Time goes by. In the summer of 2006 I met my current partner, Rob. After dating several months I wrote a story about the acceptance of our perceived flaws. I found my inspiration in him and while unsure about the emotional reaction he may have from the subject matter he loved it. As a matter of fact, he shared it with his Jewish mother Arlene and with her approval I exhaled. We recently celebrated our 10 year “partnership” anniversary and I thought, “What does that number mean in ‘Gay years’? Is there a mathematical equivalent, like our dogs, to determine the actual value?” Ten, fifteen or even fifty, it makes no difference because life has been good to us…And what could be better than sharing his story with everyone? So, my dear partner, here it is. “Happy Anniversary” and thank you for being in my life for the past ten years supporting me through the happy and sad times and everything in between…
It was a long, long time since I’d been on a date. Oh sure, the occasional meeting with “Stripper”, a former dancer, or “The Tooth Fairy”, an oral surgeon who I’d seen for a few weeks, but tonight may well be a date with staying power. My friend Shawn gave painstaking thought to who should inherit me when he left New Haven in an upward career move. Shawn and I had grown from the seedlings of acquaintance to close friends. We cherished one another immensely and a multitude of stories were born from our dinners and humor. He helps unearth the good in me and shares my journey with great support. In a few short weeks however, I shall be left on my own, a foundling.
Apparently I’d made an impression on Shawn’s friend Robert at our “watering hole”, 168 York Street Cafe. A few steps below ground level, York Street is one of those places that feels comfortable and familiar, like your favorite pair of boxers. Exposed brick adds a hint of “New York Pre-war” except we are in New Haven essentially in a basement. With it’s outdoor patio and fire escape seating, it’s an easy place to be. I’d been introduced to Robert Nathman on multiple occasions. Not once did he remember me. He’d extend his slender hand cordially and offer a perfunctory, simple, “Hi.” With no insult taken I chalked it up to my innate talent for being invisible in a crowd. Better still, perhaps he had some type of memory challenge. Fascinated, I turned meeting him into a game of sorts. Perhaps this was a new version of “The Dating Game”. With the exclusion of questions or answers, you simply offer a straightforward “hi” until some event causes the potential couple to engage. I’d introduce myself, receive the uncertain “hi” and count the number of times this happened. The light never quite went on…until meeting #11…
Shawn called with a game changer. “Guess who’s very interested in you…” I couldn’t imagine but suspected only one person. “Don’t tell me, the guy wearing the pony hair shoes? The dancer friend of Madonna?” Psychopaths, they do favor me. Although handsome, the man seated on the rickety bar stool next to me was somewhat self absorbed, actually more than somewhat. With dark brown hair, tipped on the ends, he was dressed in what I’m sure he considered ‘haute couture’ though in truth it was TJ Maxx circa 1994. He rolled his words into one sentence with no punctuation. You know the type. “Well I was in an ad campaign for the Gap a few years ago do you remember the guy on a bike wearing plaid madras shorts…that was me and then I danced with Madonna on her ‘Like a Virgin Tour’ and she and I are tight…My life is special.” I looked for someone to throw me a rope, not to swing from this cliff to safety but to tighten around his neck. I noticed Rob Nathman standing at the door but he would be no help. The prospect of dating the “talker” was not enticing but he was, in a schizophrenic way, interesting. If nothing else he offered material for my writing.
“No, silly, it’s Rob Nathman. He was asking a lot of questions about you.” I was puzzled. Here, a man I’d met on several occasions (actually 11) who didn’t exude any interest was asking questions about me? Beyond that he holds the same first name as my ex-partner, although, that could be an asset- never an accidental slip up. At any rate I was unsure about the situation. “Really? He never knows who I am.” My skepticism abounded. “I know, I told him that, but something about you made an impression.” I could visualize the shrug of Shawn’s shoulders while raising his hands, “Who knew?” I thought for a moment. “What the hell, give him my number.” Days passed without a call and apparently the impression left on Rob was not as powerful as Shawn had led me to believe. With low self esteem in place I wasn’t up for any of this. And truth be told I couldn’t help wondering what getting to know someone else equated. Would it mean my former relationship was indeed over? It was far too much to process.
I found myself in the “new” Rob’s company while Shawn and I were having cocktails at York Street. As he approached I realized this was not a chance meeting, it had Shawn Anderson’s signature on it. The next few seconds were my opportunity to size things up. He was tall with very long legs and a slender frame. His face was attractive and he was nicely dressed, though conservative in black. I later learned that maroon would be a stretch, that he considered it “shockingly bright” for his taste. This man wasn’t particularly my “type”. Keith, the hairstylist, took note of his closely cropped, not yet grey, hair and dark goatee. Okay, I do have a “thing” for facial hair. His eyes were green and expressive but his looks vaguely reminded me of a former love which frightened me. There was no great salutation other than ‘hi’. Time has allowed me to understand this is Rob’s signature greeting with nothing more nor anything less, although what could be less? I sensed he was shy, or some version of shy, but couldn’t put my finger on the reason. “Do you think I can take you to dinner?” He spoke slowly and directly as if scripted and practiced. “Yes,” I said wondering if he was so proper he may ask my parents for their blessing. With great consideration he made a point of reserving a table, allowing time for relaxation post work and prior to dressing. There was a strong positive in this man’s actions and a strong positive in me, but we could discuss that later.
“What to wear?” I stared blankly at my closet. Not wanting to appear too trendy but knowing conservative is not my middle name there was only one thing to do. I called my ‘life line’. “Shawn, jeans or dress pants?” Honesty was what I needed. “Honey, jeans of course…and make them the new ones you bought, you know, the ones that make your ass look so good.” Dear Shawn, always giving a lift, even a butt lift. Packing myself into the jeans I left open just enough shirt buttons to say, “Here you go, a little man cleavage.” Hell, I’ve worked hard for whatever I have and to his credit, so did my plastic surgeon.
The timing of my arrival must be exact. It was imperative that tardiness, which can be my middle name, not be an issue. Rob arrived promptly, impressed with my punctuality–a flaw that would become a bone of contention in our future. We spoke of everything from childhood to bad dates, parents to siblings, and the words flowed fluidly revealing we had much in common. Our humor, tinged with a perverse sarcasm, was in simpatico. This was deliciously refreshing. I noticed after two sentences that Rob spoke with a stutter. Perhaps the question of the simple “hi” was now answered. It was difficult to not notice when the stutter captured his words and more so not to feel his struggle. As I listened the syllables begin multiple times, his eyes widening as he took in breath, I wanted to reach across, comfort and speak for him. Rather, I smiled and curiously, to my surprise, found the stutter enchanting. Here was a man with an imperfection and as a result held a major attractiveness. How did this make any sense?
“I wa- ww-was the Jewish kid with the big curly hair, the ‘Jew-fro’, had bucked teeth and stuttered in school. It was so h-ha-hard.” I loved that he felt he could confide in me about situations that shaped his life and insecurities.” I guess you n-ne-never lose what you grow up with.” Without hesitation I said, “I think your stutter is cute.” This man, with his deep honesty, warmth and kindness, was completely genuine . He was the kid picked on in school like me. But now came the moment of truth. “So what exactly made you notice me?” I had to ask the question knowing our vacant history of former meetings. “You w-we-were talking to that asshole guy. It made me notice you.” Allow yourself a moment of reflection to ponder the depth of the reason the light went on for him…
As a result of Rob’s stutter I began to think of my own imperfections. Isn’t it funny that what we see as imperfections in ourselves others can find attractive? In an effort to strive for perfection we overlook the simplest point that perfection is in the eye of the beholder. I stumble with social anxiety, primarily around unfamiliar people and situations. For me that is a huge imperfection. Maybe to someone looking for a quiet, less obtrusive man, my shyness may be an attractive quality. I don’t wear pony hair shoes and talk incessantly. Can it be my imperfection is indeed a quality and shouldn’t this apply to everyone? At the end of the day, like any other job, perfection can be full time and all consuming. My former relationship had been steeped in perfection, admittedly we both strove for it, but in the end, perfection helped bring us to our knees.
There is no doubt I don’t want to spend my life going to bars or hooking up, it isn’t who I am. I simply want to share my life, the highs and lows, with someone loving. I want to navigate my days with mutual respect, accepting imperfection as an asset rather than a deficit. Externally my words flow without hesitation but internally I stutter. When I feel my heart race, when my palms get sweaty and think I’m about to pass out, I want someone to catch me as I fall. And I think Robert Nathman may be the one to do that. You see Rob, it makes no difference if you stammer, are shy or carry whatever you may consider a flaw–someone will find your imperfection attractive, as a matter of fact someone already has. When you are about to speak and become self-conscious, take a deep breath and “S-st-stop in the name of love”… you’ll be delighted to know your imperfection just may be the reason you got a second date.