By the time I turned 49, I hadn’t dated in 10 years. As a divorced, single mom raising a son, dating wasn’t a priority. But it was soon time to get back out there and meet someone on a dating app. Ryan, my young “neighbor husband” was burned out from fixing anything and everything around my house. He was eager to toss the baton to a permanent honey-doer.
I had reason to be cautious. Santa Barbara has its benefits, like the ocean and mountains, but I’ve found that the pickings are slim in this dating pond.
I settled on Bumble, OKCupid and, reluctantly, Tinder. I thought it had a reputation as a hook-up app, but Ryan explained that it used to be like that and now it’s just like all the others. “It can be totally relationshippy,” he said. “Good,” I thought, as Ryan fed me advice about how to word my profile.
He encouraged me to write something a bit sexy, but not too much. Ugh, that sat like an uncooked biscuit in my stomach. Hard pass.
Frowning at my disdain, Ryan decided to focus on my pictures. “No one reads the bio anyway,” he said. Yeah, well, I read every word of these bios.
I’m a visual person, so when I saw Brian’s photos, I was stopped in my tracks — but not in a Cinderella meets her prince courtesy of Disney kind of way. Brian looked like a young Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam. I made the first move (because I’m a go-getter) and we messaged back and forth with the initial cursory questions about work, schools and hometowns. Soon we moved to texting, calling and the occasional video chat. Unlike me, Brian was painfully shy, but I didn’t mind since he lured me in with a Texas drawl. It was like warm honey mixed with steel guitar. He said I sounded like warm milk and cookies. Although Brian was seven years younger, he seemed like home.
On paper, perhaps, and to outsiders, we were worlds apart.
I have two degrees, while Brian earned his stripes at continuation school. (He’s smarter than most of my friends with PhDs; he was just more interested in skateboarding than homework.) I’m an entrepreneur and he drives for FedEx: I sit and Zoom with clients all day long and try my best to fit in workouts. He gets his 10K-a-day steps in within the first few hours he’s at work and is in incredible shape without trying.
As a friend in her 60s remarked, there was only one thing that mattered.
“Was he patient and kind?” Yes and yes.
Brian and I didn’t meet in person for months because we were following quarantine protocol, and because his dad is considered a vulnerable population. Brian would tell me heart-melting stories about his dad, who has dementia. There was something sweet and genuine in his cadence, and in his words were empathy, kindness and patience.
These were the things that mattered most my second time around the block.
When we finally met, it was for a batting-cages-and-tacos date. Something clicked that day. Within a month of meeting, we spent every weekend together.
But this is how I knew he was the one, after just our third date. I had cleared the breakfast table when I told him I had something big to share, something that could potentially be a deal-breaker. No, I wasn’t pregnant. I was bipolar. And before I could go on, he had grabbed my hand to hold it as I explained my medical history, including being hospitalized five times.
As I spoke the words that I was certain would make any guy run for the hills, he continued to hold my hand and smile at me lovingly.
My therapist had helped me to work out that the third date would be the polite time to let a guy know about my mental health. It was only fair. I’m a lot, as they say. But it turns out that Brian has a close relative with schizophrenia, and he’d basically seen it all. He was not fazed in the least by my words.
Just tell me what to do, he told me. I’m here for you.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Now I knew I was home.
Nine months into our relationship, I turned the big 5-0. Three weeks later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just as things were opening back up in the midst of the pandemic, just as things started to return to “normal,” I was navigating chemo and a partial mastectomy.
Our relationship has been tested again and again. I have been the worst version of myself a thousand times. I had a month of darkest days, days that included some suicidal ideations, which I can only talk about now because I am past them. Cancer is no joke in terms of the depths of emotions it takes you to.
Brian has been at my side through my cancer slog. (I can’t say “journey” because when people would use that word I want to punch them in the face.)
The months since my diagnosis have not been easy. We’ve fought, cried, held hands, and through it all he’s told me he wants to marry me. Me. He wants to marry me even though I’ve been the hardest of the hard to be around.
He says he knows it’s not who I am all of the time.
And he says that, somehow, he knows this cancer thing isn’t going to last forever.
The author is an organizational coach in Santa Barbara. Her website is thoughtfulorganizing.com and she is on Instagram @thoughtfulorganizing
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