Pick Me Up and Turn Me ‘Round
In which I meet someone new, and it gets pretty mushy. You’ve been warned.
One month ago, I was late* for the most promising first date I’d had in years. I’d left the house with everything I needed for birdwatching, but not my car keys, because they were locked in the car. So from the backseat of an expensive Uber I texted my date, adding to the nearly nonstop chain we’d built since connecting a week earlier.
I’d seen Yoshi on OKCupid, where I met Joel many years ago and so many other people I now consider to be part of my chosen Boston family. I almost swiped left; their profile was short, and they said they’d be open to a monogamous relationship. But something told me to take a chance–they did mention liking wordplay, and who can pass up a picture with a cute person holding a cute bird?–so I swiped right.
Though we still don’t know who found whom first, they sent the first message, drawing me in with questions about my Puerto Rico pigeon photos and closing the message by asking how best to send me cute bug pictures. I replied almost immediately, and they replied in kind with promised photos. We started texting, and other than when they were seeing PT patients, we rarely stopped.
After tipping my Uber driver, I scanned the paths near the gate of Mt. Auburn Cemetery, a shared favorite spot for birding, but I didn’t see anyone with hair that matched their pictures online: a side shave with a cascade of light brown, shoulder-length curls. I sent a message that I was by the gate and reminded myself they weren’t much taller than me. Maybe we were both just hard to spot.
My last romantic relationship ended in the fall of 2017, a casualty of bad communication, which is the leading cause of relationship** death. One minute we were sitting at the dinner table full from homemade meatballs and pasta and squash I’d helped prepare, the next he was saying the words, “I don’t think this is working anymore.” I stared at my empty plate, wondering why the hell he’d just rolled twenty individual meatballs and fried them and then sat there for an hour pretending to enjoy eating, and how long before that it had been. Then I just got up and loudly gathered all the things that had accumulated in his apartment over the last 2.5 years, called a car, and left. I spent that whole winter escaping to the stairwell at work to cry, immediately retreating to the couch under a blanket when I got home. It took a while to date again, and even then I met some lovely people but no sparks. Nothing like this.
At the cemetery gate, an eternity passed during which I decided that Yoshi didn’t exist, and I’d probably been catfished, hallucinating, or a combination of the two. But then I saw a cascade of light brown curls and the very cute person under them. From pictures, I recognized the wide smile that lit up their whole face when they spotted me, but the animation of their stride, bouncy hair, and overall manner could never have come through on a computer screen. At five or so feet apart they lifted their arms for a hug, and without hesitation I spread my own to meet them. This was not the awkward half-hug of other first dates I’ve been on; this was the embrace of familiar souls. I buried my face into their curls (which smelled divine), my body at the same time awakened and at rest: feet on the ground, head in the sky. At 4’11” and 5’4” we fit into a comfortable squeeze, then set out beneath the remaining autumn leaves.
A few weeks before, I took a very different type of walk through autumn leaves, trying to make sense of a crumbling conversation that seemed to be getting worse by the minute. The tall, quick-witted friend of a friend I started dating at the beginning of the summer had been clear about what they could offer, and though I told myself and them that this was okay, it was quickly becoming not ok. When we started dating, I was craving a close relationship with open communication, where feelings could develop and be shared both ways. I thought maybe this could become that, but as the weeks went on, it didn’t; during this walk I realized that it wouldn’t. I’d been trying to fit a perfectly good person into a spot in my life they couldn’t fill, frustrating both of us in the process. The end of that walk, and with it a version of a relationship with them I had built up in my head, left me lonelier than I’d been before I met them.
It was probably the stark contrast with this recent disappointment that attracted me so intensely to this new incredible human I now walked with among Victorian gravestones. An hour into our first date, Yoshi and I had already talked about our histories with polyamory, gender feelings, and the threat—and redemption—of wild turkeys. We segued and branched from one subject to the next easily, as if we were still texting with threaded replies, while I strayed from the path occasionally to take pictures or point out a bird. They listened with the same honest, enthusiastic attention when I shared nature facts or a random story about some bug I found as when they told their own stories, and before long we realized we were cold, hungry, and in need of tea. After a quick trip to get pints from one of the best ice cream places around, I took them back to my place to forget about the ice cream and tea altogether.
By the time we kissed goodnight many hours later, I may not have known many facts about their life story yet, but I felt a lot closer to knowing them than I had many other people I’d dated for months. I already knew I wouldn’t have to try to squeeze them into that empty spot in my life: they already fit there.
Since then, I’ve recognized the energy and giddiness with which I pass my days, welcoming it back into my life after such a long time. We chat into the night when we can and greet each other cheerfully the next morning. We talk on the phone (on the phone!) frequently during their commute. We don’t hold back on our feelings, because we both have agreed there’s no point. We tell each other if something said struck a nerve, and we apologize. We learn, and we grow. We keep wondering how we got so lucky.
But we don’t sing a naive melody: we know it’s very early and we’re high on new relationship energy (NRE), which is a powerful drug. The only way to manage it is to be as realistic as possible about how to build a good foundation of communication for when the shiny eventually fades. I don’t want another repeat of that last meatball dinner if I can avoid it. And even though we want to do and be everything at once, we try to remind each other that we’ve got plenty of time. But for now, one month out, I’m still allowing myself to squeal in delight at the anticipation of an upcoming date, draw them from reference and memory, trade mushy and silly terms of endearment, and marvel at how perfectly my head fit on their shoulder that first day, at Mt. Auburn, when they lifted up their wings, and I said
this must be the place.
*They were early. This, I’d discover later, showed how excited they were to be there.
**any kind of relationships: with your mail carrier, your parent, your friends