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Fill in the blank
On trying to settle down ó without settling
BY CHRIS RAILEY

Hello, MY NAME is Chris, and Iím a recovering serial monogamist. Iíve been playing the field for 11 days.

My friend Anna tagged me with that label. Youíd see me at parties ó single guy, sticking close to the bookshelf so Iíd have something to do. Then suddenly Iíd meet a woman and be gone ó six months, a year, a year and a half. Iíd be off learning some womanís quirks, like how she likes her egg yolks, where it kills her to be touched, the crossword-puzzle clues I neednít ask her to solve. Then Iíd come back, and my friends would have to talk me off the ledge. Anna would give me one of those meaningful hugs. Her husband, Jon, would hand me a bottle of beer and look me right in the eye.

We have been here time and again. "Just go meet women," Jon always advises, "and talk to them." For a pragmatist, Jon is pretty naive. He keeps Lao-tzu on the back of his toilet to throw you off, but I know better.

Hello? And meet them how?

This was back in December. I had just turned 31. Before that, the woman I thought might have been "the one" dumped me. During the baseball playoffs, no less. Canít really blame her, since it was clear that weíd moved into that stage where youíre good cozy friends, more or less. These things happen. What a year it was, what with the war and our new jobs and the fact that you canít find parking outside her building and ... well, what do you want me to say?

When I was ready to put myself in harmís way again, I turned to the online personals. This had worked before, and I knew that as a writer I had advantages in this venue. One, I can type. Two, I can string a whole bunch of letters together into these things called words that, when strung together with other words, make sentences. That gives me an edge.

So I met women. I had dates ó the casual kind where you meet for drinks. My problem is that I can have drinks with just about anybody: the brainy ecologist, the boozy PhD student, Dick Cheney. If youíre relatively inoffensive, smell okay, and donít tell me that your favorite book is The Da Vinci Code, then worst-case scenario, Iím having drinks, right? And occasionally you want to do that outside the home, just for kicks.

Hello, my name is Chris, and Iím a recovering serial monogamist. Iíve been playing the field for 23 days.

I met a woman at a Howard Dean rally. We had three outstanding dates. We hit the Brattle, explored the Booksmith, and said intelligent things about socioeconomic disparities in health-care delivery. Pitter-pat, baby. My brain was blushing.

One Sunday she broke down the Patriotsí zone defense in a way that made me moist. But on Monday, she e-mailed to say that she thought we only "connected intellectually."

Hadnít heard that one before: "Chris, it occurred to me during the intermission of the Kurosawa double feature at the Harvard Film Archive ó you know, when we were discussing Kant and the categorical imperative? ó that Iím not exactly itching to see you naked."

Bummer.

Hello, my name is Chris, and Iím a recovering serial monogamist. Iíve been playing the field for 39 days.

I had to call Anna and Jon right away about the next one: she had reddish-blond hair and a two-bucks-a-minute phone voice. Whip-smart, with parking to spare.

What people like me do ó when we are 31 and all our friends have paired off to mix chromosomes and lay bathroom tile, and are beginning to see you as the coolest guy in the world, you single guy, you free-to-do-whatev mofo ó is start to panic. Throw in a new woman this cool and itís time to breathe into a paper sack. Because with some lucky gal I want what my friends have: the whole mixing thing, whether itís our furniture, our taste in music, our spit. But thereís no way Iím going to settle.

And so itís hard to get through a first date without looking ahead. I get sick of talking about my job, my family, where I came from. I want to just give a PowerPoint presentation and be done with it. But these are the rules of the game.

I reached the point where Iíd decided that the redheaded beautiful mind with all the nearby parking was worth a go. That I might be ready to get my head on straight and enjoy the moment. But eventually her e-mails got terse, and I knew what was coming.

"I donít feel the romance."

Not that she didnít try, she told me, that phone voice suddenly sounding a bit lawyerly. I thought I might have to sign something that says we can just be friends.

The honesty, actually, was pretty refreshing. Because she knows what I know: that you feel it or you donít.

Hello, my name is Chris, and Iím a recovering serial monogamist. Iíve been playing the field for 39 and a half days.

I want to enjoy myself. Live in the moment. Touch a breast. But no, not we serial monogamists. Halfway through a first date thatís going so bang-up well that I canít believe it, the thought will creep into my mind: whatís it going to be like when we break up in 16 to 24 months? Will a blender get thrown at my head (J, 1998)? Will I be dancing in the C Terminal at Logan after putting my ex on a southbound plane (L, 2001)? Will I forget how to pry off the top a can of soup and lose 15 pounds, so that Iím too weak to complain when the Yankees kill Bostonís World Series hopes (C, 2003)?

So Iím back out there again: gotta hit the gym and address the problem areas, listen to those who are dying to set me up, maybe see whatís cooking in the personals.

I know I wonít be available for long. Oh, youíll see me, in this restaurant or that bar, strapped like scuba gear to some woman who in her own unique way of holding her chopsticks, or me, is different from the others.

I look forward to it, like another Red Sox season. This could be the year ó right? ó when I wriggle under a comforter and make mad love to whomever she may be. She doesnít have to know that Iíve picked out the baby names over the years, cuddling by candlelight. We can make a fresh start, just have our wine and our laughs and not think about whether it should be Sean or Samuel if itís a boy.

Chris Railey can be reached at cjrailey@hotmail.com


Issue Date: April 9 - 15, 2004
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