Part Eight–I’ll Admit It: I’ve Had Karma Coming from Way Back
Mr. Didn’t Light Up My Life didn’t leave any room for misinterpretation. He ended all speculation about a possible relationship between us early and I appreciated that. But there were several men who didn’t do so, men who I went out with a handful of times, men who I liked and who claimed to like me, men who said “Let’s get together again” and then … nothing. No text. No call. No email. No explanation.
Ghosting has been written about a lot in the last few years. Of any of the dating pitfalls, ghosting felt particularly harsh because a person I was interested in was with me one day and inexplicably gone the next. It’s a cruel magic trick. Now you see him–poof!–now you don’t. It left me feeling as disposable as a Kleenex.
But in some sense I feel like my own experiences with ghosting are payback. Because I’ve not only been ghosted, I’ve been the ghost. This was long before the term was coined, way, way, way back in high school, in the years of our Lord 1977 and 1978. I met Played in Peoria during the summer between my junior and senior year when we attended the same leadership camp. We “dated” at the camp, which consisted of clumsy approximations of French kissing in the afternoons during our free hour and, during one excursion, holding hands while wandering around a rural shopping mall that had five or so small stores. He lived in Peoria, Illinois, and I lived in Colorado. After camp ended, we talked on the phone on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, with all the attendant long distance charges, until I realized that this was turning into an expensive relationship, one that couldn’t ever move forward since it was becoming clear that we were never going to see each other again. But I was too immature to express this fact to him so instead of being upfront and wishing him well with the rest of his life, I simply unplugged my family’s two telephones each Saturday and Sunday afternoon. This went on for several weeks until my dad tried to make a call one Sunday and found that the line was dead. “I’ll see if the neighbors are having the same problem,” he said, putting on his coat.
“Don’t bother,” I told him, walking over to the kitchen counter where our avocado green phone sat. I pulled on the cord, showing my dad the untethered end that should have been plugged into the wall jack.
“You unplugged that phone?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at me with bafflement.
“And the one downstairs,” I told him. “I’m avoiding Played in Peoria’s phone calls.”
My dad shook his head. “Don’t treat him that way. You call him right now and tell him whatever it is that you need to tell him,” my dad said.
I said I would. But I didn’t know how to put the words together to tell Played in Peoria what it was that I needed to tell him. So I didn’t call him. Which I then lied about to my dad. And to make matters worse, I did the whole unplug-the-phones-because-I-don’t-want-to-talk-to-a-guy routine again a few months later with Mr. Denver Bronco, as my dad called him. He was a big guy, he played football, was painfully sweet, and lived in Broomfield, which was about 17 miles away from my town. Over the Christmas holidays, I had decided to go to college out of state. Meanwhile, Mr. Denver Bronco was staying in Broomfield. Like Played in Peoria, I saw the relationship headed nowhere. But I didn’t have the nerve to say so because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Which makes no sense because disappearing without explanation hurts a person’s feelings more.
Don’t worry. I get mine, and then some, almost 40 years later. My first experience with ghosting happened when I went out with Zamboni, who worked for the local professional hockey team. He was new to town so, for our first date, I was placed in charge of selecting a restaurant for us to try. We met at a small wine bar. Because he’d just finished moving into his new place that week, I brought him a housewarming gift of a beer and two cans of beans, something one of my friends had done for me when I’d moved. Because, when you get right down to it, what more do you need when you’re settling into a new place than a cold beverage and approximately seven 1/2 cup servings of carbs? Zamboni found the humor in the gesture and in me. Our first dinner lasted for several hours and many laughs and we clicked enough to agree to meet for breakfast two mornings later.
Please note: This marked my first second date in my seven months of online dating history. Release the confetti. Pump up the jams. Can I get a “Woot, woot”?
OK, so from this small milestone, I nabbed a second landmark when, at our pleasant breakfast, he suggested a third date: coming to my house the following week and showing off his cooking skills with a shrimp and pasta dinner. I told him I’d supply the wine.
Unlike my usual habit of picking out a bottle of wine based on a quirky name that made me laugh or funky label art rather than ratings and reviews like a normal person, I liked this guy enough to ask the AJ’s Fine Foods wine department employee for his recommendation. He directed me to a California pinot noir.
When Zamboni arrived, we set to work cooking. I made the pasta and salad, and he sautéed the shrimp. We were a well-oiled machine, the meal ended up being delicious, and our conversation was particularly and hilariously pun-filled, possibly because we dove into that bottle of tasty pinot early on. But our talks were also forward-looking. We discussed possibly going camping in northern Arizona during the summer and of all the places in the world that we might visit in the future, maybe together. We cleaned up the dishes and sat down on the couch to continue chatting, although he actually had more amorous ideas in mind. From the first date, Zamboni had been handsy and downright aggressive at times but I’d held him off. Given his NHL connection, you might say that I’d checked him. And it’s not because I’m a prude or frigid or have Mike Pence-ian views about sex outside of marriage (I don’t have any Mike Pence-ian views, by the way). I’m an enthusiastic participant with the right person. But I didn’t know if Zamboni was the right person because this was just our third date and I was absent some very basic information about him, which is what I told him as I peeled him off of me.
“What kinds of basic information?” he asked.
“Simple stuff,” I said. “Like what’s on your driver’s license. For instance, your last name, date of birth, and whether or not you’re an organ donor.”
To be fair, I knew his last name from utilizing the wonders of the Internet and public records before I’d gone out with him the first time (by the way, there will be more about vetting processes in a future installment). But Zamboni had never mentioned his last name. It was important to me that he tell me himself. And he did, and more–about his childhood in Wisconsin, his failed marriage, his prior jobs in hockey–essential things I wanted to know about him, which I guess isn’t exactly the dating strategy that most people employ. The online dating service OkCupid did a study between 2005 and 2015 and found that their clients’ sweet spot for having sex was between the third to sixth date. Zamboni and I had just reached the survey threshold of three dates and I just wasn’t ready to make that kind of jump in the relationship yet. Because, really, we didn’t yet have a relationship. Plus I liked finding out that Zamboni’s grandmother taught him to cook and that he still calls her for recipes and advice. I was in the online dating pool to meet someone for the long run, not just three dates. In his profile and in person, Zamboni had claimed that he too was “Looking for The One.” That, in fact, was his profile name.
But apparently I was neither The One nor the only one. Before he left that night, as he and I were checking a hockey playoff score on his phone, a Tinder notification suddenly popped up that read, “You have a match!” before he hurriedly clicked off his phone. I believe that in hockey this sort of Tinder opportunity is called a “scoring chance.”
We met one more time for pizza a few days later. He was down, unhappy with his new living arrangement and second-guessing his decision to move to Arizona. Dinner was a glum affair with him staring into space and a lot of silence between us. But I was sure happy because we nabbed a free giant pizza when the bartender became upset that we had to wait for what he believed was an unacceptable amount of time for our dinners to arrive. We each had enough leftovers for lunch and dinner for three days–that’s how big the pizza was!
In the parking lot afterward, Zamboni shoved his hands into his pockets and said he’d call me. Later that evening he texted: “It was great to see you. Thank you for dinner! Sweet dreams (insert kissy face emoji here).” And that was the last I heard from him. Dead End #6.
Final texts from other ghosters followed a similar pattern of mimicking phrases from my prior text, utilizing emojis and/or emoticons, and expressing an interest in meeting up again in the near future. That is to say, never:
–“Definitely let’s get together soon (insert thumbs up emoji here).” –Basketball Jones, Dead End #7
–“Next time (insert smiley face emoticon here). It was good to see you too.” –Dr. Hagedorn Needle, Dead End #8
Next Time (because I will not ghost you, I swear! [insert blowing a kiss memoji here]): Part Nine–Oh, Do Tell!