Sunday, February 26, 2012
UPS, DOWNS AND INTERNET DATING
My marriage had just fallen apart. It wasn’t like I didn't see it coming. So why was I in complete and utter shock?
The warning signs had been blasting out at me in fanfare for the past.....oooooh, six years, or so? Why the hell didn't I hear them? What was wrong with me that I ignored it all for so long?
It was a hell of a wake-up call, discovering my fifty-four year old husband having cyber-sex with a twenty-four year old girl he'd met online. I suppose I should be grateful to her in a way. She gave me the shove I needed to finally take action and end a marriage that had been dead in the water practically from day one, if I'm honest. But I hadn't expected the tirade of emotions that would come when I finally discovered that it was him, and not me, who had gone astray. Even until the very end, I had always (stupidly) believed he really did love me.
OK, I know, he had a funny way of showing it. It's one thing to make a declaration (or in his case, millions of declarations) of love. It's quite another to actually mean what you say and follow your words with honest and genuine actions.
It was time for me to wake up and smell the coffee. It had always been just empty promises. There was never any substance to what he said. I knew it & he knew it. It was all just a drawn out, sycophantic, eight year long costume drama. He was center-stage; I was the 'arm candy’-supporting supporting actress, who played my role well. I learned my lines. I let him lead me, and I willingly played along, ever hopeful that he really was the character he was portraying, and not the wolf in sheep’s clothing my inner voice kept screaming he was. And the children were...what were the children? Extras?
Funny, but in a way I felt kind of elated in those early days. The shock of discovering the infidelity had yet to give way to the raw pain. How long would it take for the adrenaline to abate? An overwhelming emotional crash triggers the body to release self-protective anesthesia. That's what happened to me in the first few weeks. I was just numbed, dumbstruck and totally bloody speechless.
I wondered how long it could continue. I felt hurt beyond any boundaries I'd ever previously known. Yet, equally, there was some strange sense of...relief? Could it really have been relief?
And what the heck was I supposed to do now? I would sit in my house in the evening, a glass of red wine by my side, the children safely in bed. And HE would be downstairs, in the basement - the ‘basement-dweller’. We had barely spoken for weeks. Ever since I disturbed him ‘at it’. We'd just passed the odd word regarding the children and the sorry state of our finances. Thanks to his disordered behavior and inability to follow anything through, our family was now in a financial as well as an emotional crisis. We had debts up to our ears, and because of his bad credit history, he had previously put his company and any other ‘assets’ into my name, which meant that I too was up to my neck in it every bit as much as he was. What a legacy he’d created for us all. There were three small mouths to feed. Two daughters aged four and five, and an eleven-month old baby. I couldn’t imagine that things could get much worse. And yet, despite it all, he was down there still. Under my roof - the house was in my name, worst luck. So he’d become my basement-dweller, drinking and 'chatting' to his girlfriend. And I was left alone upstairs. Alone, bemused, afraid, and hurting.
One night, whilst staring at the computer screen, I suddenly had an idea. Maybe it was the wine that had gone to my head, but I suddenly started thinking to myself, “Sarah, you're in your mid-thirties. You're still attractive. You can still 'pull' surely? If he can do it, why the hell can't you?"
And then I started to recall the barren wasteland that was my marriage. I remembered a journal entry I had written a couple of years before:
"Things are the same between us - 'OK'. I'm frustrated with it all. I'm not sure how long a relationship with zero desire can last. Can a marriage be platonic and still work? Right now I can just about cope, but I'm thirty-four! What happens if I actually meet a guy that I actually desire? Do I love Bill enough to resist? I'm a human being after all! I need attention and affection! Don't we all?
I know Bill is fed up with it too, yet he makes zero effort to make himself attractive to me. He hasn't done any sport since we got married. He's gained weight and he no longer makes any effort to 'woo' me.
It really bugs me because I work hard at keeping my body attractive. He just thinks I'm frigid and don't want to make love because I have issues of my own. He doesn't seem to realize that he is part of the problem. If he does realize, he's clearly not bothered, otherwise surely he'd TRY to make it work?
Bah, I'll just have to keep lusting after Robbie!"
I was supposed to be happily married, and yet I went to bed alone every night and lusted after a pop star. How bloody sad was that?
And how sad was I now? I was looking after three small children, devoting my life to them, trying to keep the family together, and what does my overweight, aging, narcissistic husband do? He gets himself fixed up with a younger woman!
Where's the justice in that?
No, this wouldn’t do. I had to somehow redress the balance here!
And that was what prompted me to join a dating website. It was a fit of pique. Nothing more. I went on the Internet there and then, and found the very first website which came up on ‘Google’.
"That'll do,” I thought and without even looking at the terms and conditions, I used my stretched and overloaded credit card to sign up for a six-month membership.
At first, I was like a child in a sweet shop. I had to think of a username, and the first thing that came to mind was 'Twinkle toes'. I don't know where it came from, I felt very unlike a ‘Twinkle toes’, but I was in such a rush to sample the delights of online dating, I didn't care. It felt so invigorating, just to be able to declare myself 'single' after all this time. I was excited and scared at the same time. I was motivated purely by a need to regain some self-confidence. Having been kicked in the stomach upon discovering my husband 'at it' with his girlfriend, I'd then had to go on to endure his declarations of 'love' for her. He'd even gone so far as to call her his 'soul mate' (hang on, didn't he call me that once?). I needed a confidence boost. And in that moment, in that month of January, in what was to be the darkest year of my life, all I wanted was some attention of my own. I wanted to feel attractive and desirable.
Within minutes, various ‘cyber men’ were contacting me. I hadn’t even posted a photograph of myself onto the site, so I was amazed that so many would contact me so soon. I honestly believed it must have been a good omen. This was going to be easy! I was going to meet other men and have a good time for a change! I was free! The world was my oyster! I sipped my wine and tapped at my keyboard. I flirted with anonymous men from far and wide, and it felt good in the moment, which was all I had right now, small moments of feeling good amidst the chaos of rubble my life had become. The next morning I was less enthusiastic about Internet trysts. I had reality to contend with.
Since the collapse of the marriage over the Christmas season. I had been living purely on adrenalin. I had no idea how I would get through each day, so heavy was the burden of what I was facing. Realizing you are going to have to go it alone with three small children is a frightening prospect. More, so, when your self-esteem is at rock bottom, following years of erosion during a dysfunctional relationship. During this time, in the early days after the marriage broke down, I believed that my soon to be ex-husband would at least be there for the children, and support both me and them financially until such a time as I was able to get back on my feet again.
I had been a full time mother for the last five years. I’d given up my job when my first daughter came along, and had not returned to work since. That had never been part of the plan. My plan had been to be a full time wife and mother, a homemaker and primary care giver. My dreams of a peaceful and idyllic family life had been doomed to hopeless failure since the word go, and only now was I coming to realize this. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
I certainly hadn’t expected to find myself on a dating website, yet here I was, being ‘chatted up’ by several different men at once. Sometimes I felt flattered, other times I felt slightly unnerved by it. But I needed a distraction from the nightmare of everyday life, and right at that time, it was all I had.
I started to use the dating site as a release vessel. It was somewhere I could be completely anonymous and be anybody I wanted to be. Nobody on the site knew about my troubles, and it was comforting to be able to ‘act’ as somebody else for a short time each day. But the website was as far as it went. Whenever a man asked to meet up with me I would always make an excuse. Whilst I was enjoying the contact, I didn’t feel able to make any ‘dates’. Despite having initiated divorce proceedings already, as long as my basement- dweller was still about, I didn’t feel able to go out with another man. I knew this was crazy, as the basement -dweller wasn’t exactly sitting in his dungeon pining after me. No, not at all! And nor, it would seem, was he pining after his latest ‘soul mate’, as I was soon to find out.
When you sign up for these sites, you have to put your various likes and dislikes into your profile, to enable people to see what you have in common with them. You can also stipulate an age range for which you have an interest. My soon-to-be-ex basement- dweller was seventeen years older than me, and one thing I remained resolved about right from the very beginning, was that I would NEVER consider going for an older man again. I put my preferred age range as my own age, plus or minus five years.
But isn’t it amazing how some people (men, in this case) ignore these most simple guidelines? I was receiving mail from men in their sixties and from men in their early twenties. Now, in many ways I can understand what a man in their sixties would want with a thirty-something single mum…but a young man in his twenties? In my severely traumatized and depressed state, I was unable to recognize that these young twenty-something’s most likely went for us older single mums, because they thought we’d be desperate. And I suppose, in many ways, they’d be right.
One guy did catch my attention though. We’d started messaging one another regularly, and I found myself becoming more and more interested in his mails. He told me he was separated, but was still co-habiting with his ex, with separate rooms and shared childcare, very similar to my own circumstances. He was working from home as a freelance writer and hence was spending lots of time on the Internet, particularly the dating website. He told his primary motivation was to make new friends, rather than start a new relationship, and this made me feel at ease, as there was no pressure to meet him for a date. For me, it was perfect to be able to just exchange chatty and flirty emails with no need to worry about having to face the man in person.
Emilio was of Latin American origin yet spoke English fluently (and more articulately than most English men I’d met) as well as fluent Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian. He was a lover of literature, fine arts, and poetry. We talked at great length about life, love, the universe…and the basement- dweller. Emilio made me smile during days when I felt blackness all around me. His mails became a small light on an otherwise bleak horizon. Emilio was quickly becoming my fantasy man.
When you’ve spent years involved in a marriage as topsy-turvy as mine had been, you are going to jump at the first sign of attention. For me, this was the first time in years I’d felt as though a man was truly interested in what I had to say. Emilio appeared to hang on my every word and I was amazed at how my words would flow with ease when writing to him. I was certainly able to portray myself to be in a much better and more stable emotional state than I actually was. To Emilio, I was a tough cookie who’d taken some knocks but was keeping it together in the face of adversity. Luckily for me, Emilio didn’t see the real Sarah. He didn’t witness my crumbling poise as the evening drew on and the night closed in on me.
I started to fantasize about Emilio, I dreamed of meeting and falling in love with him. I wanted this Latino to come and sweep me off my feet and take me away to a better place. I believed it was possible, and I allowed myself to dream about it as a way of coping with the things which were actually going on in my life. Real life was a drudge. I was doing my best to keep a semblance of normality for the sake of the children and luckily for them, they were too young to understand what was really happening between their parents.
The basement-dweller was available (at least, in body) to help with the children. He did the odd bath and the odd bedtime story. He cooked the odd meal and took the older two on occasional outings. This gave me an opportunity to get a break from the unbelievable stress I felt whenever he was in my proximity. The tension between us was palpable. Yet there was no immediate way out of the situation. The situation created by the basement- dweller meant I was trapped in the same house with him. Until I got things moving from a legal perspective, I simply had no choice but to live in this state of suspended animation. I couldn’t go forwards, and I most certainly couldn’t go backwards. The pressure was building inside me and it felt like I may explode at any minute. I knew I was sinking into a deep depression, yet was powerless to stop it happening.
Emilio, or ‘Mr. E’ as I now called him, was becoming a sort of anti-depressant of the class ‘A’ variety. He knew exactly what to say and exactly when to say it and I found myself opening up to him more and more and looking forward to each of his (extremely frequent) emails. We’d also exchanged photographs by now and I found I liked the look of him. He had a full head of hair, (which was a big change from the basement-dweller) and he also had a flat stomach, (something else I wasn’t used to). He looked in pretty good shape, and although he wasn’t a typical Latino lover, to me, he was a vast improvement on what I’d previously known. And to be honest, even if he’d had a face like a slapped backside, I’d probably still have fallen for him, because this whole internet romance I was developing with Mr. E, was far less about him, and far more about me (although I didn’t even realize this at the time, so spaced out was I during this period!)
The email relationship started to become quite intense, and I savored each exchange with relish. Mr. E was making me feel like a woman again. It had been a very long time since anybody had made an attempt to stroke my ego, and Mr. E had this practice down to a fine art. How easy it is for us to succumb to romance in cyber world, even when we are going through a phase in our lives when the opposite sex should be strictly off limits. I found myself drawn in like a moth to a flame. I was unable to resist his charms and I wanted so badly to find a happy ending to my sorry story that I projected onto Mr. E like I’ve never projected onto another person in my life before. He was to be my Knight in Shining Armour, come to rescue me from the hellhole into which I’d been cast by the wicked basement-dweller. I think I can safely say I was in ‘victim’ mode at this point, and not really thinking clearly.
Inevitably, Mr. E was starting to hint at a meeting. This was a thrilling prospect, but one which also filled me with much trepidation. I was suddenly a schoolgirl again, getting butterflies in my tummy even at the thought of meeting my Latino wonder-man. After several weeks, I agreed to our very first telephone conversation, although I wouldn’t agree to use the web cam. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking to him over the Internet like that. It reminded me of the basement-dweller and how he had seduced his younger lover. I didn’t want my relationship with Mr. E to be quite so seedy, and I have to admit that my confidence had taken such a knock I was not ready for him to see my face, lest he found me repulsive.
We talked for over an hour that first night. I had taken the computer upstairs into my bedroom, two levels above the basement. I felt like a naughty schoolgirl, even though I had no reason to. I was a free woman now, after all. My husband had wasted no time declaring his undying love for another, so why did I feel like I was doing something wrong by actually having a conversation with my Internet flirt?
My nerves had gotten the better of me though, and I was like a giggly teenager throughout the conversation. He seemed like a pleasant enough guy to chat to, although his voice did seem slightly higher pitched than I had imagined it to be. He suggested traveling from the city where he lived to come and meet me. We settled on a Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ahead. We decided to meet at the train station, which immediately put me in mind of 'Brief Encounter', and my hopes soared. After the conversation ended I was on a real high. I convinced myself that the flirt with this man was exactly what I needed to boost my battered confidence. I couldn't wait to experience the thrill of a romantic encounter once more. It seemed so long since the basement-dweller had wined and dined me. I longed for that feeling again. I longed for an escape route from the situation I was in, and right now, Mr. E was that escape route.
I spent the next couple of weeks planning the romantic encounter, encouraged by good friends who wanted to help me get my mind off the situation I was in. I excitedly planned an outfit with my girlfriend, and she encouraged me to buy new underwear 'just in case'. It became a bit of a standing joke amongst my friends, who I believe were so concerned about my emotional well being whilst stuck in the same house as the man who had caused so much hurt and damage to me. They were happy to encourage me in my Mr. E escapade, simply because it put a smile on my face, and that was something they hadn't seen much from me in recent times.
As the day approached, I decided to hatch a story for the basement- dweller. I don't know to this day why I bothered to try and cover my tracks. He knew what I was up to, and I knew he knew. It went unspoken between us, but I had noticed that a user by the name of Mr. Bliss had viewed my profile on the dating website. He had had clearly signed up himself and had given quite a few details about himself on his profile. As soon as I discovered he'd viewed my page, I found it hilarious! I'd clearly put on my profile that I was not interested in older men. I sent a quick reply to say he was out of my age range, but by then he knew I was onto him and he deleted his account.
Despite this, we played a charade. I don't know who thought they were kidding whom, but I concocted a story about meeting a group of girlfriends for a meal in town, after which we would be shopping and sampling cocktail bars. I told him I didn't know what time I'd be home, but to expect me to be late. I seriously considered the possibility of staying out all night. I had no idea how the 'date' might pan out, and to be honest, the way I was feeling at that time, I may well have stayed out all night with my Latin lover, had the opportunity to do so presented itself. I was certainly in the mood for being rebellious and extremely reckless.
When the day came, I was nervous beyond belief. I got myself ready meticulously. I went for a smart, but casual look of hipster jeans, a fitted blouse, neck scarf, knee high boots, blazer and a peaked cap. I looked and felt good. I knew Mr. E would be pleased with what he saw. What I hadn't really considered, is what I would feel when I finally got to meet my Knight in Shining Armour in the flesh.
As the train pulled into the station I had to fight the urge to run away. I was so nervous my heart was in my throat. And suddenly, there he was, Mr. E, in all his.....glory?
He was wearing a mac and carrying a satchel. I was wearing heels, which was a bad move, because he was head and shoulders smaller than me and I'm only average height.
When he saw me, a grin spread across his face, and he made a 'wow' shape with his mouth. I smiled and stifled the urge to bolt.
"Well Helloooooooo Sarah," he gushed. "I'm soooooo pleased to meet you my dear!" He kissed the air on both sides of my face. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.
We walked to a coffee bar by the lake and sat in the winter sunshine. I was glad we were outside, and it was such a lovely day, because I was able to wear my sunglasses, which made me feel a whole lot better.
Once we were seated, he presented me with a book of poetry by E. E Cummings. I remembered he'd quoted some of these poems to me in his emails, and I'd found them so heart-stoppingly romantic. Now, sitting opposite my Mr. E in the sunshine, I was unable to feel the romance. My stomach was starting to turn into knots.
"I know a great wine bar over the road." I said. "Why don't we go and sample some lovely new world wines?"
"Oh yeeeeees Sarah, what a fantaaaastic idea!" He rubbed his hands together and practically salivated.
And so we made our way to the wine bar, where I ordered some wine as quickly as I could, and tried not to gulp it down too fast. The wine helped and I started to relax. We chatted about relationships, jobs, poetry, his work, my children, my marriage & his marriage. He enthused about what a 'strong woman' I was to be getting out of the relationship and he feigned anger when we talked about the basement-dweller's cyber-sex sessions. As the evening wore on and the wine warmed me from the inside, I actually started to relax and enjoy his company. It was a refreshing change to be with somebody new, but romantic it most certainly was not. He was overtly camp. In fact, as I started to relax, I actually considered asking him to be my new gay best friend, but thought better of it, thank goodness.
But the more wine he had, the more limp his wrists became, and the more animated he was. We went for dinner to an Italian Restaurant, and by then I had really started to relax and enjoy myself. To me, it was clear there would be no romance, but I did think we could become friends. He looked a bit like a Latin Freddy Mercury. I was thrilled at the prospect of being buddies with him. Every girl needs a gay best buddy.
Finally, we went to a wine bar and ordered cocktails – caipirinha, a potent white rum mix that is not for the faint hearted. I was starting to get really dizzy. It was Saturday night now and we were downtown. The bar was packed with people, mostly in their early twenties. And there we were, Mr. E and myself, looking slightly inebriated and rather out of place. But Mr. E didn't seem to care, he was enjoying himself and he clearly thought he was 'in there', because within moments of us sitting down with our drinks, he grabbed the back of my neck, pulled me towards him sharply and went in for a full on, tongues and all, kiss.
I was so taken aback, I didn't know what to do, so I reciprocated, or tried to, but it was really difficult given that I couldn't breathe with his tongue so far down my throat. When he finally let me come up for air I was so shocked I didn't know what to say, so I reached for my drink and took a big gulp.
"Oh Sarah, you are sooooooo sweet" he half whispered in my ear, and immediately pulled me back in for more.
I was powerless to resist, so I just went along with it. I was tipsy enough now that I didn't care, and even snogging a Latin Freddie Mercury was better than snogging nobody, so I decided to just try to make the most of it, and get some snogging practice in, at least until it was time for the last train home.
We walked to the station like giggling teenagers. He was giggling because he was pleased with himself - I was giggling because I couldn't actually believe what had just happened to me. As we parted, he pulled me in again, and this time he almost knocked me off my feet. The height difference worked against him, and to an outsider it must have been a hilarious sight, this camp guy in a mac with a satchel, groping the woman in the killer boots and a hat. I was bending so far backwards I almost lost my balance. Luckily the clock struck midnight, and we had to run for our respective trains.
As I sank into my seat, I dissolved in fits of giggles. That had certainly not turned out the way I had imagined it would. What a silly, naive woman I had been! But I laughed, because even though it hadn't been a the romantic dream I had hoped it would be, it had certainly been an experience I would never forget, and a comedic oasis amidst the desert of depression that filled the rest of my life right now. Mr. E, dear reader, was my first, and last, foray into the world of online dating. Twinkle toes never reappeared again.
Posted by Sarah Tate at 5:22 AM