Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dating after the long hiatus

I have been out of serious romantic relationships for the past 7 years, from the time my ex-wife and I split up in February of 2000, until a couple months ago when Liberty and I started dating. In the intervening years I saw a woman for about 3 months, and while we enjoyed each other's company, the relationship didn't blossom, and we stopped calling each other. A woman I work with and I danced around a relationship shortly, and eventually figured out there was nothing between us but a common loneliness - that ended badly, and it took us most of the following year to rebuild a friendship. All told, about 6 months of false starts, and 6 and a half years of no romance.

What happened to me along the way were several good things. First, I became a devoted father, a stereotypical helicopter parent nosing his way into the school community, throwing many sleepovers and elaborate birthday parties, fretting over my daughter's struggles and beaming with pride at her successes. Stacey was my only love for all of her elementary school years. I mean, seriously, just read the archives of this blog.

I also learned to tackle personal problems, like disorganization, bad money management, a short temper, and chronic reclusion. Lastly, and most important for the purposes of what type of boyfriend I became, I stopped thinking in terms of "what would a good X do in this case?" What would a good father do when there's bickering late at night at a sleepover? What would a good boyfriend do when his girlfriend's kids want him to come play baseball in the backyard instead of hang out with mommy?

The behavior and expectations filter was once this constant background noise for me, almost as if I had no real persona of my own, and was like an autistic child trying to mimic how normally socialized people acted. Or maybe I had a fear of my own natural responses, and took comfort in just playing a part. What happened over the last 7 years was a decay of that part of me. My instincts became stronger than my habits, and I began to act in life as I would, not as my conceived archetypal ideal would. Because as a boyfriend, father, IT flunky, neighbor, and all the other hats I wear, I'm not different people, and my honest behavior and reactions now serve me better than my filtered behavior ever did.

And now there's Liberty, and I am myself around her without any affectations or embellishments, and our romance feels stronger than I imagined was possible. We've passed unscathed the stage where we learn each other's dirty little secrets, we've met each other's kids, had family over for dinner, and made the first hintings of "what if" plans. What if we're still into each other this much next year? What would living together look like? Now, I can't predict the future, I can only hope that things will work out as well as they seem like they might, but I never would have gotten here, never would have achieved this deep of a connection with a woman, without learning how to be an honest man instead of a caricature. As it turns out, I'm as loving and attentive as my ideal "good boyfriend" would have been.

I'm thankful for my flaws, and that it took me this long to grow into the man I am. Otherwise, I might never have met her. She is worth all the years of frustration and loneliness that came before, and much more. Classy, exotic, strong, intelligent, funny, well-read, beautiful, persevering, fearless, patient, caring. Perfect. The woman I love.