With Gratitude

The turkey and stuffing has been consumed, the new babies and pregnant bellies of family members admired and prayers of gratitude offered up for family and friends. As we’ve all drifted back to our separate homes to resume our day-to-day lives, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my own life and what I’m grateful for. A recent “non-dating” experience has brought home to me how much I have in my life.

 I love to browse the personal ads. They mostly make me laugh, they sometimes make me think and they often give me writing material. So one day I was browsing the “platonic” ads and came across a man asking for a dinner companion for the evening. He was traveling for business and wanted conversation for the evening and someone to share a gourmet meal with. He insisted that it was strictly non-sexual; he was simply tired of dining alone.

I was feeling up for an adventure. The thought of adult conversation at a four star restaurant sounded pretty appealing too. So I responded to his ad with, “Found a dinner companion yet?”

He responded fairly quickly and we ended up making arrangements to meet at a local restaurant that is renowned for its quality and atmosphere. It was a public setting, so I felt fairly comfortable. I had no idea what he looked like; I truly didn’t care. I was going for the conversation and the experience, not to find a romantic partner.

 When I arrived at the restaurant, I located my companion at the bar. He rose to greet me and we were quickly seated. While not repugnant, he was not physically attractive. As we read the menu together and ordered drinks and appetizers, we exchanged stories about our lives and discovered what we had in common, as well as what we did not. He was awkward, clearly a man that had been driven to pursue education and a career, rather than develop his social skills. As he dominated the conversation, I felt comfortable simply listening and being a companion. I had no agenda here, other than to enjoy the dinner and company.

We talked and enjoyed dinner and wine. Yet as the evening progressed, it started to appear that he found me attractive and interesting. Not a bad thing at all in a dinner companion, yet I started to feel slightly discomfited by his expressions of surprise and pleasure at “taking a chance and having it pay off so well”. He began to express his admiration more explicitly, calling me a “beautiful, young woman” and expressing delight that “having put myself out there, brought you to me”. When the check came, he insisted on paying and pulled out cash (with a money clip around it) to pay for our four star meal. He said, “I easily pay $200 to go to a concert for the evening. This is less expensive and far more worthwhile.”

He suggested we walk to a local pub and get a drink after dinner. I agreed, somewhat hesitantly. I felt that I had been completely honest and represented myself with integrity, yet I had the growing suspicion that my dinner companion might be considering trying to move his “ad” from platonic to romantic.

At the pub, we ordered wine. He drank his and ordered another glass. I sipped mine and ended up never even finishing it. He began to confide in me that while he had achieved every goal that he ever set for himself in education or with his career, he felt a sense of emptiness. He said that he often thought about going off the road and trying to settle down with someone, yet the money was so good that he was always reluctant to give it up.  He began to comment on my warm and nurturing personality and how much he would like to have that in his life; he mentioned that he often felt afraid that his career would be the only thing he was ever successful in. As he grew more intense and soulful, I was torn between empathy and the desire to give him the connection with another human being he so obviously craved…and the instinct to run as quickly as I could. I hadn’t signed up for this, at least not on purpose. Yet my heartstrings were definitely feeling the pull of this man who seemed so lost when it came to emotion and people in his life, while so successful in all things monetary.

I finally let him know that I needed to leave for the evening. He insisted on paying again, making reference to the amount of money that he made (a theme that had been repeated numerous times throughout the evening) and how “cheap” it was compared to my company.

He walked me to my car and what I had suspected for the latter part of the evening came to fruition. He leaned in and kissed me goodnight. I allowed him to kiss me and even kissed him back. I wanted to leave him with the positive feeling that he had shared a human connection and that it was positive; Naïve of me, looking back on it. He began to try to turn the kiss into something more than I desired and I began to pull back. He continued to embrace me and began to murmur things to me, with a hint of desperation in them. “I love kissing you”; “I’ve never felt this way before”; and he finally culminated with a frantic, “I love you.” He sounded near tears.

At which point I pulled back completely and disentangled myself from his arms. He composed himself quickly and I thanked him for the evening. After a moment, he responded in the same fashion and we parted ways.

Driving home I was a little sick at heart. I had responded to the ad that he had posted and felt that I had not done anything wrong, yet I absolutely believed that somehow it had gone terribly wrong. L suggests that I’m naïve; I can’t disagree. Yet there is a deep part of me that feels that so many people are craving a deeper connection, yet can’t find their way to realizing what it is that motivates them. Fear of commitment, expectation and all the responsibility that comes with a relationship leaves people distant. They desperately want and need to connect, so they have random encounters that they try to convince themselves are not meaningless, while reassuring themselves that it had no meaning. All of us want to be touched, understood…connected. I’m not sure if this man misrepresented himself on purpose in his ad, hoping that it would turn into a romantic encounter, or if he misled himself into believing that his search for a platonic dinner companion was sincere. I do know that at the end of the evening I had glimpsed into a soul that realized it had placed importance on the wrong things, yet didn’t know how to extract itself from the success. He was a lonely man, seeking solace in the company of someone who would listen, nurture and care.

He has continued to text me since that night. Every time I reply with my brief, friendly answers, I feel as though I am rejecting him. Yet that is the burden of human beings; we get to decide who we want to experience connection with.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for having placed my focus somewhere other than education, career and material success. Not that those things aren’t rewarding or important; they are. Still, at the end of the day, it is my family and my friends that I look for to support me.

I am thankful for my family, who has supported me even when the “me” that they thought existed morphed into a temporary stranger. As I’ve grown and evolved, they have supported me through the changes and never stopped loving me, despite their worry or concern. They have accepted me and embraced me, unrelentingly.

 I’m thankful for my beautiful daughters. As I watch them grow and discover who they are, I am filled with such gratitude that I get to be a part of their journey. That I get to hold them when they cry, feel their little arms around me in love, listen to their gentle breathing while they sleep and watch their wonder at life…it is a gift. I am also thankful for my children’s father, with whom I have finally made my peace. Despite our history and differences, as well as the pain that sometimes accompanies our relationship, I am thankful that I get to share the journey of our children’s lives together.

I am thankful for the friendships that I have that are so deep I feel as though they are an integral part of my soul. They make me laugh; they listen and sometimes hold me while I cry; they help me to stay strong and steady when life tries to knock me down. I am filled with love for lovers who have held me through the night and shared a part of themselves with me that is intimate and private. I am grateful for the messy complication of love and friendship and family and life that ultimately fills the empty place so much better than money or career.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I extend the wish that all the people in my life feel the same sense of joy and wonder and gratitude that I do at this very moment. Relationships, people, are messy and complex. Yet in the end, they are the only thing of any real value in our lives. Thank you to those whom I love!

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