I did a lot of dating in my 20s. A lot! Family and friends set me on blind dates. I met men at parties or weddings. My grandmother even gave my number out to a stranger on an airplane because the stranger had the sweetest grandson (actually he was living with his fiancé when he asked me out). I dated so much that at one point I proposed a blind date book based on what I learned.
My goal wasn’t to date as many people in the New York Tri-State area as I could. No, I wanted to get married and have a family. I wanted to be a career woman too. But that I could do on my own. My frustration over not finding the lid to my pot grew and grew as I watched my peers marry off. I had a few long-term relationships but the vast majority of those dates ended before or after the second date. There was an issue with everyone. One guy too short. Another too hairy. One guy killed rats for a living for research (too creepy).
Some soul searching led me to the couch of a friend’s therapist to figure out why I couldn’t meet my mate. After about 8 sessions the therapist said the words that changed my life completely. He said, “Unless the guy is dangerous, go on a third date, with everyone.” Sigh.
Subsequently after my best friend Ellie’s wedding I was told that a guy at the wedding liked the look of me and wanted to take me out. He had good references just like all the guys before him. When it didn’t work out with the rat killer I gave the go ahead for Jeff to call.
The first call didn’t go well. Jeff trying to make conversation remarked, “Catherine, that’s not a Jewish name.” Yawn, heard that one all my life. Not a Jewish name, yet still Jewish. We arranged a first date at a local Mexican restaurant. It was raining and Jeff was late. But he ran in apologizing profusely. Forgiven. Jeff was wearing a faded black t-shirt under a black and orange-checkered vest with faux silk back. After dinner, Jeff walked me the six blocks back to my apartment making it clear he wasn’t going to come up. I laughed because no one invited him up. In the end I went home with a happy glow of possibility. When I whined about Jeff’s wardrobe Ellie said, “Don’t worry about it. You can change the clothes.”
Then came the second date a.k.a. the point at which I usually cut guys off. Jeff was supposed to plan the date. He came up with nothing. Annoyed I put together a plan for us to walk along the West Side Highway. Somehow we ended up spending a full day together but it wasn’t a good day. In fact it was a pretty crappy date. Jeff was argumentative and opinionated. And he had the worst hygiene. From the time he picked me up until the time he dropped me back at my apartment he had a hard hanging chad of a booger attached to the end of his nose. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. And yet Jeff shockingly hadn’t noticed. Between the outfit and the booger I was becoming more despondent as the date progressed. Another date would end and I wouldn’t have found my partner, again.
When we reached my door I was ready to run but Jeff reached into his pocket and pulled out a mixed tape he made for me. I love music and loved making mixed tapes. I couldn’t believe Jeff thought to make this tape for me after only one date. Still I took the tape, said thanks, and went up to my apartment before the tears came. I knew I wasn’t going out with Jeff again. I didn’t care what the therapist said. Sure Jeff wasn’t dangerous but he was clearly not for me. The clothes. The booger. The obnoxious conversation. Mixed tape or no tape, there wouldn’t be a third date. I sobbed.
Despite my mood I put the tape in and started listening. With each song I cried a little less and laughed a bit more. Jeff was recklessly unafraid to put himself out there. By the time I hit Patti LaBelle’s Lady Marmalade I started to reconsider what the therapist told me. He said I was afraid a relationship wouldn’t work out so I preempted the end by not giving the guys a chance. I knew he was right. Although I wasn’t certain the guy with a giant crusty booger was the one.
Go on a third date.
Go on a third date.
Go on a third date.
So I did. And it was the third date that did me in forever. Jeff met me for bowling with gifts he picked up at the dollar store that day. The gifts were small and silly. He wasn’t winning me over with a dozen roses or a fancy restaurant. He was just showing me that he was thinking about me and that he was kindhearted (and he can’t resist a dollar store, although I didn’t know that at the time). We gave each other bowling names, Big Earl and Little Earl. We had a great night. And the rest is history.
It was five words that allowed me to get out of my own way. Five words pushed me to give Jeff another chance. Five words to overlook the stupid items on my checklist that didn’t matter. Now after 15 years of marriage I am beyond grateful to that therapist (whose name I don’t even remember). Those five words forced me to focus on the person in front of me. Jeff showed me from day one the kind of man he is, and all I needed to do was pay attention.
Jeff is one of the most thoughtful human beings on the planet. He would give the shirt off his back as well as his shoes and pants if someone needed them more. He loves his kids and works around their schedule instead of the other way around. I am more loved and cared for than I ever hoped would be possible. I am the luckiest girl, and it was five words that made it all possible.
I found my lid. And he’s perfect (well except for the clothes. On this, Ellie was wrong. You can’t always change the clothes.)
Happy Anniversary Earl.