When people ask my husband, Jason, and I how we met each other, we usually give them the fun, short version: “At an Iron & Wine concert!” We are cool with coming off like lovestruck hipsters, but the real story is a bit more complicated than that.
Depending on how conversational he is at the moment, Jason will sometimes pipe in about the absurdity of the situation. He’ll explain how he wasn’t even a fan of “whisper rock” and that his entire purpose for being there that summer night was to wingman for his less outspoken friend Josh.
But whatever anecdotes we share (“The Head and the Heart was their opener” is usually my line), we tend to gloss over one not-so-minor detail having to do with our meet-cute: My own head and heart were in a bit of a kerfuffle.
You see, when I decided to accompany my friend to that concert in Chicago’s Millennium Park, I was recently laid off (see: economy of 2011) and had just arrived back from an interview in another city. Combined with all those draining feelings that come with interviews, I was conflicted—about my career, yes, but also about a guy. There was a gray ambiguity that hovered over me. I had just spent a good portion of the weekend with a non-boyfriend, a man whom I had been “talking to” on and off for three years, and it was becoming too much for my stomach to handle.
Keeping this to myself, I spent most of the concert trying to settle my feelings. My mood was certainly not fit to flirt—I wasn’t even wearing mascara! My face was puffy and sweaty! So when conversation was struck up with the guys to our right, who had offered us some of their 312 beer (which I promptly declined), I didn’t think much of it. The conversation, post-“beer rejection” (as Jason now refers to it), was about the weather, of all things. But after Jason explained to my friend how Chicago’s humidity had nothing on Cincinnati’s, I had to jump in.
“Cincinnati!” I chimed. “That’s where I’m from.”
He had my attention. As we talked, conversation flowed. We found out we had a mutual friend in common—and apparently we were even at the same college party five years prior. Was this fate? I was struck by his quick wit and big presence and his smile. And he made me laugh, loudly.
Moreover, he seemed to be the only person who noticed that the drunk swaying people to my left kept on accidentally hitting my face with their hippie-wear. Several times he gave me direct eye contact, as if to say, “This is funny, but seriously, are you OK?” while I just laughed back, as if saying, “I’m totally fine.” Instant connection?
Later, he asked for my number. I typed it into his non-smartphone as “Maria Murdock.” Little did I know that name had only three more years before it would change to his.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the story ended there? Alas. Here’s where it gets complicated.
The thing is, while I thought he was cute and charming and all—I didn’t think we had much of a future. My non-boyfriend had just declared that things were to remain gray even longer because he was going to be off the grid climbing a mountain for a month or so. To add insult to injury, he said something along the lines of, “I mean, if I were going to meet a rock-climbing goddess out there, I wouldn’t want you to get mad.”
In retrospect, the situation he put me in, while a bit crushing, also coincidentally gave me a little push. With this non-boyfriend in the background, the pressure lifted some. I decided that if any attractive men came my way, I would keep conversation light, I would keep the experience fun, and I would let go of any pretenses.
Two days later, Jason called me (Yes, called! Not texted) asking if we could meet the coming weekend. While I hadn’t forgotten him, I was surprised. Initially, he tried to get the group to go out for another concert, but after that proved to be a logistical nightmare, he said: “Um, so basically I just want to see you.”
And so we went on our first date (drinks), and another (improv), and another (jazz club), and another (dinner), and another (museum) until I lost track and it became understood that we may actually be dating. It was so much clearer than the “hangouts” with my nebulous non-boyfriend.
And we were having fun! It felt easy. Despite my efforts to pace things, we were becoming close, quickly. So quickly that when I did get that out-of-town job, he was visually pained. “I can help you find a job here,” he stammered. But I left anyway.
I moved cities, and we ended things. My new city was closer to that non-boyfriend of mine who had just come back, fully energized from his mountaineering trip. This time he actually wanted to commit. Yep, he was following through. Yep, he was doing the actual pursuing thing. Yep, non-boyfriend finally wanted to become boyfriend. I gave him yet another shot. This was the plan after all, right?
Looking back, he didn’t really stand a chance. Our belabored past triggered too many bad emotions. Besides, I had just experienced how good a relationship could be with Jason. So after a month of trying (for the hundredth time), I politely ended it over a fancy dinner.
A few days later, Jason sent me an email. In it, he boldly laid out his feelings, his future plans, and even his career and religious inclinations. And he said he wanted me in his life.
There were no games. He was so open—brazenly putting himself in a vulnerable position—that my defense was down. I responded, “I’m in.”
I hope my story offers some hope, and perhaps even some clarity, for those women out there who find themselves in complicated relationships. Don’t shy away from the discontent you feel in your gut. It may be telling you it’s time to open up to the other guys who might be better for you. Reserve that exclusive label only for the men who aim to simplify your life, not add more complications, as well-intended as they may be.