One of the benefits of being middle age and single is the ability to recognize the red flags raised by someone you’re dating. I’ve found that I not only recognize them earlier than I have in the past, but that I also refuse to tolerate them more readily than I have in the past.
For the past several weeks, I had been seeing someone. He’s several years older than me and from Europe; we’d talked a few times and seemed to hit it off. We met up briefly and it was pleasant, so we got together to spend a late summer afternoon in my back yard to chat and enjoy some wine and cheese. It started out fine, although “wine” soon turned into “whine” as he lamented his age. I don’t see age as that big a deal – to me, it’s much more about how you feel and how you live life rather than a number marking the years one has been knocking about on earth, and I said as much. He was way hung up on that number, but I was eventually able to redirect the conversation. He had handed me a few pieces of baguette and cheese as we’d been talking, and it most definitely filled me up. He asked if I wanted more, and I thanked him and told him that I was full. Minutes later, he handed me more and like a fool, I ate it so I didn’t offend him. Repeat exchange two minutes later. And again after that. I thought he was being nice (because nice = completely disregarding my wishes because my tiny lady brain must either be lying or mistaken about what I do or do not want, apparently). The complaining resumed with lamentations about his job. I asked him what he wanted to do and he dodged. I asked him what he was doing to change his situation and got an excuse along the lines of not bothering because he won’t find anything.
He managed to get in a subtle dig – his first of several to come – when he was talking about his friend’s father dying from Alzheimer’s; I didn’t hear the part about the father and thought his friend had died of early-onset Alzheimer’s. I asked if they were close in age, and he fixes me with a condescending stare and says, “My friend’s dad?” it was a little aggressive and very snotty, and I felt an inch high. Of course, I apologized and explained that I had misheard. I disgusted myself a bit with that apology – a tumble further into the fucked-up rabbit hole.
Now, neither of these seem like a big deal on their own, but I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past playing cheerleader to people with chronic “woe-is-me” attitudes. There are two problems I’ve identified with this. People with this attitude use it for attention, affirmation, and control; if it works once, they keep using it. The second problem is mine. I want to help, so I give and give and expend energy that I don’t have trying to lift up this person and find ways for them to get out of their ruts. However, getting out of the rut ultimately requires action from them, and that doesn’t happen. Eventually, this personality wears down mine until I’ve gone beyond their rut and into an abyss of my own – maybe it’s a Pisces thing. It tends to happen slowly, so in the past I haven’t realized how low I am until I feel completely trapped and am ready to mentally break. One person having that kind of control given to them freely doesn’t happen in one fell swoop, it’s a systematic mental and emotional assault of little chips that ultimately fell the other person.
A few phone calls transpired after this date. They were often late (late for me, anyhow – 10/11 pm) and he was, with the exception of one call, practically unintelligible. He admitted to having a couple of drinks, but it was clear that he was completely drunk. Don’t get me wrong, I love booze and wine, however, I do not make a habit of getting plastered and calling people. Another flag raised.
Around this time, my iPhone started getting sketchy with phone calls. My phone wouldn’t ring and wouldn’t show a missed call, yet I’d have a voice mail. Other times, no ring, no missed call, no voice mail notification. At other times, everything was perfect. I told him what was going on, and he actually Facebook messaged me a couple of times that he had tried to call. I always called him back as soon as I knew. Of course, he accused me of making it up. Why, I asked, would I bother calling him back if I was making up this story to avoid his calls? That seemed to put him in his place and he didn’t complain about that particular item again. (NB: he has an old flip phone, and gets mad when anyone – including his close friends or me – text him; he thinks that we should all change our habits to meet his needs. Hell, he hates the one radio station that gets reception in his apartment, but won’t get a free Pandora or Spotify account. Telling.)
We had dinner together and it was actually normal and pleasant, so I relaxed a bit. I had gotten tickets to a traveling Broadway production of Jersey Boys through work and I asked him if he wanted to go. It’s not what I would have bought tickets to see, but when it’s a night out for zero dollars, I’m in.
The day of the show comes around, and he Facebooks me about the plan. He doesn’t want to drive. Okay, fine. I let him know that I’m anxious about parking and would like to leave at 6:30 (curtain was at 7:30) and he assures me he’ll be ready. I get home, take care of my pets, do my hair and makeup, change clothes, and manage not to pass out after not sleeping well for months (and only getting 4 hours the night before). I call at 6:30 and tell him I’m on my way. No. He needs 10 minutes (mind you, he’d been off all day). Okay…not much I can do so I pace for 10 minutes trying to stave off worries about where to park since I’m not that familiar with the side streets near the theater.
I arrive, and he gets into the car. His face is practically a waterfall of sweat; maybe I’m being picky, but he really could have wiped off his face with a paper towel before going to sit in a $60 seat at a packed theater. Actually, fuck that. If you’re going to the theater, is is not acceptable to look like you just got in from baling hay. It’s just not. I ask how his day was, and he answered that it was awful – as was the rest of his week – and he didn’t leave the apartment and just paid bills. “You didn’t get out and enjoy the day at all? It was so beautiful.” “No.” Okay…
We get on the road and he casually mentions that he forgot his credit card by his computer. I think to myself that it makes no difference to me, because we hadn’t discussed and drinks and/or dinner so I ate leftovers. Money’s tight for me, and one of his chronic lamentations is about his lack of disposable income, so that was a no-brainer to me. I just thought it was pointless to bring up. He continues to kvetch about this and that until we get downtown, and of course, there is no parking left in the theater lot. I drive around the block and find a spot about a half mile away, which is fine. I say that I’m not going to put my heels on to replace my sandals because I’m not walking that distance in them, which got a look and a comment under his breath.
That was only the beginning of the snotty comments for the evening. I had recently attended a local TEDx event, and sent him the videos with a note that there are a couple that might inspire him (rah, rah like a good little cheerleader). One of my best and closest friends had done a talk and brought down the house. He mentioned it and said she was good, but laughed at her own jokes too much. I visibly tensed and he tried to backtrack, but at this point after weeks of the pile-on, there was no going back, especially when it comes to my friends. I imagine that he didn’t like not being my ultimate focus, and so had to try to tear her down a little, to make her seem less to me.
At intermission, he asked if I’d eaten and I told him that I had. He gave me the kind of look that’s normally reserved for those who’ve just dropped a horribly offensive comment. I looked through the program and started listing off restaurants in the immediate vicinity that should be open after the show. His reaction was, “I know there are places open late.” Again with the snotty. I told him that I was looking at places near the venue and he again tried to walk back his nasty attitude. He didn’t think that he needed to turn off his phone like all of us other peasants, so it vibrated a couple of times during the performance – thankfully it was a weak vibration so it was hardly noticeable. On the way out (literally walking up the aisles to get out with 800 other people), I saw one of my friends ahead and we made about 60 seconds of small talk with her looking over her shoulder. He was clearly angry that I hadn’t introduced him, even though I’d told him that I wasn’t ready to meet his friends and wasn’t ready for him to meet mine (this conversation didn’t stop him from blindsiding me with meeting one of his friends a couple of weeks earlier – what was right for me didn’t matter at all).
I quite enjoyed the show, even though it wasn’t something I’d have chosen for myself – I was actually really pleased. I told him that I thought it was really good, and his response was, “It was okay. I don’t know why it got an ovation because it didn’t deserve it.” He again tried to walk it back when I threw up my hands and started booking it for the car. We got into the car, and he tried to make conversation by talking about art when we passed the museum. He said that he especially likes Chagall, although “you Americans” can’t pronounce his name right.
I was done. Finished. Didn’t even attempt to say words, only grunted my responses and told him that I was dropping him off and going home because I was exhausted. He had the nerve to ask if I’d take him through the McDonald’s drive-thru, which was fine – my final act of mercy. He continued his attempt to pour on the feigned concern for me being so exhausted and I just didn’t respond – immature, maybe, but I really didn’t give a fuck at that point. He got mad and yelled at me to forget taking him to McDonald’s. However, as we approached the gas station near his home, he told me to pull in so he could get beer. I did, I think more because I was taken aback at his tone more than anything else. I just wanted to get rid of him before he got any nastier. As I slowly and carefully backed out of the parking spot at the gas station, he yelled at me to watch out for the pumps – which I was nowhere near. At his apartment, he asked for a goodnight kiss and got a peck, which pissed him off. Again, my field of fucks is barren, so I didn’t care – I just wanted him out of my car and my life.
Maybe even 10 years ago, I would have internalized all of this as a collection of reflections on me, and I must admit that with this situation I ran through my concerns with one of my friends to make sure that I wasn’t being unreasonable, so I clearly don’t yet completely trust myself. I would have told myself that I should have known that a worldly European was too sophisticated for me, the people I love, and the things I enjoy so I would just have to try to be classier. I would have let him chip away at me, dig by dig, comment by comment. The years have taught me that I can’t fix anyone else, all I can do is try to keep my life moving along in the right direction. I wish that I’d been able to recognize the flags after my first few rough experiences in my late teens and throughout my 20s, but it took slogging through the better part of my 30s before I woke up and realized that people are who they are. They’re either open to being decent, making the best of things, and rolling with the punches, or they’re not. This was my first big test with a Not, and I’m proud and relieved that I didn’t follow the White Rabbit.
I haven’t contacted him since, and he hasn’t tried to contact me (unless he called even though he knows about my phone issue, which is entirely possible and completely characteristic). That’s how it’s going to be because that’s what I’ve decided – he can find himself another Alice, and heaven help her if he does.