How I Lost Myself To The Idea Of Love: A Cautionary Tale

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idea of love
Never underestimate the importance of falling in love with your eyes wide open.

"Tell me about your sister," I said.

"She's short," he replied.

 

Travis sat on the adjacent barstool, bright-eyed, amused by the lightness of our rapport. "That's how you describe your sister?" I asked in mock reprimand. "There has to be more."

"She lives in San Francisco," he added. "And...I don’t know. She's short. She really is." We both laughed at the ridiculousness of it. I talked about my own sibling, a brother I love who's brilliant, creative and looks just like me.

I'd met Travis online. Though his profile was blank, there was something in his face that captured my fascination. An intense gaze. An earnest countenance. A wisdom that radiated.

The very next day, by some fateful coincidence, I'd stumble upon a random
insight into Travis. Sitting at my laptop, I received a Facebook message from my friend Ian.

I clicked over to his profile, as one does, to see what he'd been up to. Five photos in, I saw a man. The man was Travis. It had to be. I switched over to Travis' online dating profile, examined the photos side by side like an FBI detective. Could it be?

"Ian, I have a weird question," I wrote. "Who is the guy standing next to you in this photo?" "Oh, he was dating my friend Jennifer, the girl to his left." Stomach plummet. "When did they break up?" "Just a couple of weeks ago. She was very upset."

"Oh," I wrote, "well I’m kind of probably going out with him soon. I met him online." "That’s great," said the ever upbeat Ian. "Did she have anything to say about him?" I probed. "I don’t know. But he broke up with her, so I don’t think she has a very high opinion of him." "Oh," I typed again. Thud, went the other shoe. How could he move on so fast? I momentarily worried. Then I thought, tabula rasa. We all deserve a clean slate.

Plus, Travis' correspondence was charming in a way that felt right. Despite my newfound knowledge, my intuition said "yes." Travis and I resumed our chat and made a date.

He'd picked a quiet, dimly lit wine bar in the West Village. I arrived early; he'd arrived earlier. He flashed a smile of recognition and stood up to greet me with a warm embrace. I felt completely at ease; not an ounce of hesitation. He had no problem with eye contact. He had the confidence of a man who'd never had trouble getting women.

We bonded over our creative pursuits, a fondness for Louis CK and Woody Allen, our New York stories, our similar upbringings. He'd asked me what my best first date was. This one, I'd answer later. But instead I told the story of being escorted to the VIP section of a swanky, celeb-riddled nightclub and coming face to face with Vince from Entourage, who was my date's acquaintance (and my raging crush at the time).

Mind you, I didn't for one second think, he is going to be my next boyfriend. I was drawn to Travis in every way but sexually. Slight in build and effeminate in demeanor, he wasn't the alpha male I was ordinarily drawn to. These qualities —among many more—I would come to adore one day, in the familiar way that a loved one's quirks and gross habits grow sexy and endearing.

Bouncing down the subway stairs, I pivoted coyly to see him watching me, grinning. I was running on pure adrenalin—and zero common sense. We had discussed his serial monogamist past, the trauma he'd endured when a woman broke his heart by packing up and moving out on him one day without warning. We discussed his most recent relationship—the one I was privy to—and how it ended. I didn't want to freak him out, so I hadn't mentioned the coincidence. But his story checked out. I trusted him. I wanted to see this man again. I was sure.

Our next few dates consisted of dinners out, kind gestures, heart-to-hearts, belly laughs, undeniable, dopamine-flooding chemistry. I finally told him the story of Ian, and the photo of himself and his most recent ex in Ian's Facebook profile. Travis was not as shaken as I'd feared. Instead, he was intrigued. When something happened—good, bad or neutral—he always wanted to know, "What can I learn from this?" That inspired me. Travis inspired me.

For my February birthday, we braved a snowstorm to enjoy a seafood feast, and for Valentine's Day, we eschewed tradition and crashed at home after a long day of work. "I'm getting home a little later tonight and I'm worried I won't be able to make the dinner I'd planned," I fretted via text. "I don’t care if we drink Coke and eat Cracker Jacks. I just want to see you," he actually said.

As much as we were bonding, though, I could feel we were keeping each other at arm's length. Painful experiences, coupled by personal hang-ups, can lead to walls built so stealthily that even you yourself are oblivious to the distance they create. Regardless, I thought, we're getting to know each other. This is normal.

Part of the package with Travis was that he traveled for work much of the time. To my surprise (and joy), I was not only comfortable with the situation, but genuinely excited for his experiences: a weekend in Chicago here, a week in Paris there, five nights under the gleaming stars of Austin—all expenses paid.

Sometimes he'd be gone for several weeks at a time. It was no secret that the relationship was on his terms, although I justified that dynamic. His travel schedule didn't give us much of a choice; I had to understand—or I had to walk away. I chose to stay. Besides, I have a busy life too, and the time apart allowed me to focus on work, and it helped us miss each other more. I asked only that he keep in touch regularly. Looking back, it was that request—asserting my own needs—that began our slow unraveling.

When he'd check in from the road, deep down I'd know it was because I'd asked, and not because he wanted to. It was apparent in his means of contact—text and email primarily—and the brevity and one-sided nature of his messages. On the occasions that he did call, I was happy to listen to him grumble about whatever corporate wasteland he was stuck in, his dissatisfaction in the actual work he was doing, the dreadful lunch and dinner options "in this Podunk town."

In the beginning, he had listened to my gripes about moving into a building that wasn't my first choice, my stories about settling into my new job, my own personal dramas. We brought much-needed levity to each other's problems, like best friends do. But soon enough, we were only ever talking about Travis' issues.

I passed the time while he was away by working, pursuing my own interests and spending time with family and friends, to whom I proudly boasted about this amazing man who they'd never meet in the nine months we were together because of one excuse or another.

When Travis would return from his work trips, wearily dragging his luggage through my door, I'd eagerly offer meals and wine, hugs and kisses, a comfortable bed to sleep in (he was in between homes and had no permanent address; I had an apartment with a view he loved, overlooking the Hudson River). Most importantly, I offered a sympathetic ear. I stroked his hair as he revealed his struggles to complete and sell his first novel. It broke my heart. I held his hand as he stared straight ahead, recounting a relationship with a once-close relative that was irrevocably broken. Tears welled up in his eyes; tears for himself. Always for himself.  Keep reading...

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