Prior to getting married I was what one might describe as a "serial monogamist." I can count on one hand the number of girls I dated casually and still have fingers to spare. It just wasn't my style and the casual dates I did go on felt generally stilted and uncomfortable to me. When you add to that I was what just about anyone and everyone would describe as a late bloomer... I was no 40 year old virgin but I was 19 before things started to click for me with the fairer sex.
Most of the girls I dated seriously started out as friendships and just evolved into something more as friendships like that often do. So there was never that stilted awkwardness that made my casual dates feel so foreign to me.
In hindsight though, of all the girls I dated seriously (about seven) I only fell in love with three of them... the third time being the charm as I've been married to her for over five of the seven years (and counting) that we've been together.
But anyway the first...
It was the summer of '97. It seemed that Third Eye Blind's Semi Charmed Life, Hanson's MmBop, and Savage Garden's I Want You were competing with the Spice Girls for the most overplayed music of the summer. My then-girlfriend had opted to enlist and I opted to spend my summer working at Cedar Point. We had been good friends that had taken it to the next level and perhaps had no business doing so. I don't believe we were ever in love with each other. That whole platonic thing was there, but on the romantic level we only really gave each other "safety" and most people want more than that out of a relationship.
We'd even had the foresight to discuss the "what if" scenario of meeting other people. And maybe at age 20 we had no business trying to make a long distance relationship work. Especially considering our hearts weren't really in the relationship to begin with. There were girls with whom I flirted, even some I took an interest in, but as long as I was still technically in a long distance relationship I never crossed "that" line.
During my second month working at the park, I started working from time to time with a California girl from Pennsylvania (that is to say she was a student enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania, or by the more voyeuristic acronym C.U.P.) for privacy's sake let's leave her name out of it.
At one point her regular coworker was fired and I was re-assigned to his old position. As a result, from that point on we spent about 10 hours a day, five days a week working together. We worked in a small souvenir shop right near the exit of one of the most popular rollercoasters in the park selling hats and t-shirts. We were the only the only two people who were regularly assigned to that location.
We got along famously and in addition to spending so much time together working, we often hung out with one another after work-- by often I mean every single day-- including our respective days off. When one of us would get off work we'd meet up with the other. But we were both in long distance relationships so we never crossed "that" line.
At the same time, our respective others weren't exactly putting forth much effort keeping in touch with us. Initially I'd written multiple letters to my girlfriend off at basic training but when I noticed a general lack of response I stopped putting forth the effort as well. I wasn't the only one who was a bit disgruntled from the lack of content from our "others"-- my newfound friend had only received a single letter from her boyfriend back in PA.
One night I got home from work to find a rather cryptic message on the answering machine from the girlfriend in basic training, "Remember that thing we talked about possibly happening? Well it did." She'd met someone else and wanted to pursue an interest in him. Initially I was a bit bummed but oddly by the next day I was absolutely giddy. I was finally free. The relationship had come to feel more like a burden, something I was shackled to that was holding me back. It was finally over and the shackles were off. I later came to be somewhat angry as I found out that the girlfriend had been seeing someone else for quite awhile. I was pissed not because she'd been seeing someone else but because she hadn't come clean sooner. But at the same time, I wanted out and I could and should have pulled the plug on things long before she inevitably did. That relationship had actually ended the moment we went our seperate ways at the end of the school year it just took the two of us awhile to realize it.
Many of my friends thought I was a little off that first couple of days. I mean people aren't supposed to be happy when they get dumped-- and I was downright flippin' giddy. I was like Katrina & the Waves, Walking on Sunshine and all that.
One night later, after work I was once again spending time with my friend. We'd been watching a movie in my room at the employee dorm and had fallen asleep with our lips literally only about 3 inches from each other. The sexual tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. We both wanted that kiss so bad-- I mean we'd spent most of our waking hours together over the prior two months we'd become much more than friends but had never taken it to the next level. But our lips just kind of hovered a couple of inches apart. We could feel the heat from each others breath on our faces. She was still technically in a relationship and I didn't want to cross that line... but at the same time I did... I was really torn. Inevitably, it didn't happen. We got up and I walked her back to her dorm before walking back to mine to finally go to bed (at 6 am).
Somehow, the next night we found ourselves in the exact same position (Hmmm, I wonder how that happened). This time I finally caved. I mean that's a lot of tension and temptation for a 20 year old to resist. One night maybe-- but 2 in a row? I started with a gentle peck on the corner of her lips. I figured if she didn't reciprocate I could pass it off as an innocent friendly peck. But she followed up with a peck on my lips. Once that happened we finally had our first full-fledged, long overdue first kiss.
For the rest of the summer-- which at that point only amounted to about two weeks before she had to go back to college we were largely inseperable and I'm guessing we were also one of those nauseating overly saccharine couples that tend to inspire violence.
She went back to her school and about a week later I went back to mine. Both of us vowing to find a way to make it work. And once again I found myself in a long distance relationship. I visited her for the last week of my winter/Christmas break that year (literally just missing the Ice Storm of 1998 by a few hours) and we rekindled a bit of that passion before I once again returned to school.
A couple of days after Valentine's Day I received a call from her.. The call no one ever likes to receive. And unlike my previous ex's phone message before I was there to take the call this time... and I wasn't left giddy by any stretch of the imagination. I was devastated. I barely ate for a week or two afterwards. And when I did eat I think it was limited to Ramen noodles (I really should send a thank you note to the Maruchan company for keeping me alive). I was taking a creative writing course at the time and I was just bleeding emotional pain so I wrote a short story that was more than a little bit loosely autobiographical.
I had to get it out of me or do something, anything to keep my mind off it. I immersed myself in my schoolwork. It showed at the end of the semester with the best grades I ever received in my college career (and I never quite matched that success my senior year).
And then summer came and I was right back at Cedar Point... And who else was back a couple weeks later? At this point it was really unhealthy. I hadn't quite healed yet and having her around was like pulling off a scab and pouring fresh lemon juice on it.
For the most part we kept our distance from one another for most of the summer. Towards the end of the summer we started spending time together again. We weren't back together. There was a part of me that wanted to get back together with her but there was also a part of me that really didn't. I think deep down inside I knew that even if we did get back together it wouldn't last and I knew I didn't want to be on the receiving end of another emotional sucker punch like the one from the previous February I still had yet to fully recover from.
The trouble was, maybe we both let it go a little too far-- maybe we both let one another back in a little too much. When I left that summer I felt emotionally exhausted. I wasn't happy with how things had played out and ended up writing a poem that was quite bitter and in hindsight a bit unfair to her.
That wasn't the last time we crossed paths. In the summer of 2000, I went back to Cedar Point for a third time. I was in a rather unhappy relationship at the time (well at least I was unhappy, the girl I was dating was giddy and oblivious). The girl I was dating followed me to Cedar Point that summer and who else had returned for yet another summer... my first love. This time around she seemed interested in rekindling things but she held back due to my giddy oblivious girlfriend. And there was that small part of me that was at least curious about the prospect of rekindling things with her. I knew, for example, I likely would have been happier with her than with the girl I was dating at the time... But at the same time that didn't necessarily amount to making it right. I'd already danced that dance a couple of times and even though there was a perpetual vibe of "unfinished business" between us, deep down inside I decided it best if I keep it that way. Our lives had travelled down rather disparate paths and even though there were still small vestiges of the people we had been a few summers before we were different people.
In hindsight, I do believe we were the right people for each other at that point in our lives. We just didn't stay that way.