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January 20th, 2009

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12:08 am - Life is… better…
Now that… now that I found you….

So. I have a girlfriend.

This is essentially the story of how I got from where I was last year to where I am now, including how Grace and I met and got together but also including other persons of interest, my thought processes at this time, and other related information.

Just to recap (for those who have forgotten and those who never knew), I used to be in a relationship with perch (who got married last year -- congratulations, Littlefoot!), and we moved in together in April 2004. Our relationship didn't last, ultimately ending in late 2004 and changing my perspective on how I handled my love life; thereafter I went on a self-imposed hiatus from dating and romance. It should be noted that the break-up didn't so much precipitate this event as it catalyzed my own self-analysis and my desire to figure out what was going wrong. After some serious self-evaluation and consideration, I realized I just plain wasn't good in relationships, and I was too cynical and self-absorbed to really make them work. Whatever valid reasons had come up to cause the collapse of my major relationships and whosever fault it actually was in the end, the facts remained; I was pushing women away and agitating them, making them feel dumb and helpless and small. Whether I was doing so intentionally or not is irrelevant -- one of the fastest ways to get someone out of your life is to make them feel unimportant. I contributed passively to my break-ups even when the other party is responsible for the actions that ended the relationship, and ultimately I had some serious fault in the resulting attrition whether I was trying for that goal or not.

Over the last few years I've steadfastly held to the belief that I'm simply better off not dating, and while there were women I would see and friends with benefits along the way, I never really gave myself over or let anyone in. This has been a regular theme in my journal over the past few years, so some of you, at least, are familiar with it. There were some odd close calls in the romantic arena, like old girlfriends coming out of the woodwork and a few crushes here and there (one particularly serious crush comes to mind, and I mentioned it here once and never talked about it; she turned me down and stopped talking to me entirely, and I rapidly fell out of like with her and realized I was just lonely and looking for someone to fixate on).

So that sort of puts things in perspective for you -- for about 3 years I was grumpily single, living the life of a curmudgeonly bachelor. My belief in my own lack of facility in relationships is compounded by the agreement of others, and it's well-known among my friends that I just fly solo. Occasionally women show interest in me and I rebuff them; for some reason they tend to be dull and dumb women who find my bastardy and arrogance fascinating but have nothing to contribute to my life and are thus totally not worth my coming out of retirement. I know this just makes me sound more arrogant (which is fine), but honestly, ask some of my friends -- these are generally women who are just not up to the challenge of dating me. I'm not an easy boyfriend -- not an entry-level companion by any means, unless you're a dog -- and I simply cannot date a woman who is not interesting, intelligent, witty, and clever. If you can't keep up your end of the conversation, have nothing unique to offer from your point of view, don't know how to disagree with someone while bolstering a conversation rather than killing it, and generally cannot process the topics being thrown at you, you should never consider dating me. Despite this, many numbskull women seem to think I've got it goin' on, and for a long time I've simply said "I don't date" and meant it, letting them down in an impersonal fashion while knowing tacitly that while I might be willing to compromise on that point some day, I would not be willing to compromise for them.

Three years passed like that, and then we were on to Year 4 -- 2008, probably around June, when I was looking at moving out of my apartment and in with Dima & Steve. I started considering the past and the future, and I realized that while I didn't feel like compromising on the stodgy bastard I'd become, I was starting to feel lonely. I missed female companionship: the casual physical affection of hugs, kisses, and cuddling; going to sleep next to someone and waking up beside them in the morning; having someone to call at night and to miss; earnestly having an outlet for affection and romance; having someone look at me with attraction and adoration. All of those things were absent, and I simply wasn't making up for the lack. I started kicking the tires on my personality and figuring out whether or not I was willing to grow the fuck up in some respects, and essentially wondering how I would even go about doing so. I mean, I worked at a small office with very few available females, and my pool of friends wasn't exactly overflowing with women who were interested in me. I simply didn't have venues from which I could appropriate a potential mate.

Then I got canned.

I ended up taking a job working with Steve, and this led to a call center environment which was, unsurprisingly, highly populated with women -- not that this was automatically awesome. To give you a little perspective, I instantly went from being the heaviest person in my office at iePlexus to not even starting in the Top 10 at WDS (I was nowhere near the heaviest even back then, and that was about 100 lbs ago), and wouldn't have been in the Top 10 for overweight women at that time, either. There were a lot of women, but it's not like this place was a singles retreat or college mixer. It just meant I was now in a place where one could conceivably chat up women -- more importantly; it was a place to make casual acquaintances who could introduce me to friends who eventually could create a network of not-my-friends-who-know-single-ladies. I went through the job training, I made a lot of friends, I lost some weight, and I started to discern my options.

Initially I was interested in a woman named D'arcy from my training class, but said woman was in a relationship (it may have been rocky, but it wasn't dead), and after testing the waters there (sometimes in fairly brazen fashion) for a while in late October/early November, I realized that our schedules were simply not going to synch up enough for me to even be able to put in the time to demonstrate that she should leave her inadequate man for greener pastures (moi). I wasn't totally destroyed by this revelation, as it's not like I was in extreme like with this girl; I enjoyed her company, found her attractive and intelligent, and would have been interested in spending more time with her. Giving up on that idea hurt about as much as asking for curly fries at Jack-in-the-Box and being told that they were out of curly fries, so don't think I was heartbroken -- this is no slight against her (a fantastic woman, I assure you) so much as an indicator of just how preliminary this stage of my interest was. It was actually all for the best, plus it gave me a chance to grind some of the rust off of my ladying skills and prep me a bit more for chatting up girls, which proved useful later on. I'm friends with D'arcy now regardless, and I think that's really for the best -- I didn't exactly match up to her male ideal (I'm not into cars, don't drive a stick, don't listen to metal, am not vegan, and other stuff), and didn't want to make those compromises.

It's also worth noting that I had a lot of conversations with Steve, Dima, and Greg regarding why I wasn't trying harder here -- why, when I had actually chosen a woman to pursue, was I not putting in more effort? Part of it was obviously the obstacles involved (boyfriend, difficulty actually getting together), but a lot of it had to do with my own lethargy and resistance to the idea of being in a relationship at all. Something inside of me rebelled against the idea, and I had to confront that in order to move on. I also had to get over how much I hated The Hunt, and the bullshit song-and-dance men and women go through during the preliminary stages of a relationship. The idea of hanging out and getting meals while pretending it isn't a date so as to save yourself embarrassment down the road is just stupid, especially when it's because you're doing that act with someone who just doesn't want to admit how checked out of their own relationship they really are. I'm just too blunt and honest a person to put up with that, and tend to go in for the kill conversationally and cut the bullshit early on.

Without an actual objet d'amour to focus upon, I instead turned my thoughts inward and started trying to figure out what kind of girl I wanted to date in the first place. I was actually chatting up Girl (merlynn) while she was cleaning my kitchen (not a euphemism, and yes, she was paid for her time) regarding her own abysmal taste in men, and I told her that sometimes we keep looking for the kind of mate that we've always looked for, thinking that's what we want and that's our type, when in fact our taste in mates has changed over the years and we've just never reexamined what we want. It's really sound advice, right? Makes perfect sense? Totally sage-like, makes you stop and think about what you actually want and how that translates from script to screen?

Word. It made me start thinking, too. I semi-objectively gave myself fucking dating advice. (For merlynn's part, it ended up putting her in a position to start dating my roommate, Dima).

So I stopped to consider what I wanted and what kind of woman that would create, and I gasped in shock when I realized that the kind of woman I was looking for was someone a lot like White Steph (my friend Steve White's wife, and also a very good friend of mine). Someone who rolls with the punches, has a solid sense of humor and a good backbone, isn't afraid to go do her own thing and enjoy her life, and can intelligently take part in debates and discussions by providing her own insights. None of this stuff surprised me on a surface level so much as it gave me a frame of reference as to what kind of girl I should be keeping an eye out for, and how such a person might behave and express herself. I started examining a different type of woman than my usual.

My timing was impeccable.

Rewind to about a month prior -- some time between September 30th and October 7th, to be slightly more precise (and it's likely the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd). One of the two trainers for my class, Rhiannon, asked me to step in and speak to her new class (the class immediately following mine) and tell them about the Knowledge department and what to expect from training and the like. I stepped in with my whole shtick about how I'm a very humble man -- so humble they should throw me a parade and build a statue to my humility -- and how they were all suckers for sticking on the phone, and how I'd never gotten a Customer Kudos for my hard work but a customer did once flirt with me and look me up on MySpace (true story). I joked and sparred with them a bit, suggested they elect a president (I had been elected President of my class -- the elections and the idea of a Class President had been my idea in the first place), and generally made everyone laugh. I felt pretty good about the whole thing, and I was invited to come back any time; I have since become somewhat popular on the "Say hi to my class!" lecture circuit.

One of the people to engage me the most in banter was a lanky, scrappy blonde who was very obviously the class clown (I had called her "this group's Ian", referencing another clown from my class who had gone on to become my Vice President and then promptly quit his job as soon as he got on the phones). She seemed funny and sharp as a tack, and put out a sort of look-at-me raver-girl vibe; she'd caught my attention, but more in a memorable way than in an "oh, I want that one" way.

A few days later I was outside wrapping up a phone call when the lanky blonde came up to me and introduced herself as Grace from Rhiannon's class. She'd said she'd been meaning to talk to me, and mentioned that she really liked researching cell phones and technology and wondered if there were any openings in the Knowledge department. I'd been surprised that she'd actually want to talk to me, but when she was looking for a position it clicked into place, and I said that we weren't hiring but she should talk to HR and make sure they knew her hat was in the ring. She was very peppy and nice, but it seemed fairly obvious that she was mostly putting out feelers about the department (she told me later that she'd been keeping an eye on me for days, and while what she said was all true, she had also just been looking for an excuse to chat me up; it's true what they say -- boys are oblivious to this stuff).

From that moment on, however, she was actively on my radar. I would see her animatedly talking and walking with friends, smoking outside and laughing at someone's story, or loudly making a quip at someone's expense. I had sort of assumed she was dating a guy named McKennis, another tall, lanky raver-type constantly clad in green parachute pants, as I'd seen the two of them together frequently (turns out he's gay -- shows what I know). During this time I also had not one but two women overtly making their interest in me known (neither of whom I'd have remotely considered dating), plus I was in the process of feeling out D'arcy and seeing if maybe she was interested in trading up from "crappy live-in boyfriend" to "fixer-upper new boyfriend". Add to that one of Grace's classmates, Aimee, who came on really strong and showed active interest in me despite my complete lack of interest in her, and you'll see that as far as ladying was concerned, I was seriously distracted. I'm not really used to getting that level of attention from females, but dropping 100 lbs while maintaining my oversized personality has apparently put me back on the radar of the single female, much to my surprise and confusion.

As it turns out, Grace ended up being assigned to Steve's team (Steve is a supervisor at the call center) and sitting a couple of desks down from his. This meant that I saw Grace regularly, acting goofy and cracking jokes, and she frequently saw me (as I spent a lot of time just hanging out at Steve's desk; it was right outside my office). It meant I also got to hear a lot about Grace from Steve, who takes an active interest in his team members -- hear about her kid, funny things she'd say or do, comments she'd make to Steve or Suriya (another supervisor and a friend of mine) that would flat out qualify as sexual harassment or HR violations -- and I sort of got to know about her secondhand. I heard about her boyfriend, Nick (who also works at WDS as a call center agent), and about her love of getting her back scratched and shoulders rubbed. I figured she was a pretty cool chick, but probably not my type, and just didn't progress to that "actively interested" stage people get to when they like somebody. It appeared that Grace had little trouble getting attention from men when she wanted it, and the abundance of attention meant she had a lot of options from which to choose.

Things move on. Time passes.

Steve let me know that he thought Grace kind of had a bit of a crush on him. I got a little twinge of jealousy at that, in that weird "okay, I have no active interest or claim on this girl, but why him and not me?" way that people get sometimes. Steve happened to be actively trying to win the heart of another female at the time, plus would never date someone on his team (or, for that matter, an agent; Steve takes his supervisor job very seriously). This actually led to Steve and I joking that he should turn her down flat and then deflect her toward me, as I'd frequently placed Grace on my list of attractive coworkers/coworkers I'd sleep with, and I made no secret of the fact that I found her entertaining. This was all in the kettle when a group of WDS employees went bowling together on Thursday, November 27th (thanks, Grace, for providing an exact date), including Steve, Grace, and I (as well as many other people whose names I'm pretty much just putting down for posterity: Noe Sanchez-Camacho, Steven Payne, Ashley-who-was-pregnant-at-the-time, Ashley Lamb, Ashley Lamb's odd boyfriend with the bad mullet, Noe's date who was really nice, Suriya Phromnopavong, Zach "Hm Skl" Engle, Don Caiger, and other people); there was a lot of joking and banter, and I sort of engaged Grace in some light flirting that was harmless and funny (it involved my stating that the only way Grace was allowed to sleep with me was against my will -- if I said yes, it was no longer okay, but if I said no then she could have her way with me), but in the end I got the feeling that I just wasn't her type. I was a bit disappointed, but hey, it isn't the first time a woman hasn't been interested in me. My ego can take that.

Grace ended up calling Steve the next week (Wednesday, December 5th) and fessing up that she sort of had a crush on him, and asking if she should switch teams because of it (one interpretation of this is "because if I wasn't on your team, you could date me", but apparently the correct interpretation is "if I sort of have a crush on you, I probably shouldn't be on your team"). Steve tried to be gentle in letting her know he wasn't ever going to consider dating an agent, but that he was flattered (which he was) and that he was okay with it (also true) and it didn't mean she had to switch teams. He felt really bad afterward, and I helped him sort of man up and deal with that -- after all, who likes turning a nice girl down? Especially when it kicks her low self-esteem subroutine on and she goes into a bit of a mope about how it's because she's not all that attractive, and she can understand why you wouldn't be interested?

That's right -- nobody.

Amusingly enough, the next night (Thursday, December 6th) Steve got another call from Grace saying she'd been dragged out to the Noc-Noc, a local Goth club, in her pajamas. She was having a really bad night and just wanted somewhere other than home to hang out for the evening and relax, and she wanted some company. He invited her over, and she walked in and looked super-shocked to see me there. Apparently she hadn't realized Steve and I lived together. She and Steve hunkered down on the Love Sac (yes, we have one of those) while I lay on the nearby couch. Grace let us know about her evening woes while Steve hugged and cuddled her (Steve does this -- he is the handsiest person you'll ever meet, and has a natural tendency to cuddle up to people) and I kept reaching a finger out to poke her in the side, much to her annoyance (Grace says this is where she first really knew I liked her, and I'm not surprised by that -- I was clumsily unsubtle). When she finally got up to use the loo, I flat out let Steve know that what he was doing wasn't fair -- you do not cuddle up to a girl who has professed she has a crush on you after you've turned her down, because it's the ultimate in sending mixed signals to somebody. He realized that's exactly what he was doing and promptly quit it, and not long afterward he went to bed while I stayed up and talked to Grace a bit. We talked about her daughter Morgan, who is 3, and Morgan's father Patrick and Grace's contentious relationship with him. We talked about Miles, the son Grace gave up for adoption at birth but who she gets to visit sometimes and who is still very much in her life. We discussed her relationship with her mother -- with whom she and Morgan are currently living -- and how torturous that relationship is for Grace. We discussed her boyfriend Nick and how Grace liked the guy, but just wasn't romantically interested in him; she was afraid to break up with him because she knew it would crush him, as his feelings for her were very intense and hers weren't even remotely similar. We covered a lot of ground in those few hours before I let her pass out, and I really felt I'd gotten to know her. What's more, I'd really gotten to like her; I found myself actively interested in this girl, wanting to know what she thought and what she liked and what she wanted, and figured out that I had an actual full-blown crush on her.

Fuck me.

I have a crush on Grace. Grace has a crush on Steve. Steve has a crush on someone else. Damn my luck.

Even so, Grace and I hit it off as friends, and… well, there was a part in the back of my mind that said, hey, maybe I still have a chance. After all, she accepted without much argument that Steve was flattered but uninterested, and she seemed to like talking to me. So when we all ended up at karaoke the next night (Friday, December 7th), I was texting her and telling her she should totally come out and join us because we were having a great time. I was meanwhile grumbling to my friends that I liked Grace and Grace liked Steve, and that this was a frustrating development for me. Despite being nearly asleep and lacking in reliable transportation, I was eventually able to convince Grace to join us (apparently because she really wanted to hang out with me, which is pretty cool to find out afterward) and spend time bantering with the lot of us. When Steve and I went back to the Shire later, she came back with us and sat on the Love Sac with me watching "An Evening with Kevin Smith" which was very, very funny. Steve ended up going to bed because he was exhausted, and Dima went to bed not long afterward for the same reason, leaving Grace and I on the Love Sac and Black Steph (merlynn) sitting on the couch, chatting us up and generally cockblocking me without knowing it (she's sometimes not all that great at reading social signals, like expressions and gestures and leading questions that add up to "Could you possibly please go up to bed so I can put the moves on this nice young lady here?"). Before long, however, it was just Grace and I in the living room, just like the night before… except this time we were cuddled up on the Love Sac instead of in separate parts of the room.

We talked a lot about past relationships, what we look for in other people, what we find to be funny, and other light-to-moderate fare, all the while casually being close, touching, cuddling up to each other. When I saw my moment, I took my shot and kissed her, and… there was a lot of that. And it was very nice.

As it turns out, Grace sort of had a crush on me from the day I talked to her class, and when she came up to me to talk to me about cell phones and the Knowledge department, she had actually been trying for some time to think of a reason to come and talk to me. She'd been keeping an eye on me, and she actually thought I was cute. Apparently one time when I walked past her desk to talk to Steve, she nearly fell out of her chair watching me. When we'd been up late the night before just talking, she'd been trying really hard to stay awake and keep talking to me because she was enjoying it so much. We had apparently been quietly, subtly circling each other for weeks.

From that point onward, we pretty much just wanted to keep seeing each other -- whenever she could get free she'd come over and hang at my place (even for just 15 minutes), and we'd spend time together whenever and however we could. She sought my advice on how best to break up with Nick and what to say to make sure that she was gentle but firm, leaving no room for error (I'm actually good at that kind of stuff, so I was able to help her break up with him in a gentle but firm fashion). Lest anyone think I was lax on that subject, the first thing I said after she and I finished a rather intense round of kissing was "You need to break up with your boyfriend"; it was just a matter of her figuring out how. We slowly, subtly, casually let the idea of us as a couple leak into our social group and the workplace, all the while stealing time together when and how we could and getting to know one another as time allowed.

Eventually I got to meet Morgan and spend time with her and Grace, which is something she and I are now working on. I have no parental experience and am still learning how to follow Grace's lead and back her up when it comes to a 3-year-old with fair-to-poor behavior. I like Morgan (and Morgan seems to like me a bunch), but Grace has had it kind of rough as far as parenting goes. She lives with her mother, who tends to second-guess and countermand Grace's parenting in front of Morgan and send her mixed signals about who to listen to, and Morgan's father isn't a particularly strong parental figure (especially where consistency and dependability are concerned). Morgan is a basically good kid who is getting spoiled by having her way too often, being given too free a rein in her life, and not being consistently held accountable to authority figures. Grace tries hard to be a good mom, but you can tell how much it stresses her out by how quickly she loses patience and how little Morgan listens. I'm getting used to having a small child around and all of the annoyances that go with it (and god damn are small children annoying, even when you like them), and Grace is getting used to having me around Morgan, so we're all sort of in it together. Grace has been very up-front about the fact that guys haven't been able to handle her having a kid in the past, and I can understand how that is and certainly experience how it puts a huge cramp in both people's lifestyles, but I'm trying. I think that when Grace finally moves out of her mother's house and has a better chance at being the sole parental figure in Morgan's life, Morgan may actually start listening and behaving herself more often, making life easier on both her mother and on me.

Grace's mom is sort of her own story. Charlotte cannot leave Grace alone, and that's seriously frustrating for me. Any time Grace is with me her mother is calling her, texting her, calling me to get Grace, and generally making a nuisance of herself. She refuses to watch Morgan for more than brief periods of time, threatening to call Child Protective Services on Grace if she's gone for longer than 45 minutes, and is overall a miserable and wretched person. I do my best to be civil and polite to her, but she makes me want to roar and smash things.

As for Grace and I, well… we're totally stuck on each other. I'm adjusting to the idea that plans end up being dashed at a moment's notice because of the kid, and that we end up being severely limited on how much time we can spend together for what are ultimately arbitrary and insane reasons (thank you, Patrick, for being so goddamn unreliable). Since she can't get away from her apartment in the evenings for the aforementioned reasons, I drop by most nights as her Imaginary Friend, sticking with her while she smokes and talking to her on the stairs of her apartment building until one or the other of us has to go back home. She drops by when she can, and sometimes we'll meet up at the store so I can hang with her while she shops for groceries and essentially spend time together on her mom's clock. We do what we can to see one another, and living near each other makes that a bit easier. I'm trying to introduce Grace to stuff she'd like (I got her to read Watchmen, which she loved, and we're working on finishing the Big Lebowski when she has time to do so) and trying hard to be open to the stuff she likes (she listens to country music, which is both hilarious and frustrating). We're getting used to each other and the boundaries and limitations of our relationship, and that's good. It feels good to care enough about someone again to make compromises and work harder at being a better man.

It's weird, getting used to having a girlfriend again. But then, most of the good stuff in my life has been pretty weird at the outset.

Today's song is "Life is Better" by Q-Tip & Norah Jones.
Current Mood: Cheerful
Current Music: Q-Tip & Norah Jones, "Life is Better"

( | I Want You to Hit Me as Hard as You Can)

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