The Man Who Changed His Spots (There's still hope for some of us!)
(Image: My wife, Laura, and me. Photo credit: Marc Glassman)
I am living proof that a leopard can change his spots! Upon returning from the road trip with Bob Fischer, I removed myself from the dating pool for a year and worked on myself as a person and as a potential partner.
I began writing a daily entry in a gratitude diary, expressing my sincere thanks for all the blessings I had taken for granted. I wasn’t a regular viewer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, however I had an uncanny ability to catch episodes that would eventually impact my life. This was the case with keeping a gratitude diary.
Then with the help of a good friend who was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I created a modified 12-step program designed to help me address both my co-dependency and commitment-phobic issues. Between these two efforts, I gradually learned to: appreciate what I had; love myself; and make amends with those I had thoughtlessly hurt (or at least attempt to make amends, not everyone was keen on forgiving my love-related blunders).
During this time, as I approached several former romantic partners – survivors of my bungled relationships – I harvested “love lessons” so that I could learn from my mistakes.
If I had failed to purchase appropriate romantic gifts (read: Jewelry) in a past relationship, I made a note for future reference. If I had been insensitive during discussions with a former partner, I learned how to better handle the situation and recorded the results in my journal (“Oops, I’m sorry. I obviously offended you. Please tell me how I could have handled that better.”). And, above all, if I was fortunate enough to find someone who met my criteria for a life partner, I promised myself that I wouldn’t hesitate to make a commitment to her. No more waiting several years to let the person know that I wanted to be with her for the long-term.
As for my criteria, I determined that the ideal person for me would: 1) be happy from within (she would be positive and enthusiastic about life); 2) be attractive to me and take good care of herself (she would exercise and not abuse alcohol, drugs, and food); and most importantly, 3) she would love me for who I am (my Brass Ring: Unconditional love). Secondary concerns included that she would: be loving and passionate; appreciate culture, music, art, travel and nature; and be financially responsible (not a Super Consumer).
As for me, to attract such a person, I knew I needed to be nurturing, giving (without concern for reciprocation), positive, enthusiastic about life, and accepting of the other person. I truly needed to give unconditional love in return.
After a year, I permitted myself to slowly ease back into dating, approaching women more carefully, making sure a potential partner: didn’t have a bad relationship with her father; was available and interested in a long-term commitment; and was a good match for me (no more having sex for sex sake!).
Somewhere along the way, I had heard that “you attract who you feel you deserve.” Since I was feeling better about myself I looked for individuals who were solid potential partners.
I dated a few people and was more present in the relationships, however I struggled with finding partners who didn’t have significant concerns within their histories. One woman was a single mom and I greatly appreciated her and her child, but her ex-husband was a real problem and someone I didn’t want to have in my life.
Another woman was in deep financial debt and kept that a secret from me. In fact, I caught her in a series of lies, which was obviously not the foundation for a good relationship.
After striking out several times, I found myself in a relationship slump and wondered what I could do to meet new people. As an extra incentive to motivate myself to seek out new potential partners, I bought concert tickets for a period of three months, one show per month, which included three of my favorite performers: Sting, David Bowie, and Joe Cocker. I had great seats for the three shows and each had sold out, so they were definitely hot events. Unfortunately for me, I was unable to identify a potential romantic partner to accompany me to any of the shows. As it turned out, I treated close female friends to join me (by the way, I also considered my close female friends as potential romantic partners –– a la When Harry Met Sally –– however, crossing over from friend to lover was extremely awkward and problematic in each of these cases).
After months of trying to meet the right person, I came to terms with my situation. I had: a loving, caring family; several dear friends who love me and are also single; a great job; and been able to travel to exotic destinations whenever I wanted. Life was good, and if I didn’t have a partner, then I needed to be okay with my situation; and I was! It was November 2004 when I came to this conclusion, and I booked a trip for myself to China and Tibet for the following April.
In March 2005 while scraping wallpaper for several hours in a condo I had recently purchased, I found myself in dire need of a good, strong cup of coffee to keep me going, so I walked over to my favorite nearby coffee shop and bakery. It was afternoon and not the usual time I would have been there for a coffee break. As I was adding milk and sugar to my coffee at the service island, I spied a familiar face at a nearby table. She was a former student I had known 16 years earlier at Harper College. I’m not usually very good at remembering names, but in this case, it came to me right away: Laura!
She was speaking with another woman and I hesitated interrupting them, but she had looked my way and our eyes locked. I had no choice but to walk over and say “hi.” Unknown to me at the time is that I was about to say something to her that I had never said to a woman before.
“Laura?,” I said somewhat timidly, but with a smile. She acknowledged that I was correct and said my name. She remembered me! Laura had always been very attractive, so I could only assume she was involved in a relationship. Therefore, I awkwardly blurted out my next line, “So, how are you? You must be married, right?”
How lame! I thought. What a horrible opening line!
She chuckled and looked at the woman, then back at me.
“No, I’m not married. I travel a lot.”
“So do I!” My eyes lit up and I saw an opportunity to strike up a conversation with her.
I learned that the woman was her mother, Diane, and that Laura was teaching Spanish at a high school in nearby Skokie, Illinois. I was so nervous that I didn’t make a mental note about her place of employment, and feeling like I was intruding, I said it was really great to see her, said goodbye, and walked away to a nearby table to enjoy my coffee.
Her phone number! I didn’t get it! I tried to make eye contact with her again, but the chance never came up and she soon left with her mom.
Lucky for me, the next day, I tracked down her school e-mail address using Google and then I sent her a note.
We went on a coffee date the following weekend, and I asked her to marry me nine months later; and we were married in Maui nine months after that. As I write this blog, we’ve been very happily married for almost nine years (THE longest relationship in my life with a woman….progress!).
In retrospect, I can’t help but consider the road trip that Bob and I took in 1997 as somewhat of a Hero’s Journey for me, a chance for me to embark on self-awareness, adventure, change, and ultimately, redemption.