I was dumped several times while I was living in San Francisco. To heal, I’d typically enjoy a few wine-drenched nights with friends and leap back into the dating scene with gusto. I’ve only suffered one real broken heart in my life.
It started with OkCupid. For those of you unfamiliar with the service, it beats the hell out of locking eyes with a stranger at the bar and taking several months to realize that the hottie you’re dating is an angry alcoholic or worse—a closeted Trump admirer.
OkCupid boasts several advantages over Tinder, which I hear is popular with the lusty kids these days. Both services offer several user pictures—Joe with arms outspread in the Grand Canyon (OUTDOORSY), Joe reading “War and Peace” under a tree (INTELLIGENT), Joe riding a four-by-four during a friend’s bachelor party (ADVENTUROUS), Joe in his hilarious Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” costume (FUNNY), Joe holding a baby human with the word “niece” or “nephew” in bold (NURTURING), Joe with a coterie of ethnic children where he volunteered for five days to build a school and get drunk with other do-gooders (SELFLESS), etc.—but OkCupid has the advantage of featuring lengthy profiles and questions which gauge people’s compatibility on multiple levels. In other words, the more questions someone answers, the more likely it is that they’ll get matched with people with similar morals, political leanings, personalities, interests, and other ingredients in the secret sauce of relationships.
In February 2011, I’d just been broken up with by a 23-year-old with the self-described “Belgian gift” (i.e., well-endowed), but I’d gotten back onto OkCupid within the week. Little did I know, user SFZinfandel would reach out and delight me with his wit. SFZinfandel had contacted me before I deactivated my account to enjoy the aforementioned Belgian gift, and apparently he’d held a candle for SFSwampDonkey (me) for all of that time! Let’s call my ex Richard, or “Dick” for short.
Dick and I agreed to meet at the Cafe Soleil in the Lower Haight. He chose the cafe because it was across one of the best Thai food joints in town—my favorite cuisine!—and he thought that if things were going well over beers, we could scoot over there for dinner. It was also just around the corner from his place, which accommodated his (initially endearing) lack of athleticism.
He worked DreamWorks—swoon circa 2011!—and was incredibly intelligent and funny. In addition to his mad computer engineering chops, he explored his sensitive side by writing songs and playing the guitar. He had blue-green eyes and tousled light brown hair. Apart from some minor tooth discoloration and a rather doughy programmer’s body (i.e, dad bod), he was very good-looking. We couldn’t stop talking and we ended up having a four-hour first date. (Note: If that’s not already a Tim Ferris book, it should be.) After an awesome night and a goodbye smooch, we decided pretty quickly to deactivate our OkCupid accounts and give this thing a shot.
Over the next couple of months, we spent nearly every night together. I lived in a shitty SRO studio in Russian Hill with one room and a small bathroom, which cost $1,200 per month. At least it had an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d usually cruise over his direction into the Lower Haight where he shared an awesome cornflower blue Victorian duplex above a classy marijuana dispensary. As we grew closer and started spending more time together, I grew very fond of watching Dick practice his original songs with a little Death Cab For Cutie thrown in for good measure. I’d lie on my stomach across his bed and stare adoringly into his eyes while he’d sing “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark” or practice Muse’s “Plug In Baby” guitar riff. He’d been in a men’s a cappella comedy troupe at UPenn and he had an incredible voice, although he’d break into a broody, feminine shriek when he’d reach his favorite parts of songs. But that was just his passion! He was an artist, dammit!
We’d attend every Tuesday night open mic at Red Devil Lounge, often staying out until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I was working as an addiction specialist for Westside Community Services, where I started counseling patients at 7:00 am. Let’s just say that on Wednesday mornings in 2011, I wasn’t always at my finest or most attentive, but it was worth it! I didn’t care. My boyfriend was a performer, and he was amazing! We’d always have a mini-crew of our friends at the RDL and enjoy an awesome night, tossing back cheap beers and well drinks until last call.
Our relationship progressed very quickly. His mom flew us out to Medford, OR where we spent a lovely weekend exploring wine country and kayaking down the Rogue River; we dropped L-bombs within a couple of months; we shared a bag of shrooms in Alamo Square Park and I helped him through a rough trip; I saved up my paltry counselor salary and treated him to a weekend in Carmel for wine-tasting and delicious food; he came to my family Thanksgiving in San Diego where all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were in attendance. His mom and brother even joined us! I also had ditched my overpriced apartment in Russian Hill for an affordable room in the Lower Haight with some amazing roommates. I made the move so I wouldn’t have to traverse the city every evening to see Dick, sure, but I was also much closer to my work in Western Addition.
Things were going great. Romance. Poetry. Music. Watching Arrested Development in bed. At least I thought they were going great. We’d been achieving all of these milestones—plenty of family time, saying “I love you” constantly, spending nearly every day together—but I was in for a horrible awakening.
My mom and I have a tradition of taking an international trip every other Christmas. We’d decided to explore New Zealand for two weeks, and I was ecstatic to finally visit the Real-Life Shire where oenophiles and foodies mingled with marathon hikers and adrenaline junkies. We drank sauvignon blanc, ate green-lipped mussels, and explored the south island’s many lakes and world-class hiking. Halfway into my trip, I noticed that Dick had been weirdly incommunicado. I didn’t want any unsubstantiated worries to kill my NZ sauvignon blanc buzz, so I wrote a witty, affectionate email. His response was strangely detached as if a distant friend had written it.
I decided to not let it ruin my trip because nothing was for sure, but I wasn’t really feeling myself by the time my mom and I got to Milford Sound. We were indulging in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, but I couldn’t quell the pit in my stomach and the feeling that something was really wrong in my relationship.
My mom and I flew back to California on December 30th. We had a grueling, multi-stop journey which we rather enjoyed because it was on Virgin. (Fog machines. Purple light. Plenty of movies. They’re the best.) For the last leg of my trip, I had to sprint from LAX’s Terminal 1 to 3 with my massive backpack to make my connecting flight to San Francisco. The Virgin America folks initially told me that I was shit-out-of-luck because the flight was leaving in 15 minutes and there was no way I’d make it through security. With a little smooth talking, I got the clerk’s manager to escort me personally through security to ensure that I could get back to SF and see my boyfriend for the first time in 16 days. Traveling with mom was great, but I was craving some lovemaking with my broody little doughboy. I was especially excited about the New Years Eve party at Dick’s house planned for the following night.
When I arrived in SFO, I turned on my phone and texted Dick immediately, “Hey! Barely made my last flight and can’t wait to see you, love! Where can we meet?” Several minutes later while I was on BART back into the city, I received a curt response: “Hey. Bro-face is in town. We’re hanging tonight.”
I’d been gone for 16 sexless days and he was opting to hang out with his brother during my heralded return to the city from an exotic kiwi adventure? What the fuck, Dick? That night, I spent time with friends who actually wanted to see me and hear about my trip. I began to suspect the worst, but nothing could really prepare me for what happened the following day.
Dick arranged to grab coffee with me on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. It was sunny and we walked to Duboce Park and watched ecstatic dogs frolic through the grassy knolls. The whole exchange took maybe 20 minutes. He broke up with me without offering a reason and gave me a small box. He was unable to articulate why he took a meat cleaver to my heart that day and left me there to ponder the news. I walked tearfully back to my house which was now three blocks away from his.
I unwrapped the small token of alimony from Dick—a late Christmas gift. It was his old iPhone box with an Apple gift card containing exactly the amount of money I’d need to upgrade my old, janky Blackberry to an iPhone 4S. (Suffice it to say I was a late tech adopter.)
Rather than attending the New Years party in Dick’s Lower Haight Victorian, I went to an awesome soiree with people who would become my best friends in the city. I slipped into the bathroom countless times to cry my eyes out. I looked like a drunk blond raccoon by the end of evening, but I’d survived the insult of a baseless breakup. I was going to move on! It was now 2012 and I was going to turn over a new leaf, recovering with the support of all of these wonderful people. With enough booze, cigarettes, dancing, and kind words from friends, I almost forgot what had happened to me. That was until I was slingshotted into despair the following day.
I woke up utterly hungover in the early afternoon of New Years Day. I started sobbing, remembering that Dick had broken up with me and I’d no longer get to feel his broody little doughboy body against mine. In an act of self-destruction, I decided to check Dick’s Facebook. I’d half-expected that in his abysmal grief, he’d skipped the NYE party at his own house to weep and look at pictures of us, and it comes as no shock that this was not the case. One of his best friends had posted countless pictures of Dick surrounded by beautiful women with a huge smile, looking like he had just won a Grammy or Bachelor of the Year. He looked thrilled and ecstatic, surrounded by the people I’d called friends for the previous ten months. I was absolutely crushed, and after ten days of drunk/stoned anguish, I thought that sending him a sweet, forgiving email would somehow bring me relief:
1/10/12, 8:13 am
Your Christmas gift was very generous. The phone will make my life easier, more enjoyable and infinitely more stylish. It’s one of the best presents I’ve ever received and the orange case was a thoughtful touch. Thank you so much.
I’ve put a lot of thought into what happened, and from what I’ve gathered, you need time and space for personal and professional growth, and your decision to change careers in particular has been weighing heavily on you. When you stopped working in July, I was hoping that the fear, negativity and uncertainty wouldn’t spill over into other realms of your life and I wanted to support you through this transition.
I celebrate many aspects of our time together: creating delectable dinners and brunches; gazing into each other’s dilated eyes; enjoying in-depth conversations; cuddling up and giggling to Arrested Development; toothpasting each other’s toothbrushes; connecting with each other’s friends; and the list goes on. I felt strongly that the relationship was moving in a positive direction since we had so much fun not just together, but also in the company of our family and friends. I reflect back on what I loved about our time and how I grew, all of the things you taught me, the music you played, the trips we took and the feel of your touch.
I know that what we have is real, and I wish with all my heart that our timing and communication could have been better, that we could have slowed things down. Because I love you, I forgive you and want you to know I’m here as a friend if you need anything during this difficult time.
You’re an incredible person. Never forget that.
Here’s how he responded:
1/10/12, 9:32 pm
You were endlessly supportive of me, unabashedly loving, unabatedly positive, and I was so confused why, with all the happy moments and all your devotion, I should continually feel lacking — not undeserving of your love, just… lacking, in my own right. It took a while to identify that feeling, and to understand why I felt it. Without the self actualization of identifying myself with a true occupation, I felt like I had no personal foundation on which to support my own self worth; and with my mind so consistently preoccupied with decidedly unsexy thoughts of bugs, algorithms, and software architecture, I felt incapable of the mental capacity I expect from myself in a meaningful relationship, in the kind of relationship I would want.
That’s what we call a San Francisco dump, engineer-speak for “I’m just not that into you.”
A few months after we broke up, he posted an intimate picture on Facebook. It was of him, his best friend “Ron,” and a fluffy white dog. It’s one of the most adorable and gayest pictures I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of when we were still together and I witnessed Dick and Ron in a playful sexual pantomime in their living room, an act which lingered a little longer than a joke. They enjoyed toeing the line of gay ambiguity, but I don’t think that was really it; he just wasn’t that into me. And that’s cool.
In any case, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. Being dumped hastily and unexpectedly on NYE after a two-week international trip followed by a large FB photo collection of my ex surrounded by gorgeous women at a party I was supposed to attend was CRUSHING. Did I mention that I developed a gnarly lung inflection from a mold in my new Lower Haight house, the one I’d moved into to be closer to Dick? I had a productive cough for months, which was so bad, it caused one of my coworkers at the clinic to complain that I might infect everyone. I was also managing a caseload of nearly 50 clients at various stages of recovery from heroin addiction. It was a supremely stressful, awful time.
So to the women and men out there who are unhappily single or in the midst of an awful breakup: fuuuuuck. I felt that pain for many miserable months. After five years, I’ve finally been able to write about it. And even laugh about it. My friends and I all remember the fateful day that we were playing volleyball in the Panhandle. Dick hit the ball up into his own face, and it was glorious. That’s how I’ll always remember him.