Reality Mom: The List
My friend Wendy dated a man who had a list of criteria that needed to be met before he could consider a woman “partner worthy.” His list contained all such important items such as “red hair” and “big boobs.” He was mildly concerned with the woman’s intellect and wanted her to be smart, but not smarter than him, accomplished in her hopefully technologically based career, but again, not more accomplished than him. Unfortunately for Wendy, she was a flat-chested, brunette technological superstar who was far more intelligent than this man. Actually, let me change that to “fortunately for Wendy.”
I scoffed at this man and vowed to never be so superficial. I went on my merry dating and not dating way until my best friend Jill’s sister scolded me by asking me where my list was.
“What list?” I asked.
“The list of things the men you date must have. It should include, at the bare minimum, everything you have and more.” My blank stare told her I had no idea what she was talking about. “These guys you’re dating… they’re… Well, if they were women you wouldn’t give them the time of day, right?”
I thought about the man who spent his evenings refereeing arm wrestling matches in bars and the cute guy with the ex-girlfriend who was having someone else’s baby, before she was his ex-girlfriend. Crap! Jane was right. If these men were women I would not be friends with them.
“You are a published author Corbin,” Jane reminded me. “You’re raising two wonderful kids. You own your home, you’re intelligent, creative, take good care of yourself emotionally and physically. Any man you date has to have all of these things and more. Make a list, right now!”
“Lists are weird… That seems superficial, to me. What’s next, order up a blue eyed, blonde hair, Ken doll who happens to be great in the sack?” I asked.
“Yes! And throw in rich as well!”
I dismissed the idea, but a few days later had to admit to myself not having a list was similar to going camping without any gear. I’ve done that, many times, and it sucked, so I was willing to learn from my mistakes. Slowly but surely, I added a few things such as “creative, enjoys his work and is established in his career, spiritual, but not crazy religious, intelligent, divorced for at least five years, no crazy exes,” and “lives within five miles from me.” I enjoyed making the list, but still felt as if it was fantasy-like. I was hardly dating, so didn’t really expect to find a man who fit my list.
But then I met a man over email and damn if he didn’t have a lot of list items. He was spiritual, enjoyed nature, divorced for eight years, incredibly interesting, didn’t talk about his ex-wife obsessively nor ridicule her, had a flexible schedule as a consultant and seemed to enjoy his work. We emailed for several weeks and I became more and more enthralled with him. Hot Damn! I thought This list crap really works.
List betrayal number one occurred when he told me he lived in Snohomish County.
“Where? Why?” was all I could spit out. I admit it, my “likes nature” criteria was a bit far fetched. Sure, I love a peaceful walk in the woods as much as anyone, but I rarely ever battled freeway crowds to get myself out of the city to enjoy such a thing. I lived in the city because in if you’re liberal and live in Washington State, there’s no reason to live anywhere but Seattle. And since we are notorious for having the worst traffic and I hate to drive, I very rarely ever left the city. Hence, my “must live 5 miles from my house” item on my list.
He agreed to do the bulk of the driving until he moved back to Seattle and we went on our next date. List item two was betrayed when he smoked. Maybe it was the brand he smoked, American Spirits, which smell only of tobacco, not chemicals, or maybe it was because I was already falling for him, either way, I let this drop off the list as well.
On our next date, he mentioned a crazy ex. “Uh oh,” I thought, “three items dropped off the list already, that’s not good. And a crazy ex is a big one. I’m not sure I can let that one go.”
He elaborated to say she had multiple personalities and was violent.
And that they still emailed one another.
Here is the point in the narrative where you tell me to run away and never look back. Trust me, I told myself the same thing. It was a horror movie played in slow motion. I was the stupid blonde entering the woods alone. Tripping and stumbling, I call out, “Hello?” giving the serial killer my whereabouts and proving my ineptness all the more. At this point in the movie, you don’t even care if I get chopped up, because my low IQ won’t keep me alive for long.
“If any of your friends were dating this man, you would tell them to run for the hills,” I told myself. But I didn’t run. Instead I followed him to our table in the noisy Thai restaurant. “Listen to what he says and try not to be rash,” I told myself as I scanned the menu.
He chatted about being a vegan, which I found mildly interesting, but generally considered a pain in the ass since I was a newly devout carnivore. I was further disheartened when he mentioned a few bland items he was considering, none of which contained any meat, egg, spice or even fat. What was the point?
He refused the waiter’s offer for a drink once again, confirming my suspicion that he didn’t drink. This caused me to be able to sit back in my seat and relax a bit. I had had a series of dates with lushes, who didn’t know they were lushes, and didn’t care to repeat the experience. I tried to forget about the crazy ex and that he lived two hours away. “Let his past be his past and focus on the intellectually and emotionally interesting man who is sitting right here in front of you,” I told myself.
In hopes of abating the crazy ex fear, I asked him about his divorce, which thus far hadn’t seemed to trigger any negative emotions from him. The story seemed similar to mine, one of meeting when you are young and growing apart over the years. Resentments build, you stop talking and appreciating one another, and then one day call it quits. I nodded with empathy, chimed in with a few “yeah, that happened to us too.”
I continued nodding as he explained, “I was working crazy hours at Microsoft and was miserable. Miserable at work, miserable at home and asked myself, ‘is this really what I want out of life?’” Phew, he’s not a workaholic, I cheered to myself. “I was too young to feel stuck, so I quit my job, divorced my wife, who had been cheating on me and lying about it, threw a few possessions into a pick up truck and headed south.”
Dramatic, I thought, but better that than to hang on to the golden day that you’ll retire only to keel over from a heart attack. Or realize you hate your life and your wife and don’t know what you want to do because you’ve been miserable for so long.
“I lived in the Southwest for awhile doing crap jobs, drove a motorcycle to the East coast, lived there for a while and then came back here to work at Microsoft again.”
Once again, alarm bells rang in my head. “You work at Microsoft! I thought you were a consultant.”
“I am, for Microsoft. I contract through them.”
Along with a list of criteria I had also made a list of “no ways” and working for Microsoft was one of them. Sure, friends told me I was eliminating 80% of the dating population, but I didn’t care. There is no such thing as a work life balance when you work at Microsoft. Everyone I know who works there works at least 60 hours a week. “Microsoft widow” is a well-known and understood term across the city. I am all about work life balance. Scratch that, I am all about working as little as possible. Most of my friends work in a creative profession or the healing profession, meaning they have flexible schedules. This allows them to be free to chat, take a walk, or play hookie with me and I’m interested in their careers. I don’t understand most technology, am biased against large corporations, and wanted the person I dated to be available. Hence, my “no Microsoft” rule.
Once again, that little voice inside of me told me to run because this relationship would never work. I continued this pattern for several months. His ability to communicate his thoughts and feelings far surpassed anyone I had ever known, but then another red flag would pop up and I’d emotionally shut down and pack my bags. In the past, whenever I shared any of my relationship fears with my girlfriends they’d tell me to “get out now.” But whenever I called them with fears about this relationship, they told me to stay. Girlfriends never take the man’s side and always air on the side of leaving rather than staying. At least my girlfriends do, but not this time.
Even my therapist seemed to want me to stay and she’s the reason I got divorced. Even though my boyfriend and I continued to overcome our hurdles and find solutions and compromises for our differences, I’d come up with new things to fixate on. For over a year, these worries financed many vacations for my therapist. “But he…..” I’d continually say, until one day she silenced me with, “Is he your emotional equal?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Is he your intellectual equal?”
“Is he your spiritual equal?”
“Yes,” I said, understanding where she was heading with this line of inquiry.
“And I know you guys have great passion, so forget about the rest of this stuff, it’s insignificant. And for God’s sake, throw away that damn list.”
Corbin Lewars is the author of Creating a Life: The memoir of a writer and mom in the making, which was nominated for the 2011 PNBA and Washington State book awards and is now available via ebook. Her essays have been featured in over twenty-five publications including Mothering and Hip Mama. She coaches other writers on-line, via the phone and in person in Ballard.