"Jessica?" Vicki, my segment editor, was poking her head in my office door. "Umm, is everything alright?"
"Sure," I lied. "Why?"
"Well... the music..."
Oh. Oops. I had given in to one of my stranger personality quirks and had been listening to old Disney music. Loudly, apparently.
"Soooomeday, my prince will cooooome..." Snow White warbled in that obnoxiously squeaky voice that was au currant in 1938. "A dream is a wish your heart makes..." had just finished.
"I'll turn it down..." I winced.
She stood there a moment longer than necessary.
"Um, Jessica, I know that you and Rick broke up..." she began hesitantly. "And I know it's none of my business, but I want you to know that I'm here for you if you need it."
I stared at her for a second. Was she joking? What was this, some sort of sitcom where everyone thinks the main reason for working in an office is to acquire friends? Being friendly with co-workers is one thing. But, hey, I'm her boss! And besides, what's that supposed to mean, "Here for you"?? As if I needed her, I harrumphed in my head.
They looked as if I'd been diagnosed publicly with a disease: breakupitis.
I stopped myself from mentioning how deeply I appreciated being reminded of Rick. Or further, how pleased I was that the entire office knew about our uncoupling. Not to mention how delighted I was to work in the same building with Rick -- thus ensuring that I'd run into him, his secretary and co-workers, all of whom looked predictably sheepish and unsure of what to say when they see me, as if I'd been diagnosed publicly with a disease. Breakupitis.
Yes, every time I thought I was getting a handle on things, I'd run into one of his too-compassionate colleagues. And feel torn up anew.
And now my segment editor was breathing over me, looking concerned.
Arrgh. Leave me alone, I thought silently, keenly aware that, in this mood, I might bite someone's head off for offering me a winning lottery ticket. So I faked a smile and thanked her.
Score one for diplomacy.
"At least you're funny when you're nightmarishly peevish," Rina laughed when I repeated the conversation to her later that night. During this wound-licking period, I'd found solace in spending time with Rina's kids. Somehow, tussling and giggling with them on the floor gave me succor from feeling sorry for myself.
The kids forced me to realize there was a world beyond my own pathos.
I relished the pure, uncomplicated love they offered. Plus, caring for them -- wiping their noses, feeding them soy dogs and sesame buns -- distracted me from the self-absorbtion to which I was now so pathetically prone. They forced me to realize that there was a world beyond my own pathos.
"So why did the conversation annoy you so much?" Rina asked, steering me back to the topic at hand.
"I wasn't about to get into why we broke it off, so I just said that we had mutually agreed that our long-term goals were different," I explained, careful to avoid using Vicki's name so not to slander her. "Then she launched into this big riff on how tragic it was that people 'in love' couldn't work it out."
She had bought into the myth that "True Love," once found, completes you, heals you. It comes fully assembled right out of the box and requires no further maintenance.
"She thinks love is just a matter of meeting the right guy and -- poof! -- it's all sunsets and roses the rest of your life," I explained churlishly. "Just fall in love, live happily ever after... and watch the credits roll."
It doesn't work that way!
"Beth didn't seem to go about it that way," I continued, hesitantly. Until now I'd avoided mention of my sister, who'd got engaged the same day Rick and I broke it off. I was getting better, but I was still flummoxed with guilt that I wasn't able to share her excitement without feeling a little sorry for myself.
She resigned her lifetime membership in the "boyfriend of the month club," then made up a list of what she was looking for.
"What do you mean?"
"She was almost craven about it," I said, repeating Beth's breathless explanation. "After her old boyfriend got married, she said that she sat down and figured out what she wanted out of life, out of a man. She resigned her lifetime membership in the "boyfriend of the month club," then made up a list of what she was looking for, and literally did a checklist with every guy she went out with!"
Rina looked non-plussed.
It turns out she met her fiance, Aaron, through one of those round-robin dating things. She had "dates" of less than 10 minutes with nine guys or something. I was flabbergasted.
"Can you believe it? It's like dating on a new diet or something," I chuckled, "The Dating Zone, Boyfriend Busters..."
"Sounds sensible to me," Rina said with a smirk.
"Oh c'mooooon!" I said skeptically.
"Look, you're making fun of your co-worker for thinking that love solves everything, but then you think that Beth's approach is too cold. You can't have it both ways."
I pursed my lips.
"Well, it doesn't matter. I'm done with men, anyway," I said, laughing. "I'm going to emulate Gloria Steinem and be fabulously successful until age 60 and then marry a movie star's father."
"Actually," Rina said, carefully, "when you're ready to date again, Steve said he knows someone who might be good for you to meet."
"Oh no!" I said, "Not a blind date! I'm not that desperate (yet)..."
"Well, look, Beth did multi-dating... that's less conventional yet..." she rejoined.
I nodded, politely, secure in the assumption that Phoenix doesn't have any such events anyway. My parents, drunk with delight at their son-in-law-to-be, had already asked me to check into it.
There are no guys in Phoenix! I know them all!
Later that night, I couldn't sleep. I was thinking again about Gloria Steinem... and other women I know who gave up on getting married. I felt hopeless and frustrated. And lonely.
"You're going to have to date again sometime," the collective voice of Rina, Alison and my parents sang in my head. "You can't put it off forever..."
"It's only been a couple of weeks!" I answered the chorus.
"That's one month closer to 30," the annoying voice answered.
"There are no guys in Phoenix! I know them all!" I retorted desperately.
"Fine. Keep avoiding the issue..." the voice sang in sing-song.
I couldn't sleep. I'd already finished my third Amy Tan novel in two weeks. I'd already watched TV. I decided to check my e-mail and sent notes to pretty much everyone in my address book. Then I started browsing various web pages. I went from CNN's website, to Israeli news, to a live shot of the Western Wall... and then, oops, ended up at a Jewish singles website.
How'd that happen?
I looked around my spare bedroom/office, as if someone would see what I was doing. Confident that no one was watching, I cautiously filled out the profile, pressed send, and swore myself to secrecy.