Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dating disappointment: revision

Last week, I wrote about a relationship which ended in a somewhat disappointing way, but I did not know the half of the situation. It turns out to be worse, yet more ironic, than I could have expected.

During the intial few weeks, he made strong declarations of interest, even saying that he hoped that I turned down the postdoc abroad; I felt a bit bad that I didn't reciprocate his strong initial interest, but I did get caught up in it and took his apparent assumption that this would continue as an indication that I could stop looking for signals. Then a few conferences, Thanksgiving, and the end of his semester; although he works nearly full-time during his PhD program, we saw each other in the short periods between travels and it seemed as normal as possible. During our separations, I spent time with four (!) men whom I would have otherwise dated (one of which was Gene), but I decided to be loyal to this guy so I mentioned with each that I was seeing someone and acted accordingly.

His prior relationship had ended 10 months earlier, traumatically: a long-distance relationship with a woman from the middle of nowhere whom he met while traveling; after her move to this city, he joined her, sacrificing his social life and PhD program acceptance, in reward for which she didn't have sex with him for the last year of their relationship. (And somehow it took him a year to break up with her!) The online profile that I responded to was his first venture in dating, he said. I made a joke about how I must be the rebound; he blanched and said more seriously than I'd ever seen him, "Oh, no. Definitely not." He was extremely good-looking (I thought), but did not have much dating experience, no sexual experience outside of relationships, wasn't at all sexually active for most of college, and hadn't had sex until his mid-20's.

Now, fast-forward to just before Christmas. I was at a job interview. He had no home phone; had "lost his phone" the previous week, right before leaving for a conference; and (this is where I should have been suspicious) did not show up on Skype (which he used to be on all the time b/c a family member lives abroad), so the only contact we had for over a week was by email. We had an exchange about weekend plans which turned into breaking up. The last time we spoke on the phone, we had planned to spend the weekend before Christmas together before going back to our respective families. A friend had asked me if she could stay with me that weekend. I wanted to verify that it was the weekend before Xmas and not the weekend after that we would spend together. He replied that if my friend was still available, he would love to meet her and he could have us both to dinner. I said that if he wanted to transition to being friends, I would prefer if he said something directly.

He took a "it's not you; it's me." approach: I'm everything he ever wanted in a partner, but he's just not ready for a relationship, and he truly hopes that we can be friends; at the time that seemed plausible given his neglectful and maybe abusive previous relationship, and (okay, I'm naive) because he said halfway through the email that this seems so trite, but it really is true. I replied to this email completely earnestly, buying the story that he wasn't ready for a relationship because of his past relationship, apologizing if I did anything to make him uncomfortable (since he is a pretty sensitive guy, the sort who cries randomly), and telling him about the people that I was in date-like situations with where nothing happened but I felt guilty and might have over-compensated for.

Now, the new part:

Less than a week after sending this email, I noticed on facebook that he's "in a relationship." I could not resist looking at his facebook profile. He and a girl whose name was both very unusual and sounded familiar had been leaving each other messages on their facebook walls about how cute the other was (who does this on their facebook walls?), and one of her messages even said "you're addictive too." (he recycles his lines!)

Her name was unusual, and I remembered seeing it on facebook in the fall when I was looking at the list of his friends right after we first met. Her name was long, a bit unwieldy to pronounce and when I saw it, I sounded it out a few times and wondered where it could be from, and if it was Moonbazi (not the real name of the language, but the world is too small.) The Moonbazi population is relatively large, but so concentrated that if you meet a Moonbazi, you can always ask if they are from city A or suburb B; most are from one of them, but even if they are not, half their family lives there and most are a little surprised that you know the name of the suburb. I once lived in city A, and a long-term ex-boyfriend lived near suburb B, but she was the first person I'd seen in this city, so her name stuck in my mind.

It turns out that she is not facebook friends with anyone else that I know other than this guy, so his profile is probably the only place that I could have seen her name. Nonetheless, I looked back on his facebook newsfeed (I couldn't resist) and they became facebook friends the day he broke up with me, and facebook "in a relationship" exactly a week later. So he may have reconstructed his facebook history to hide that he knew her prior to breaking up with me, and I only knew otherwise because I'd paused on her name the first time that I saw it. Looking back at his facebook newsfeed for the past week, I saw half of his status updates were presumably about her. "Mr Passive-Aggressive is happy after a great night.", "Mr Passive-Aggressive is counting the minutes to tonight.", etc. Given that they already knew each other prior to this week, I'm guessing that much of this was to communicate the relationship's existence.

Now, the irony. Of course, I googled her name. First, the last name to verify that it is Moonbazi because I was still curious and hadn't checked it out; indeed, the only other instances of the name occur in the two population centers, so it's likely, but not positive. Second, her whole name, which came up in two main places: her congratulations on at least a dozen wedding announcements and her testimonial for a how-to-get-married-ASAP tape series promoted by a right-wing religious organization that I know Mr. Passive-Aggressive would find appalling. The tape series was called something like "Marriage NOW" (the real name is even better), and after each person's testimonial, if the person got married, they put the length of time until the purchaser got married, all less than 1 year, and almost always less than 6 months). She clearly means business. My guess: Mr. Passive-Aggressive will be engaged in 6 months and married within the year.

What I'm guessing happened: Mr. Passive-Aggressive had some kind of on-going interest in this girl whom he already knew. Things developed when I was away, he felt bad about it, and he didn't know what to do. He gradually distanced himself, and maybe tried to stay ambiguous until he was sure he knew where things with the other girl was going, and tried to find a graceful way out of the situation without actually causing any rifts. My email may have made him feel more guilty since I said that I turned down the opportunities that I had purely from loyalty. He decided to reconstruct the situation to look like he had just met this girl the day that we broke up, which is completely improbable: if he wanted to make it look random, he should have picked a day several days before or after. He can't do anything about his claim that he wasn't ready for a relationship.

It's a good story. If only I could ever verify it.

Whatever happened, this was the single most painful dating experience I've had. Having had my expectations raised so high because of his abnormally strong declarations of interest and in spite of my better judgement, there was much farther to fall. What bothers me most was not losing the relationship, but the realization that there's no correct time to let down one's guard and take a dating partner's statements at face value. It would have been paranoid for me to look for signs of disinterest after he had already made such explicit statements of interest, and I'm glad that's not my habit, but such paranoia and skepticism may have been my only defense from feeling like he pulled the rug out from under me. Communicating about commitment would not have given me warning, but it would have either revealed that he did not want to commit (given this girl he apparently liked) or put the onus on him to change the relationship's state rather than making me drag it out of him; I had not felt the need to have an explicit conversation about commitment after 2 weeks of dating, but it wouldn't have been out of place given how well it seemed to be going.

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