I just finished the entire series of Breaking Bad on Netflix. I started by watching an episode or two at night after the kids went to bed—it was all very casual—then after season three, one episode a night wasn’t enough. I needed more. I would watch four or five episodes at a time, until eventually I spent an entire kid-free weekend on the couch plowing through the final season. After the show came to its unavoidable conclusion, and I sat staring blankly at the credits, I found myself at the “Do you want to exit Netflix?” screen. I hesitated. I have never been good at goodbye, especially when wearing two-day-old pajamas. Then I clicked YES, and a world I had come to know and understand flashed to black. A world where education and intelligence are power, and power is the ultimate drug, and when your high school teacher asks you to cook meth with him, you should just say, “No, bitch.”
Even though people had been suggesting the show to me for years, I finally started watching after a guy I was texting with, but not actually dating in any real way, recommended it. He mentioned that I should watch Breaking Bad, and I said, “Okay!” (And that sums up my dating life. I could just stop here.) We started texting after meeting on Tinder—it was all very casual—then after several weeks, we were in the habit of texting every day. And then texting multiple times per day, until eventually it was the play-by-play of our lives, as if nothing had actual meaning until I transmitted it to this stranger. He would give me a witty response, or (cringe) an “LOL” and then the stress of my daily life dissipated just a little. Just enough.
We rarely hung out in person, even though we lived in the same town. We never went on an actual date, and when we did hang out it was usually during his work hours or in the middle of the night. Of course I assumed the obvious—that he is in some kind of witness protection program. Maybe he was picked up by a red minivan and brought here for his own safety. He has to keep a low profile because he knows too much.
As a busy adult trying to date/have sex with other busy adults, I have been indoctrinated to the idea of never having time. It is a new normal, and it left me vulnerable to believe almost anything. Between work, joint custody, aging parents, witness protection programs, ex-spouses, alter-egos, drug empires, yard work, and hangovers there is little availability for candle light dinners or even being seen together in public. A couple of cancellations barely even register as something to be suspicious about. The lives of divorced people are so dichotomous; I could probably be convinced of the validity of a second cell phone.
At 40, unless I am dating someone who has spent the last twenty years in a coma (ISO long term coma survivors, former convicts, and extra-terrestrials) they have a past. Usually that past includes children and in-laws and shared property. It also means that until a relationship reaches a certain point, a major part of a divorced person’s life lurks in the shadows. The hope is that what may seem like the shape of a monster in the closet, is revealed with the flick of a light switch to be just some golf clubs and a stack of sweaters.
I continued to be kept in the dark with this person for entirely too long. I have no business making my own decisions in the early stages of dating. I need a partner to handle distribution for me and to disable my phone after I have been drinking. I should remain behind the scenes in mystery until I have established myself as a kingpin and then after the window for being too eager has passed, I appear and demand that he say my name.
Finally, while sitting on the floor wrapping Christmas gifts for actual people I know and love, I decided to delete him from my contacts. I hovered my index finger over “Delete Contact.” I hesitated. Then in an act of bravery that can only be rivaled by Caitlyn Jenner’s willingness to appear fully photoshopped on the cover of Vanity Fair, I clicked the red letters. Then a box popped up to verify that I really did want to delete this contact. Goddammit! I squealed, clicked “Delete Contact” (AGAIN), and then wrapped an infinity scarf for my niece.
The next day I made an appointment with my therapist. I told her all about this person and the details of his life that he had shared and those that he had not, and she stopped me and said, “Oh hell no,” which is never a good sign in therapy. My problem is that I accept less than I deserve. I will sell my share in a billion dollar company for five grand. I will say, “I understand” if he never even calls me to cancel because he lost his phone. Again. It is totally cool. I wasn’t sitting here waiting. I always watch television in a mini skirt and my best pair of panties. I am fine. Really.
My kids are what keep me checked into reality. My son often asks tough questions that test my decision-making skills and reveal aspects about my character. He has asked me if I would rather know how I am going to die or when I am going to die. The gravity of that question sunk me deeper into my chair. I thought about how hard it was for me to decide where we should go for lunch, and then how many regrets I had while eating my bean burrito. I am indecisive. Acclimated to Netflix, Tinder, and interstate lunch spots, where I can just exit at any minute and pick something else. His questions of limited choices—I cannot choose not to choose—challenge me.
There is no scrolling through the menu screen for an entire evening. It is like only being able to choose between watching Caillou and Family Guy. Suddenly, Family Guy seems like the perfect show. The kind of show I should introduce to my parents, and let do butt stuff (not necessarily in that order). There is a fine line between not settling and always searching for something better. On some (every) level, even the happiest couples, the kind of couples who share a Facebook account and get to their tenth anniversary without wishing the other one would accidentally fall into a deep, dark well, are still technically in a relationship that is the “best they can do.” Brad Pitt is the best that Angelina can do. Gisele is the best that Tom Brady can do. Kanye can probably do better.
My circle of friends here in my South Georgia town is more like a semicircle—maybe even just an arc. I don’t fit in with the majority, and this makes dating difficult. I am like a copy of Lolita on a shelf of bibles. I am easily misread. I don’t go to church. I am a feminist and a liberal. I use profanity, unapologetically. I drink too much and show a lot of leg. I am a pair of high heels in a swamp of flats. If someone is local, makes me laugh, and can handle my rough edges, then I tend to hang on. Living in this desert, I have allowed myself to accept drinking from a dirty puddle.
But I did not make it this far to settle, even if it means spending the next decade only spooning my cat. I would just like to find the next Breaking Bad before I develop osteoporosis. My therapist tells me that I have got to have some sort of standards. I know she is right. I should start with only dating guys that are actually single and with reasonable baggage, like a nice duffel bag or a backpack, and not a PODS unit taking up their entire driveway. Who knows, maybe my future soul mate is waking up from his twenty-year coma as I type this, and after a little physical therapy and some spray tan, he will be ready to start texting me.