in years. She wanted to stay for a long time.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed at the end of Regina’s third full month there and everyone was laid off.

***

Determined to put an end to his protracted bachelorhood, Bob did his best to keep meeting women and stay active. He had long ago stopped seeing his work environment as a place to meet people, but as Regina settled into the job, he inconveniently found himself attracted to her. Of course he’d never act on it and he carefully made sure he never displayed the slightest favoritism. Regina was a great server and a great person and he wasn’t going to let her great rear end get in the way of a comfortable professional relationship.

But as the owners closed down the restaurant around them, Bob felt a desire to reach out to her. They would no longer be working at the same place and he didn’t like the idea of letting her out of his life. He screwed up his courage and asked her out for a drink one night. If he didn’t try this, he might never see her again.

***

Although she saw him as nothing more than a great manager, Regina said yes to the drink because she wasn’t doing anything else that night and hanging out with Bob would probably be as fun as working with him. And it was. They ended up going out for pizza where he ordered beers and she decided to relax for once. She was surprised at how much she enjoyed his company, so when he asked her out the following week, she said yes again.

The third time they went out, Regina steered him to one of her favorite all-night diners and chatted happily away about whatever came to mind. She knew she wasn’t attracted to Bob and never would be, but hanging out with him was great. It was so easy to talk to him and he made her laugh. And he seemed to think she was fascinating. The only thing she had to do was ignore the attraction she knew he felt for her. She felt bad to be taking up his time and money when she was never going to feel the same way about him. But each time he asked her out, she heard herself saying yes.

When Bob called for the fourth time, Regina had to work at displaying nonchalance. She got ready with only a little more than her usual attention to detail and she chose her outfit still clinging to the worn certainty that this was not a date, not with Bob, not a date at all.

When she saw him that night, she was impressed with his sharp new haircut and goatee. Regina had always been a sucker for a goatee. Was it possible that Bob actually looked kind of hot? As usual, they had a great time. In fact, it was the best non-date yet. As they talked and bantered over steaks, Regina considered whether or not she might feel like kissing Bob good-night. Yes? No? Maybe.

As he drove her home, Bob told her about his new assignment. He had been sent to clean up a restaurant that was losing money and needed a management overhaul. With his car stopped outside of her building, Bob started to say good-night. Regina still wasn’t sure what she was going to do.

***

Later Bob would say that he’d never forget watching Regina undo her seatbelt, turn around in the front seat and climb over to sit in his lap. As she put her arms around him and moved her lips to his, he thought, “There is a God.”

***

Later Regina would pull back from one of the hundred kisses that followed, reflect on her former opinion of Bob and her old dating standards and say, “I’ve been an idiot.”


After the events in this story, I began dating Bob while still dating others. I didn’t decide to be exclusive with him for several weeks, but recently (very recently) I decided to just concentrate on this one man and see how things go. OH, boy...HERE we go...Bob might believe there’s a god, but I still don’t...

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