I didn’t find him particularly attractive or compelling in any way. In fact, I didn’t really notice him at all when he sat down across from me at the communal table I was sharing with my girlfriend at our favorite after-work drink spot.
But he noticed me. Having spent the past five years of my life primarily in libraries and lecture halls, being noticed felt good. So good, that it almost didn’t really matter who was doing the ‘noticing’.
This was, as it is for many young women, my first key error in judgment when it came to men. So, even though he hadn’t really set off any sparks, when he made his interest in me known, I gave him my phone number and, shortly thereafter, we started dating.
It was my first ‘grown-up’ relationship. Or so I thought. In reality, it would turn out to be far from mature or meaningful. But, without the luxury of hindsight, I couldn’t see that yet.
I was enamored, more so with the idea of our relationship and less so with him. It felt like playing house. There was something decidedly false about it – we went through the motions and I mimicked the behaviors I thought I should be exhibiting as a ‘grown woman’ in her first ‘grown-up’ relationship.
We would meet up after work in the financial district of Toronto. Go for dinner and drinks with all the other young professionals. I was spending one to two nights a week at his apartment; he bought me a toothbrush to keep at his place.
We would get ready for work together in the morning, I would put on my pencil skirt and blouse, and he would put on his suit. We would walk to Union Station and he would head off to his banking job while I headed off to my hospital job.
He didn’t excite me or challenge me. He didn’t give me butterflies or make me feel special or cared for. He didn’t open my heart or mind.
Instead, he slowly, subtly, and carefully found ways to cut me down. He scheduled dates like they were business meetings and he was my boss.
Sometimes there were even tasks to complete before I had the privilege of seeing him; like picking up Jays gear for us both to wear to a game and making sure I arrived at his apartment with enough time for us to change and make it to the stadium before the first pitch was thrown.
He would get upset if I didn’t drop what I was doing to come meet him or if I chose not to wait around for hours for him to be ready to see me. He questioned the appropriateness of my work outfits. He made insensitive comments about my body, my weight, and my eating habits.
He criticized my friends and he rarely showed me any real affection. He never held my hand, he never slipped his arm around my waist while we walked and he never kissed me in public. In fact, he hardly ever kissed me in private either. In many ways, he seemed almost incapable of connection.
When he did show me affection, his touch was cold and robotic. Our sexual relationship was a one-way street and every time we drove down it I would end up feeling completely empty and alone.
Most nights, when we were done, I would turn on my side, face out the window of his apartment and stare at the cars zooming across the Gardiner Expressway while I silently cried careful not to disturb him as he dozed blissfully without a care in the world.
One day, he made a decision that he was done with me; a decision he failed to share with me.
Instead, he became more and more distant and more and more absent from my life. Finally, one night, after one too many disappointments, I cracked.
The voice both he and I had tried so hard to stifle for so many months came hurdling out of my body as I sat curled up on the edge of his uncomfortable and cold leather couch.
‘Where have you been?!’ I pleaded with him for some kind of satisfying explanation for the cold treatment I was being given after six months together.
I never got an explanation; instead, I got dealt a rude awakening and a harsh truth.
‘I wouldn’t even really say we were dating,’ he said.
I was livid, I was hurt and, most of all, I was embarrassed. How could I have misread this situation? How could I have been so naïve? I thought we had been engaging in the very Webster dictionary definition of dating and I couldn’t understand his point of view.
Today, my perspective is different. He was wrong about so many things but, that night, he couldn’t have been more right. We weren’t dating. Because we were missing all of the key ingredients – love (or at the very least, lust), affection, compassion, respect, kindness, touch, warmth, care, passion.
We were just pretending.
Faking it with someone for six months taught me that the absence of love between two people is far worse than being alone.
I had to learn this the hard way, but experience is the best teacher there is. It teaches you lessons that are hard to forget.
The love stories to come in my life will be full of difficult moments, disappointment, and heartbreak but I’ll sure of one thing. I am now a grown woman and I will never play make believe with another grown man again.
The coming chapters will be far from perfect but they will also be nothing short of real. And that’s just how I like it.