I’d made the Dean’s list. I was Gandalf at the costume ball. My fiction won applause at open mic night. My music won applause at the talent show. All the girls said they’d miss me.
I celebrated my homecoming by securing the worst job of my life, worse than my brief attempt in the military, worse than my year as Detention officer, worse than using cat litter to soak up liquid detergent.
I knew none of that. I had my first apartment, my first pager. My first private bathroom. From now on, my tuition was paid; no more loans. It would take me longer to finish school, but I was in no hurry. Life was good.
And I had determined never to date another woman for as long as I lived.
Before Harlaxton, I was needy and sensetive. Pathetic. A normal breakup shamed and depressed me for months. If a girl had…oh, let’s just make up an example out of thin air*…told the Pastor she heard wedding bells, dated me for two years, refused to move any closer than four states away and then dropped me like a hot potato…I might become deeply depressed.
* Note: Example not fictional.
Counseling and distance helped. “You sound more like a divorcee,” my therapist realized. Yeah, uh…duh? When a woman’s important to me, she’s important to me. Was I supposed to offer everything and then not care when it wasn’t good enough? Whatever.
Because of 9/11 in 2011, our fall 2002 class at Harlaxton was tiny, just eighty students, a microcosm for studying relationships. Two young men became my case studies:
- Corey was as likely to sleep under the Snooker table as anywhere else, wore the same outfit 2-3 days at a time. I thought it was grungy. The girls thought him cute.
- Zach later reminded me of a young Doctor Cox, cynical and sour. He frequently interrupted your story with a curt, “I don’t care.” It cracked us up. I found him apathetic. The girls thought him cute.
This seemed non-sequitur. I’d been taught to dress up for girls. Look sharp. Listen attentively. Grunginess and apathy were opposite values. What did they see in those boys? Zach and Corey were nice enough, but so were others. They weren’t particularly good looking. What made them attractive?
I came to realize it wasn’t apathy that made them attractive. It was independence. They didn’t need anyone.
I’d been hurt so many times. My counselor advised me to be a little less giving. My promises of “always” and “forever” were driving girls away. Not because the promises were unattractive, but because girls never worried about mistreating me. They knew I would forgive. You could break my heart and we’d still be friends.
There was no reason not to break my heart. It was risk free. I’d been told that’s what girls wanted.
I adjusted my thinking. I wore confidence to a bar crawl like a coat. Random women at the bar chatted me up. Girls I’d known for months remarked that “something different” made me attractive.
It was a Zen paradox. To get girls, I had to not want girls. Not merely pretend not to want them, because your true self will eventually show through. Your true self can’t be needy beneath of a façade of confidence. I had to become truly independent.
I did. I swore off dating. I realized how much more money I could spend on myself without a wife and kids. How much freer my life with be. Free of nagging, free of heartbreak, free of fighting, free of obligations. I would work hard and play hard, invest smart, retire early.
After years of chasing the American dream, I’d become a bachelor for life.
Then I met Megan.
It was September 4th, 2003. Nine months after my triumphant return. My twenty-third birthday.
My friend Eric was crossing the student center with a Freshman girl I’d never seen. I quickened my pace to catch up. I punctuated hurried small talk with, “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
I told her she was very beautiful. I told her it was my birthday, then joked I was turning forty. My boss joined the banter. When I asked about the flute case, Eric said, “Sorry buddy; you’re trying too hard.” I accepted his dismissal, departing so he could luncheon with his young lady friend. I had work to do, and besides…I was done dating. It was nice to meet a new face, give a compliment, brighten her day.
Later, Megan’s roommate Katie would ask, “Have you met that guy, Jason R. Peters?” (My middle initial was already famous.)
Megan replied, “No I haven’t. But a boy told me I was beautiful!”
Tiny URL for this post: