Well, there he goes, I thought, watching him retreat down the book-lined aisle and around the corner, toward the music section. Out of my life forever, and I was supposed to marry him.
Bridget told me once, not too long ago, of a ridiculous fantasy she had where two people meet in a bookstore because they reach for the same book and their hands touch. I laughed at the time, but secretly thought the idea romantic. Then Bridget looked at me dead-on, and as though suddenly inspired said, “I can totally see you meeting someone in a bookstore, Beth. I think that’s it. I think that’s where you’re going to find your future husband.”
So when it actually happened I thought it was a sign—the fact that we were both in the same store, the same aisle, and that we both reached for the same book. It doesn’t get any more meaningful than that, right? He’s a literary type, I’m a literary type; we’re obviously of the same mind in regard to interests and values. And his smile—the way he looked at me and mildly chuckled at the blunder of his hand running into mine—suddenly I was Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, singing “I can hear the bells.” I had always pictured a moment when eyes met, the world stopped, and life suddenly gained new meaning, all in a matter of seconds, because of that one person I would connect so completely with. In our short five-minute transaction I knew he had to be the one. There we were, in the running filmstrip of my mind, snuggling up on the leather couch for a night in after dinner—a dinner that he made especially for me—my head on his chest and his arm around me as we settle in for a romantic comedy on television…
My triumphantly ringing chimes halted immediately when, after our short conversation, he smiled awkwardly and walked away. My heart thundered to the floor. Okay, so perhaps he’s not my future husband after all. You can’t blame a girl for dreaming. Anyway, it’s all Bridget’s fault; she told me a bookstore would be a good place to meet a nice, sensible guy. Where else is a girl to go when her life is made up of work and school, and the only time she goes out is for an occasional trip to the movie theater with a friend?
I shouldn’t blame Bridget. What does she know about singledom anymore? She has a man—Jake. And she met Jake in the easiest, most traditional way possible—church. I suppose her dark wavy curls down the middle of her back and her quiet, reserved demeanor caught his fancy one day in Sunday school. Not like me with my short choppy locks and my tendency of speaking my mind at every available opportunity. This tendency oftentimes manifests itself in awkward, maybe even obnoxious, self-assertion. As for Bridget, Jake didn’t seem to find her awkward or obnoxious that morning. He just traipsed over after class to introduce himself, and the rest is history.
For the longest time after that I was certain I would meet a man in a similar fashion, but it never happened. Apparently I have no natural ability to just turn the hearts and heads of men.
“Why can’t I meet men?” I asked Bridget one day over lunch at a downtown café we often frequented. I slurped my mango-peach smoothie while she sipped at a hot tea.
Bridget shrugged. “You don’t really try to meet men.”
“How am I supposed to? Guys at church don’t notice me, and I’m not interested in any of the guys I work with.”
“There’s nobody at school?”
I shot Bridget a look of irritation. “I take two night classes a week. The guys are either significantly younger than me, or significantly older. There’s nobody. Nobody!” I emphasized the last word with an exaggerated shake of my fist at the heavens. Bridget nearly spit out her tea.
“You’re so dramatic, Beth.”
“That must be it, then. Guys find me too annoying.”
“How can you be annoying to men when they haven’t even taken the time to get to know you to find out that you’re annoying?” She popped a forkful of lettuce and shredded cheese into her smirking mouth.
“So what do I do?”
“You don’t have to do anything. It will just happen.”
I rolled my eyes as I took a large bite of cheeseburger. “Thanks for that clichéd answer,” I mumbled through my food.
“Well, if you’re that desperate, you could always try a dating service,” Bridget suggested, her words tinged with sarcasm.
My mouth dropped open. “I’m not desperate,” I stated defensively. “But I have always been a little curious about those dating services.”
“Oh please, Beth!”
“What? There’s no harm in trying something, just to see.”
Bridget shook her head. “Look, Jake did say he had a friend he wanted you to meet.”
I perked up in my seat. “Like a blind date?”
“Sure. It’s actually his cousin who just moved to the area, and he’s single. So again, if you’re that desperate, we could probably hook you two up. You wanna meet him?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. I’ve never been on a blind date before. It might be fun.”
Jake passed on my phone number to his cousin, Corey, who called me a couple times the next week. We never spoke more than ten minutes, but managed to work out a plan and set up a date. His deep, rich voice, like bait in a trap, caught my heart. Jake had mentioned that Corey was musical, and it didn’t take me long to picture our wedding day, when Corey, dressed handsomely in a crisp, expensive tuxedo, stepped before the assembly to surprise me with a song he’d written especially for his bride. He would play it on his guitar—or keyboard, or whatever instrument suited best—while that deep, masculine voice crooned beautiful words that would stir my heart. Yep, something good was going to happen with Corey, I just knew it.
The week after that found me meeting up with Corey at Panera for lunch. I wore a nice sleeveless top with matching knee-length skirt and heel flip-flops. He wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a backward baseball cap. I shrugged it off. We never really talked about whether this was a causal or a formal date. Just wait until he starts talking, I thought. Despite his outward attire, I was convinced that all his charm and gentility lay on the inside.
We ordered lunch, sat, and shared a few laughs before Corey’s rich voice reeled me in. I was hooked to his every word as he told me all about his home in Arizona, college in California, and working various seasonal jobs around the country until finally moving here.
“So, Jake says you’re musical,” I mentioned.
“Musical—you know, like playing an instrument or singing.”
He snorted. “I used to work in a sports bar, and I would sometimes lead the karaoke machine. That’s about all I’ve ever done that’s musical.”
I then shared the details of my life, careful not to talk while my mouth was jammed with food. I watched his face. He had the most beautiful sky-blue eyes I’d ever seen. I watched those eyes while I spoke. I watched those eyes while they glanced at me momentarily, only to flick elsewhere—to his food, out the window, somewhere off behind me, to the surrounding lunch patrons. He nodded and smiled, while his eyes glazed over, rarely looking at me.
We tried mini-golf next while Corey shared with me the history of his past relationships and talked about the futility of dating—how women were always looking for something more when he just wanted to have a little fun. Then he asked me what I thought. I told him I wanted a relationship, and during my explanation his eyes glazed over.
The conversation dwindled significantly while we sat at the park eating ice cream. I scrambled for words, and when I suggested we take a walk across the park, his glazed eyes met mine as he said, “Huh?”
When he dropped me back off at my car he asked if I wanted to be his girlfriend.
“Um…no, I don’t think so,” I stammered, slamming my car door behind me and driving away.
I yelled at Bridget later and told her to pass it on to Jake.
“Tell Jake thanks for nothing!”
“Tell him yourself,” she said, handing me her cell phone. “He’s on the line.”
I snatched it out of her hand.
“You said he was musical!”
“What? Musical? I did?”
“Yeah. And he’s not. He’s only done karaoke, for Pete sake!”
Jake sniggered. “What? You like karaoke. Bridge is always telling me how you girls love to sing along to that Disney princess karaoke CD she has.”
“That’s not the same thing!”
This time he bellowed with laughter. “I’m sorry Beth. Corey doesn’t really have musical talent. If I told you that, I must have been thinking of his brother.”
I let out a sigh and calmed myself. “Well, is his brother available?”
“Figures.” I chucked the phone back at Bridget, mildly wondering what new adventure would surface next in my life.
A routine visit to the library not long afterward provided an answer in the form of a small, bright green flier. My eyes eagerly scanned the advertisement: a speed-dating event that was taking place in a couple of weeks. I didn’t know anything about speed-dating except that it had something to do with sitting at tables and talking to various people for a few minutes apiece. Well, why not? I thought. It can’t be worse than blind-dating.
The event took place in a conference room off the main entrance of the library. I walked in to meet a barrage of people milling about every which way, the women wearing skirts and the men in tidy shoes. Some held glasses of ice water or soda as they spoke together in hushed tones, waiting for the start of the “dating.”
I hesitated at the door, watching the room. There were around fifty people present, fewer women than men, and despite a few exceptions most of the men looked older—late thirties to middle-aged. My warring thoughts were just about to declare defeat and march me out of that place when a cheerful woman with large frizzy hair caught my attention and waved me over. I made my way across one wall of the room to her table, draped in a white table cloth and strewn with blank nametags, while she checked me in and asked buoyantly whether I prefer Liz or Beth.
“Liz or Beth, dear?”
“Oh, um, Beth, please.” She scrawled my name in a fancy cursive with a large purple marker and handed it to me.
“Remember to put it on your right shoulder, dear; that way when you are shaking hands and meeting new people they can follow your arm right up to your nametag and see who you are.” She smiled largely, showing bright white veneers beneath the pink lipstick. “You’ll be at table eight.”
She pointed the way and I turned mechanically, following her directions through the maze of circular, red-draped tables. Red, I thought. Red, for love.
Before I’d had a chance to properly assess the table decor—a vase with a single white rose in it, tied across the stem with a red ribbon, and two tea-light candles flanking each side of the vase—my ears were assailed with the sound of a shrill bell and the words, “Time to mingle, people. Mingle!”
I sat in my seat and humbly awaited Fate. I watched as a couple of balding, big-bellied men sat down at nearby tables, and was just attempting to still my frenzied heart when a younger man with a full head of thick black hair and a short, nicely-trimmed beard sat down opposite me. I sat up.
He held out his hand. “I’m Dustin.”
My smile was about to dance right off my face. “I’m Beth.”
Dustin adjusted his seat and sat up straight, his arms folded on the table in front of him. “Well Beth, you look like a nice girl. I’m going to be straight with you. I’m looking for a wife. I want marriage and family, and I’m not interested in wasting my time on any woman who isn’t ready for that. What do you say?”
I flailed for words, trying to keep myself afloat after that dunk. “Oh, I…uh…I…”
”So tell me what you do.”
I gained my bearings and finally started talking, but after a few minutes during which I had barely finished mentioning my career goals after this second time around in school, the bell rang again, cutting me off.
“Mingle, mingle,” the frizzy-haired lady sang, like a canary in a cage. She held the bell aloft in her manicured fingers, her voice drowned in the shrill clanging.
I nodded goodbye to my “date” and stood, gazing helplessly around the room. Bodies moved in concert, ebbing and flowing from one table to the next. Men shuffled to and fro, spying out their next table, and it was only then, with a sense of dread, that I realized I was supposed to stay seated. The men changed seats while the women waited, like patiently blossoming roses, for the men to pick them.
I practically dove back into my seat, but in my haste tripped on the floor-length table cloth, knocking my chair over and sending my purse flying into the aisle. It was rescued by another man, younger than the first, who smiled warmly as he handed it back to me.
“Thanks,” I said, sitting back down and settling in. He sat down too.
“Little clumsy, huh?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m not really that graceful.”
“That’s perfectly okay.”
I nodded as my heart went thump.
He smiled. “So I have a question to ask you right away.”
“Do you want to just leave and come back to my place?”
I told Bridget later on about my speed-dating adventure and she had a good laugh.
“I had a man who told me all about truck driving, and how he wanted to find a woman who would be willing to go on the road with him. Then he asked me if I ever thought about going to truck-driving school.”
“Well hey, at least they liked you, right?”
“Yes, it’s comforting to know that I can manage to attract such a high caliber of gentlemen,” I shot out. I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling while Bridget’s voice squeaked through my cell phone.
“Who else was there?”
I walked my feet up and down the wall. “Well, there was a guy who asked me if I wanted to be the mother of his children.”
“Yep, but basically it fell into two categories of men: those looking for wives, or those looking for fun.”
“Nobody in-between, huh?”
My heart dropped. “Nope. Nobody just genuinely interested in getting to know me as a person and a friend with the intent of building a relationship toward marriage.”
“Wow, that’s a very precise definition.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, Bridge.”
“Don’t worry, someone will come along. Jake came along for me, and someone will come along for you.”
“Well hey, it’s just back to the old drawing board, right?” I said, barely heeding her words.
That was when Tyler came along.
I met Tyler online. I wouldn’t have bothered with online dating if it hadn’t been for one of my co-workers telling me one day, “Beth, your biological clock is ticking, you know. You really need to meet a man.” Since I hadn’t managed to procure a man in person, I decided to sign up for eHarmony and try my luck with online dating.
I logged on at home one evening after work, comfortable in a tank top and sweat pants as I sipped hot chocolate from a Winnie-the-Pooh mug. After submitting my personality profile and receiving back a report of similar matches in the area, I couldn’t resist paying the monthly fee to sign up and view the matches. At least this way I could screen the men and only choose the ones who seemed to be serious. Three rounds of questioning occurred with the matches before one could take part in open communication. I instantly received an onslaught of questions from quite a few matches and answered them immediately, sending the same questions right back.
What do you consider the most important thing in life? Trust in God. What are your goals and ambitions? To work hard and do my best at whatever I do, and to raise a family some day. Do you drink, and if so on what occasions? No. Do you like to travel? I don’t know, I’ve never really been anywhere but to a few neighboring states. But I think I’d really like to go to New Zealand someday and check out Middle-Earth. What kind of mate are you looking for? Someone who shares my faith, is a strong leader, and is highly motivated…it wouldn’t hurt if he was musical, either.
I didn’t receive as many responses back after the first round of questions, which didn’t worry me too much since it was all part of the process of elimination. I knew that in the end I would be left with my perfect match. Over the next several days I found myself logging onto eHarmony every day, sometimes twice in a day, to sift through all the possibilities. Every couple of days there was always a new one. Finally, after a week and a half Tyler appeared, like a prince upon a white horse, out of the mist and into the clearing.
Tyler was a chaplain in the military serving overseas. After surviving the three rounds of questioning, we began talking right away. He was young, good-looking, and seemed well-established in life. He sent me pictures of him growing up in the Midwest with farms, forests, and lakes. Adorable. He sent me pictures of him and his buddies in uniform with desert backgrounds and bright sunlight. Heroic. He sent me pictures of him on the beach, shirtless, playing volleyball. Very handsome. Then he started sending me pictures of him alone in his room, posing as though for a magazine shoot; only, he was scantily clad, and in some of them, completely nude.
When I confronted him about the pictures he apologized profusely, said the last thing he meant was to offend me, and explained how he got lonely overseas and rarely met any women. I forgave him and we continued sending messages back-and-forth. It wasn’t long before the nudity pictures reappeared. Then he asked if I might be willing to fly over to meet him. I said no and blocked him from my profile.
It was after I cancelled my eHarmony membership that the words of Bonnie Tyler from her song Hero came rushing at me out of the radio, nearly knocking me over with truth. I called Bridget.
“Bridget, where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?”
“Where’s the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?”
She joined in with a giggle. “Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?”
“Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need.”
“You need a hero.”
I laughed, following it with a sigh of defeat. “Is there a reason that I attract these weird men? Is there nobody decent out there who is interested in a nice, decent girl, and wants to have a nice, decent relationship?”
“They’re not all weird, Beth. It just has to do with personal convictions and priorities. You haven’t found anybody yet who shares your view of life. That doesn’t necessarily make the other men weird, it just means they’re not for you.”
I admitted defeat and tried not to dwell on the issue any longer.
But that doesn’t always work out too well. It was at Christian Publisher’s Outlet, in the singles/dating section that Bookstore Guy appeared—and then disappeared five minutes later. I watched him walk away, willing him to turn around and ask me out, but it never happened—it never does.
Oh well, I told myself. Just keep waiting. I looked down at the book clutched in my hands—For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn—and breathed in deeply. I thought about Bookstore Guy, and all the would-be men before him, and I smiled. Me and my ridiculous imagination. I knew there were some things I needed to get straight myself before I’d be ready to jump into a relationship. Maybe it would come when I wasn’t looking for it. Isn’t that how it usually happens with the important things in life?
I strode with lighter step toward the check-out and handed my book to the young man sitting behind the counter.
“How are you today?” he asked. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
I almost laughed as I dug through my purse for my wallet, thinking of Bookstore Guy walking away. “Yeah, sort of.”
He glanced at the cover of my book. “For Women Only. Need some guy advice, huh?”
“I guess.” I looked up at him and caught his nametag—Matt.
Matt rang up my book and took my check card. “There’s also one called For Men Only by the same lady. I’ve read that one.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, feigning interest. Boy, was this guy chatty.
“Yeah. Wasn’t bad. If you’re into these kinds of books you should read Marriable, by Haley and Michael DiMarco. That’s a great one.”
He handed me back my card and I just stared at him with disbelief. “I actually almost got that one. You read these books?”
He shrugged casually. “Well yeah. Is that bad?”
“No, I guess I just always figured they were more for women.”
Matt’s smile grew large on his face and his big brown eyes fixed straight onto mine. “Well, I don’t think a book called For Men Only is particularly marketed for women.”
I laughed and nodded. “That’s a good point.”
“People always make fun of me for being a guy and reading singles’ books,” Matt said as he handed me a shopping bag with my book tucked inside.
“Yeah, me too—well, not for being a guy, that is. I mean, they don’t make fun of me for being a guy because I’m not. I’m a girl, you know…” I trailed off while Matt watched my face and just smiled.
I squirmed under his steady gaze when he didn’t say anything else and finally turned myself around slowly.
“Well, thanks,” I said quickly, heading for the door.
That was awkward, I thought. I don’t know why he felt the need to tell me his life story and all… A cloud moved from in front of the sun, unveiling its warmth as its arms reached down to earth. I got in my car and rolled down the windows, letting the cross-breeze refresh me as I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. Matt. He seemed kind of weird…but not in a bad way…in a silly way. He was kind of cute, I guess.
I shook off my mental wanderings and started the car, letting the air-conditioning run before I pulled out. As the car idled I took my book out of the bag and stared at the cover, re-read the back, and then flipped through the pages. The receipt flew out from between the pages and landed on my lap. I tossed the book down and picked up the receipt. There were words scrawled in pencil across the back of it, next to an email address: Come again.
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