The One-Night Stand That Gave Me Back My Dignity

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One-Night Stand That Gave Me Back My Dignity

A fling finally forced me to confront the unhealthiness of my long-term relationship.

I had a one-night stand. We’ll call him Dangling Chad.

I met him just before the 2000 election. Yes, that election. I was a reporter for a Chicago-area newspaper  not one you’ve heard of  and he worked for the State Democrats.

I was dating someone at the time. He doesn’t get a cute nickname. We’ll just call him Dick.

We were on a break.

I don’t know if it was a stated break, or one of our passive-aggressive plays between passionate encounters. I think this one followed an anniversary dinner that we cut short after we began fighting over something ridiculous at the table.

We were feast-and-famine as a couple.

And, after more than a year of dating, it was starting to wear thin — at least until I’d head up to his apartment for the night. Take us out of the apartment (or even the apartment’s bedroom) and it was a mess: I’d get mad at him for making no effort. He’d get mad at me because I didn’t want to live together. I’d get more mad at him because why would I want to live together to make it more convenient for him to make no effort?

We kept on dating, but our communication was, to put it mildly, for shit. By the time the 2000 election rolled around, we’d been together dating for more than a year. The heat was still there  it has a way of sticking around when you only see each other at most once a week. Our thing still felt big, even epic, epic for sheer frustration, stubbornness, fights over the phone (this was when texting still required you triple-tap the keys to get certain letters; neither of us used it much, thank god.)

It was a relationship that, if I were honest with myself, had nothing going for it. It was taking the life out of me, instead of making me feel alive.

But back to Dangling Chad.

He’d call me, to pitch a story on one of his candidates, and, wow, the banter. Banter that I hadn’t had with Dick in forever. (At most, we’d get high and get the giggles over a rerun of The Simpsons.)

But Chad had a deep voice and a rich laugh — and laugh he did.

I needed the laughs.

If you know me at all, you know that I’d rather be told that I’m physically repulsive than to be told I’m not funny.

Dick, however, told me all the time I wasn’t funny. Funny to Dick was the ability to go out for a round of beers with his frat-esque friends and deliver with good timing a joke you’d read or heard somewhere. My humor tends more to the delivery of a bon-mot with a little grin. He knew that — our first dates were like that — but somewhere along the line, he’d decided to make my preference for in-the-moment wit a weakness.

Chad liked sly wit. He also liked to talk politics, and to tell tales of the human oddities that emerged during election season, showing up at town halls or calling with their odd concerns.

Talking to oddballs was half the reason I was a reporter in the first place. Chad got it and, seemingly, me.

Meanwhile, Dick had never once spent time reading the paper I worked for. I mean, I didn’t hand him the issues or anything but I’d leave them lying around, my byline basically littering the front page. He never picked them up. Yes, I could have given him them to read but in my mind, someone who loves you takes an interest without being asked. (And once I start being stubborn with you, I don’t stop.)

When I won four Illinois Press Association awards — my first year out of college, my first year on the job and my Community Service award being our paper’s first-ever in the category  I invited Dick to Springfield with me. He had to go for drinks with his work friends. He passed up a celebratory FREE hotel room in our state capital with me for beers with the boys. (And, honestly, I think just to punish me.)

Chad was impressed with my lauds.

And he wasn’t just a source sucking up to me; he was someone genuinely interested in learning everything about me.

The night of the election, two of Chad’s candidates lost: one was a sweet but kind of dim Democrat running against a Republican vampire who’d owned the district for years. The other was none other than Barack Obama, who ran in his only losing race against the incumbent congressman Bobby Rush. (Story for another time.)

I wound up at the first guy’s concession party, where loser’s booze was flowing. I drank in sympathy. My stories were filed, I was off the clock, so I could just be my Democrat self. Chad and I were having a blast.

They announced Al Gore as our president.

After a night of our guys losing, we had a win. Chad kissed me. Hard and good.

I woke up to him in my bed.

The next morning, the details of the sex were fuzzy at best. But the fresh news that maybe Al Gore wasn’t our president after all came through loud and clear. That whole recount thing began.

What a portent for what had happened with Chad. Could I recount the night before?

Yup, just as the nation was wondering what it had done, I was wondering what I had done. Chad was so nice. Sweet. Attractive. Funny. But I knew if Dick came around we’d be together again. Feeling bad, I indicated to Chad that I wasn’t in a relationship but I had been until recently and that things were still in flux.

He was cool about it. A few days after our encounter, after he’d called just to say hi and talk about the bizarreness of the election, he sent me yellow roses.

Dick came over that week, saw the roses and tried not to ask. But he was clearly looking for a card so I said, oh, from a friend congratulating me on getting through the election coverage. Surely wondering if I was being wooed, Dick was extra-nice that night. And we had the sex that started us gravitating back into our relationship, off our break.

Meanwhile, Chad asked me to go to Memphis with him for New Year’s. He left a message and played the song “Walking in Memphis” on my voicemail. It was sweet and more thoughtful than anything Dick had ever done.

Chad would have made a good boyfriend.

He wasn’t a pushover, he wasn’t too much or too fast or too soon. He was making an effort. And, in a sober state, I was sure I’d remember the sex, even if it might never have been as frenzied as with Dick.

But I got back together with Dick.

I told Chad that I was working things out with my ex. It seemed like the nicest way to let him down easy. And, for whatever reason, I really thought Dick and I would work this time. As we relaunched, Dick took me shopping and asked me for help picking out some stuff for his sisters for Christmas. Encouraged, I thought it was both a way to make me feel part of his family and also his sly way of figuring out what to get me for Christmas.

But, he bought his sisters nice clothes and gave me … a frying pan.

No shit.

I had a one-night stand who was trying to woo me with roses and getaways while my boyfriend gave me a frying pan.

But I stayed.

I still talked to Chad, mostly for work, but as the election got sorted, too. He was still interested in me, and not just romantically. We both mourned the Supreme Court decision to make Bush our president. Dick, meanwhile, barely cared enough to even talk about the election.

I was starting to feel he barely cared about me. But he said he did and I gave more chances. Still, I felt like sh*t all the time, except when we were together. Palpable indifference is my kryptonite and his was weakening me.

Those early months of 2001 were a blur. I was looking for a new job, one where maybe I wouldn’t need to work other jobs every weekend to pay my rent.

St. Patrick’s Day, Dick’s favorite holiday, rolled around. His good ol’ boy frat brother Danny came into town and Dick had a party and rented a stretch limo to take us from his apartment to the parade in downtown Chicago.

He was making another big, thoughtful gesture for someone who wasn’t me.

That day, I was so angry. I was thinking about how Chad would never have made me feel like an afterthought.

In a major snit, I stubbornly refused to have fun. I drank, of course. And Emily, the friend I’d bought for company while Dick romanced Danny, drank even more. Emily was so drunk post-parade that I used her as an excuse to leave the party.

That night, Dick called. Angry. How could I leave his party and Danny so early? That my friend had been passed out on his bathroom floor mattered not.

Everything welled up and  kind of wanting to ruin his favorite day  I screamed into the phone, “We’re done. Really.” And hung up. No long drawn-out explanations, no discussion. I didn’t want to hash it out. It was over.

Later, of course, at a break-up postmortem at Olive Garden (a restaurant he knew I loathed), he tried to reframe our break-up, acting like it was mutual. “With all the fighting, I just don’t know how it can work,” he said. “Especially if we bring kids into it.”

Ha. Who’d said anything about kids? I thought. And in that moment, I felt my strength returning. I could have fought him but it wasn’t worth it. I let him have his illusions. I was done fighting. So I nodded and said, “Yup.”

I never looked back.

I finally realized that I needed more, and deserved more.

Plus, if I was going to have a shitty president who didn’t care about me and was there for all the wrong reasons, I at least didn’t have to accept the same things from my boyfriend


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