An Unintentional Cupid

Time for another dating story, but this one isn’t about me.

Way back in the summer of 1996, David, Stephen, and I were once again going to the local Christian music festival called AtlantaFest. The festival was held at Six Flags Over Georgia for four days and we spent the four days “camping” at the grounds. By “camping”, I mean we parked our car in a big open field, set up a tent, and then baked in the hot July sun for four days. We did this for many years and finally stopped when I realized that all we talked about while we were “camping” is how miserable we were sitting in the hot sun for four days.

Let’s stay on topic, though. At this particular year, we had set up camp and were sitting in our chairs under our tarp when we noticed a commotion at another campsite. Two girls were standing outside of a car and fussing loudly about something. Apparently they had locked themselves out of their car. One of the girls, a diminutive red-head looked at us and said, “well, are you going to sit there and watch or are you going to help us?” We sat there slack-jawed. I guess we had been caught. We walked over to their car to see if we could help. At some point, the car did get unlocked. (Either we slim-jimmed the lock or called a locksmith, or somebody smarter came along and figured out how to get in the car, I can’t remember) We ended up spending the entire festival with the two girls having all sorts of good, clean fun.

It turned out that they lived in West Palm Beach, Florida. A couple of months later, Stephen decided he wanted to fly down to Florida to spend a weekend with the girls (I think he liked one of the girls.) I agreed to go with him because after all, I was on a break with my girlfriend and the prospect of spending a weekend with two girls sounded just dandy to me, plus having lived in Florida only months earlier, this would give me a chance to reunite with old friends.

We had a great time that weekend and before we left to fly home I said, “let me call some of my friends from Delray Beach and Boca Raton and we can all do dinner together before I fly home.” Little did I know what trouble I had started. At the dinner, Michelle, the red-headed girl, and my friend Ryan spent the entire evening looking at each other doe-eyed and cracking jokes to make each other laugh. Only a couple weeks later, I got a call from Ryan and Michelle saying they were dating each other. Now that was totally unexpected! Had I never flown down to Florida and never called the two different groups to have dinner together, they might never have met.

Fast forward a couple years later to 1998, on another visit to south Florida (I loved going to south Florida to visit, it has been way too long since I’ve been down there, excluding the short time I was there before and after our most recent cruise), Ryan and Michelle told me they were getting married and wanted me to be in their wedding. I was thrilled. They also told me that they would be setting me up with one of the bridesmaids. Um, thanks. I guess they felt they owed me.

I drove down to Ocala, Florida for the wedding and had a fun weekend laughing about my days living in Boca Raton and working for IBM. I met the bridesmaid we talked for a while at the wedding, but while she was a nice girl, she was very quiet and frankly I wasn’t ready to take on another long distance relationship. Besides, I had some opportunities back home I wanted to explore further, including one rising sophmore who was spending her summer in Savannah, but I’ll never forget that hot, muggy weekend in Ocala.

Ryan and Michelle have been married for seven years now and have two (maybe three? I haven’t heard from them in a while.) beautiful children of their own now. I always smile when I think that I inadvertantly played a part in their family.

“Well, why not?”

By the spring of 1998, I was starting to dip my toe in the pool of dating again and no one was a bigger cheerleader for me than Adriene.

“She might say no, Jeff, but she should know she’s missing out on a great guy.”

I appreciated the sentiment, but it didn’t make asking girls out on dates any easier. I was never any good at that stuff. No matter how smooth I tried to plan out what I was going to say, it always came out wrong or circumstances always rendered what I said nonsensical. Nonetheless, at least I was moving on.

During this time, the transitions in all of my friends’ lives were still going on. Friends were falling out of and falling into love in relationships around me. Adriene had just come out of a relationship and we spent a lot of time talking late into the night about the confusing nature of relationships. We tried to encourage each other and not fall into self-pity or bash the ex-es. The result of all this was that now Adriene was doubly off-limits. First of all, she was still a freshman and I was under a self-imposed no freshman rule. Now, however, she was on the rebound and I wasn’t about to be any girl’s rebound. Plus, it just seemed predatory to counsel her on emerging out of a relationship and then follow it up with asking her out. So, she wasn’t even on the list for me. There were other girls that I was interested in and wanted to get to know better.

At the end of the school year she went home to Savannah and I was left in Atlanta to fend for myself and I had a great summer. It was probably one of the few times in my life that I got out, went places, and lived like a single person and enjoyed it. I didn’t go on very many dates, but it felt good to be alive. Meanwhile, thanks to the technology that is e-mail and Instant Messenger, Adriene and I continued to converse over the summer on a regular basis. In the middle of the summer she planned to fly up to Atlanta to go to a wedding and asked if I would pick her up at the airport and I told her I’d be glad to.

My sister wryly picked up a scent, “So, is there anything going on between you and this girl?”

“No,” I shook my head. “I’m just picking her up so that she can visit with some friends and go to the wedding. There’s nothing going on there.”

“Well, why not?”

I gave her my list of reasons and she shrugged and said, “Well, OK, if that’s the way you want it. I dunno. I don’t know how many casual friends I would drive down and pick up at the airport or would ask me to pick them up at the airport.”

Thanks to my sister, I was now second-guessing. Sure, I really enjoyed the time I spent with Adriene, but dating had bad idea written all over it. I was entering my final year of college and a year from now I might be living anywhere with a new job. Getting entangled in a relationship with a second-year student and facing the possibility of yet another long-distance relationship if I moved after graduation was extremely unappealing. I had a good friendship with Adriene and if I knew what was good for me, I wouldn’t screw it up with a botched romance. No, I was going to steer clear of this and keep looking elsewhere.

Somehow, though, she stayed in the back of my mind. She had snuck onto the bottom of the list.

The Burning Down

“You know you’re better off without her,” Christine whispered in my ear as I sat there and watched her on the dance floor.

She was right. I was better off without her and I suppose she was better off without me. At the end of our relationship, we were slowly poisoning each other with mistrust, sarcasm, and unreal expectations.

Christine was a loyal friend of iron will. She shot straight from the hip and never hid her feelings. That’s why I liked her. I chose to take her to my spring formal in 1998 because I knew she was a “safe” choice. She wouldn’t leave at the end of the evening with some other guy or spend the entire night flirting with someone else in front of me. She would simply stay by my side and smile alot and we could make each other laugh. However, there was no romantic connection between us, so I was as single as ever that night. Nevertheless, her comment blazed with truth.

When I parted ways with my girlfriend in 1997, I had assumed that our paths would never cross again, but I wasn’t afforded that luxury. Only a couple months afterwards, she started a relationship with a good friend of mine. Now, I could’ve gotten pretty angry with my friend for violating the Guy Code, but ultimately I could not. As far as I was concerned, she was long gone, so it didn’t matter to me who she went out with next. Also, I knew firsthand how charming she could be, so I knew how easy it was to fall for her, so I couldn’t blame him. I was presented with a tough choice. I could let this embitter me and hold a grudge against them or I could let it go. I could free myself from the bondage of feeding, caring, and nursing bitterness which takes a lot of energy I’ll have you know, and wish them well instead.

Earlier that Christmas at the end of 1997, I spent part of the holidays in Chattanooga and Nashville visiting friends and hiding out alone in places in those cities. I realized then that it was the first Christmas in five years that I was not in any kind of relationship with a girl. There would be no romantic gift-giving, nor any other romantic time spent during Christmas time. I would’ve thought this would’ve brought me down, but instead it was liberating. I discovered a joy in finding fulfillment in God alone and not in some other person. Sometime around that Christmas season, I finally began to embrace being single instead of cursing it.

Sometime after the dance, I remember talking to good friend and she asked me “When do you think you are truly over someone?” I paused and then answered that I didn’t know if you ever “get over” someone. I think it’s something that you eventually just come to terms with and accept that God wanted it that way and that it is for the best. Eventually, you are able to see things better from a more objective point of view and you know it is better for both of you that it happened this way. One thing I knew for sure, the stakes had raised with dating for me and it was time to be a lot more selective. If I could help it, the next girl I dated would be the last one.

But that night, I had no choice but to see her and him together. That night the world as I knew it was burning down. I wasn’t the only one who was dealing with the transition of ending relationships. Many of the dating relationships that formed when friends of mine started dating in the excitement of meeting new people upon coming to college were now running out of gas. (Even Adriene got in an altercation with her boyfriend that night, though to this day she can’t remember what it was about.) Many of us were dealing with disapointment and the unexpected parting of ways. We were “children, playing with guns. Children, playing with hearts.”

First impressions

“So um, can I get you a towel?” I said, trying to be helpful.

“Yes, that would be nice.” she replied, blowing her wet hair out of her face. She was drenched from the rain and had a slightly exasperated, but also humored expression. So, I went off to my room to get a towel for her so she could dry off. I thought to myself that she looked like someone who hadn’t been scarred or embittered by life yet, but yet didn’t look naive, either. Like all freshmen, she still had a squeaky-cleaness about her that hadn’t been marred by Georgia Tech yet. A freshman. That meant she was far too young for me.

So let’s fill in a little background here. Every fall, when the new school year begins, the fraternities and sororities conduct Rush to recruit new freshmen. Fraternities generally hold parties for all of Rush Week and the freshman men wander from house to house as they please, eating free food and talking to brothers. (I have remarked before that it’s a little like “Trick or Treat” for freshmen with the candy being hot dogs, hamburgers and such.) Sororities meanwhile have a very rigid and ordered process by which they parade all of the freshman girls from house to house and then there is a meticulous process where the girls narrow down the houses they like and the houses narrow down the girls they want. From outsider’s view, it’s a very stressful process for both sides.

At the end of the process is one of the best days of the year for a young man. Bid Day. The girls all go to the Student Center at the middle of campus to where a list is posted by each sorority of their new pledges. From there, they are supposed to run back to their sorority house to accept their bid. Boys all across campus set up couches along the roads from the Student Center to the Greek houses to watch the girls run by. Yes, these are the future leaders of your country.

The cap off the day, the sororities then march their new pledges around campus to introduce them to each of the fraternities on campus. At each house that evening, the pledges sing a song for the fraternity and then the fraternity would then in turn sing a song for the girls. It’s all pretty hokey, but it’s also one of the last vestiges of the “romantic old days” when the Greek society was about more than just draining kegs each Friday night. At our fraternity, we would also give each pledge a rose. The brother would give the pledge a rose, the pledge would say, “awwwww”, and the brother would foolishly think he actually had a chance with that girl.

Now, up until my fourth year in college, sororities and I had pretty much stayed at arms length. I had a girlfriend and none of the girls in the sororities really seemed interested in getting to know me, so we had an understanding. That all changed when some of my good friends entered Rush in 1996. They all ended up in the same sorority and so now I actually had regular contact with girls in a sorority. Now, all of the sudden, I was getting invited to their parties (and I’m sure my girlfriend loved that was now getting invites to sorority parties) and social functions. I had an “in”, if you will.

Bid Day 96
(Our fraternity at Bid Day 1996… see if you can spot Jeff!)

In the fall of 1997, I was still smarting from my breakup about six months ago and in a pretty cynical mood with girls. I remember that Bid Day was a rainy one. I remember sitting on the porch of our house and watching my brothers as they all stood out in the rain, each pitifully holding a rose, waiting the girls to arrive and getting soaked to the bone. “What a sorry lot we are”, I mused, “all of this for ten seconds of attention from a girl.”

One of my friends in one of the sororities was going to be a “sister-mom” that year. That meant she was in charge of one of the freshman pledges. She was to play the role of a big sister and help her through her first year. She made me promise to meet her pledge and introduce them to the other brothers so that she could meet some nice, Christian guys. So, it was on that night that she guided this young lady, looking like a drowned rat, up to me and I uttered the first words I ever said to her.

I knew better than to get involved with a freshman. I knew her first year at Georgia Tech would probably be filled with some rash decisions and difficult struggles, as they are for every freshman, and my heart was in no place to be one of her rash decisions. But I did have to admit that she was pretty cute. I sure wouldn’t mind if she made some friends at the house so that she would come around from time to time, so I was more than happy to introduce her to some other brothers.

I had no idea that I had just met my future wife.

Why I Love Swingers, the movie

Maybe the timing was right or maybe it’s just an incredible movie.

Either way, the movie Swingers probably goes down as one of my all-time favorite movies. Now, I will concede that Swingers tends to be a movie that guys love and girls do not. I can’t blame girls for not liking the movie as women aren’t exactly portrayed in the best light in the movie. Most of the female characters are unlikeable, from the untrustworthy ex-girlfriend Michelle to the cold Nikki to the materialistic girls at the party whose first question is “so, what do you drive?” The only likeable woman in the movie, Lorraine, seems almost too good to be true. Add to that some pretty shallow and manipulative dating tactics by Trent and vulgar language and it’s easy to see why women don’t like the movie.

But for guys, the movie hits a resonance. There is something familiar here. The film’s writer, Jon Favreau, plays the main character, Mike Peters, a comedian who has recently broke up with his girlfriend of six years and had moved from New York to Los Angeles.

In the summer of 1997, I could identify with Mikey quite a bit. Like Mike, I had left a long-term relationship and was trying to start a new life that seemingly had no direction (Mike had moved to Los Angeles looking make it in Hollywood but had been largely unsuccessful. I was in my fourth year of college and graduation was nowhere in sight.) Also, we were both prone to want to spend time alone feeling sorry for ourselves and having a real hard time getting over the past relationship. Thankfully, like Mikey, I had friends who wouldn’t put up with it.

Favreau does an amazing job of covering the slow process from self-pity to self-confidence. Best of all, he does it in scenes that seem altogether too real and almost uncomfortable (when I watch it with guys who are seeing the movie the first time they will uncomfortably shift in their seats and even yell at the TV, “what are you doing???” during the scene where Mike calls Nikki’s answering machine. That’s awkward at it’s finest!) When Mike hits the lowest point of the movie, sitting alone in his apartment on the floor looking at old photographs of him and his girlfriend, we feel his desperation when he says in despair to Rob, “then why won’t she call?” Favreau is brilliant in letting us see such vulnerability in a character in a movie where everyone is trying so hard to appear invulnerable to women.

The movie also captures ironic comedy at it’s finest. The scene at the blackjack table in Vegas shows perfectly why I cannot gather up the guts to play blackjack in a casino! The throwaway line, “Hang on, Voltaire…” is comedic genius. The golf course scene gave me one of my favorite lines to use when I hit a dreadfully short putt. The derivative scene from Reservoir Dogs is obvious and well-played. Every guy has had the discussion about how long to wait to call a girl after getting her phone number. Finally, just as an add-on benefit, the movie captures the underground swing dance scene in LA clubs that was just about to reach mainstream popularity only a year or two later.

Everyone has a friend like Trent (played by Vince Vaughn in probably his best role ever. Nothing he has done since has been remotely as good.) who won’t let you stay home, but drags you out to meet people and get your mind thinking elsewhere. I also had friends like Rob (played by Ron Livingston who made Office Space a cult classic) who had practical advice but were willing to sit and listen to me vent as long as I needed. I had friends like Sue, too, who wouldn’t take my crap and would get in my face and tell me what a whiny pain in the butt I was.

Of course, the film has a happy, if a little unrealistic ending, but ultimately we see Mike rebound from his self-pity and throw aside the old, dead relationship in favor of the potential relationship he sees with Lorraine. (When he cuts off Michelle in mid-sentence on call-waiting, I’ve known many guys watching the movie that audibly cheer!) For guys, this movie is the ultimate guy “chick-flick.” Hollywood has been plumbing the depths of females dealing with romantic relationships in endless romantic comedies, but no movie has captured the relationships that men have with each other in their support network to find romance as well as Swingers. As for me, the timing couldn’t be better but it would still take me a while to convince myself that I was “money” and ready to get back into dating again.