I was standing in the alcove inside my empty studio one night when the door opened. “Mr. Clean” and his shiny bald head wearing his white undershirt pushed the door open with his big muscles and held it for a blonde woman and a little girl. It was the first time I laid eyes on J. “Hello.” I said, greeting them with a smile, “isn’t this an interesting couple?” I thought. I tried to assess my potential customers as I answered their questions.
She must have been middle-aged. She had that thickness around the waist that women get later in life and the mild laugh lines around her eyes. She was direct and unwavering as she inquired about the yoga special.
He stood to one side leaning on his left elbow with his torso turned to her as if simultaneously protecting and deferring to her. His skin and features were dark and his eyes were deep and liquid.
She was experienced in the holistic world and could decide quickly, but he asked many questions. “Can someone who is not flexible follow along in your class?” he asked tentatively. There was a way about him that provoked my untapped maternal instinct. Alannah Miles started singing in my head as he spoke. He was a man-boy - the kind you want to forgive the minute they look up, wide-eyed from under heavy brows.
“you will gain the flexibility to progress if you stick to a regular practice.” I answered.
“Can a beginner take your class?” he asked. And I gave all the reasons why a beginner should take my class. He nodded. I waited. He seemed to be scanning his brain as he looked at me.
“Don’t worry,” I answered, “I’ll be gentle.” And I winked at the blonde woman in deference to her assumed status at his side.
They signed up for the packages and he paid for both. As they walked out he held the door open for her and the little girl. I remember thinking, “how is it that she can get a guy like that and I can’t?”
He was clearly fit, he was interested in yoga, he was chivalrous. He was the kind of man I was looking for at the time. The little girl, with her pale pink skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes was obviously not his. How is it that a single mother gets a young, fit good-looking guy and a fit, single, business owner with no school-night obligations and no vindictive ex-husband can’t?
But, in retrospect, the answer is obvious. I was dating a single parent when I met J. It was the perfect relationship. I knew I got to spend every other weekend with him and had the weekends he was with his kids free to do whatever I wanted. There were no expectations. It was particularly perfect for me at that time because I was just starting my business. There would be no demands on my energy, and there would be no talk of marriage. “Why hadn’t anyone told me about them before?” asks man-boy, Will Freeman, about single mums. And he had a point. Single parents are the perfect romantic involvement for the serial monogamist who doesn’t want intimacy or commitment. Where my business gave me a very clear reason to remain in a superficial relationship, J. had no such reason. When I met him, he didn’t even have a job.
In the eighties, I worked as a cocktail waitress and remember meeting women in relationships with unemployed men. They were single mothers receiving government checks. These women hustled hard for their undeclared tips and were usually more than happy to support the guy who could fix the drain or sit with their kids or fix their car. Today, I don’t know anybody on welfare, but, in the suburbs, I do know many single mothers who got the house and child-support in their divorce settlements, but still want a man who can shovel the driveway, or check the engine on their Mercedes, or simply keep them warm on the nights when the kids are with their father.
As it turns out, J. wasn’t dating the woman he came to the studio with. She had apparently tried. “I think she was drunk or something”, J. later told me, but he was just friends with her.
They came to the night classes and stayed to chat afterwards. Soon, she stopped coming to class and J. continued, always staying after class to talk, always hugging me goodnight when it got late and I said I had to go. I learned on those nights that J. didn’t work, that he lived with the unmarried daughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman. He had moved in with her after her fiancee left her. He was "just friends" with her, too. He was “in transition” I told myself as the red flags popped up.
“There’s a group of people getting together on Saturday night, you should come!”, J. said.
That was the night that the man I was seeing was free of kids and would be celebrating his birthday. “I don’t know, I might have other plans.” I told him.
“It’s at Samba, it’s right across the street from your studio on the East side. They have dancing and there will be a group of us there. Some of your students will be there so you’ll know people. If you can make it, it’ll be a good time.” J said.
“If I can, I will. No promises.” and I asked my man friend if he wanted to take a trip up from Cape Cod where he lived. I decided I’d take him out to celebrate his birthday and use him to keep a professional distance while still accepting J.’s invitation. As it turns out, it was J.’s birthday that night too. He was celebrating it with another woman from “the group”. What I didn’t know is that J. had personal reasons for inviting me.
“When you showed up with a guy, i was like… Ugh!” he told me later, flattering me. But I was new to the neighborhood. Several members of “the group” had joined my studio together - all of them single mothers. I remember asking one of them, “is J seeing anyone?”.
“He’s very private about those things,” she answered, sternly. I thought it better to stay far away from him and his band of single mums. “If they all want him, they will resent me if he shows me any attention.” I thought.
But, of this group of single mothers, none committed to my studio. J. did. He subscribed to a membership and stuck around, always after class, asking about yoga, acting like an interested student of yoga when he was really just interested.
“J., I’m starving. Have you eaten? Want to continue this conversation over some food?” I asked one night. And so it began, slowly. As the weather got warm, we spent the afternoons lying by the lake and I opened up to him the way I’d never opened up to a man before.
“However much it hurt when your father did the things he did, there is no feeling as wonderful as the one when we were in love.” my mother told me, “I have hated your father for the way he treated me, but I have never regretted falling in love with him. We travelled the world. We did so many wonderful things together. Most importantly, I have three beautiful children because I loved him.”
“I don’t know that I’ve ever really allowed myself to love anyone” I confessed to my mother, “I’ve always kept some part of me back in case things didn’t work out. Even when I was married, I kept one foot out the door.”
“That’s too bad, Paulina.” she said, “you’ve never been vulnerable.” And she was right.
I remember instinctively questioning the things I learned about J in those early days. I excused the fact that he had no job or career. “He just sold the business he had with his brother,” I told my friends, which was true. “He’s looking for his next venture,” I added, not admitting that the only venture he was actively pursuing was a relationship with a single business owner. “He’s on a spiritual path,” I told my friends, completely making that part up.
“People come into your life for a reason,” I thought pushing aside my doubts, “If he is drawn to me and I to him, then there’s something to be gained from knowing him.” and so I took that next step, not knowing where it would lead, with complete faith that it could only do me good.
Today, as J. spends his weekends with a single mum on the days that her kids are with their dad, and enjoys his personal time and space on the days that she spends with her kids, and seems to be continuing with his life as if I never existed, I think about the awful places J put me - places I never in a million years thought I’d find myself. I have to dig deeply into my yogic lessons to recall that the good-for-you that you get does not always resemble the good-for-you that you imagined. Blessings come in strange packages. If I was drawn to him, it's because of something I needed, regardless of any intentions he might have had. I had to take responsibility for the excuses I made in order to be with him. If how it turned out wasn't quite the way I imagined it, I have no choice but to remember the words of Steve Jobs, “you can never connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back.” And so it goes...