I have a great book called 'The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People.' It is a quick read that will boost your spirits and generally make you want to be a shinier, happier version of yourself. One of my favorite quotes from that book is: How we see the world is more important than how the world is.
Or in other words, perception is reality. I have always been a person who assumes the best in others. For the most part, that has been a good thing. But after my recent disappointment with the Canadian I started wondering if I had assumed to much. I was talking to my sister about it and she made an interesting observation. She said that maybe I am drawn to guys who hold back emotionally because then I can 'fill in the blanks.' To see him as I want him to be, not as he really is.
I started wondering about whether we all fill in the blanks to some degree. And based on the wisdom from my little book on happiness, is it really a problem?
Here's an example. I was in a five-year relationship with an older man - 14 years older to be specific. Let's just call him my Mr. Big. Age really never mattered because we were so compatible with each other. It was by far the best relationship of my life. Sometime I will tell you more about it, but for now there is one particular story that comes to mind.
Like many other men, my Mr. Big was not particularly comfortable throwing the phrase "I love you" around. Maybe on an anniversary or when we had a few too many drinks, but he was just not one of those people who said it every day.
I never really had a problem with that because I think it is much more important to show someone you love them, than to tell them. There are far too many guys who can tell a woman that they love her every day, and then turn around and do things that are completely to the contrary of what they said. Case in point. The last words the Canadian said to me were "I love you and I'll see you soon." And then I never heard from him again.
Anyway, my Mr. Big and I had developed a bedtime ritual. First I would spoon in facing him and gently rub his back until he was almost asleep. Then I would flip over and lay on my side and he would snuggle in behind me. Right before he fell asleep he would kiss my shoulder. Although he never said the words, that simple gesture was his "I love you." And every time he kissed my shoulder I knew that was what he meant.
Now, my sister would probably tell me that I was filling in the blanks, but in the context of that relationship it worked for us. He didn't feel pressure to say those three magic words and I felt happy and content each night as I drifted off to sleep. In fact, I would have happily filled in the blanks with my Mr. Big for the rest of my life. Like a giant Mad Libs book. Sadly, it didn't work out that way.
Last night I came face to face with another example where I filled in the blanks, but this time it did not have the same positive outcome. I was out with the Boy at one of my favorite dive bars and I ran into the Teacher.
I had first met the Teacher two years ago. I was out at an alternative dance club with some friends after my work Christmas party. I was wearing a black velvet Betsy Johnson dress with the back cut out and trimmed in cream lace. Not typical for the crowd that hung out at the bar, but I was a regular so I could show up there wearing whatever I wanted. The Teacher first spotted me on the dance floor with one of my male co-workers. He walked up to me with a crooked smile and said "I hope your boyfriend treats you well."
Let's just say I was immediately hot for the Teacher. He had dark hair and a goatee with the warmest brown eyes I had ever seen. And he was wearing the alternative boy's uniform - a black t-shirt, jeans and a black baseball cap. I quickly informed him, "He's not my boyfriend." To which he replied "Well, then I think your friend likes you." Before I could answer he disappeared into the smoky haze of the dance floor.
I thought about that brief encounter a lot, and I looked for the Teacher whenever I was out in that neighborhood. The next time I saw him was a few months later at the same club. I was on a date at the time, but I did not care. This was my chance. I boldly went up to him and said "I just wanted to say that I think you are adorable. And if I wasn't here with someone tonight I would totally be hitting on you right now." He looked at me in amazement and I just smiled. Then I walked away.
Later that night, the Teacher found me again and we actually started talking. He was my age - in fact our birthdays were just about a week apart. And he was a Political Science major in college, just like me. We shared the same liberal views, both socially and politically. And he was a 5th grade social studies teacher at a local elementary school. All in all, he seemed like the perfect man. I went home that night and told my sisters that I had met my soul mate.
After that night I started running into the Teacher every few weeks. And each time we talked, we had more in common. We were both into the alternative music scene and found that we had been to most of the same concerts and hung out at many of the same clubs since we were about 19 years old. Yet we had never crossed paths before.
One night I was hanging out with the Teacher and some of his friends. One of his friends made a comment about the Teacher's wife and that she would divorce him if he kept hanging out at the bar. I was in shock. The hot liberal Teacher was married? But he did not wear a ring. I looked over at him with a large question mark hanging in a bubble over my head. "I never make a secret of the fact that I am married," he said. "Funny," I said to him. "Because you certainly did a good job of keeping it from me!"
After that I changed my perspective on the Teacher. I tried to re-frame him as my cool married friend who represents the type of guy I would want to be with, if he weren't married. Which worked fine when I was sober, but when the alcohol started flowing, our chemistry was undeniable. I felt empowered to say anything to him and it was 'safe' because he was married and nothing would ever come of it. Or so I thought.
As time passed, it became clear from his comments and those of his friends that the Teacher was not happy in his marriage. There were stories of him sleeping on the couch and his wife kicking him out on Saturday nights to go to the bar because she didn't want to deal with him. They seemed to live separate lives with her going out on Fridays while he watched the kids, and then him going out on Saturdays while she watched the kids.
One night we were having some drinks and I sat up on the bar stool beside him. We were talking again about how we had been in all of the same places since we were 19 years old and why we hadn't met earlier, before his wife and two kids. I said to him "Well, I waited for you, but you didn't wait for me. So I guess it's all your fault." I realized I was crossing a line, but at that point I didn't really care. I knew that he was unhappy and he had implied to me on more than one occasion that I could be the one to make him happy.
Things started to change with the Teacher and me. He would offer to drive me back to my car or walk me to the parking lot to find a reason to be alone with me. And one of those nights we finally gave in and kissed each other. I am not proud of what happened, but I was also not the person cheating on my wife. I tried to avoid him and the bar, but somehow I would be drawn back to him, hoping that he would leave his unhappy marriage and choose me.
Later that summer, he was planning a trip to New York with his wife and another couple. It was supposed to be the 'make it or break it' vacation. After that, he was going to decide if he should leave. I had given him my number and e-mail to get in touch with me, but he never did. A few weeks later I ran into him at the bar and he said nothing about the vacation or the impending divorce. It just seemed to disappear.
The last time I ran into the Teacher he told me to drive over and meet him in the grocery store parking lot to talk after we left the bar. But we ended up just making out and not really talking at all. Every time I would try to bring up his life at home or our future together, he would just tell me to "Shhh" and start kissing me again.
After that encounter, I vowed once and for all to stay away from the Teacher. Which was hard, because he hung out at my favorite bar. But I knew that he went out on Saturday nights so I would always go with the Boy on Friday nights.
Last night when I saw the Teacher, he gave me the same crooked smile and hugged me close. "I thought we had an agreement. I get the bar on Fridays and you can have Saturdays," I said to him. "So what are you doing here on my night?" And we flirted just like always. The chemistry was still there. I asked if he was happy now, but he wouldn't answer. And when the Boy and I went to leave, he whispered in my ear that maybe next time we would be able to talk about all of those unanswered questions. But I am smart enough to know that conversation is never going to happen.
I look back on that summer with the Teacher and I think about how many times I filled in the blanks. I have no doubt that he was attracted to me and intrigued by our deep intellectual conversations about politics and the meaning of life. But in the end, the hot liberal Teacher was really not my soul mate. He was just another asshole who was cheating on his wife.
So that brings me back to my question about filling in the blanks. Is it a happy person's way to view the world or just a symptom of someone who is out of touch with reality? I still believe that it is OK to fill in the blanks, as long as you and the other person are on the same page. Or at least reading from the same book.
But for now, I think I will stop filling in the blanks and start reading between the lines. I need a little dose of reality to go with my perceptions.