“Love is the answer, but while you’re waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.”
Today I’m beginning a new series, and it starts with the backstory of my own most significant relationship. I sometimes share personal details here, but I’ve never told you this particular story. It’s the story that originally won me the confidence of a group of young women, who have gone on to share so much of themselves with me over the past few years. I guess it gave me street cred, or maybe it was bed cred. Anyway, today I’ll lay it out, and in future posts I’ll be commenting on the bits that I believe are relevant to you. My next post will address the primary moral of the story, so check back tomorrow for that!
I Married a One-Night Stand
In August, 1981 I left my beach apartment in LA to spend two years earning my MBA at The Wharton School. I had applied to business school on a dare from my father, who had foolishly offered to pay my way if I could get into a top program. I had been a middling student (and party girl) in college, but once I graduated from college and went into the workplace, I excelled, primarily due to my people skills. Wharton took a chance on me, and off I went.
On the first day, my class of 650 was called together for an introductory welcome speech. I didn’t know a soul, but I entered the auditorium and found a seat somewhere in the middle. I looked around, seeing pretty much what I had expected to find. Only about a quarter of us were women. Most of the guys looked like they’d been weaned on the Wall St. Journal. The early 80s was the height of Preppy style, and this group was a walking, talking ad for double popped collars. At least they weren’t the hot but dumb surfers I’d been hanging out with at the beach for the last couple of years.
There He was. He was sitting a couple of rows up and a few seats over. He didn’t look like anyone else in the room. His hair was a little too long to be fashionable. He wore rimless glasses. He looked long-legged; his knees rose up uncomfortably behind the seat in front of him. He was wearing a colorful checked shirt, rolled up to the elbows. He seemed a bit older than many of the other guys. He looked around suddenly, and I got a glimpse of his face. His eyes were the color of swimming pool water. He had crows’ feet, which gave him a wise, sensitive look. I thought he looked like a poet, or maybe a songwriter. Definitely not a business type.
Over the next few months, he and I wound up hanging in the same crowd, and I learned more about him:
- He had a preference for Penn undergrads.
- He had a preference for skinny women.
- He gravitated towards dark, exotic looking women (his opposite).
- His walks of shame took him right below my window.
- He regarded me as one might regard a married, unattractive coworker. That is, I was not invisible, he was perfectly friendly, but there was NO VIBE.
- He had worked in the record industry, and knew a ton about music.
- He had a slight space between his front teeth.
- He was witty.
- He dressed with a creative edge, at least compared with all the Investment Banker wannabes.
- He sometimes told charming, self-effacing stories that gave him a slight air of vulnerability. He knew he was cool, but he was not cocky.
I had a huge crush on him, but could see that it was 100% one-sided. He was never rude, but neither did he ever linger to chat with me, or seek me out in any way. In early March, my roommate and I decided to throw a party, and we intended to make it a rager. I asked Him if he had any recommendations for music, and he offered to lend me a bunch of his LPs so that I could make a tape. I went over to his house, glimpsed his bed, tried to focus on his record collection. He was very nice, but all business. NO VIBE. I left with my arms full of his best party music.
The following week I arranged to drop off his albums one evening. When I got there, he was in a chatty mood. He seemed in no rush to get me out of there, so we hung out for a bit. I was nervous, but I needn’t have been because there was NO VIBE. At one point, he went to his desk and pulled out a photo. He showed it to me, identifying the dark, thin woman as his ex. WHY? WHY ME? He said that things between them were “on hold” while she tried to sort out her sexual identity. Oh, you have got to be kidding me! Now I’m competing with a dark, thin, bisexual? I had nothin’! I nodded and made sympathetic murmurs for a couple of minutes, then decided I really wanted to get the hell out of there. No way did I want to give advice to this lovelorn guy.
I stood up, said thanks again, and went to put on my coat. He pounced. WTF?!?!?!? He was into it. VIBE! I knew I couldn’t trust it. I knew it meant nothing. But here I was, with Him, and it was never going to happen again. So of course I went with it!
In the morning, he was all about the pillow talk. We stayed in bed till afternoon. SUCH A NICE VIBE! It was a Friday, and as I walked home I wondered when I would see him next. You know what’s coming, right? Right. No weekend sighting. No call. Nada. At lunch on Monday, we were sitting in the same crowd of about 8 or so. He acted as he always had towards me. Nothing had changed. We were back to NO VIBE. That was really hard, very disappointing. I didn’t get it; everything had gone so well, I felt that we had really connected. I was crazier about him than ever. I had it bad.
I decided I didn’t want to just pretend it had never happened. I’d rather be awkward not-friends than act as if we were, and always had been, platonic. On Wednesday afternoon, I saw him in front of the library. I approached him. He was very cordial.
“Oh, hey Susan!”
“Hey. Listen, um, I uh, just wanted to say something to you.”
He looked petrified. He looked around, desperately seeking an exit strategy.
“Well, I just wanted to say I really liked being with you the other night, and I would like to spend more time with you.”
He looked me in the eye then. He didn’t look surprised. He didn’t look anything. His face was inscrutable.
“Um, I, er, don’t think so.”
Okayyyyyy. I wasn’t exactly ready for that. I should have been, but I wasn’t.
“Oh. OK, that’s fine. Allright, well, I’m gonna go study now, so I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, you bet.”
As soon as he was out of sight, I scurried back to the dorm, threw myself onto my bed and wept. When I had stopped hiccupping, I recounted the whole humiliating conversation for my roommate. This occurred during midterms, and that weekend was the start of spring break. I was a mess, and I wanted to spend some time alone. I booked myself into a charming B&B in Kennebunkport, Maine. I read and walked and slept with a big fire roaring in my room. It was pure self-indulgence, with a strong dose of self-pity as the foundation. It was a great weekend. I remember reading Wuthering Heights to milk it for the full effect.
After I returned, I ran into Him, and he asked me how my “sad and lonely” weekend had been. What an asshole. OK, awkward not-friends. I can do that. After a couple more weeks, he approached me and asked, “Are you upset with me about something?” Was he for real? Of course I said, “No! Not a thing! We’re good!”
In May, he and his roommates threw a big strawberry daquiri party to celebrate the end of finals. I went, it was fine, I was over it. He was actually sort of attentive. Whatever. I got wasted. As it got late, He was standing next to me, putting his hand on the small of my back. He leaned over and whispered, “Why don’t you stay?”
Reader, I slept with him. Only, this time I knew not to expect a damn thing. I left first thing in the morning, before he could start in with the meaningless pillow talk. Shortly after, I went to NYC for my summer internship, while he stayed in Philly for his. In June I received a typed postcard from him. Typed. Who does that? It included a positive review of the new Elvis Costello album and a recommendation that I save my pennies for the new Kid Creole and the Coconuts record as well. I wasn’t sure whether this progress made us “not-awkward not-friends” or “awkward friends”, but either way, I didn’t think much of it. We had always connected around music, after all.
In early July, I got another postcard, also typed:
“I’ve been trying to call you, but you are never there. Not in the morning, not in the evening, not in the middle of the night. ??????”
Ha. Something is up. Too little too late, bud.
“I was thinking of coming up to NY for a weekend. To see you. OK?”
That first night, I served a romantic picnic dinner on the roof of my building in Tribeca, including a cold soup with lobster. It gave him food poisoning. We hooked up when he wasn’t barfing, and it was the most romantic weekend ever.
We surprised everyone by staying together through our second year, and then moving in together in NYC after graduation. We got married in September of 1984. We’ll celebrate our 25th anniversary this year.
That’s our story. As you can imagine, I had some residual feelings of confusion and rejection at first, and that made things complicated for a while. I wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy for finding your one true love. He hasn’t ever really explained any of his early behavior, except to say that he was incredibly stupid for a while. He has proved his love for me every day, though, since that weekend in New York. Oh yeah, I’ve got him wrapped around my little finger.