Friday, July 22, 2005

the story of chloe and john

She was the last woman I would expect to talk to, with her extravagantly sprayed curls the size of oranges and a white satin zip-up jacket decorated with winning poker hands picked out in sequins. But it was a long flight, we were in a two-across, and she had gum and I didn't. And we hit it off in that way women have that so confounds men; we were exchanging very personal stuff before the fasten seat belts sign had been turned off.

Here is the story she told me.

Chloe was in a softball league when she met John. And she took an immediate dislike to him. Which was a bit of a problem, since he was quite taken with her, and kept asking her out. To make things worse, Chloe's mother and friends all liked him and thought she was a nut for saying no. It got so bad, her mother and friends nagging her about this decent, funny, guy, that Chloe considered joining a different league if that's what it would take to resolve the issue.

I'll tell you what, said her best friend. I'll make you a deal. You sit down and make a list. On one side, put everything you dislike about him. On the other, everything you find admirable. If the "no" list is longer than the "yes", I will never pester you to date him again, and I'll get the word out to everyone else.

And if the yes list is longer? asked Chloe, knowing that it wouldn't be.

If the yes list is longer, you have to go out with him the next time he asks, her friend responded. Only once, but you have to do it.

That seems fair, said Chloe, and she sat down with a sheet of paper and a pen.

You see where this is going, right? There's Chloe with her pen...and much of what is coming out of it is positive. Too much. She's losing the bet. Sure he's goofy and she's not sure about that, but he's kind-hearted too. Is he clueless or committed? His pursuit could suggest either. And so on.

She looks at her list, and she calls her friend. And her friend, who I believe was getting a kickback from John, lets him know that the iron is hot; time to strike.

They go out, to a carnival or an amusement park or something like that. Something with a merry-go-round. They have a phenomenal time. A year later, he takes her back to the same merry-go-round, even though it's raining and she's being cranky about it, and he goes to one knee in front of her painted wood horse and proposes. Five years later she's on a plane next to me, showing me the ring and telling me that you just never know.

Here's another one. I've known both of these people directly for a few years. Starboard and Teacup built a business together. They'd met at a previous job and realized they had a similar vision for how such a business should run, so they both quit and set out to do it their way. They invested in a space, equipment, employees; they put in long hours and late nights and argued ferociously and at length. The two of you would be good as a couple, people would tease them. We're good as BUSINESS PARTNERS, Teacup would flare, and shake her head at the idea of dating Starboard.

Then there came a point where things got difficult between them. Teacup noticed that Starboard would barely talk to her on the days she was supposed to meet a date after work, and their working relationship was disintegrating. At a loss for what else to do, she suggested they see a relationship counselor.

How many of us learn that someone loves us for the first time on the counselor's couch? Because that of course was the problem; Starboard had fallen, well, ass over teakettle for Teacup. And it was mutual. They were married within months, and she gave birth on a date that suggested they'd gotten pregnant on the dance floor at the reception. Which seems likely, from the way they were dancing together; I have a vague recollection. Very vague. I go to so few weddings as a guest that I'd overdone it on the champagne and forewent dancing for a nap in my rental car.

The part of this story I like is Teacup giving me relationship advice, the day she told me they were getting married. E had just dumped me because he "wasn't feeling it," and I was bemoaning the fact that he wasn't giving us more of a chance. Well, I think he's right, she told me as gently as she could. When you meet the one, you just know. That's how it was for us, she added, batting her pale eyelashes across the room at her True Beloved.

I bit my tongue. It wasn't worth pointing out, right in that moment, that she had known Starboard for two and a half years before she just knew he was the one.

Just kept that to myself.

My telling these stories tonight is not actually related to the Berlin Situation, but rather to the fact that I just got home from a blind date. And I'm thinking about the stories we tell ourselves--and each other--about how you know whether someone is "the one" or not. Or whether they have that potential. Or whether they have the potential to have the potential.

It's so confusing! Over time there have been a few people who I knew, all the way to my hairy little toes, were "the one" I could and would be with until I was an indeterminate mass of wrinkles and white hair.

The astute observer notes that I am for all intents and purposes single. And two of those gentlemen are married. They were the one, all right, just not my one.

I'm not making any particular point tonight, beyond Chloe's: you just never know. I'm not especially sad, or ecstatic, or much of anything besides tired. But I think some ice cream is in order before I turn in.