Jeff and I got to know each other via Match.com, which is a great place for shy people to meet other shy people. If you have never tried online dating but occasionally wonder what it's like based on those commercials, I can tell you that it's scary, fun, sad, exciting, boring, and fascinating. I started to think of it as The Man Store. After about a half-dozen relationships blossomed, sputtered, and failed during 2007, I'd return to The Man Store with equal measures of enthusiasm and anxiety.
Ahh, look at all the lonely people, I inevitably sang to myself after cycling through the hundreds of singles available to me, knowing full well that I was one of them and had been one of them off and on since 2003. Men my age tended to be freshly divorced, pudgy, cap-wearing, and goateed. Their photos were obviously taken from a digital camera held at arm's length as they sat in front of their computers. Most of the faces were expressionless, DMV-ish. I skimmed page after page of these guys with the occasional interesting fellow thrown in seemingly to keep a woman from giving up. At least in this area of the country, women have a real advantage over men, numbers-wise. I couldn't help being picky, even snobbish, as I rejected one man's profile after another for the tiniest offenses. This guy writes in all caps? What's his problem? This dude starts out, "I'm looking for a woman that"--it's "woman WHO!" (I'm not even entirely sure that "that" is wrong) and so on. Men could be cruel too. One man said that he found my face beautiful and my writing "absolutely entralling," but when I sent him a photo that indicated that I'm not exactly what you might call stacked, he vanished into thin air.
It's astonishing that Jeff and I met each other at all. Clooneyesque, intelligent, and less than ten miles away, he seemed to be the needle in the Match haystack. As with all of my online men, our relationship began with a torrid volley of emails, first phone calls that I dreaded as I kind of hate the phone and feel that it's the worst possible representation of me, and finally the meeting of the minds. And the packages in which the minds are contained. I provided all of the men I met in person with baked goods from my kitchen. I've made pots du creme, oatmeal cookies, lemon bars, and a whole apple pie for my online boyfriends--whatever they liked--and for Jeff I made Nigella Lawson's totally chocolate chocolate chip cookies.
We met, appropriately, at a bakery in downtown Champaign called Pekara. An upsetting number of downtown businesses have similarly alien, inscrutable, and I would even say pretentious names like Ippatsu, Bacaro, Boltini, and Kopi, but I liked Pekara because it reminded me of Harvey Pekar. Jeff and I were shy and nervous at first, but we warmed up to each other. We warmed up to each other a lot. We saw the first in a string of dark date movies (No Country For Old Men) while holding hands, our fingers dancing with each other. I could tell he was different...so very different from the men I had dated in the past. After kissing him goodnight as completely inappropriate-for-the-occasion Bruce Springsteen songs played on my car's stereo, I gave him a container of cookies and said a fond goodnight.
A little while later, as I lay in bed with my laptop, unable to sleep because I was so wound up, Jeff sent me the following message:
I'm sitting in my bedroom, with my comfy clothes on, eating a transcendent double chocolate chocolate chip cookie, remembering the moment you
walked into Pekara, the scent of your perfume as we hugged, your joyful
laugh, the touch of your hand, glimpses into your creative mind, soft
kisses, and your first smile and your last smile of the night.
Good night, Kelly. I wish you good dreams. Thank you for mine tonight.
I made a quintuple batch of those cookies to give to guests as favors on our wedding day. They're magical, I tell you. Transcendent, even.