What About All We've Shared?
I can trace my ineptitude in mathematics to Mrs. Zacker's sixth-grade class. It wasn't Mrs. Zacker's fault that I learned next to nothing in math that year. It was Carol Flanders' fault.
Carol was a classmate who sat directly across the room from me. The chairs were arranged in a circular fashion so that my chair faced hers. Each day I would sit and stare, transfixed by her beauty.
She had wavy, brownish-blonde hair feathered back like Farrah Fawcett. She was petite, with beautiful blue eyes and a deep tan. She was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, and though I'd never once spoken to her, I was certain I loved her.
Each class period, I could do nothing but watch her. Every now and then she'd catch me staring, and sometimes I'd try to meet her gaze. But I'd feel my pulse start to pound in my skull and quickly look away in fear.
By the time summer came along, I had convinced myself, I couldn't let my love for Carol Flanders pass without taking action. I found out where she lived, and decided I would call her. I was too afraid that someone would find out to call from my home. So, one day, I wrote down the number, got on my bicycle and went to a pay phone.
"Hello?" It was her voice.
"Umm...hi," I stammered. "This is John...John Hatcher."
There was a long pause. She didn't know who I was.
"I was in Mrs. Zacker's math class with you this year," I explained.
"Oh," she said. "Hi."
I didn't dawdle with small talk, but got straight to the point. "I was wondering if you wanted to go steady with me," I said.
"Sure, I guess so," she said.
I was dumbfounded. She had said yes. "OK—bye," I said excitedly and quickly got on my bicycle and rode home. I had a girlfriend. I was elated at first. Then fear settled in.
What did it mean to go with someone? I wasn't sure. Would we go out on a date? Would I have to tell my parents about it so they could give us a ride to the movie theater? Finally, I decided to call her again and see if she wanted to meet me at the Burger Chef and have a cheeseburger.
It was a week later when I finally worked up enough nerve to go to a payphone and call her again.
"Hi," I said. "It's John."
"Oh," she said. "Hi. I don't think I want to go steady anymore."
"OK," I said. "Bye."
A beautiful spring day filled my heart with joy. Actually, getting to work and opening my email filled my heart with, not just joy, but gleeful joy. I knew what was awaiting me at my office that day in 1994: another witty and breezy note from my boyfriend, Tim. Tim and I met through his sister, Christi, about seven months earlier. Christi wanted me to meet her brother, and finally arranged for the encounter. With much cajoling from Christi, I agreed to meet them at Lucille's. Tim worked at a law firm in Memphis. I was working and attending graduate school at UT. One day, Tim sent me a note to let me know he was moving to D.C. So, off Tim went to the big city. And off I went, driving and flying back and forth between our nation's capital and Knoxville. We supplemented our phone calls with email notes. I couldn't wait to read news from Tim. I logged into my Unix account and indeed, there was a note. I had mail! I opened it and saw two lines:
"Since neither of us are able to relocate at this time, I feel we should end this relationship. Take care, Tim."
I sat in front of my computer, stunned. That was it? I felt as if I was back in grade school, and someone had sent his best friend over to tell me we weren't going steady anymore. I was devastated.
A few years later I met and married a terrific man. We were watching Talk Soup one night and to my surprise, Tim walked out to talk to Greg Kinnear, the host. I looked at my husband and burst out "That's him. The guy that dumped me in an email." As we sat there watching, I discovered that, not only had the years not been kind to him, his cameo appearance on the show was atrocious. My husband and I laughed out loud.
I still don't know why he was on television, but I did feel avenged. At least I was embarrassed in private. The entire nation watched him make a fool of himself.
It was a very happy day.
"Modern romances take on all kinds of odd forms like email and phone sex," says a friend, "Carrie." Carrie says that she usually tries to be friends with old lovers. "Most of the time, I end up getting along with them, because it's ridiculous to not be friends when you've dated."
But one ex-girlfriend rebuffed overtures toward friendship. "It was a long-distance kind of thing. We started seeing each other and writing. The distance makes things feel artificial. You think you're getting along fine...but after a while, it can go wrong because the person isn't actually like that," Carrie says.
After it had ended, Carrie tried to continue corresponding as friends, but was harshly rejected with this email: "I realize my email was cold. But I thought a simple good-bye would be better than getting into detail. Like I do not want you in my life, I do not want any ties to you, I do not like how you make me feel, thus I am amputating you from my life. I didn't think you would really want to hear it, but you provoked it. Hearing from you a week ago really threw me through a loop and I wish I hadn't heard from you. So for a week now I have been trying to figure out how to cut it off. And this is what it has come down to. Believe me it's been hard, but it is necessary for me. I do care about you and will remember you, I just cannot handle you in my life right now. Everything is temporary and my chapter with you has ended. Take care."
"I emailed her back and said that was the most hilarious thing I've heard in my whole life," Carrie says. "I told her if my chapter was over, send back my stuff."
You're Nice and All, But...
I spent a Passover seder at the local student center making pleasant conversation over matzo ball soup with a sandy-haired young man. As the last strains of "Chad Gad Ya" died away, I felt certain there would be some parting words, some mention of future meeting. But I lost him in the crowd and lingered on the steps, hoping to catch a glimpse of his blue yarmulke.
Was I this desperate, really?
"Hello! Excuse me! Hello!" Someone was shouting at me, but it wasn't my soup buddy. This man was reasonably handsome, dark and sharp-featured, though a bit short.
Speaking with an Israeli accent, he introduced himself as Asaf and asked me out for coffee. Who does this idiot think he is, just calling out to a woman on the sidewalk and asking her out? Oh, what the hell. I don't have anything to do tonight.
The rest of the evening was spent barely stifling yawns. He was some kind of businessman—I didn't care to know what kind—30 years old, listened to house music, ho hum. Not a single spark of creativity or originality. After innumerable uncomfortable pauses, I gave him my phone number because I didn't know how not to. Surely he knew this date didn't go well.
He called the next night. I had to break it down for him. "Well, um... I didn't feel we had that much in common, did you?" Slight pause, mumbled agreement. Well, at least that's taken care of.
But it wasn't. Several times over the next few weeks, my roommates informed me that a guy with a strange accent had called for me and declined to leave a message. Geez, dude, if you're a glutton for punishment, why don't you just watch the Fox News Channel?
Unbeknownst to my stalker, I moved back home with my parents. My roommate broke the news to him over the phone.
"Well, would you like to go out for coffee?" he asked her.
Maybe it was the accent, or maybe she just had nothing to do that night. But she agreed, had coffee, found him the hottest thing since Pop-Tarts, and slept with him that very night. They didn't stay together though—not too much in common.
We Can Still Be Friends
Friend "Toby" says he has an encouraging history of sleeping with boyfriends after they break-up. "Boyfriend one, 'Ricardo,' I was with for four years. After two years of no sex, we finally got up the nerve to break up with each other. That day, we had sex. It was a nice release. We didn't talk to each other after that for almost a year.
Boyfriend two, "Mark" lasted six months. We broke up and didn't speak to one another for a while until I started dating his friend Charley (who becomes boyfriend 4).
"Boyfriend three, 'Nigel,' lived 12 hours away. When I would visit him, we would have sex four times a day, for several days, and then I would leave. We broke up when we finally realized we weren't boyfriends and just each others' mistress.
"I met 'Charley' three months ago. We dated for a month and broke up. After a day of silence, we had sex almost every day for a week, until now, where it's slowed down a bit."
I was being stalked by an ex-girlfriend, but hadn't admitted it to myself. After a long conversation with a friend, I was persuaded to do some research on the Internet. I was surprised that much of what I read sounded familiar—not just how things had been since we broke up, but how she had behaved while we were dating.
My phone rang as I got offline. Caller ID confirmed my fears. I didn't answer. In fact, I turned off the ringer. She left a message. She wanted to talk. This meant she would stop by my house looking for me. I hid my car in a neighbor's garage and turned off all the lights in the house. I got out a flashlight and put a red filter on it (military style). She showed up a few minutes later and parked in the street. I fell asleep waiting for her to leave. When I woke up, her car was gone. I went to the kitchen to get some breakfast. I froze—she hadn't left. Her car was in the driveway. I quickly ducked below the window.
She must have driven to a pay phone in the middle of the night because she'd left some nasty messages, one accusing me of being out with other girls, except "being out" wasn't how she phrased it; and another informing me that she was at my house waiting for me and that we were going to have a talk about where I had been. I crept around the house, called in sick to work, checked my email—anything quiet. Eventually she left, but all in all she was there for 13 hours.
At first it had seemed like an elaborate game of hide and seek. I was giddy with the excitement of it all—sneaking around and whatnot. But then the whole thing was starting to scare me. Fatal Attraction aside, mostly I had heard of men stalking women. I hadn't understood what was happening. People told me that as she moved out of denial the next stage would be anger. She might do something physical, perhaps vandalize something of mine.
In the ensuing weeks she would show up at my bedroom window in the middle of the night. (We were past the point of me actually answering the door.) With her face pressed against my screen, backlit from the streetlight, she looked hollow and ghastly. She would talk about her dreams, which usually consisted of my violent and untimely demise, and occasionally hers as well.
I couldn't go out without seeing her. If I would stand next to a girl at a bar, she would come over and stand between us. This girl would become her new best friend. She scared away every hope of a social or sex life.
Eventually, the situation subsided. She started seeing someone else, and finally she moved away. To her credit she never damaged anything of mine, aside from my reputation, and she never boiled any pets, but if I had to do it again I would call the police.