When you talk to someone on FaceTime, there is a little square of your face in the corner that gives you a self-awareness you would not get on a date. It’s as if you’re holding up a tiny mirror in front of yourself during the entire conversation.
He tells you a story, you respond and then think: “Don’t react too hard. Your eyebrow lines are getting deeper. Maybe it’s time for Botox, but what if Botox makes your eyelids go limp for a month? Also lift the phone higher; you have a double chin. Oh hey, you should look as if you’re paying more attention.”
After a couple of months on FaceTime with a guy I had hung out with in person only four times, I got to know both him and my developing wrinkles pretty well. We talked so often and for so long that it would have been weird to go on a date with anyone else, so we ended up becoming a couple. Over FaceTime.
After all, when you are willing to hold up your arm for five hours every night to make sure you’re not putting a double chin on display, you’re committed. I built those triceps for him.
We did this for three months before Nick finally flew from London to Los Angeles to visit me. This wasn’t easy for Nick because he doesn’t like to travel; doesn’t like to stay with people (I had three roommates, and he was worried about “the bathroom situation”); and doesn’t like change. But he liked me, and loved the idea of Los Angeles. So he threw Charmin to the wind and booked a flight.
And then Cat, my most supportive roommate, raised a thorny question: “Dude, what if he’s bad in bed?”
I hadn’t thought about it. I mean, I had, but not really.
It was true that we hadn’t so much as held hands. When I was in London, we hung out platonically. But through all our hours on FaceTime, we had built a connection. In my seven years in Los Angeles, I hadn’t forged that kind of connection with anyone.
Los Angeles is a hook-up-first, ask-questions-never sort of culture. No one moves here to start a family. Los Angeles is where you end up if you think you are the funniest, hottest and most charming person in your town and think the whole world needs to know about you. The city is basically a collection of every town’s biggest egotists.
And I was on every dating app trying to meet them, which made my situation seem more hopeless. I had thousands of men at my fingertips and was unimpressed.
When I was on Tinder one night, I asked Cat, “How high do I have to set the age minimum before I stop getting D.J.s?”
“Thirty-seven?” she ventured.
“No, they’re still there.”
I joined Match.com because it was a Groupon deal. I wanted to fall in love; I just didn’t want to pay more than $14 to do it. And as they kept coming out with more and more apps, I downloaded them all. On the app Coffee Meets Bagel, you are given one match a day in an attempt to get you to really consider the person. But in my case, coffee kept meeting plain bagels, and coffee was getting bitter.
Since my friends were all in the same boat as me in life, and that boat was beached on a desert island with no attempt to get it back into the water (Los Angeles does that to you), I asked my therapist to weigh in. I was broke, and California was providing my health care, which included therapy.
I was given a list of therapists, and only one, a Ukrainian woman, was available. And even though I loved her, she didn’t have a lot of sympathy for me. I told her the hot water kept going out in our apartment, and she said, “It’s amazing what you Americans complain about.” And when I mentioned I had trouble setting boundaries, she said, “So does Russia.”
So it wasn’t really a surprise that she had no reaction when I told her I’d been seeing a guy for months and we hadn’t kissed yet. “We’re, like, exclusive,” I explained. “It seems to be pretty serious. He’s coming to visit me, and we haven’t kissed yet.”
“So kiss him when he comes to L.A.,” she said. (She wasn’t taking any notes.) “Look at your parents’ marriage. They were arranged, and even though your mom was a child ——”
“You said your parents were arranged.”
“They were, but my mom was 23. You thought my mom was a child bride?”
“Well, you said you’re Egyptian. …”
And here I thought I was stereotyping her. Though she did make an interesting point. My parents had agreed to spend the rest of their lives together when they didn’t know each other at all. My father was living in Brooklyn and decided he was ready to get married, so he called his family in Egypt, which in the ’70s was quite a feat.
Eventually he got through and told his family he was ready to marry. They were excited and spread the news among their community that their professional son in America was looking for a wife. Any takers?
A few women expressed interest, so he flew back, met with them, thought one was cute and asked her to marry him. Three days later, they tied the knot. Just like that. It was enough that they had the same religious and cultural background and were part of the same community.
That is the problem with dating today. We’re also happy to give no thought to our relationships, but in the opposite direction. We have so many options that we throw people away with our fingertips. We reject potential soul mates within seconds and then cry over three glasses of wine to our best friends about how there is nobody out there.
That was me for seven years, until I finally met someone who was worth getting to know. So what if we hadn’t kissed? We had a connection, which was way more important. I was sure there was nothing to worry about.
And there wasn’t. Everything in that department was fine. What I should have been worrying about were crazy details like how we turned out to be opposites when it comes to dealing with everything in life.
It was the same with my parents, but they were already bound by law when they realized they weren’t compatible. With them, a simple question about whether eggs should be scrambled or poached can erupt into a fight so big that even Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un would say, “Hey, take it easy!”
Nick and I are now engaged. We started to plan a wedding but noticed that our little differences were becoming really big deals. My leaving the kitchen cabinet open is met with sighs so heavy you would think I left our baby on top of the car and drove off.
And for him that was the problem: The cabinet conveyed the type of person who would leave a baby on top of a car. Also, my debt was a problem he didn’t want to take on. Stresses I was happy to ignore were giving him panic attacks.
We approach life differently, spend money differently, wake up in the morning differently. So we postponed the wedding and decided to go to couples therapy. After about eight sessions, our couples therapist looked at Nick and said, “She’s not going to change.”
The therapist then looked at me and asked, “Where are your boundaries?”
I replied, “I know, me and Russia.”
He turned back to Nick and said, “If you continue to resent her for how she’s living her life, I don’t see how this can work, and I don’t see a reason to book another session.”
And with that, our therapist dumped us.
“What does that guy know?” Nick said later. “Just one man’s expensive opinion.”
I agreed, both of us uniting in our defiance.
In one way, at least, my parents had it easier. They didn’t have to ask themselves if they were doing the right thing. They didn’t go to couples therapy or otherwise ponder their life choices and relationship. They were bound by law. But they were also bound by God and, even worse, by societal pressure, so they just got on with it.
I asked my Ukrainian therapist to weigh in. She didn’t even look up from her phone when she said, “Only fools marry for love.”
She is probably right. If we do get married, it won’t be for love. It will be because we stuck it out and built ourselves up as a couple until we had huge relationship biceps and triceps from all the times we were there for each other.