Love Illuminated, Dead Batteries, and Menstrual Cramps

My interview with Dan Jones, editor of NYT's Modern Love column, is fast approaching. In fact, it's on Monday, which seems both very close and very far away. I've watched and read all the interviews I could find, brushed up on the column from the years past, and am halfway through Love Illuminated, the book from which he will be reading during his current tour. I'm doing my research. I feel really lucky to have been given this opportunity, and the last thing I want to do is waste this man's time.

My biggest fear when interviewing somebody is that it will end with them feeling like they've been asked all of those questions before, and make them wonder whether I even really care about the subject. To avoid this, I try to choose people and subjects I am actually invested in connecting with and learning more about. It's intimidating, though, preparing to interview somebody who has been interviewed so many times before. What hasn't such a person been asked? 

The process of researching Jones' work in particular, has led me down several rabbit holes, one of them regarding the popular subject of online dating. I could write a thesis about how destructive to romance I believe the ever-more digitized methods for meeting and communicating with each other actually are. I think filling out profiles feels too much 

like composing a resume, and the problem with this is that none of us fill out a resume listing only the unexciting, irrelevant experiences we've had. Our resumes are supposed to represent the best versions of ourselves, even if that version represents, in reality, only a small percentage of the whole. You don't want to lie, but if you can represent a version of yourself that you KNOW you can fulfill in the workplace, why the hell not?

This is what, I believe, most of us do on dating sites. We list the income we hope to make by the time Ms/Mr right comes along, the activities we imagine ourselves enjoying, and post well lit photos that enhance the best of our physical attributes while shadowing out all the rest. But wouldn't we just have better luck meeting somebody if we were actually out on those group cycling rides, actually attending author readings, actually going to those wine tastings we talked about in the 'interests' section of the profile, and actually...you fill in the blank? What happens when you meet that person in, well, person, and they ask you about your favorite hiking spot (because they saw in your profile that you love to hike), and you don't even know one route? 

Listing things you'd like to like to do is not the same thing as listing things you actually do. 

So I've been thinking critically and obsessively about this modern world of online dating, and what it all really means, but I've also been thinking a lot about my own, very unhappy, often very strange dating history. 

There is not a single person I've dated seriously who I am not glad to no longer be with. I don't have regrets about things ending, but I have been spending quite a bit of time wondering how I ended up with these people in the first place. There was that first boyfriend who was in college while I was in high school, who simultaneously spoke to me in a pedantic way while asking for help with his Chaucer paper for a class at UNC. I spent two and a half years pretending to like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Incubus hoping to become the person he actually wanted to be with. Sometimes all you need to do to learn to appreciate something new is to listen a few times. Well, I listened more than a few, but instead of just finally coming out and saying, "Look, I just think those bands are awful!" which might have made him respect me more, I kept grinding away. And what the hell for!? 

And then there was that girl who brought me breakfast at work, gave me incredible, endless back massages, and looked at me like she'd never seen anybody so beautiful, but who had absolutely no aspirations beyond washing dishes at a local cafe. Of course we were no match.

Then there was the guy who built out his studio to avoid coming home at night and spent time there getting 'massages' from other women rather than getting them from me.

Sheesh.

So here I am, a little over two months into this new thing with this great guy and sometimes I find myself wondering how I could have ever settled for anything less. Other times, I find myself wondering when that time will come that he'll change his mind about me and start disappearing. It's a fair fear to have given my romantic and familial history, but it's not based on anything that's actually happened between us. It's kind of incredible.

Last night I was doubting pretty deeply the ability of my charm and affection to win out over the bullshit that my truck has put him through in the last month. I don't really mind driving a truck whose tires I have to check the pressure of every time I drive, whose power steering liquid leaks constantly, whose ceiling is falling apart in shreds, and whose battery has got the life of a fucking gnat, but it doesn't exactly make it easy for me to drive us long distances to fun places, or even just down the street sometimes.

So this is how it went:

I started this new job and worked the day there yesterday, after which, the manager asked me out for a drink to talk job details. Before I could oblige, though, I had to drive home to feed and walk the pooch. I normally walk or ride the bike, but it was raining and hailing yesterday, so driving the five minutes was a no-brainer. 

I drove home and back no problem, but when I went to crank my 'ole girl Rhonda after drinks, she just wouldn't start. I got a ride home around the same time my boy asked if my room-mate and I could use some flowers in the house, to which I responded, "Yes, and come on over!" I assumed he'd be staying the night and that I could coerce him into helping me jump the thing in the morning, but alas, he had planned only a short visit. Before he left I asked if he would 'real quick' jump me off so I could park back at home and at least free up a parking space at work. It was about 8:30 at this point and he said sure. It would have to be quick, though, because he had an early morning.

The thing that makes all of this not your average dead battery, is that this time around, my menstrual cramps--things I hardly ever experience--were literally breath-taking. I mean, I have been walking around for the past three days with a hot water bottle glued to my belly with my legs up. My period has been insane. I felt like a 14 year old again, suffering from a fever every time it came, and constantly looking underneath myself just to make sure I hadn't left any blood behind. Yes, I realize this is probably TMI, but you'll get over it. 

By the time we got to my truck and successfully jumped it, I was dying. I just wanted to get into bed. It was 9pm. He was as sweet as ever and offered to ride around with me for 15 minutes or so while the battery recharged, but my gas tank was so egregiously low that I was afraid we wouldn't make it that long and that we must pull over for gas first. He suggested I just leave the truck running rather than risk the battery shutting off again but I'm paranoid as hell about catastrophe finding me and said, "I'm not going to become a statistic. I would definitely be that 1 in a million person who blows up," and then pointed to the battery gauge, which read 'normal.' 

I knew that was silly, though, because Rhonda is already twenty years old and even the gas gauge isn't super reliable. I just wanted an excuse to turn the dang thing off. I pulled into the station and chose the pump closest to the entrance, one that sat in the middle of what appeared to be a lake. The water was at least two inches deep. I knew I could avoid it, though, and so didn't mind. I had a card, but wanted to pay in cash, so I took the eight dollars I had left over after drinks inside to get a little gas for the drive. 

I replaced the nozzle after pumping, turned the engine, and of course, she wouldn't start. I looked over at the bf, and said, "I know you have to wake up early. I guarantee you'll make it home faster if you walk back to my house, get your car, and drive home, than if you wait here with me for AAA, or some chump to pull up and help. 

If I were in his shoes, I probably would have left. He would never do that, though, and that's when I started to worry about his patience running thin. 

The gas station attendant came out, and between customers, tried to jump me off with his mini van. Not enough juice. While he was trying to jump me, a taxi driver locked himself out of his taxi and started yelling, "I KNOW I left that door unlocked! I SWEAR, somebody musta gotten in there and locked the door on me!"

Not a good night for anyone, it seemed.

Finally, around 9:30 or 10 we set the attendant free, swallowed our pride and called AAA. It was only three weeks ago we had to make the same call because my truck had sunk into his lawn--immovable--after a two day trip to Morehead City. We wondered if it would be the same guy coming to help us. I looked over at bf and said, "I just hope you don't start to feel like I'm more of a pain than a pleasure."

"Aw girl," he said, before going inside to make a purchase and tip the attendant for his help. Yes, he's a real gentleman. I love it.

While all this was happening, I kept thinking I should have used the bathroom while I'd had the chance. I felt my period seizing the opportunity to humiliate me, so as soon as bf turned to walk toward the station, I scrounged around for tissues or napkins or anything to stuff down my pants in the hopes of at least temporarily damming the flood. It might have made more sense to just go use the gas station bathroom, but at that point I was afraid that any little move would dislodge my Diva Cup, resulting in a very unhappy experience for us all. I found the pack of tissues I'd bought a while back and was able to perform the task just before he'd returned with his purchases.

Phew! Crisis and humiliation averted. And as far as I knew, he was none the wiser. Of course, if he reads this far down, he will be, but let's just cross our fingers against it.

He opened the truck door and said, "I got us treats!" and handed me a sour pink grapefruit lollipop while popping a sour green apple into his own mouth. I was such a poopy-pants that all I could think was, "Damn, wanted the sour green apple," so I asked, in the same way I used to ask my great grandmother about trinkets she had lying around that I wanted, "So, do you like sour green apple?"

"Mhmm," he said between licks.

"Hmm, do you want to try mine? It's really good."

"Yeah, sure!"

"Do you like it? It's grapefruit."

"Yeah."

"Which do you like better?"

"I like mine," he said.

Dang.

It was freezing. My toes are numb from getting wet while pumping gas in the lake, there were shooting pains in my abdomen, I was wearing a diaper, and was stuck with my least favorite lolly flavor. Great.

At around 11 pm, AAA finally arrived, and yes, it was the same guy from before. If you're ever in the Chapel Hill or Carrboro area and need help, Dan from Barnes Towing is your guy. He even let me sit in his truck with the heat cranked to revive life to my toes while they put a new battery in. Normally, I would have just had him charge the battery, but you can only do that so many times before you just have to suck it up and admit that not everything lasts forever.

My relationships feel unsettlingly similar to the one I have had with my truck battery. So many times I should have known that there was nothing left, but I'd just keep trying to give it that extra boost as if it would be enough to take us all the way down the road.

I thought about this around 11:30 when the whole event was finally over. There were only a few hours left before bf had to return to work, and I wondered whether or not this time, what I had to offer would be enough. 

With my 27th birthday only a week away, and so many exciting opportunities on the horizon, it's almost impossible not to imagine that something's got to go wrong, and this relationship is the thing I feel I have the least amount of control over at the moment. I already feel especially vulnerable and lonely around my birthday and it's never been a day for much celebration, so all this hoopla just added to my feelings of insecurity.

On the way home, with my new battery, I looked over at bf and remembered what my Russian friend had told me a few weeks before about 'little bad luck.' 

She said, in reference to some other thing about as small a thing as a truck battery that had gone wrong in my life--a stolen pair of Dansko's at the yoga studio to be exact (poor privileged me)--that 'little bad luck' was a good thing. She said that when you're experiencing a lot of abundance, 'little bad luck' happens to keep things balanced out and that I should welcome it. It is a prediction of more good to come, but since there can be too much a good thing, often leading to an unhealthy amount of comfort, or too much pride, 'little bad luck' comes around to help keep things in check.

I pulled back into my driveway with this person I really care about, up to a house I really love, to be greeted by my dog who is totally precious to me, feeling thankful that I had enough money to buy a new truck battery in the first place, and reminded myself gently that I have no real control over anything anyway, so I should just enjoy the things and people I have while I have them and stop worrying about what I might do to fuck things up, because the only thing I can really do is just be, unapologetically, exactly who I am: a young woman with a shitty truck, an angry uterus, and a lot to say about pretty much everything.

I'm totally ready for that interview now.