Sucker Punch

Chloe dumped me.

I called her last week to make up about the whole Monopoly fight and she said we were cool.

Then she came over on Sunday to tell me in person that she was breaking up with me.

After the initial shock I said it was a little bit of a dick move to say everything was fine only to break up with me a few days later, but she said she wanted to do it in person, not on the phone.

She said it had nothing to do with the fight. She said it just seemed obvious that we weren’t going anywhere in our relationship and that I didn’t love her, and so what was the point. I didn’t argue. How could I? She was pretty much right.

She kissed me goodbye, said goodbye to Tad, then took off.

Obviously, I was very upset by the whole thing. I mean, nobody likes getting dumped. But it wasn’t fair to keep things going when I had already decided in my head that she wasn’t a candidate for the long haul. I mean, we could have kept seeing each other casually, but Chloe’s not that type of girl, so I didn’t want to keep leading her on.

All in all, it was a pretty classy dumping. I did wonder, however, if the real reason she wanted to come over in person was to say goodbye to my dog.

The Talk to Strangers Project, One Year Later

I started this project exactly one year ago. To say it’s changed my life would be as obvious as the preceding sentence, given the title of the post. On a quantitative level:

  • I have talked to maybe 200-300 strangers;
  • I have had three girlfriends (Chloe, Jennifer, and Marny);
  • I have gone on dates with at least three other women;
  • I have gone to several parties (more than five, less than ten);
  • I have been beaten up one time;
  • I have been rejected by dozens of people who didn’t want to talk to me (and not all of them were waitresses);
  • I have one dog.

On a qualitative level, I am more observant. I’m a better listener. I am more empathetic. I am far more confident. I am not afraid of talking to people in authority, people at parties, and people just standing there minding their own business. Maybe in the back of my head, the idea that it’s all part of “The Project” gives me the courage to break the societal taboos and initiate first contact. Whatever the reason, I am better able to shrug off missteps and focus on the connections.

I never knew how hard it would be to make friends after college. That being around so many people in a large city like Los Angeles could be so lonely. It makes me sad when I think about all the other people out there feeling the same way that I was, but doing nothing about it. Just sitting in their apartments, hoping someone is going to knock on their door to borrow some sugar. That only happens in 1950’s sitcoms. No one really knocks on anyone’s door. You have to knock on theirs.

Having a “family” of friends is so important. I mean, it’s not like I go cry on Gunther’s couch while we do each other’s nails. But just having someone who knows me makes me feel like I’m part of the world, not watching it from the outside.

Do I wish I had more friends? Sure. Do I wish they were as close as say my friends growing up? Of course. People in the 20’s and 30’s have shit going on and you can’t spend an hour every day in study hall going over the day’s events.

Relationships-wise, I can’t tell you how much it means to be dating again. For a while, my self-esteem was so low, I was starting to question how I had ever had a girlfriend in the past. It’s just hard meeting people. And like I said, inertia is your enemy. I could easily imagine ten years slipping by and being even more lonely and bitter.

It’s not like I’ve made a love connection. I mean, things are going well with Chloe, but she’s such a sweet girl, I wonder sometimes if there’s ever going to be something more… explosive about our relationship. Maybe it’s my pining away for Michelle that makes me unable to see Chloe as a keeper. She’s certainly a lot better than Marny and Jennifer. But even those limited relationships were invaluable in building up my self-esteem and making me feel like a legitimate contender for love.

Besides the connections I’ve made–personal, casual, romantic–I think the most important thing that’s happened over the last year is that I like who I’ve become. I knew this me was in there somewhere and I like that it’s taken over. I’m funnier now. I’m not afraid of saying the wrong thing because I don’t over-value people. I’m not saying I don’t value people, I just value them accurately. I feel like I used to be on eggshells all the time hoping I didn’t annoy or piss off a friend or a girlfriend and lose them forever. Ironically, I’m more likely to speak my mind to people now and I think they like me better for it.

Anyway, it’s not like I’ve achieved some sort of goal. There’s still a lot of work to go. But I am starting to think of my life in interview terms: where do I see myself in five years? In ten? Before, I was in survival mode: How do I cure my debilitating loneliness and get some goddamn people in my life? Now, I feel like I’m out of the woods and I can start to think about where I want to go.

Thanks to all the people who I’ve met over the last year. And thank you to all the wonderful people who’ve written to me, telling me their stories. I feel like I’ve met you, too.

Stay tuned, there’s still a lot of strangers left to talk to.

 

Chloe, Meet Michelle

The party at Scott’s place was fun, until Michelle showed up!

I had no idea she had become friends with that director friend of Scott’s independently and got invited, so it was a pretty big surprise to see her there. Of course, she was there with her fiance, Dan, and something about seeing them together really set me off. Chloe could tell something was up because she pulled me aside and asked, “How do you know each other?’

What could I say? “Oh, she’s the woman I’m in love with who’s getting married to some other guy?” Instead, I said, “We work in the same building.”

Michelle waited until Chloe was in the bathroom to corner me and I guess she was drunk because she kept going on and on about “How come we don’t talk anymore?” I was like, “I think the frequency went down significantly after you got engaged!”

She said, “Remember when we kissed?” Yeah, like I’d forget that.

I said, “What are you doing?”

She said, “I don’t know.”

Nothing happened between us, but it made me see her in a new light. She was acting kind of stupid and it made her really unattractive to me. She made me promise that we’d talk more. Emails, lunches, that kind of stuff. I said I would.

Chloe came back and interrupted us. I left Michelle and asked Chloe if she wanted to go get something to eat (it was one a.m.). She sensed the subtext and said sure.

We didn’t actually go get something to eat, but we did go back to my place and we finally did it. I know most readers are thinking, “Wait, you guys haven’t done it yet?” We hadn’t. But now we have. I’m not going to go into that level of detail as to why.

But I was wondering if Chloe felt threatened. Michelle gets a rise out of me, even if it’s a negative emotion. It seemed like something about it made her need to “lock me in.” I’m not complaining but the whole thing makes my head hurt.

Hotel Bar Woman

This story doesn’t end how you think. I did not meet a lonely businesswoman in the hotel bar and wind up in bed with her.

I did, however, meet a lonely businesswoman who wanted to go to bed with me. At least I’m pretty sure she did.

After a long day of looking at incredibly boring documents, I went back to the hotel to change out of my suit. These trips used to be more fun when I was more junior because then a couple other associates would go with me and we’d go nuts each night trying to outdrink each other and pick up women. But now, I’m senior enough to go alone and at night, the last thing I want to do is party with the client.

So I went down to the bar to get a beer before ordering room service. That’s when I saw her. A woman in her late-thirties, sitting alone, reading on her iPad. I immediately had a time-warp sensation like it was 1977, or at least I was in some movie set in the 70’s. The way these things are supposed to go is I buy her a drink and ask her what her sign is.

That being the case, I was very hesitant to go up to her. It just all seemed a bit too… obvious. Like how could I seem authentic with no agenda when an entire body of literature says otherwise (thanks, Jackie Collins).

But I tried anyway. I said, “What are you reading?”

She looked up and studied me before answering, “Unbroken.”

I had no idea what that was so I just said, “You waiting for someone?”

She said, “Nope.”

I said, “Well, I’m here on business and I hate to eat alone. Want to join me?”

She looked at me again, trying to figure out if I was attempting to pick her up. I felt her stare and blurted out, “Just dinner.”

That made her smile and she said, “Sure.”

So I sat down and we talked. She is a corporate lawyer working on a debt restructuring. I actually found it interesting because I do similar work. We ate at the bar, talked for ninety minutes or so, and that was it.

At the end of the meal, I said, “Well, it was nice meeting you” and started to get up. Then she looked at me, kind of insulted, and “Wait, where are you going?”

It was suddenly awkward. I had said “just dinner,” hadn’t I? I got a little flustered and said, “I’ve got to go over these documents…” as if I had some papers with me, which I didn’t.

She looked hurt. Like, I had told all the necessary lies so that our tryst could seem innocent and now I was backing out of our tacit agreement. The whole thing got pretty weird.

So I just ran away.

Maybe I should have seen what might have happened. She was attractive and it’s not like me and Chloe are so far along that we’re monogamous (at least that’s my position). But I felt like I had gone into the situation by being honestly Platonic and that if I somehow changed my mind then I’d be making myself into a liar. Or something like that.

TAD

Guess who just moved in and is living with me now?

Wrong, not Chloe. Wrong again, not my old roommate Scott. I am now the proud owner of one mangy mutt named The Artful Dodger, or “Tad” as he likes to be called.

Time was running short on Tad and I decided I wanted to do this. Chloe did not exert any pressure on me. She even gracefully ignored my prior lie about them not letting pets in my apartment complex. (She said, “I knew it was a fib but I didn’t want to talk you into anything you didn’t want to do.” P.S. Who says “fib”?)

I took him home yesterday and the good news is he’s mostly already trained. My apartment is obviously new to him so there were some first day accidents but I think Tad is smart and he’ll get the hang of it. My only real fear is what he’s going to do all day long when I’m at the office. Chloe says he’ll be fine as long as I get him exercise in the morning and when I get home.

Getting Tad was a little tricky emotionally. It’s not like Tad is Chloe’s dog, too, but still, I think it will be weird if Chloe and I don’t work out and Tad never sees her again. Still, things are really moving quickly with Chloe and Tad is really bringing us closer together. I hardly ever think about Michelle anymore.

Penny Sluts

I’m still catching up from Vegas. We had so much fun and I personally talked to so many strangers that it’s going to take a while to write about them all.

But first some information to clear up. In response to reader demand, I can divulge the following information: Yes, Chloe and I slept in the same bed; but no, we didn’t do it. How did I handle that bit of awkwardness? Simple. I simply told her as part of the invitation. (I think my exact words were, “We’ll get a big king bed, it’ll be like a sleepover, but no sex.”)

With sex off the table, it made the whole weekend a lot more fun. To tell you the truth, telling Chloe before-hand that there would be no sex actually seemed to make her up for it. At least that’s the vibe I got. Like, I said “no sex” because that’s what you do in that situation, but she wasn’t holding me to it as a firm promise, and in fact, may have been surprised that I actually kept my end of the bargain. But I didn’t mind. We had fun and I’m sure we’ll cross that bridge soon enough.

Anyway, the first stranger I want to mention is this escort/prostitute named “Jelly.” Now maybe I shouldn’t be so proud of myself here. After all, pretty much everyone in Vegas is in a talkative mood. You can’t sit at a Blackjack table and be surprised if people strike up a conversation. That just goes with the territory of gambling. But Jelly was a different story. Jelly was a “penny slut.”

Allow me to explain. Apparently if you are a prostitute (which is illegal in Vegas in case you’ve never seen CSI or Reno 911), you can’t loiter in a casino looking for customers or they’ll kick you out. So what the clever escorts do is hang out at the penny slot machines. A normal gambler might put a dollar in at a time and play a million lines for five cents each so the penny slot machine gets expensive really fast. But the prostitute literally play one penny at a time. Hence, they are gambling. Hence, they are customers, not loiterers.

Anyway, Chloe and I learned about this when we noticed all these obvious prostitutes hanging around the penny slots at two in the morning. I walked up to an Asian woman and said, “What’s the deal with all the escorts playing penny slots?”

At first, she didn’t want to talk to us. It was obvious we weren’t looking to hire her for a three-way and so we were theoretically hurting her business opportunities. But she quickly realized that there were no such opportunities at the moment and decided that talking to us was more interesting than gambling 1c.

And that’s how we learned about penny sluts. (The “sluts” part is an inside joke because that’s what Chloe thought Jelly kept saying.”)

Elevator Girl Lives Up to Her Name

Just ran into Michelle in the elevator on the way down to lunch.

I said hi, she said hi, and then we rode down with the other people in silence.

When we got to the lobby, she stopped me, though. She wanted to know “how I was doing.”

I said I was fine. I said I was dating someone. Even though it was true, she kind of looked at me like I was lying.

I said, “How’s the wedding planning going?”

She said they haven’t even set a date yet.

I said, “Well, see you around.” But she stopped me and said, “Look. Can we be friends?”

I thought about it for a second and said, “I don’t know.”

She thought about that, smiled, then said, “I can work with that.”

Then we went our separate ways.

Home Sick

I’m home sick today, which means that I’m feeling pretty awful because the fact is adults still go to work when they’re just a little sick.

It’s just a bad cold, but whenever I’m sitting in my apartment with a cold, I can’t help think back to being a kid and having my mom take care of me. Add to that the fact that it’s a rare rainy day here in L.A. and it totally takes me back to Pennsylvania eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in bed.

Maybe this is a sign of where I am in my life and what I want now. I’m not as much interested in scoring with hot chicks as my number one priority. That was the primary mission in my life for the last ten+ years. And it’s not like I’ve sated my appetite. I definitely could use a few more erotic encounters. It’s just that I’m more interested in sharing my life these days. Taking care of someone and having someone to take care of me on days like this.

First Dates

First dates are the ultimate TTS experience. Everything I’ve learned (and failed to learn) so far about communicating, listening, picking up on subtle bodies cues, being interesting and interested– it all comes to a head on a first date.

Unfortunately, unlike a true stranger who immediately signals your pass or fail grade, a first date is an essay exam: it’s a lot harder to gauge how well you did and you have to wait a long time for the results.

Chloe and I went out to dinner first at this new place by the beach, The Hungry Cat. Chloe is vegetarian but she eats fish so this place made sense. I won’t say the conversation was effortless but we did manage to get into a rhythm. Chloe grew up in San Francisco and she’s one of these people that genuinely never says anything mean about anyone. Normally I’d be disgusted by such a nice person but her positive energy is actually pretty infectious. The key is that she doesn’t take a pious attitude about being so decent and therefore doesn’t come across as sanctimonious about other people. I would launch into one of my tirades and she would laugh; she just doesn’t have any tirades of her own.

After dinner we went to a jazz club in Hollywood. We had a few drinks and the band was really cool. I tried hard not to look like I was trying too hard but I think you have to have somewhat of a plan for the evening or else you’re really not trying at all.

Overall, I don’t know if it was a love connection. We had fun. I liked her. Maybe this is the kind of thing that grows into something all-consuming. But right now, it’s just a seed.

Rebound Date

Can I be on the rebound when the relationship I’m rebounding from never actually happened?

Seems weird but that’s how I feel.

I was feeling pretty upset about Michelle this whole weekend but I didn’t want to waive the white flag. So I dragged myself out of bed yesterday and went to Montana Ave. to go see Chloe at the pet adoption tent. The only problem was when I got there, she wasn’t there. I tried to subtly ask about her and an older woman told me she was in the Palisades that morning. She smiled in a knowing way like it was some big secret she was onto that I’m into Chloe.

I got in my car and drove to the Farmer’s Market in the Palisades. And there was Chloe, set up in a bank parking lot with a dozen dogs and maybe half as many cats. She saw me and kind of lit up.

“What are you doing here?”

“I said I’d stop by and see you. I didn’t know you were going to make it difficult.”

She laughed. We talked for a bit and then I cut to the chase. “Look, Chloe, I’m going to be honest with you. I had some disappointing news on the relationship front the other day and I’m feeling a bit negative. So can we go out some time, and please say yes, even if you don’t mean it, I just need some good news right now.”

She said, “Yes,” with a big fake exaggerated wink.

I smiled and got her information. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have asked like that, because now I’m not sure if she’s actually interested or just felt bad for me. I don’t even know if she gave me her real number. But I guess I’ll find out soon enough.