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True Stories: The Ultimate Dealbreaker
Nothing about my girlfriend led me to imagine the reason we'd break up.
by Markham Lee
My online-dating profile was an exercise in what I hoped was witty sarcasm; I opened by noting that people usually just click on the pictures of people they find attractive and hope to find an interesting profile behind them. It was an approach that got me a couple of hate e-mails, but it also helped me meet Taren. Taren opened her e-mail by asking me if I had any additional pictures because, "I'm not sure you're cute enough to be that much of a smart-ass."
I sent her back an e-mail asking if she came from a "wholesome-Midwestern-girl breeding program." (Mind you, I wasn't being that sarcastic with my response; she did have the air of the farmer's daughter who's hidden in the basement when strangers come a-callin'.) We wound up exchanging four or five e-mails that day, chuckling to ourselves while we sent e-mails from our boring meetings.
The funny thing about my "breeding program" comment is that she really was the farmer's daughter. "I grew up on a small farm in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin."
"So you're the girl who all the jokes come from."
"Right down to the overprotective dad and four older brothers."
Calling someone you met online can feel awkward, because you've never talked to them in person, don't really know what they look like, can't see facial expressions. But my first call with Taren was easy. We both ran track in college — I ran sprints and she ran distance — and we wound up sharing all sorts of war stories of great races and brutal workouts.
"I hated it when we had to run hills with the girls from the cross-country team in the pre-season. It was horrible."
"Sprinters are such wimps."
"No, we just know that God gave men cars so there'd be no need to run four miles at once."
"I bet you liked checking out the girls though."
"Doesn't everyone on the track team do that? It's a co-ed team of practically naked people in spandex who are in amazing shape."
"Well, I don't think I've ever complained about seeing muscular dudes in spandex. I was always dating the sprinters."
"So you have a type?"
She hesitated. "Let's just say my college boyfriend was probably your height and weight."
We ended up talking about our days; she'd mowed the lawn of an elderly neighbor who she often looked out for. "Do you know your neighbors?" she asked.
I didn't know what to say. I tend to ignore my neighbors, but I didn't want her to think that I was a jerk. "Not really. I talk to the lady who lives next door to me every now and then, but that's about it."
"You really should talk to them more. I think it's great to know your neighbors."
Our first date was easier than our first phone call — we hit it off even better in person, and what was supposed to be a quick afternoon meet and greet led to more. She had picked the place and I got lost and drove by it several times, so she was giving me the business before we even walked in.
"Dude, if we ever go on a road trip, you're definitely not in charge of navigation."
"You gave bad directions."
"You drove by four times. You couldn't read the sign?"
I was already attracted to Taren just from our phone conversations and from seeing her pictures online, but I was pleasantly surprised that she was a lot better-looking in person. Her hair was longer in her pictures, but the pixie haircut she'd gotten since really suited her, and her legs looked as if her last race had been five minutes ago, not twelve years.
After we had brunch we wound up walking all over Seattle, stopping at random places, exploring and finally settling in at a bar in Belltown where we amused ourselves by guessing whether the couples around us were going to hook up or not. The fact that we were in the same situation was not lost on us.
We ended up hanging out until 1:30 a.m. After that first date a relationship quickly clicked into place.
Thinking back, I remember two distinct images of her. One is of her dressed to the nines for work, and the other is of her just walking around the house in a hoodie and not much else. There were two distinct sides of her — the sophisticated urban professional woman and the tomboy from Wisconsin, and I was crazy about both of them.
Taren was a really intelligent woman with a really serious job, yet she was also silly and goofy. She was one of those people who it's impossible to feel grumpy around. Once, when I was feeling pretty down about some family drama, she threw herself into cheering me up, playing pranks on me and leaving little notes around my apartment. I adored her for her compassion. She had two dogs and a cat, and they all had medical problems. Even though it broke her heart when they passed away, she always adopted older, sicker animals, because she wanted to make the last years of their lives happy.