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Why I gave up


On a warm spring night at the age of 25, I found myself sitting in a dark restaurant waiting for a third date with a man I had recently met online. At the time, I was a high school English teacher, whose life felt all too summed up by prim black cardigans and sensible shoes. He, in contrast, had a tattoo and little tufts of chest hair peeking out from beneath his button-downs. He was business on the outside, party underneath.

So when he walked in the door a few minutes later, sat down and asked me what was good to drink here, I told him I liked the Toasted Blonde. “I like those too,” he said.

I rolled my eyes at that comment, but on the inside I was smiling. Am I into this guy? I thought. Because I wanted to like him. Part of me really wanted a boyfriend.

My parents, too, wanted me to be coupled-up. To help matters along, they took me out weeks earlier for what was alleged to be Italian food – but the dinner’s purpose ended up being Artan, the Albanian restaurant heir whose parents own the place down the street. On the ride home, my mother pressed me for one good reason Artan wasn’t “my type.”

“His muscles are too big,” I said with a shrug.

“His muscles are too big?” my mother said.“Emily Jean, your standards are just ridiculous.” My father snorted his assent. They spent the rest of the drive muttering to each other about how the parents should “get to choose.”

I decided to try online dating, so at least I’d have a chance at choosing my own guy.

Pursuing love, such an elusive firefly of a feeling, so actively seemed almost guaranteed to chase it away. But eventually I caved to the pressure. I’d started to see myself the way everyone else did: as sad and lonely, as though I were reflected back through a Fun House Mirror, the kind that shows even gazelle-like creatures as chunky and squat.

I signed up for; filtered through messages that told me “You are a beautiful women”; chose a person who could handle subject-verb agreement; and agreed to a date. After meeting him, my choice seemed solid: His name sounded British, he made good conversation some of the time, and he had a grown-up job.

Also I had just bought three new pink shirts. Their presence in my closet spelled out a minimum of three more dates. I could not bring myself to let them — or my mom, or the friends texting for updates — down.

Wearing one of them now, I allowed this man to persuade me to go to another oak-wood-filled bar after we finished our frothy blonde ales. “There’s trivia on Tuesdays at this other place,” he said. I have a particular weakness for trivia. “One round,” I replied.

In the first round he demonstrated an impressive knowledge of cinema. One round turned to five. Our answers paired well, turning us into a winning match in my hopeful mind.

In a buoyant spirit, we walked out of the bar to my parked car. Then I went against my gut instinct — and my mother’s advice — and let him into my car. Once inside, he kissed me: Lightly at first, and then deeply, until he suddenly pulled back, pointed to the bushes and told me there was a guy standing there.

“What? There’s no guy!” I said, and looked back at him to see that he had taken his penis out of his pants and was looking at me expectantly. “Just give it a kiss,” he said. Instead I shrieked for him to put it away, and we sat in silence for a while. I could think of only one thing to say: “Why did you do that?”

“I was feeling insecure,” he said, and then explained that on our first date, I had told him my last boyfriend had been blessed in the anatomy department. I winced. I had told him that. He had pushed for info about my last guy, and I told the truth: That he was a nerd with redemptive qualities.

“I have to go home,” I said. He muttered goodnight, and got out of my car.

That night I canceled my subscription to, but I couldn’t stop replaying that scene in my mind. I had to figure out what part I’d played in what just happened. In person or online, my eyes scan for visual cues — tattoos, a devilish grin — that promise adventure and passion.

My parents’ marriage taught me by example that you have to have passion. As they tell it, they met at a bar, where they had danced wildly to Billy Ocean’s “Carribean Queen.” Twenty-six years later, they’re still deeply in love.

Even when I succumb to the pressure to find a boyfriend, I want to believe that going for passion — or what I believe are the signs of it— can work for me, too. And while that may be a risk, seven years and a series of misadventures later it stills feels worth it if it means I get to follow my heart.


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