“I don’t understand why you’re still single,” Vince said to me after our first kiss.
I was undeniably smitten.
On paper, there was nothing about the two of us that suggested any kind of compatibility. I was the 25 year old Ivy-Leaguer, All-American athlete with a career in the arts and a passport with more stamps than pages to fit them. My motto was “you rest, you rust.” Vince was the 30-something former state-school frat boy whose sport was beer pong and whose great ambitions were to grow old, fat and retire to Florida.
Our common interests began and ended with the New York Yankees and a love of laughter. The former brought us together, while the latter seemed to inspire a closeness and familiarity with one another that was entirely unfamiliar, at least to me. It wasn’t love at first sight, and he didn’t have me at hello, yet from our first shared drink to our final kiss, every moment felt like a moment spent alongside a long-lost bosom buddy.
A few days after our third date, I got a text message that would simultaneously verify he was serious and mark the beginning of the end of our budding romance:
“I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but when you have some time, give me a call. There’s something I want to tell you about myself because I like you so much.”
I knew I had counted my hens before they hatched. Sure he lived with his mother. And sure, he had an anxiety disorder that meant he had a fear of crowds, but he assured me a new prescription meant he’d be up for coming to an exhibition opening. So what was it that he had to tell me before we could go any further? A thousand possible scenarios ran through my head.
Maybe he wanted to warn me about how fragile his heart was. Maybe he thought he liked me more than I liked him and didn’t want to be disappointed.
Maybe he lived with his mother because he had just been released from prison, serving time because he had taken the fall for a fraternity brother who stole a keg from a gas station.
Worse! Maybe he was really a Red Sox fan.
In all the “maybes” I conjectured, it never occurred to me that Vince was a father.
“I wanted you know sooner rather than later so you have the chance to get out now, before I fall any harder.”
A bizarre mixture of relief, confusion, and attraction knocked the wind out of me and I paused to take it all in. I was 25. I had avoiding being in a serious relationship, and yet here I was, falling for an older man who came preloaded with a family. Could I handle that?
“Don’t think you’re going to get rid of me that easy.”
With a chuckle, we both exhaled and he let the walls come down. He began to gush. He revealed that having a son forced him onto the straight and narrow, that his heart broke when the boy’s mother took him away to California, that every night he would read “Dinosaurs A to Z” to his son over skype, and that his adult life was as much shaped by the daily absence of his son as by being a father.
I was flattered by desire to let me in. I was touched by the tenderness and pride in his voice. Most of all, I was relieved he didn’t have a criminal record.
Children and I have a notoriously tenuous relationship. In theory, I want one, but not yet. But Vince’s suggestion that I meet his son had my mind wandering. The zoo, the dinosaur halls at the American Museum of Natural History – all of a sudden, I was planning family-style afternoon excursions and making mental notes to pack extra sunscreen so the little tyke wouldn’t get sunburned.
A few more dates happened. Sitting along the Hudson one unseasonably cold summer night, he told me his son was coming to visit him for a few weeks. When I got home, I went to my bookshelf and pulled off a beautifully illustrated fantasy book about worlds where men and dinosaurs co-existed. It had always looked funny next to all the Jane Austens and John Steinbecks. Vince and his Brontosaurus-loving son would appreciate it better. I wrapped the book in paper mottled with baseball caps and catcher’s mitts, stuck a flirtatious “I just can’t resist temptation ;)” card with it, and set the package aside for our next date — his birthday.
There was no next date.
Like so many before and so many will after, our relationship quietly evaporated until we officially ended with an apologetic/well-wishing set of emails. He had decided to be a father, and that meant picking up and moving west. Of course, I understood. I’m not sure we ever would have made it much further than we got, but it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wonder what he’s up to, and if his son still likes the Brontosaurus best.