Confessions of a Late Bloomer
Up until 2009, I had a MySpace blog where I shared anecdotes from the single life and reflections on faith. Kind of like this, but younger. One of my last entries from March of that year was titled “The Beginning.” I’m not sure if I ever published it. I’ll share some excerpts with you now so we can relive this moment from my past together. It’ll be fun (sarcasm intended). Here we go! Notes from a younger me.
My mom asked me for a Christmas list last November. I wanted to make sure my family had lots of options, so I tried to be as thorough as possible. Just for fun, between grey suede Skechers and a sustain pedal for my keyboard, I stuck “A handsome brown man.” Christmas morning my mother wrapped up a brown Barbie guy with a note saying something like, “It was the best I could do.”
I kept seeing my friends move through the stages of life. School, dating, careers, marriage, children… And here I am with all this education working at a hardware store. I think sometimes in our culture of non-committal dating relationships, where we go out and break-up over and over again, it can be easy to lose hope. I felt left behind, wondering what God had in mind for me, sensing so strongly that this would be a time of transition for me.
To say that I’m inexperienced in dating is a considerable understatement. I’m not even sure that I should confess this, but at twenty-seven years seven months and twenty-nine days, I had never had a boyfriend. I went out, hung out, wanted, was wanted, in love, broken hearted, but never held hands, never kissed, never knew what it was like to really have someone.
It had been a while since I composed. There was a time when I wrote a new song almost every week. I wrote one last June, and then nothing. Finally I sat down to my piano a couple weeks after Christmas and my heart came out. My mother seemed to think it was somewhat prophetic given what would come next.
The lyrics go like this… (It’s a very Norah Jones-esk tune)
First Go Round
It’s been a while since I lost myself in some big brown eyes
But I find myself by myself again
I’ll just fake a smile
‘cause it might take a while to mend.
Is it too late for me?
Did somebody wait for me?
Or did they all go on ahead.
Please sweet patiently,
Oh don’t you see
It’s only my first go-round.
What I found wasn’t what I started looking for at all
It was a lovely dance and a first chance to fall
Oh the sweet romance
For what might have been I’ll look ahead.
Tenderly, you speak to me
Words I understand
Carefully, you reach for me
Just take my hand.
At this point, I had been out of seminary for a year and half. I resigned my church job six months earlier. I was healing from burnout and getting to know myself again.
Soon after writing this song, I would in fact meet, what I thought at the time was a handsome brown man. Back then, match.com was just catching on and MySpace was the thing. That’s how I met “Biff.” I’m calling him that because this story is hard for me to tell and I feel like a funny name will make me chuckle and hopefully ease a little tension. My 2009 bog entry continues…
On January 12th I got a message from him, “Hi Sharon.....how are you tonite..?
I had tried to get a hold on you to talk. Would you?” Normally I might ignore something like this. But it was just the right time.
I’ve done my fair share of PG-rated on-line chatting. I am good at controlling the conversation, but I know what’s up. I had every kind of expectation… Hey baby, you wanna hook up tonight? Do you feel horny? Yeah, that’s usually a conversation ender for me.
This was different. It was easy, sweet. I was making dinner for me and my roommate. I told him how I go to a Spanish-speaking church, play music in the band and sing. “I have to be honest,” he types to me, “You have a lot of qualities that make you really attractive.”
People usually like me at first. I think I have charisma, a certain amount of warmth, a sarcastic sense of humor, and a creativity that makes things interesting. But I know better than to think that I am “all-that” all of the time. It makes me nervous when people like to me too much too soon, like it’s an automatic opportunity for me to disappoint them.
After we chatted online he really wanted to talk with me on the phone. I was hesitant. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’m not a crazy person. You will be safe.” Yeah, I thought, that’s exactly what the crazies always tell you. The next day I was chatting with my roommate, and she rather sweetly pushed me over the edge, not that it took a lot of effort.
In one impulsive moment I texted him, “This is Sharon. You can call me if you want.” My phone rang just a few minutes later. I teased my roommate, “It’s going to be your fault! If we get married and have four kids and live happily ever after, I’m totally blaming you!”
We talked on the phone for a while that night, and it was clear he really wanted to meet me. I was afraid. I’m not generally insecure, but when you meet someone online you have all these expectations about how they look and talk and act. I couldn’t help but imagine he might be disappointed. I mean, I’m cute, but my ass is kind of large, and I can be kind of a dork. Besides that, what if I thought he was weird looking? I mean there’s only so much you can see in a photo.
I was sure it was a bad idea, but my curiosity, as usual, won out. We made plans to meet at a coffeehouse. I know it’s cliché, but it was the place I felt most comfortable, public and noncommittal. On my way there I had already started composing the blog titled, “Stupid Sharon.” I was sure that it would be another one of those funny embarrassing stories I am so fond of telling at parties. I didn’t even tell my mother, who would give me trouble later. I thought she would talk me out of it, and I had barely enough nerve as it was. But part of me thought, you know, this is how people do things now. It’s a new era. We meet people online now. It’s the Y2K anthropological revolution.
I made sure I was there first, and sat in a soft chair and poised myself to pretend to be comfortable. I didn’t have to wait long. He walked through the door wearing jeans, a zip-up cardigan and a cap. My mouth almost dropped to the floor. No, not disappointed at all. I gave him a quick hello and a hug and he ordered himself some coffee and I went to sit down. I stared at the walls between glances. He told me later that he caught me looking at his butt, but he didn’t mind. It wasn’t so much that I meant to, but it’s a really nice butt and I was a little mesmerized.
He sat down in the chair adjacent to me, and we talked about what I don’t remember. He would casually brush his hand on my arm, and I took it as a good sign. Just a few minutes into the conversation he stops and says, “You know, your pictures make you look good, but wow, you are like so gorgeous in person.”
“Thank you,” I said automatically, just a little undone.
“I mean it, you look like 20 times more beautiful than I expected. You are so cute!” It was difficult for me to believe that someone I found so delicious might feel the same way.
We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I ate less than usual for fear of beans and my nervous stomach. He told me later that I seemed so cool and relaxed. Clearly I’m better at pretending than I had ever dreamed. I guess it’s kind of my game face, the smile and nod that tries to disguise the panic inside. Evidently he didn’t notice the hundred or so deep breaths either.
He asked, “How long has it been since you had a boyfriend?” I refused to answer. “What like two weeks?” he says.
“No,” I said, “It’s been a while.”
“What I really meant to ask,” he responds, “was are you seeing anyone right now?”
That was a lot easier for me to say, “No, I’m not seeing anyone. Are you?”
“No,” he says.
The order of the evening is kind of mixed up in my mind. We drove around, got ran off the road by a semi- and ended up at The Plaza. We tried to go to Starbucks but it was over-crowded. It was cold outside and I was shivering. He told me later that he really wanted to kiss me then. We ended up at Scooters instead.
We sat and sipped coffee. He took my hand and began to caress it. In public. I thought for a moment about what I would do if I ran into someone I knew. We were one of those couples that sit in dark corners and gaze pathetically into each other eyes. I knew he had no idea how foreign experience was to me, so I tried to pretend. I just kept saying, “This is so different.” The rest of the sentence that I didn’t say was, “…from any other first date I’ve ever been on.” I was beginning to see where things were going, even though I’d never been there before.
There was one important item to bring up. I began to explain that I’m a minister. I told him about how I had tried to be a nurse, but was compelled by a passion to train to be a pastor. Right now I’m in a different place than I have been in the past. It’s almost as if God is giving me a break, that the passion is at peace for a while so I can rest. I don’t think God and the church would put me through so much preparation without a continued purpose.
He was raised Baptist, and generally they are not in favor of women in ministry. I was a little concerned. He seemed to be ok with the idea in as much as he understood. We’ve had several discussions since, but it’s difficult to really illustrate something without a little bit of shared experience. Meaning, if I were being a pastor right now I think we would really get it, and I would know if we were cool or not. Instead I’m just Sharon right now, not Pastor Sharon.
With that hurdle somewhat removed to my temporary satisfaction we headed back toward the coffeehouse. We ended up in a park by the lake. There was still a little snow on the ground and the thermometer was around 20-something. Too cold for a walk. We sat in his car talking. He leaned his head on my shoulder and held my hand. I tried to relax and fake like this was normal for me. He tipped his head up a couple of times, and I knew he wanted to kiss me. I managed to avoid the lips, hoping to delay this experience for a while longer.
He asked me questions like, “Do you want to be in a relationship?”
“Well,” I began to explain, “I do want to be in a relationship, but my first love is to serve God. And when I think about being with someone, I want us to compliment and challenge each other to be better. And while I long to be with someone, I’d rather be single than to give that up.” He told me he’d never met someone who said things like I did.
Eventually we had to go back to the coffeehouse to pick up my car. I was proud to have avoided kissing on the first date.
Oh young Sharon, good job.
I was not so disciplined on the second date. I told him I didn’t want to kiss until he was my boyfriend. That’s what they told us in youth group. It was the first of many boundaries that Biff danced around like it was a suggestion.
After we made out on the couch for a while, I confessed. He didn’t believe me. Apparently I’m a natural at kissing and who has never had a boyfriend at 27?
Looking back I wish I would have told Biff before he ever asked me out. Maybe it would have scared him off? Which was exactly why I hadn’t told him.
“So I guess I’m your boyfriend now,” Biff says.
“Huh?” I say, confused.
“You said you didn’t want to kiss me until I was your boyfriend. Now you kissed me, so I must be your boyfriend.”
And so it began.
I was very grown up in many ways. I left home at 18, moved across the country on my own at 22, earned a master’s degree, supported myself financially and a whole list of other very mature things. But in this, I was very young, and it was my time to grow up.
There was a lot of curiosity. After all this time, who was this guy that Sharon finally decided to date?
My mom booked a flight from Reno to Kansas City for two weeks later. I definitely considered breaking up with Biff before she got there. She was picked to be the family’s representative, although she wasn’t exactly the toughest critic.
I made dinner and had friends over. I wanted everyone to meet Biff, check him out and get to know him. Some of my people may have been a little protective. I don’t remember any of them being very impressed by him.
Biff was feeling the pressure of being my first boyfriend and he expressed on a few occasions that he didn’t exactly appreciate the added scrutiny. He told something like not many guys would stick around for that and I should really appreciate him for it. I wish that I would have said something like, “Duh, if you can’t see that I’m exceptional and people want to be sure you’re worthy, then maybe we shouldn’t be dating.”
Meanwhile, I was like a 16 year old kid who had just discovered kissing for the first time. It was nice. I really liked kissing and so did Biff. Except, being sexually experienced, that much kissing meant something different to him than it did to me.
I was trying my best to stick with my plan to wait until I was married to have sex, but it was a lot more challenging than what I had imagined. My partner and I were not at all aligned on this decision to wait. Biff said at one point that he really wished I wasn’t a virgin. He took every opportunity to push the somewhat weak boundaries I thought I had set firmly in place.
I asked my mom what I should do. I didn’t exactly explain the whole situation. I said something like, “Mom, I’m not sure if it’s better to rush to get married or risk that we might end up having sex.”
She very wisely responded something like, “Honey, I really don’t know what the right choice is.”
I mean, she could have also said, “Or you could break up with him because you’re clearly out of his league.” I might have listened… ?
One night one thing did in fact lead to another. It wasn’t like I had decided that I wanted to have sex. It was more like I just gave up on saying no.
I struggled with guilt and I kept trying to turn the clock back. We argued about it regularly, but once sex is a regular part of a relationship it’s not natural to go back to just making out again. I thought more than once, now we need to get married to make this right.
I hate retelling this story for a variety of reasons, most importantly because I wasn’t my best self. I hate remembering how naïve I was. I didn’t show up as my bold, confident, make decisions and own them, self. I got into a bad relationship and struggled to find my way through to the other side.
At the same time, it was the most profound learning experience of my life. I’ll talk about several of those realizations, but for now I want to focus on what I think is the most important.
I know we use this phrase “I don’t judge” kind of willy nilly. But when I say “I don’t judge,” I mean, I will never know what it’s like to be in your situation and I could never be so arrogant as to assume I would have done anything differently.
I had lectured my sweet friend, Dana, about her boyfriend and how she needed to have good boundaries around sex. I would later go back and apologize to her because I had no idea what I was talking about. She was so kind to me.
How many times had I seen people in bad relationships and wondered, “Why doesn’t he/she just dump them?” I know now. Breaking up sucks and it’s really hard.
When I hear stories about someone who cheated on their spouse or lied about something, I have learned to lead with compassion. Ask questions like: I wonder what made them make that decision? Compassion doesn’t mean that we let people off the hook. It just means we give them a break. For most of us, bad decisions come with their own load of crap. We don’t need to pile on by shaking our finger and saying, “You should have known better.” Most of the time we do know better, and for some stupid reason, we do it anyway.
Even Biff. For a long time he was the bad guy in my story. Sure, I could make a list of things he did wrong, compare them to the things I did wrong and see who was the worst. Or I could acknowledge that we weren’t a good match. Our relationship didn’t bring out the best in either one of us. I’ve never found it helpful to hang on to old hurts. Finding compassion, letting go of judgement, it often leads to healing.
I would also learn what it was like to be judged and confronted with my sexual relationship. There was nothing about it that I found helpful. That’s the story I’ll save for next time.