This evening was such a great time to write. It was all rainy and chilly out and warm and cozy in my apartment. Maybe it was the breathy ballads of Elliot Smith, but the night also felt really conducive to wallowing in nostalgia so I started reminiscing and wrote the following...
He walked into the tiny diner in Hollis, New Hampshire, where I worked as a waitress, wearing a perfectly tailored navy blue suit with subtle pinstripes, a crisp white button-down shirt and leather shoes. I was wearing food stains, some droplets of dried sweat, bad hair, worn jeans and an ill-fitting tee shirt. So when he strolled over to one of my tables with a copy of the New York Times tucked under his arm and a grin flashing perfect, white teeth, I handed him a menu without making eye contact and tried desperately to disappear.
I was successful at making absolutely no impression on him that night, but soon Mike was making a habit of sitting in my section with his dapper outfits and cosmopolitan reading material, and my surly waitress act was hard to maintain. His cologne made me giddy, his charm made me blush, and eventually our conversations made me smile. During our weekly dinners together, I discovered that Mike was a single lawyer who had just moved to town from New York and had opened his own practice down the street from the diner. He was a passionate Democrat, loved baseball and astronomy, and owned a high tech telescope and a house perched high on a hill with amazing views of the stars. He was also fifteen years my senior.
Learning his age did not stop me from lingering at his table to share the details of my day, in fact I came by with a fresh pour of coffee even more frequently. I’d always had a fantasy of dating an older man. I thought that if a man had lived longer, he would have more life experience and therefore would be more sophisticated, refined and intelligent than the guys of my generation. In the short time I had known Mike he had proven to be the most dashing, confident and successful man I had ever met; he owned his own business and his own house and his own telescope! Some may explain the older-man fantasy as an Oedipal complex, or use Freud’s diagnosis that daughters harbor a secret sexual longing for the father figure. Whatever. I wanted to be the student to his teacher, the ingenue to his Clooney, the candy on his arm. When he suggested we eat dinner together one night with both of us seated at the same table and me not wearing an apron, I enthusiastically agreed.
In the beginning of our courtship we stuck to the script and played our roles accordingly. He was chivalrous, poised and self-assured and taught me how to score a baseball game and mix a perfect martini. I was wide-eyed and flattered, and willing to follow his lead. But after a couple of months, we turned the page and found the last act no longer entertaining. I lost interest in our nightly routine of meeting at his house, changing into what he referred to as our “comfy duds” and watching a sports game or staring at the stars. I started to bristle with irritation at his outdated expressions like “now you’re cooking with gas!” and the imprints left on his ankles from his too tight trouser socks. He started to find my waitressing job and late hours irresponsible and my confusion as to what to do with my life, dramatic.
I realize now that our relationship didn’t fail because of our age difference, it failed because we acted like characters in some tired fantasy. When I wanted to be the expert on a topic, Mike was not a good listener and when he acted like an ordinary guy, I was disappointed.
I realize now that to love someone is to see them as a person who is scared, beautiful, funny, has bad habits, needs to be supported, needs to feel strong and is sometimes selfish. Being in a relationship means striking a balance between doing what needs to be done to ensure personal happiness and still remain loyal to the person you love. Every Red Sox season, I think of Mike and I hope he has found a person with who he feels comfortable sharing all dimensions of his personality and doesn’t always have to be the responsible adult with smart clothes, expensive cologne and interesting hobbies. I hope he’s lounging in a pair of comfy duds, sharing his view of the stars.