Four years ago, I sat in my therapist’s chair, worrying about the date I had scheduled for just after our appointment. Having spent the better part of a year and a half dating, on and off match.com, I had had every single one of my idiosyncrasies and failings revealed to me in the ending of many, many short relationships. This particular date followed a months-long break from the website and two very important realizations on my part: 1. that I was worthy of the love I desired, and 2. that, perhaps, all the previous failed relationships had more to do with the men I was dating than with me. Though I tried to hold these thoughts close to me while I waded back into the online dating pool, it didn’t stop my mind from returning to old worries.
“What if he thinks I’m too silly or strange?”
“What if he doesn’t think I’m pretty or interesting?”
“What if he doesn’t like me?”
My therapist, a slight, kind-faced woman with high, round cheeks, listened patiently as I spiraled through these thoughts. She finally interrupted me with this suggestion: “Laura, why don’t you take this date as an opportunity to decide if YOU like HIM?”
On the way home, I drove the road that curves easily around a large reservoir. I practiced my relaxation breathing and focused on what I would wear, how much time I would need to get ready. As I rounded the reservoir, I looked to the sky and saw a rainbow, the first I had witnessed in many years. “It’s a sign,” a tiny voice whispered, a voice I quickly squashed with reality. Instead I told myself, just go on this one date, be present, and don’t think about the future. But thoughts of the rainbow lingered in the weeks and months that followed.
Two hours later, I approached the spot Eric and I had agreed upon for meeting. We planned to walk together the few blocks to the restaurant in Washington Square he had chosen for our date. As I rounded the corner and saw him, my first thought was, “He looks nervous!” This was reassuring to me, because I was nervous too. He stood, a bit stiffly, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his crisp khakis, while my nerves manifested in incessant, mindless babbling. We began our walk, and I chattered on about the small needles my acupuncturist had left in my ears to help with my anxiety (WHY???)
As we sat down to dinner, though, I began to relax. One of the first things I loved about Eric was the care he took with his words. He was patient with his thoughts. He didn’t just blurt out anything that came to mind, but instead talked slowly and deliberately, with purpose and sensitivity. Over that first meal, he told me all about the seven months he spent hiking the Appalachian Trail, his work as a human factors engineer, and his family in Chicago and Pittsburgh. When dinner was done, we walked back toward my apartment and had ice cream at a park nearby. We watched a young couple make out on a bench forty feet away, but we didn’t kiss each other that night. I can’t claim that I knew he was “the one” after that first date, but I did know conversation was easy between us. I wanted to talk to him more. I found him attractive and interesting. And I believed, very early on, that being with him would make me a better person. So we had a second date.
Four years later, it is hard to believe we were ever strangers. He has become my best friend, my partner, the love of my life. We are a family now, and this summer, we moved into our home, a place I love more than any other place I’ve lived. Tonight, we’ll go back to the restaurant in Washington Square and probably laugh about those nerve-filled first moments. I’ll tell him how much I love him, hold his hand, and hug him tightly. And I’ll acknowledge that rainbow as the sign it truly was, of promise and hope, happiness and love.