"So, what happens if you get the job you applied for in Pennsylvania?" I asked, taking a sharp turn away from the light and flirty conversation that made my second date with Alex so pleasantly compelling.
"I guess I'd wave goodbye to Los Angeles and hop on a plane," he said, seemingly unaware of how that sentiment might affect my feelings, not to mention the trajectory of what I believed could be a burgeoning romance.
"Oh," was all I was able to muster, staring down into my sparkling water instead of at Alex's olive-skinned, almond-shaped face.
"You look upset," he said with a confused expression. He was either slow on the uptake, or it was outrageous of me to be put off by the situation. The first guy who showed romantic potential in more than a year appeared to be casually dating to pass time until his new Philadelphia-based law firm job became official. I, on the other hand, still wanted to find my "forever date," who was interested in building a life with me in the same city.
"I've enjoyed our two dates," I answered, "and I thought you had, too, so I am surprised to hear that leaving LA seems like nothing more than a quick flip of the hand and a TSA security check." A dramatic twist of words, sure, but that's how I felt when the "moving cross-country chat" clouded the undeniable chemistry between Alex and me. He changed the subject and steered the conversation to the two artisan pizzas and chopped salads that had just been delivered to our table. Our easy rapport became strained.
After our meal and a quick, friendly kiss goodnight - he told me that he was uncomfortable being demonstratively affectionate in public - I jumped into my car for a half-hour drive back to my house. The 30 minutes offered just enough time to come to a few conclusions: 1) Alex was, in fact, a little bit thoughtless about how curtly he introduced and discussed the possibility of a professional relocation, especially considering the connection we shared on both dates. 2) His discomfort with even the smallest display of physical intimacy outside of his home or mine felt like a push back towards the closet that it took me more than three decades to escape. 3, and Most Important) To feel secure and good about myself, I needed reassurance, approval and positive cues from someone I had known for a very short period of time. I'd seen that trait in friends before, which made it easier to recognize in myself.
The only thing that would have made me feel good during the conversation about Alex's move to the City of Brotherly Love would have been if he'd told me how much he loved our brief time together and that he was suddenly conflicted about leaving town. (I might have even settled for the suggestion of a long-distance relationship since I am on the East Coast quite often.) But, instead, Alex piled a chill on top of the already room temperature Pizza Margheritas that were in front of us by glossing over my obvious disappointment.
I wanted to cast him as one of the bad guys, the unfeeling, insensitive men whom we all seem to have no problem meeting again and again. I stopped short, though, of burdening Alex with too much responsibility for how shitty I felt; I realized that my own low self-esteem - the residual effect of feeling unworthy and not good enough to be loved as a youngster - needed positive energy from Alex to stay emotionally manageable. The little boy who had been cruelly bullied by classmates during his grade school years had grown into an adult who allowed himself to be dismissed by Hollywood "friends" - and now, I wanted a man whom I found promising to show me how worthwhile I was by reconsidering his forthcoming life change on my behalf. After only two dates, I needed him to know and articulate how special I was in order to prevent a fall into the quicksand of anxiety and depression.
It just wasn't realistic. Sure, he might have realized that I was someone he should get to know better and that the sparks between us were worth exploring, but my hunger for his outward approval required too much from Alex too quickly, causing an irreparable divide between us. I wanted him to have overwhelming feelings for me in such a short period of time, and his avoidance of effusive language or intimate cues just wasn't in sync with my mindset.
For all I know, Alex - and, by the way, I have dated four people with that name, none of whom ever became a boyfriend - is already settled in Philadelphia. I am still in the LA dating game, working hard to recognize when I have unreasonably needy expectations that can be kept in check with patience and support from true friends who effort to build my self-confidence with unconditional love. I get approval - and we all need it, in one form or another - from substantial familial and friendly relationships that are meaningful and nurturing, rather than from suitors who haven't yet earned the right to so strongly impact how I feel about myself.
I'm also moving on from Alexes. I might consider another "A" name here or there, but there are 25 other letters in the alphabet - so Bobs, Chucks, Dans and Evans had best be ready to meet an authentic man, who is becoming more and more comfortable with himself by the day.