I don’t believe in this stuff. This stuff simply does not happen in real life. I am not new to dating. But I swear to you now – I swear on my mother’s life – that I have never felt like this. And I simply don’t believe it.
MONDAY, JANUARY 2, 2012
There was nothing special about what led up to our first date. I had woken up sprawled across my bed, half covered in sheets; my mouth was dry due to the unseasonable Angelino warmth. I went about my business like any other day. I greeted my computer with a gentle press of a button. I phoned my father to catch up on our New Year’s Eve stories. I stopped by my best friend’s house for lunch like I’ve done so many other times. It was all very vanilla.
But at 3:30pm, Maya arrived at the wine bar. I had been waiting for a few minutes looking over the wine list and watching couples pass by hand-in-hand on Culver Blvd. Maya walked up from behind me, stopped beside my chair, and introduced herself. I stood to greet her with a hug, offered her the chair opposite mine, and sat to face her. Her eyes overflowed with kindness. Her mouth painted sounds that my ears drank in. Her brunette hair fell across her shoulders like snow on the tops of mountains. But she wasn’t exactly what I had pictured in my mind for my future wife and lifetime friend.
As we immersed ourselves in conversation, I stealthily looked her over for flaws in her physical form, but not for a reason to run like I had done on past dates. I scrutinized her because I didn’t believe I could be so attracted to someone who didn’t fit into my preconceived picture of what I thought I would find beautiful. And Maya smashed that picture when I saw her hands. I pay very close attention to the way a woman maintains her hands and feet. I see them as the feminine extension of a woman’s soul. And Maya’s fingertips were not perfectly manicured; they were those of a woman who had done work. One who made things. One who expressed herself through art. A little speck of paint here, a patch of old fingernail polish there, but still the fingers of a woman: gentle and delicate. And I loved each one of her fingers and their tiny imperfections. She wasn’t exactly what I had pictured. And that’s what made this moment so surprising.
What the hell is this feeling in my chest?
At first we spoke about the normal get-to-know-you stuff: where we grew up, how many siblings, etc., but as our comfort levels grew – and they grew quite quickly – we dived into the subtleties of etiquette, our individual ways of dealing with life’s lessons and opportunities, and our mutual passion for helping people and offering love consistently and honestly. Listening to her affectionately describe the non-profit she started five years ago and watching her eyes light up as I spoke about the music I expressed through my heart, I was enchanted. And shocked. I couldn’t believe that this connection was happening. This stuff simply doesn’t happen.
Throughout our conversation we cracked bad jokes, told family stories, shared our experiences with art – and to a lesser extent, wine – and as she shared herself unabashedly, exuberantly, and whole-heartedly, this feeling in my chest kept swelling.
What the hell is this feeling in my chest?
When the bill came, the next step had to be decided. But smiles slowly reflected in our eyes because the decision had been silently made before the bill even came: this night was not ending yet. We took a stroll through Downtown Culver City before the cool January air crept into our heat-dependent, Angelino skin, so we decided to head to my apartment across the street to listen to records.
I opened the door and showed her in. She immediately complimented the décor. She loved my use of space. Then she asked me what other new visitors ask me upon entering my place: “Will you play me some of your music?” Her childlike curiosity was bubbling through her eyes.
If it were already on, the record player would’ve scratched. I have not sat in a room with someone and listened to an entire piece of my own music in years. I honestly cannot recall the last time it happened. It’s awkward. It’s like standing naked in the center of the room without getting to explain that your deodorant ran out three days ago, or you haven’t replaced your broken pull-up bar yet, or that you succumbed to the holiday treats despite their effect on your waistline. My usual response in this situation is to explain every detail of every chord choice, melodic phrase, and rhythmic bounce as we listen. I get all awkward and jittery. I feel insecure. I feel out of place. I act like a doofus. It’s wicked strange when I listen to my own music with someone, so I just don’t do it.
“Will you play me some of your music?” she inquired.
“Of course!” I blurted out to my own surprise.
She was in. I opened up. I let her in. I actually wanted to feel the strangeness of listening to my own music with her. I wanted her to feel it too. I wanted to sit next to her on my couch and let her lose herself in the sea of musical expression that reveals my soul. And she did. She sat motionless. And just listened. And while we sat in our human silence, I was calm. I was safe. I was home.
What. Is. This.
As we kissed between the gentle waves of “As Night Wears On”, my heart was dizzy in its own rhythmic pulse. And Maya’s flushed cheeks were warm and honest. She was with me. She was part of me. And I saw myself in her eyes.
The plans she made for a late dinner with friends could not be broken. And despite our combined swoon-induced attempts to stay and kiss and talk and laugh, our reason-induced acknowledgement that we would see each other again won us over. And like that, our first date was over.
Who is this woman who just left my apartment? Did she really offer herself willingly to me, a stranger, without hesitation? Did she really nervously admit disbelief at our potent joyful connection? Did she really listen to me speak without once letting her ego insert her into my stories and verbal expressions? Who is this woman who paused when putting on her boots to leave my apartment and looked at me across the room and asked astonishingly, “What’s happening right now?” Is this really her scent infused in my shirt from when we embraced lovingly for our goodnight kiss?
What the hell is this feeling in my chest?
This feeling is in front of me now. Between Maya and me while we sit on the patio at Ugo’s drinking wine and laughing on the first Monday of the New Year. Between us as we walk through Culver City arm-in-arm reminiscing as if we’ve been here before. Between us while we sit closely on my couch listening to gentle music as if it was the millionth time we had performed this daily ritual. Between us when we finally embrace and kiss goodnight as if every other kiss each of us experienced had never existed.
“Is this really happening?” she says, cheeks flushed, smile broad as she stands beside her open car door.
“I have no idea what’s happening,” I reply, heart swooning and open, eyes gleaming.
“See you soon,” she declares with a loving softness in her eye.
“I cannot wait.”
TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 2012
Still feeling so overwhelmingly vulnerable upon waking up on Tuesday morning, I chose to surrender to this feeling in my chest despite the indisputable fear that rose in my throat. And at that moment, I saw a future in which I gave and received a love that I had never experienced before. And the romantic desire I felt for all other women throughout the world went from being important to being absolutely non-existent. It was unbelievable.
What is this feeling?
Maya greeted me at the gate to her building on Tuesday afternoon. I kissed her as we waited for the elevator. After going up two floors, we took a left and crossed an open-air walkway. We stopped for a moment to appreciate a wonderful view of the setting sun through a group of gently waving palm trees. She showed me into her apartment. A beautiful loft a block from Venice Beach. She showed me a chalkboard she made from scrap wood from Home Depot. She showed me the handmade jewelry she was creating. Then she sat on the couch and I sat beside her.
“I have to tell you something.”
Maya’s eyes turned red, her face lost color, her brow furrowed.
“Jesus Christ,” I dejectedly muttered while shaking my head and looking towards the door.
“I broke up with my boyfriend in March, but we remained friends. For the most part. Mutual friends, you know how it goes. After I left you last night, I went to meet my friends for dinner and he ended up showing up later.”
My face was a contorted mix of anger, disappointment, frustration, and heartbreak. I made no sound. I made no gestures. I looked into her kind eyes while she struggled to find words to hurt me less. I sat silent as she spoke.
“He told me he wants to try it again. He felt we could work it out. And I feel it too.
“This is so awful. I feel like I’ve been dating you for months. I know you. I am so sorry. I wish we met sooner. This is awful timing.
“You’re such a wonderful person and kind and considerate, compassionate, self-aware. What happened between us was unbelievable. I never expected something so strong and so lovely to form in such a short amount of time.
“This decision is so difficult. I can’t believe this is happening. I’m so sorry if I sound crazy. I don’t know how to do this the right way. I’m so sorry, Steve.
“How do you feel?”
I finally spoke, “I’m sure my face is telling enough.”
Her eyes welled. Her hands fell silent on her lap. Her voice quivered when she spoke. Her heart was open. Both our hearts were aching in this moment. I chose my words carefully.
“Maya, I am not angry that you have found something you feel is worth pursuing. When someone finds love, it’s a wonderful thing. And if it’s with him, then I’m not part of that equation. I’m not angry with you. I’m just disappointed that we never even had a chance.”
That feeling in my chest…
“I felt something with you that I have never felt in my life. Not even with the one woman I know I was in love with. And I didn’t even get a chance to hold it in my chest. We didn’t even get to wake up together. Or meet each other’s friends. Or clean the kitchen together. Or dress up to go see a show. Or try to build a life. It was all one moment. And it’s gone. I felt something so undeniably wonderful and it’s gone. That’s why I’m upset.”
“I am so sorry, Steve,” Maya replied gently. “What happened last night was unbelievable. You are such an amazing person…”
“…But that’s not enough. Not for you. Right now.”
“No. Not now.” Her eyes now fell to her hands on her lap. “I know my heart wouldn’t be fully in it if I were to pursue the possibility of us because I would think of the ‘what if?’ with my ex who I was in love with and had a history with. And that wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“No, it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us. And I would not ask you to change your mind.”
I rose slowly. I put on my jacket, slipped my feet into my shoes, and left Maya’s apartment.
And now I sit motionless on my couch, my hands resting in my lap. I sit in human silence. Alone. My eyes are beaten. My heart spurned. That feeling in my chest snuffed out and replaced with a dull ache. This stuff doesn’t happen in real life. You just don’t fall in love on the first date. Genuine connection over worldly viewpoints and life goals just doesn’t happen on one date. Love at first sight is not real. And yet I sit alone in my apartment ruminating on what just happened to me, on how real it was. On the fact that I actually fell in love with Maya over the course of four hours; on the fact that I am now utterly heartbroken; on the fact that I saw everything I wanted in a woman when I saw Maya.
But I don’t believe in this stuff.
And that’s why it never happened.