Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Popping the Question

Here I sit, less than two months until I get married.

Sorry that there is no segue from my Harem posts to today's post about my engagement to Michelle. Yes, I am getting married. I've found the love of my life. Quite a departure from the depressing tales of woe regarding my past love life. I look back at those as lessons I had to learn in order to be ready for Michelle.

I feel much happier now, like my life is finally coming together. Yet I also feel truly terrified. I have no idea what's going to happen. I have underlying insecurities about my ability to be a good husband, provider, servant-leader and possible father. I don't have a good track record of acting like a mature adult.

But I am not going to back out. I am in love with my fiancee. I know that there will be many difficulties, but I know that Michelle and I, with the help from God, family and friends, will be able to work through them and create a marriage that will last.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to tell the story about how I proposed to Michelle.

I proposed to her on our one-year anniversary from when we first met. We had gotten in contact with each other through eHarmony. I had subscribed to the online dating service but found myself striking out with my potential matches, so I had decided not to renew my subscription. However, I had misjudged when my renewal date was, so when I went to cancel the service, I found that it had already renewed itself. I was stuck with eHarmony for another two months. Less than a week later I got a notification from one of my potential matches; it was called an "icebreaker". Her name was Michelle from Hudson, Massachusetts.

She had a really cute smile and I liked what she had written in her profile. I decided to take a chance on her. It doesn't sound very romantic, but that's the nature of the thing. eHarmony is not in the least bit romantic. You're sitting in front of a computer looking at little profile pics, sifting through a plethora of potential matches, all the while wondering if you had made a mistake subscribing to an online dating service. The romance comes later (if you're lucky). But at this point you're doubting yourself and wondering if anyone will find you interesting enough to say hi. At least I was.

As I was saying, I decided to take a chance with this cute girl from Hudson, MA. We went through the stages of communication. We started talking via the eHarmony messaging. Eventually we exchanged number and talked on the phone. We enjoyed communicating. The first thing I noticed about her was her young voice, which to this day I still find myself enamored by.

Then on March 19, 2011 we met for the first time face to face. We decided to meet for our first date at the Outback Steakhouse in Lowell, MA. It was a good halfway point for both of us. Not very romantic, but that's not what we were going for. It was a Saturday night and very busy. There was about a twenty minute wait, so we stood in the front door and chatted while we waited to be seated.

After dinner we went next door to the movie theatre and saw The Fighter starring Mark Wahlberg. I will admit that I was disappointed with myself because I didn't do much planning. I wish our first date had been more imaginative than just dinner and a movie. But this was mid-March and it was still rather cold outside, so we couldn't really go anywhere to chat some more and neither of us knew Lowell that well.

Okay, fast-forward a bit, about eight months. Our new relationship is going great. We talk on the phone almost every night. We see each other about twice a week. Our love for each other is growing stronger. It's right about here--I don't know exactly when--that I decide that this is the woman I'm going to marry.

We had been casually talking about the idea of marriage. In fact, we had barely been dating three months when we first started talking about it. Let me tell you, I freaked out. It was the first time I had ever talked with a girlfriend about getting married. This was not some shallow discussion about our hopes and dreams for the future. No, we were talking about marriage like it was actually a possibility between us. It really threw me for a loop and I panicked. My head was spinning. I had to stop the conversation right there because this was not something I had been prepared for. After that we rarely brought up the subject of marriage because Michelle knew that I would get scared.

Now it's about eight months into the relationship and I am sure that I want to marry this amazing and beautiful woman. I start thinking about matters such as how I'm going to propose, how much it will cost me, when I'm going to do it, if I should get down on one knee, etc. But it was slow going at first. I had to muster up the courage, even to do simple things like look at prices of rings. Eventually I did look online at prices, sometime in early December 2011, just to see how much money I would need to save up for. I didn't do much else for a while.

Christmas came and went, but there was no ring on Michelle's finger. I think she was hoping that I would give her one but was doubtful that it would actually happen. She had kept hinting that her finger looked rather bare. At that point we had had a few discussions about marriage without me having heart palpitations. She knew I wasn't ready, but she was hoping I would surprise her. Not this time. But I was plotting.

I was trying to come up with the perfect way to propose. That's what we guys try to do. We like to make big gestures of love, and none is as big as the proposal because it's on his terms. Marriage is big, but it's about the bride and groom. Or it's about just the bride. When a guy proposes, it is up to him to do all the planning and to make it a surprise if possible. Creativity is a plus. Or sometimes publicity works, too, like the proposals you see at basketball games.

I wanted to come up with some creative way to pop the question, kinda like the ones you sometimes see on America's Funniest Home Videos. I thought of a plan to hide the ring in a letterbox, so when Michelle opened up the box, the ring would be inside with a stamp that said "Will you marry me?" But she's not into letterboxing as much as I am, so it would seem rather self-serving to propose that way.

I thought of a plan to propose while mini-golfing. I would have an accomplice, someone Michelle hasn't met before, to help me out. I would give him the ring and he would play one hole ahead of us. At some point he would put the ring in the hole and then move on. Then when Michelle would reach into the hole to get her ball, she would see the ring. Then I would get down on one knee and propose to her right there. But the problem is that I would have to wait for the golf courses to open up in May, and I didn't want to wait that long. (The long-distance relationship was getting to me at that point.) Besides, to propose to her in that fashion just wasn't me. In my mind it sounded really cheesy. I needed to do it in my own way.

I had an idea.

Some time in early January I decided that it was time to look at prices for rings again, but this time I would look at them in person. I went down to the mall to browse the jewelry stores just to find out prices, not to actually buy anything. On the way I got a call from Michelle, and she asked me what I was doing. I didn't want to tell her my mission because it was supposed to be a secret. I said that I was going down to the mall because I was bored and hadn't been there in a while; I wanted to see what it looked like now. Well, as I walked in the mall entrance I got a text from her saying, "I'm a simple girl. I don't want anything fancy. Just saying."

I couldn't believe it! How did she know? How could she have possibly known that I was going to look at engagement rings? I was so tempted to turn around, get in my car, go home and look at rings when she wasn't suspecting anything. But I ventured forth and continued on with my mission. After I left the mall I called her and told her that I was at the mall looking for the newest Optimus Prime toy. Yes, it was a blatant lie. I had to try to make her as unsuspecting as possible. She didn't buy it for a second.

I went back to the jewelry stores in early February to look at engagement rings again. I had more of an idea what I was looking for this time. Michelle didn't call, which is a good thing because I would've had to tell her another lie. I didn't buy a ring this time, but I went back a few days later and walked out with the ring I was going to give to her.

Now, Michelle and I had been planning a small vacation in March to celebrate our one-year anniversary. We decided to visit the Berkshires for a weekend. We would drive out there, do some sight-seeing, visit the Norman Rockwell Museum, visit Stockbridge and do some shopping at the premium outlets in Lee. Then we would get home on Sunday the 18th. Since the 19th is the actual day of our anniversary, we decided that we should also go out to eat at the Outback Steakhouse in Lowell where we first met.

In Michelle's mind, the weekend in the Berkshires was the big celebration. She really thought that I was going to propose to her there. We had been openly and boldly talking about marriage and even wedding plans. We talked about details such as cake design and where we would like to go on our honeymoon. She was expecting to come home with a ring on her finger.

In my mind, however, the big celebration was our actual anniversary, and I had something special planned.

On the way home, I could sense that she was a little disappointed that she was not a bride-to-be. Up until then, I had resigned myself to the fact that she knew I was going to propose on our anniversary. She knew I had been looking at rings. I had been talking about marriage without fainting. Our anniversary was coming up. I had spent time alone with her dad. Everything added up. She was positive it was going to happen.

But it didn't happen, and I could tell she was feeling disappointed. She thought I was ready. I realized that this was my last opportunity to make the impending proposal as much of a surprise as possible. So I told her one last blatant lie. As I was driving, I said to her, "Michelle, I know that you were hoping I would propose to you this weekend. You have been very patient. But please bear with me. I'm getting there." Little did she know that I already had the ring!

The next day we had to go back to work. I almost had to skip our dinner because I was originally scheduled to work that evening. Thankfully one of my co-workers came to my rescue and agreed to switch shifts with me. She knew about the proposal and what a big deal it was. I don't know what I would have done if I had to skip our anniversary dinner.

That night, we met at the Outback Steakhouse, the same place we had first met one year earlier. Like I said, Michelle thought that our weekend in the Berkshires was the big anniversary celebration. This dinner was just a nice little get-together to end the celebration. No big deal. Afterwards we'd just go home and call each other the next day.

At this point, I was a nervous wreck. I was about to propose to my girlfriend. Everything was about to change. To me, this was a huge deal. Even at work everyone could tell I was freaking out. Only a select few knew the reason. Everyone else was wondering why their happy-go-lucky supervisor had this terrified look on his face. Because I was terrified. Even though I knew Michelle's answer would be yes. In fact, months prior, she had told me that if I proposed to her right then and there, she would say yes.

Nonetheless, I was nervous. All throughout the dinner I barely looked at her. I tried desperately to make eye contact, but I couldn't sustain it. I kept looking everywhere else. She could tell something was wrong.

After I paid the check, she asked me what I wanted to do next. I froze. I didn't know what to say. I knew that if I said anything I would blow it. So I decided to take the plunge and go ahead with the plan.

I said to her, "So here we are. It's been a heck of a year, hasn't it?"

She thought to herself, Are we really going to have this conversation again? When we were in the Berkshires, we had a nice conversation about our relationship and how much we loved each other. She thought that I would propose to her then, but I didn't. Why were we discussing this again? She decided to go with it, anyway.

"Yes, it has."

So I go into this whole spiel about how great our relationship is and how much closer we've grown and how much I love her and so on. And all the while she's just politely smiling and agreeing with everything I say.

Then I take a breath and say, "All that being said, however, I have to tell you something. I don't want to date you anymore."

After a couple seconds she says, "Okay," as if waiting for the point.

"I want to marry you."

Then I reach into my jacket and pull out the ring.

She blurts out, "Are you freakin' kidding me?!"

I ask her, "Will you marry me?"

I was about to get down on one knee, but Michelle frantically waved her arms begging me not to. We were in a crowded restaurant with waitresses walking by and a table full of hooligans next to us. She didn't want me to cause a scene. I sat back down.

She put the ring on her finger. Finally she said, "Yes, yes, yes!"

After sharing a few kisses and loving words, we went outside where she called her best friend. After that we went to her parents' house where they had a cake waiting for us. For the rest of the evening I could barely talk to her because she was on the phone with all of her family and friends telling them the good news. I made a few calls, myself.

So that's the story of how I popped the question. I did it in a way that was one hundred percent me. I am a bit of a smart-ass, so I had to do it in that style. It was nothing elaborate, nothing terribly creative, and nothing public. But for me, it was perfect. It couldn't have happened any other way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Transformers: the Movie - A Movie Review

I love Transformers: the Movie. It is high on my list of all-time favorite movies.

That being said, I have no illusions about it being a good movie. Actually, it is a huge stinker. It was not made with the idea of telling a good story. It was designed to sell the new toys. Even the makers of the movie admit to that fact. It was not written for the "fans", but for the kids to ask their parents to buy the new toyline.

There are three major flaws in this movie. First, the story is too big. If you look at the plot, the story is actually pretty good. In fact, you could say it is epic. There are three acts that could have been expanded upon if they had the time and effort to create an exciting story and not a toy commercial. The attack on Earth, the escape from Earth, and the rescue of Cybertron. However, this big Star-Wars-sized story was crammed down into 90 minutes. Something similar happened to the Lord of the Rings animated movie. Lots of style, but no substance.

Second, Daniel Witwicky should have stayed with Hot Rod. We saw a glimpse of their friendship early on in the movie, but that disappeared when he escaped Autobot City with Arcee and Ultra Magnus. If he had gone with Hot Rod, then the rapport between them could have developed and we could have cared more for what was happening to them. Instead, he became some annoying kid who was just along for the ride.

Third, there was no dialogue. Almost all the words that were spoken in the movie were cheesy one-liners. "One shall stand. One shall fall." "Me Grimlock say execute them!" "Come out, Autobot! We all must die sometime!" I know that this is a kids' movie, but come one. They could have made some effort at an actual conversation in the script. The original cartoon had more intelligence, albeit not by that much.

There are other flaws I could mention like the poorly constructed musical score, the out-of-place profanities, or the total disregard for the laws of science. They all add up to one big steaming pile of poop. The movie is terrible. So much worse than the live-action movies by Michael Bay. Anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves.

But like I said, I love this movie. In spite of its many, many flaws, it has some truly bad-ass moments. Like when Megatron offs Ironhide. Or when the Sharkticon gets its face ripped off by another Sharkticon. Or when Starscream finally achieves his goal of domination, only to have it cut short by Galvatron. The animation still holds up, even in this age of CGI movies.

I will admit that I am a little biased. I love the Transformers and everything about them. Well, almost everything. The Japanese cartoons were horrendous. I love the toys, the cartoons, the movies, etc. They are visually interesting, the transformations are clever, the storyline is fascinating, and they are fun to play with.

So even though I love this movie, I have to concede that it is pretty terrible.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Harem: Rachel (cont'd)

OK, so we went on our second date. Rachel came up here to Nashua, I took her to the butterfly conservatory, we went on a double date with Stephen & Deidre, we all went to Hampton Beach, Rachel and I made out for the first time, she stayed the night, and in the morning I took her out to breakfast at Parker's Maple Barn. After that she went home because I had to go to work that afternoon. It's not particularly pleasant to change into your work clothes and go to work because you're still on such an emotional high. It's like having a delicious double-decker banana split sundae and then eating a plate of liver and onions.

After that, we tried to see each other about once a week. It was difficult because I work full-time on a schedule that is not set from wee to week. And many times she had to go to truancy court regarding a certain case she was handling. It was tricky. Once or twice we had to take a raincheck on a certain date, but for the most part we were able to handle it.

During the time that we were dating, I took her to a letterboxing event. She brought me to the Providence Waterfires. We went camping together. I went to her church. I taught her how to play Killer Bunnies. We tried to talk at least every other night. If not, then we communicated via FaceBook. She even got me to buy a cellphone for the first time.

My co-workers noticed a change in me. Some of them commented that I was glowing. I was smiling a lot more. I was very much in love with Rachel. Everyday that went by, I fell just a little bit more. She was beautiful. She was intelligent. She had an infectious laugh. She was a Christian. To me, she was awesome.

For the first time in my life, I felt right about a relationship. It felt like there was a force that was drawing us together. I felt that God had sent her to me instead of me just picking any girl who would have me. I felt that God was blessing me with a godly woman because I had regained my passion for Him and was actively seeking Him, so He was rewarding me with a woman who could draw me closer to Him and I could help her with her walk.

None of my previous girlfriends had been Christians in the sense of being born-again. Lynette and Jen were Catholic. While I won't say that all Catholics are going to go to Hell, I believe that it is less likely for them because they are taught doctrines that are based on traditions and not on what the Bible actually says about salvation. So there was always a gap between me and those two exes due to the differences in faith.

While Abby believed in the existence of God, she had a very Eastern, New-Agey belief regarding His existence. She believed in the paranormal and spirit-healing and energies and auras and the like. We got into several heated discussions about it. And, yes, I did try to convert her to real Christianity. But at one point she told me that she didn't want me to push my religion on her.

While Abby and I were dating, she would mention how she wanted to marry me. And during periods when I was single she would say to me that she wanted to get back together. She says she's joking, but I know she's telling the truth. She would take me back in a heartbeat. And if I proposed to her, she would probably say yes.

But I can't. My faith is part of who I am. If you date me, then you date my faith as well. And Abby said she didn't want that part of me. So unless she starts going to church and becomes a born-again believer, I will not even consider actively dating her again. (We're still friends, though.)

But with Rachel, I didn't have that problem. She was a born-again Christian and very devoted to the Lord. She had attended Bible colleges for eight years, so she was well-versed in the Scriptures. We would have some lively discussions about our faith. It was nice not having to talk to a girlfriend about my faith without feeling like I had to witness to her.

When I was with my other girlfriends, there was always something pushing us apart. Even early in our relationships, I knew that they wouldn't last. I tried to ignore that feeling and tried to make it work. But I was never truly content with any of them. *Sorry, if either of you are reading this.*

With Rachel, I felt like we were being drawn together. Not only spiritually, but mentally and physically, as well. And that's why I fell in love with her.

And that's why I was crushed when she broke up with me.

I'm one of those people who have to screw up in order to learn anything. If someone tells me I have to do something, I will usually forget to do it the first time around. And then when it hits the fan and the hammer comes down on me, I remember what it was I was supposed to do in the first place and do my best not to screw up again. I've been written up so many times at work because of this. I forget to do the paperwork at night, which is a huge no-no. I get berated and written up. Now I make sure to do the paperwork everyday. It's an unfortunate learning pattern for me.

On the day before my birthday, Jen and I spent a portion of the day together to celebrate my birthday because we wouldn't see each other the next day. There was no one else with us. We went out to lunch, then went bowling, and then went to see a movie. Now, Rachel knew about Jen. She knew we were exes and that she was the one who introduced me to letterboxing. But they had never met each other.

That night Rachel called and asked what I did that day. When I told her, she got very serious and said that she had a very serious problem with that. She did not like that I spent the day with Jen and no one else, that we were alone together. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that that was a date. I went on a date with Jen. I tried to explain to her that it was not a date and that Jen and I were just friends.

She explained to me that when a man and a woman who are not related spend time together, when no other friends are present, then that is a date. It doesn't matter if they are just friends. It's a date. It doesn't matter if one of them is gay. Or if one of them is married. It is a date.

Bob and Nancy go to a coffee shop together because they both love coffee and they heard that the coffee at this particular shop is to die for. Bob is happily married and Nancy is in a lesbian relationship. They are good friends with no romantic interest whatsoever. According to Rachel, Bob and Nancy are on a date.

Rachel told me that she had explained all this to me before. How she had such strong feelings about not being alone with another man that she could not date a man who did not feel the same way. I barely remember such a conversation. I couldn't tell you when it took place, but she said she told me this early on in our relationship.

This is where my learning technique comes into play. She told me something that was so important to her. I forgot about it the first time around. I screwed up. So she broke up. Not yet, though.

The next day, my birthday, I went to a used car dealership to buy a new car. I wanted one that could get me to Rhode Island and back. I put down a deposit on a 2006 Dodge Stratus. That afternoon I spent time at Stephen's house. Rachel called me and wished me a happy birthday. She seemed cheerful.

She called me on the following day. She told me she wanted to break up. She told me that because her rule of not "dating" persons of the opposite gender was so important to her, then she could not continue seeing me because I did not agree 100% with her rule. It was a deal-breaker. I didn't feel that I had done anything wrong by going to lunch, bowling and the movies with Jen. Or with any other woman.

I never cheated on Rachel. I never kissed Jen. I never held hands with Jen. I never even had any lustful thoughts for Jen. But Rachel treated it as if I had had sexual intercourse with Jen. As if I had committed a sin that would damn my soul to Hell.

She asked me why I thought that it was okay for me to do this. I had never thought about it before. I didn't have a well-thought out answer prepared, so I told her that life's experiences, church, youth group, parents and friends taught me that there was nothing wrong with it. If I had had more time to think about it, I would have realized that the reason was that no one ever told me otherwise. No one ever said to me, "Justin, you must never spend time alone with a girl. It is a sin." How would I have ever known?

She proceeded to give me a bunch of other reasons why she was breaking up with me. She mentioned my lack of education. She had spent eight years at Bible college. I had not. She mentioned being "unequally yoked." Apparently I was not equal with her because I didn't have a biblical education. She said that when she joined ChristianMingle, she thought that everyone would have had a Christian education like hers, and that the next guy she dated would have to have studied for eight years, as well. I guess I was too stupid for her. She wanted a scholar.

Wasn't Judas a scholar?

She brought up the differences in denomination. She was Assemblies of God; I was Southern Baptist. She had dreams of one day becoming a woman pastor. Pentecostal churches are known to endorse female pastors. Southern Baptists are not.

First of all, I have no real problem with women becoming pastors or reverends or whatever. If she is called by God and if what she preaches is biblical, then who am I to say she can't do it? The two female pastors I've seen have been less than impressive, but that's beside the point.

And secondly, I really don't consider myself to be a Baptist. True, I grew up in a Baptist church and currently attend a Southern Baptist church, but I don't really hold an allegiance to any denomination. After all, God is not Baptist. He is not Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian or any other denomination you can list. God is God. He doesn't favor one denomination over the others.

I told Rachel early on in our relationship that I had no problem with switching to another church. If God led me there, I would happily go. But I guess that didn't matter to her. She couldn't date me because I was a Southern Baptist.

My favorite thing that she brought up as to why she couldn't date me was the money issue. I did not make a lot of money. As a social worker, she makes more money than me. I'm a manager in the retail business. I have hourly wages. Therefore I was not worthy of her. She had her own apartment with lots of amenities, two dogs, and a nice car. I did not make enough money for her liking.

And yet, one of her favorite hobbies was shopping at the mall. And she was almost always broke.

And I actually had more money than she did because I save my money.

While I was dating her, I never pegged her for being shallow. I should have seen it. Her need to shop. Her constantly being broke. She grew up in the Hamptons. Her family wasn't rich, but growing up in that area must have instilled in her a skewed perspective of wealth and success.

Now I know where her treasure lies.

She mentioned a few other things. But the one thing that I think she was absolutely correct on and I would agree with whole-heartedly is that she would have grown bossy, and I would have resented her for it. I did see that side of her. When we went camping and I was having trouble pitching the tent, she snapped at me. I didn't think much of it at the time. After all, we all have our buttons, and there are things we lose patience with. But I think that what I saw was just a hint of what was to come if we had stayed together. She would have become bossy and domineering, and I would have grown to resent her for it.

That was that. After ripping me to shreds and telling me how inadequate I was, she dumped me. She tried to sugar-coat it by telling me that I'm a great guy and that I'll find someone new. But that's just like putting whipped cream on a pile of doggy-poo. I could feel my temper rising, but I didn't want the phone conversation to turn into a shouting match, so I hung up. I haven't heard from her since.

On my birthday, she made the decision to break up with me. Classy. She at least had the decency to wait until the next day to do the deed, but it doesn't matter. It's just another in a long list of reasons why I hate my birthday. But that's another story.

There are some things I wish I could have done differently. I wish I had told her that she would have to come up here and break up with me in person. She owed me that. I wish I had truly realized the magnitude of the importance of her rule about being with another person of the opposite sex and her definition of "dating". I wish I had been able to detect early on her love for money. I wish I had been more assertive during our break-up conversation.

I do get it now. Stephen told me that women, in the early stages of a relationship, want a sense of exclusiveness from their man. They need to know that they are the only woman in their man's life. I get that now. I honestly did not before. It never occurred to me how important it is. You see, I didn't experience this with Jen. She knew that I would occasionally go down to see Abby as friends. She never expressed any fears of cheating on my part.

I see now that, by hanging out with Jen without the presence of other friends, Rachel took that as a betrayal of trust. I do truly regret that. I wish I had more foresight regarding such matters. And since it was a long-distance relationship, her feeling betrayal was multiplied.

I still don't agree with her definition of "dating", but in the future I will be a lot more aware, attentive and considerate to my girlfriend's needs and fears. It's all part of my learning process.

Do I miss her? Sure, I do. But I don't. On the one hand, she was the best girlfriend I had ever had and we had a lot of fun together. On the other hand, when I consider our break-up and what she prioritizes romantically, I am grateful I got out of that relationship when I did.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Harem: Rachel

Okay, so I failed the 30-Day Blog-a-Day Challenge. I always knew I wouldn't make it, but it was kinda fun trying to come up with things to say. Plus, I work all day so finding the time to write actual entries made it even more improbable.

For those of you who actually read this crappy e-journal (both of you) and who were disappointed that I didn't keep up with the days, I am going to add another chapter to my Harem series. I know I stopped it rather abruptly. It got to be tedious and also depressing to rehash my love life, or lack thereof. But this latest entry is still fresh in my mind, and even though the memories are still painful, hopefully I can gain a little bit of closure by writing it down.

I believe I left off with Angela. However, I'm going to fast-forward a few years to spring of 2010. I'm skipping over Jen because she and I are still friends and don't want to divulge any secrets of hers. I don't want to ruin our friendship due to any personal information being revealed.

In the spring of 2010, I was feeling rather lonely. The reason is the same stuff I mentioned in a previous entry. Basically because most of my friends were in relationships and dealings with children and family stuff. And the single scene at church is virtually non-existent. I was lonely for some more Christian friendships. I wanted to be able to hang out with a friend or two on a weeknight without the other person having to cancel because of family issues. Sorry, Stephen, if you're reading this. It's not your fault. Your kids come first. I know.

So I went onto the internet to look at local churches and see if they have any singles groups. Not for the purposes of finding a date, but to find a group of friends that I could spend time with. None of the churches in the area had any. In the eighties and nineties they were all over the place. Not anymore. Not even Pilgrim Congregational. It used to have a Praise & Worship night for singles on the first Friday of every month. That group was gone, too.

There was a group down in the Burlington, MA area, but that one seemed kinda sketchy. I think there was a membership charge because it wasn't supported by a church. No thanks. I was looking for something closer to home and fee-free. Call me old-fashioned, but friendships shouldn't cost anything.

During my search I came across a link to a website called ChristianMingle, a dating service for Christians. I was hesitant due to my previous experience with eHarmony, but I decided, What the hell. So I clicked on the link and set up an account. I wasn't expecting much results from the site. I don't think much of myself romantically or visually, so I doubted any woman would want to choose me out of all the suitors already available on the site. But I still put on my best face, so to speak, answered all the questions, put in my best answers, found a suitable profile pic and waited. I also prayed about it even though I didn't have much hope for anything to come of it.

Like I said before, on-line dating is a waiting game. You throw out some lines into the waters and hope that a fish will bite. And if you get a bite, you wait to see if the fish will stay on that line. With eHarmony, the matching process is long and tedious. You have to follow a series of steps before you can begin actual communication. The process on ChristianMingle is a bit more lax. As long as you have paid the subscription fee, you are pretty much allowed to start communicating right away.

I received a bunch of potential matches. Some of them looked fantastic; women who I would have definitely liked to have gotten to know better. I sent them some "Smiles", little messages you send to a match in order to see if he/she is interested. None of them took. I also received Smiles. They were mostly from women that I had no interest in. One of the Smiles was from a women down in Louisiana who had the biggest frown I had ever seen in a profile pic.

I received a match from a woman named Rachel. Upon examination, I discovered that she was kinda cute and lived in Providence, RI. Her profile got a passing grade on everything except one. It said that she loves long conversations. I'm not a good conversationalist. I have a hard time keeping a conversation going because I tend to summarize statements into ten words or less. After that, it is pretty much over. Conversation finished. So based upon that factor in Rachel's profile, I decided to pass on her because I thought she would find that I was lacking in social skills and therefore not worth her time.

A week or two later I received a Smile from her. I will admit that I was surprised to see it. It dawned on me that I could have been mistaken about her. There was still the risk that she would find me disappointing, but I decided to take the risk and respond to her with a Smile of my own. We started a correspondence through ChristianMingle that went pretty well. I liked her personality, at least that which I saw in her messages. After a while we started corresponding through regular e-mail and then via FaceBook. I explained to her some of my hobbies such as letterboxing, and she told about her experiences as a child social worker.

About three or four weeks after our initial contact, we started talking on the phone. She had a cute voice and an adorable laugh. It was apparent right away that she made a lot more money than me. It was a little intimidating, but I was willing to look past it. It was still early in our correspondence that I was willing to wait and see where that would lead. She was also outspoken, probably a requirement for her career. Within our third or fourth phone conversation we discussed our views on sexuality, and she was pretty up front and candid about it. It really caught me off guard. I mean, I was raised in a household where you don't talk about such things. At all. And life had taught me that girls don't like to talk to guys about their sex lives. So when we had that conversation, I was thrown for a loop to hear such talk coming from a girl, especially this soon in our correspondence. She said that it was part of her training to deal with cases of child abuse, to deal with candid talk about sexuality.

Our communication was progressing nicely. I decided to take the next step and ask her out on a date. She said yes. I proposed that we meet in about a month, just so that our relationship could develop further and so that we could get to know each other better. She thought it was a splendid idea. She let me do the planning. We agreed to meet about halfway for our first date at a place called Purgatory Chasm just southeast of Worcester, MA. We would do a little bit of letterboxing and then do some bowling and then go out to dinner. About a week or two before the date we changed plans so that I would meet her at her place in Providence and then go the the Chasm for letterboxing. I was hesitant about it because that's something you shouldn't do when you meet someone for the first time after corresponding on-line. But she insisted that she was okay with it.

We went on our date. I met her at her apartment, met her two Yorkshire terriers that would not stop barking, and shared a quick lunch of cold-cuts. I gave her a letterboxing package I had put together for her, just a beginner's kit consisting of a hand-carved stamp, logbook, inkpad & markers and a small canvas bag to carry everything. We had a hard time finding some of the boxes because most of the directions were pretty vague and much of the landscape had changed due to heavy foot-traffic. But it was a nice day out and we had fun climbing over all the rocks.

After that we went to a bowling alley in Providence. It was ten-pin style, and we paid for one hour. She had warned me ahead of time that she was competitive, and, boy, did it show. She wasn't nasty about it, but I could tell that she got upset whenever she bowled badly. But she was good-natured about it. I won the first game. She won the second. We didn't get to finish the third because time ran out. She claimed that she would have won.

At some point during our time in the bowling alley, I had that moment. It's that moment in time when you look at someone and realize that he or she is absolutely gorgeous and you realize that this is someone that you definitely want to have a romantic relationship with. Hollywood depicts that moment by having the person turn their head and smile in slow-motion while orchestral music rises in the background. Disney calls it "being twitter-pated".

I was sitting on the bench while Rachel was about to bowl another frame. She turned to me and smiled. Right at that moment, I was on the hook. She went from being cute to being gorgeous.

Rachel was overweight. She had warned me about it during our first phone conversation. I assured her that it wasn't an issue with me. All of my prior girlfriends had been overweight or had less than perfect bodies. What matters to me most is a woman's personality. Sure, it's be nice to date someone with the body of a Victoria's Secret model. But if she has the body of Megan Fox and the personality of Cruella De'Ville, I don't have the slightest interest. On the flip side, if she weighs over 200 pounds and has the personality of Willow Rosenberg, I may start to get flirtatious with her.

After bowling, we went to downtown Providence to a local Pizzeria Uno for dinner. We sat and talked. I had my usual Rattlesnake Pasta. She had something with spinach, I think. Blech! At some point she asked me if I wanted to keep dating and pursue a relationship with her or if I wanted to just remain as friends. Another upfront question from her, but I was a little more prepared for it. I told her that I definitely wanted to continue to see her, and I told her about the moment I had in the bowling alley.

The date ended and I drove home. All in all, I would say it was a success. That night when I logged on to FaceBook, I saw that Rachel had changed her relationship status to being "In a Relationship with Justin Shekleton." I changed mine as well. Apparently, we were a couple.

About a week later she came up to Nashua for another date. This time she stayed the night in the guest room. I took her to a butterfly conservatory down in Westford, MA. Then I took her around Nashua, showing her some of the sites. That night we went on a double-date with Stephen and Deidre. We went out to eat and then, on a whim, drove out to Hampton Beach. Rachel and I ended up making out for the first time.

All right, it's 12:30 am and I'm barely halfway through this chapter. I will have to continue the story soon. Hopefully the length of this entry makes up for the days I missed during this blog-a-day challenge.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 12: Holiday Tidbits

--I don't know what the greatest Christmas gift I've ever received is. Some of things I remember getting are a TurboGrafx-16 video game system, a videotape of Debbie Gibson's music videos which I played to death, and a bunch of Garfield books. My grandfather once gave me a tackle box that I still use.
--It's funny how, when TBS first started playing a 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story, everyone thought it was a stupid idea. Now it's such a tradition of the Christmas television season that everyone would be in an uproar if they discontinued the marathon.
--The greatest killer of the Christmas spirit is Christmas music.
--My favorite Christmas album is the one from Michael W Smith. I have it playing right now. It's not just a collection of different renditions of holiday classics, but it's more of a production. Most of the songs are original and lead into the next one.
--I remember a ceramic nativity set that my mom painted. I have fond memories of that set. I don't know if we still have it. If we do, and if I am ever able to start a family, I'm claiming it.
--I can only recall one or two instances of a perfect Christmas. That occurs when there is a snowstorm is going on outside while the festivities are happening.
--I am still searching for the perfect rendition of O Holy Night. There are some nice ones out there, like the one from Josh Groban. But the closest I could find is the one performed by the children's choir in Home Alone. It would be perfect if it stuck with the traditional lyrics.
--If Judaism was the predominant religion in America, would we have eight days off from work in honor of Hannukah?
--Am I the only person who doesn't know the words to Auld Lang Syne?
--I seriously don't understand why our extended family never got together on Christmas day. We'd always celebrated with our immediate family on Christmas and got together two weeks later to exchange gifts with the rest of the family. Would it really have been that much of a hassle?
--I get irritated by people who get all up in arms over the difference between the phrases "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas". You can tell that they're Christians because they see it as an attempt to take the true meaning of Christmas out of the holiday. But seriously, would Jesus Christ have gotten upset about the phrase? Would He really have condemned someone for wishing Him a Happy Holidays instead of a Merry Christmas?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 11: Nothingness

No blog today.

Except to say that there is no blog.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 10: Marion Raven

Here's another of one of my recent favorite singers, Marion Raven. She's Norwegian and was one half of a former pop girl group called M2M. She kinda reminds me of Avril Lavigne.