“I’m timid and like slow, incremental sexual tension.”
That is what his online dating profile said.
That statement. So honest. Yet begged so may questions. What was not said was so provocative.
It took my breath away.
I’m not timid. I’m out there. I’d like to think I’ve calmed down over the years — am now a better listener, less eager to be the center of attention.
But timid? I don’t get that. His admission made me want to.
Especially because he’s not shy. Not at first glance. Or second or third. He’s friendly in a very natural way — easy to talk to, nice and chatty to cab drivers and my grandma and my kids and his and my friends. We’d talk and chat for hours and hours about all kinds of things — business and family and childhoods and culture. In bed he’s not shy. No, not one bit.
But organizing the date? He was shy, he said. “I’ve been on, like, 5 dates in my whole life,” he explained why he always waited for me to set the day, suggest the place. That happens when you meet in college and are married for a long time, I told myself. So if we were to get together, I initiated that. And if we were to sleep together, I initiated that, too. Except for once, it was always at my place because his luxury high rise was messy.
“I was really anxious before you came over,” he said after the hour-long interlude. “I know my place is a mess.”
I have kids. Even after the cleaning lady come each week my apartment is a disaster. But I cleaned it up before he came over each time. I wanted to make a good impression, so I cleaned my apartment. I cooked cornish hens and risotto on Wednesday nights and cleaned up the house and put on perfume and waxed my pubes.
Because I wanted him to know I thought he was special. That he is brilliant and kind and really funny and I felt lucky to know him. To be in his affections.
I wanted him to feel I was special, too.
He did. He told me at the beginning. He’d apparently told everyone he knew about me. A couple months in he started to introduce me to his friends and made plans for me to meet his parents. I loved how devoted he was to his family, and how open he was to mine. While we waited at the pediatrician’s office for flu shots he and my kids exchanged silly videos of themselves talking like pirates.
A few days after meeting he sent me a link to a Spotify playlist. It is called 4m-ah.
“So sweet!” I squealed, then teased: “It’s the old mixed-tape pickle: Each song poses an existential crisis —Is he sending me this because he just likes it, or because he’s trying to tell me something?”
He laughed. “It’s purely aesthetics. If I’m trying to tell you something, you’ll know.” The only mixed tape anyone ever made for me was by a high school gay friend whose attention deficit rendered each Bjork and Erasure and Tori Amos song abruptly cut off in the middle. This time it was Warpaint and The xx and Kings of Convenience and Feist and Emiliana Torrini and INXS covers. It was dreamy and sweet and happy. I loved that it was for me, even if was not about me. I fell asleep listening to it on my iPhone.
I told him so. It’s hard for me to be vulnerable. To share my affections and go there. But, like calming down in social situations, I’ve been trying very hard. I wanted him to know me. I needed to tell him that I liked him. I needed to tell him sad and secret parts of me, as painful as that might be.
“I read on your blog about your ex’s brain injury,” he said on one of our first dates, at a bar after a show at Caroline’s. He didn’t ask questions. He told me, in a light tone: “It sounds like it was really hard but now he’s OK and you’re a stronger person for it!”
I tried very hard not to cry. “No,” I said. I am highly skilled at being terse. Bitchy. “That’s not the story. If you want the Cliff Notes I can tell you about it. Because it’s my life.”
It would happen again and again. I would start to open up and he’d shut me down. Like, lately I’ve been struggling with a sense that I need a community — a closer extended family or a church or a bridge club, or what, I don’t know. It’s a human and universal need and It gnaws at me all, all the time. It makes me feel like I’m lost, and my kids are lost and it feels devastatingly lonely. Once I started to share that with him. “What are you talking about? You have, like, 14,000 Twitter followers!” he said and laughed.
I thought I might cry.
I decided that there were things I couldn’t share. Not yet, anyway. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe he was too shy.
So I shared the happy stuff. And he was into it. He followed what I wrote and helped me edit a column when I was stuck. But there were limits. Like the day after I attended a really great dinner party and sat between two pretty famous people — as soon as I started he picked up his cellphone and started to text.
Or when a newspaper wrote a big feature on me — complete with a pic of the kids and everything. People all over saw it, called and congratulated me. It was a fun day. I’d told him ahead of time. I was excited. I sent him the link.
When he didn’t respond I texted: “Celebrate with me?”
And when he still didn’t respond, I texted: “[Pouting while chugging champagne …:( ]”
Until some hours later he replied: “Congrats, babe!”
My heart sank. But I talked myself out of it. Maybe I’m bragging, I thought. Maybe I’m too needy.
Maybe I’m too much for him.
Maybe I’m too much for anyone.
Later that day a friend stopped by after seeing the paper, throwing her arms around me in a hug when I opened the door. “This is big time,” she said. “This guy you’re dating — did he come over with champagne and flowers?”
I decided there were things I couldn’t share with him. Not yet, anyway. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe he was too shy.
But I am lonely. I so crave someone to share with. Little stupid things in my day. The wins, my heartaches. Other things, too.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.