I spent 18 years with the same man. What started as a college romance, filled with its share of excitement and tumultuous break-ups, eventually resulted in an eight-year marriage and a perfect little girl. In my heart I hoped we would navigate the storms and stay together. My head, however, knew differently.
With divorce comes single life and with single life comes the expectation to date. I was not ready for any of it. In the beginning I had zero interest in putting myself out there. If I had my daughter, then it was all about her and if she was with her dad, all I wanted to do was eat chips and salsa in my non-thong underwear, in my bed while I consumed everything Bravo had to offer.
After several months, my friends suggested I try to date but I couldn’t even imagine stepping my single mom toes in those waters. Everything was broken – my head, heart and confidence. I was like a sad little rag doll missing most of its stuffing. The incessant cajoling from my friends wore me down and I relented. Many women will tell you that signing on to an online dating site for the first time can be daunting. It’s as if potential suitors can smell the fresh meat and they all simultaneously wink, poke, wave and slide into your DMs at warp speed. I was not ready for that. Instead, my dating experience started with a personal set-up that bombed before it even happened. My best friend thought it would behoove me to test my flirting game with a family friend of hers who was close to 20 years my senior, balding at a rapid pace and with three teenage children. We had absolutely nothing in common. Not one thing other than the fact that we were both breathing.
Then I met my rebound.
Maybe “met” isn’t fair since technically I knew him. We were friends in our 20s and engaged in a couple of steamy make out sessions when we were both single, but I had not spoken to or laid eyes on him since. With the magic of Facebook, we found ourselves reconnected. We played catch-up completely platonically until we realized we were both unattached, on the other side of divorce, and then sparks started to fly. Before I could blink, he asked me to get together.
That’s when the panic set in. I had not been on a date in almost two decades. What do I wear? What do I say? I’m not a young 20-something with a tight tush and salacious looking tan lines. I’m a mid 30-something mom of a toddler with a failed marriage under my belt and too many emotional voids to fill. I rummaged through my closet and worked myself into a full sweat, and that’s when the tears started. My best friend dropped everything to come to the rescue. She talked me off a ledge and helped me choose something to wear while I felt paralyzed with fear. She helped me find a matching bra and underwear combo among the sea of mom panties and sports bras that had become my mainstays. It had been a long time since anyone gave a shit what was underneath my clothes, including me.
“Rachel, did you shave?”
“Of course I shaved, what kind of question is that?!”
“I HATE YOU!”
This seemingly innocuous question made me want to pass out. People shave and partake in other grooming habits with the anticipation that someone might get up close and personal with those areas. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the idea of intimacy with anyone. I don’t know that I even remembered what any of it felt like – emotionally or physically. I had been living as a shell of myself for at least a year, probably more, and felt more alone in my marriage than I did if I were actually alone. You know when you wear a really sick pair of heels and your feet go numb after a while so you don’t even feel like you’re wearing shoes? That’s how I felt about sex and everything related to it. I was numb.
I told her I didn’t need a sexy bra and underwear because he wasn’t going to see it.
“You need to chill, the most that is going to happen is some making out, perhaps some heavy petting over the clothes and maybe we’ll venture into some dry humping.”
“Yeah, ok, Rachel.”
She sent me on my way with a pep talk and breath spray and my heart pounded with equal parts excitement and dread.
I was nervous and brimming with nausea while driving to meet him. And when we were face-to-face, that flirty energy was there and hard to dismiss. He was not only the polar opposite from my ex but also every man I had every dated. He was a little more than just rough around the edges, not so concerned with diplomacy and unapologetically cocky. Like way too cocky but I was depleted of any confidence talking to men at this point, so it didn’t phase me. I soaked it up like a sad little sponge that hadn’t been out in a while. He had muscles and a stocky build but wasn’t completely fit, which I was grateful for because neither was I. It’s called a level playing field and I was here for it. He walked with almost too much swagger wearing what I can only explain as the stepbrother of the Affliction clothing line. Even despite his taste in attire and his cockiness, I felt little bolts of energy in my mind and body. He looked at me like a piece of meat and I wasn’t even mad because I couldn’t remember the last time somebody looked at me that way. It was like the movie, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and I was playing the role of Stella.
He was a self-proclaimed player and I think he convinced himself it wouldn’t turn into anything. Our physical chemistry was palpable and made me shift in my seat. He made me feel wanted and sexy. Confident and unbroken. So much so that I ignored every single red flag waving itself in my face, trying to tell me, “THIS IS NOT A RELATIONSHIP. IT’S JUST SEX.”.
I was also different from other girls he dated. He was looking for a fling, but I would show up in full-on Martha Jewert mode and make and three course dinner because I had been a wife and homemaker for so long, I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I so badly wanted to feel needed that I put up with shit I would never endure if my brain was functioning at full capacity.
His chain-smoking became a “flaw” instead of a deal breaker.
Him wanting to always grill-out by the pool at his apartment complex instead of maybe taking me out every once in a while, was “cute”.
His dog that he allowed to sleep in the bed, leaving me covered in dog hair every time I left, was “sweet”.
One day I came over and he asked if I would like “lemon infused water”.
He poured me a glass of something and I choked on the overpowering sweetness.
“Dude, this is Crystal Light Lemonade.”
“Yeah! Lemon infused water!”
“No, it doesn’t work that way. It’s – Forget it.”
In addition to all of the superficial stuff, one thing was clear to everyone, except me. Plain and simple, he was not for me. I don’t know the right word to use to describe him without coming off as a bitch. Unrefined? Bad boy? One night he was going out with his guy friends to a club. He told me guys only go out for two reasons – to fuck or to fight. I didn’t even know how to respond to that one other than to say, “Cool, cool….sooooo…which are you going to do?” I couldn’t tell if he was trying to make me jealous or just didn’t give a shit. Neither is optimal.
I was so happy to have someone who cared if I was still breathing and wanted to relish that feeling. I wanted to go out to dinner and hold hands and have a glass of wine. His idea of romance was heading to TGIFridays for 2 for $22.
My friends went from being thrilled that I was happy to concerned that I was thinking whatever this was actually had legs that could take it out of rebound status. I brushed them off (like the dog hair) pretending that I agreed and was just having fun, but that wasn’t the truth. I wasn’t enamored with him. I was in love with the attention that he was paying me. I was hooked on feeling needed. I hung on the compliments he threw my way like they were gospel. I took mental snap shots of his eyes when they would get all dark and lustful. I ignored every single alarm going off in my head because I was desperate for this dynamic but I knew that it was a dead end that he wasn’t someone I would ever introduce to my daughter. Ever. My insecurities were far and wide and he made me feel confident, sexy and like a badass. He was unknowingly rebuilding me brick-by-brick. So I stayed, buying time. For about 6 months, we perpetuated this charade when deep down I knew we were way too different for it to be something real and of substance. I just kept telling myself to enjoy it a little longer and stop thinking about the future. It’s impossible to do that when you have a child though.
Then, one day while I was at his apartment, I walked into his living room to find my phone unlocked and open to my text messages. He was sitting on the couch pretending nothing was amiss. I should be specific in saying that the text message he left up in his sloppy detective work was one from a girlfriend telling me she was worried I was settling. Mr. Rebound, with his knee bouncing erratically, asked me, “Hey, do you think you are settling by being with me?” Really, dude? Busted.
I had a moment of clarity right then and there standing in his shitty cheap towels that barely covered anything and wearing flip flops so I didn’t cover my clean feet in dog hair. Maybe it was an epiphany, maybe it was the cigarette smoke wafting in the air bringing me to my senses. But I couldn’t fight in that moment. I had nothing left because sometimes divorce leaves you in an emotional deficit. He crossed a line and this was no longer fun. He invaded my privacy without a second thought and assumed I would be dumb enough not to notice. I left before it was even light outside and my anger built. Because I was numb for so long, every emotion was amplified as if my body needed to remember what they all felt like. It was part of my rebirth. Part of finding myself again and being comfortable in my own skin.
Later that day, I wrote him an email and figured I would get an apology and we would probably just go our separate ways without discussing it. Instead, I got back the angriest, rage-filled email that didn’t even address what he did or what I said. It was a personal attack on my character and filled with words like, “I don’t blame your ex for wanting a divorce.”
The whole thing was like an electronic gut punch. Above any emotion I could have felt at reading the low-blows and cruelty that fled from his fingers through his keyboard, I actually felt closure. That was the moment it all clicked and I realized it was a textbook rebound that served a very specific purpose in my healing process. I never responded. Not to that email or the couple of desperate ones that followed with apologies for lashing out and pictures of us with no words at all. I would never let anyone speak to me or treat me that way again because I finally remembered my self-worth (and that I shouldn’t have to sleep between a man and his snoring dog who farts all night.)
I spent the following months pouring myself into my daughter, family and friends and shortly after, I met my now husband. Because we were totally candid with each other, we both shared stories of our divorces and relationships that followed. A few times he said things, like, “I wish we met before those relationships.” But I didn’t. I knew that I would never have what I have with him were it not for that rebound. That experience woke me up, kicked me in the ass and brought me to where I needed to be emotionally to be in a healthy, functioning relationship and I will never regret it. I do however regret telling him about Mr. Rebound’s love of TGIFridays because now we don’t ever pass one without him asking if I want to pop in for nostalgia and some potato skins.