When my grandmother died five years ago, my mom asked my oldest brother, Marc, to invite his friend to the wake. Not because the guy knew my grandmother (he didn't) but because my mom saw him as a love possibility for me. He's a doctor who, according to my mom, "eyed me up" at Marc's wedding. She also saw him as bait to lure me back home to Michigan.
Marc, who works in finance, didn't require my plea to ditch the idea. But my mom had a point. She had also made it a couple months before when she mailed my maltipoo, Benedict, a turquoise handkerchief with a message in white font: "My mom is single."
She knew my status. I was bewitched by someone, a man 16 years my senior who often lived in a different ZIP code for the years that we dated here and there. At the time, Jack called Myanmar home for half of the year. I lived in Hollywood. Most of our conversation occurred over Gmail.
I marked time by his visits. Once, when I knew he was about to stay with me over New Year's Eve, I crafted a PowerPoint and saved it as "Coming Attractions." In it, I included photos of Benedict, chess and Yai (his favorite Thai restaurant). The last slide included a photo of me paired with a side note: "Clothing optional."
He had stayed with me in Franklin Village for a few days the summer before my grandmother died. He worked on crossword puzzles while we sipped on Bulleit in bed. We walked Benedict to Griffith Park like always. Jack cooked dinner. Then he did something new. He had a return ticket to Los Angeles for December. He left some of his stuff in a plastic bag in a treasure-chest table in my living room. I danced.
I vowed to respect his privacy until my mom swooped in for a visit weeks later. Side by side, we sat on my sofa and stared at the table. She commanded me to investigate. I was a journalist after all. We also had wine, so I cracked the chest open and pulled out the bag. It included ordinary things: a couple of shirts, one with ruffles. Then my mom spotted the tickets. Greyhound tickets that kept unfolding in her hands, expanding across my living room floor. His return to me was just for a couple of days before taking off on a journey brimming with bus stops across the U.S. She laughed. I cackled. I'd cry later in the corner of my bathroom.
I can do that kind of thing: fall for someone who lives 17 hours or so away by plane without any commitment. When I first met him in my 20s, I was missing an education in having a conventional boyfriend. Over the years, it was too easy to attend events like New Year's Eve solo and handle roaches dancing over my oven by myself. (My hot-pink Dyson vacuum cleaner guzzled them up; my shrieks overtook the vacuum sounds, but my walls are thick.)
When Benedict collapsed on my floor, I put on his leash and drove him in the wrong direction to the veterinarian. But we made it there. I take out my trash myself and have for years. Often without a garbage bag. Once, I threw trash down the building's chute on a Santa Ana windy day. Q-tips and toilet paper plummeted down three stories, and the wings from a Stayfree period pad hit my cheek before I shut the chute.
Certain signs were too obvious. I fired up Hinge, something I had been resisting for years because I believed I only connected with a man who lived in Yangon.
I walked up to the wrong man for my first date at my local bar in Franklin Village. The real date, who watched me approach someone else, wasn't impressed. We had one drink and said goodbye.
I swiped right again, and in 2019, I met Chris. In my Hinge profile, I mentioned I would know I had met the one when he sent me meatballs at a bar. So when Chris wrote, "What's your meatball availability like over the next few days," I smiled. I chose a time and picked Musso & Frank, a Hollywood joint where Fitzgerald and Hemingway used to hang.
We sat at the bar. It was easy banter over martinis and meatballs. He had just moved from Orange County for a job and owned an apartment within a few miles from me. For the next handful of months, Chris would plan things: movies, restaurants, New Year's. Often it felt like too big of a commitment for someone used to none. I asked multiple friends whether he was a good match. Then, Chris' employer started sending him to China. Often.
I bought us Sugarfish when he officially called us quits in February 2020. He didn't eat it. I would later eat sushi solo.
Something my grandmother told my mom when she was dying: "Tell her to be tough." She meant me.
When we were urged to start isolating the next month because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I put on a makeshift mask and stepped outside with Benedict. We pranced by the Scientology church, the Oaks Gourmet, Gelson's and a cul-de-sac. He barked at passersby. I wore his handkerchief around my nose and mouth, the one that reads, "My mom is single."
The author is a senior editor at Bankrate and hosts FinTech Check on LinkedIn. She's on Instagram: @mmwisnie.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.