On my kitchen windowsill sits a smooth, rounded, medium-sized rock. On its nondescript gray surface is carved, “Nothing is etched in stone.” It reminds me to embrace life’s ambiguities. Sometimes when I’m standing there at the sink pondering the meaning of that inscription, I feel a sense of appreciation for all that we don’t know. Lest I begin to feel jaded, I just consider that anything could happen at any time and that change is a constant.
I never would have thought that I’d find myself looking for love online in my sixties. When I one day received a message from a man with a different kind of message, I thought it must be some kind of scam. He said he had found the love of his life on this dating site and now one of his friends, Karl, had seen my profile and was interested. That reeks of an online scam, right? “My best friend likes you.” Nonetheless, I chose to throw caution to wind for one brief moment and I wrote the guy a note. He responded. I wrote him again.
When was he going to ask me for money, I wondered? But he didn’t. And we struck up a bit of a friendship, at least as much of a friendship as the computer would allow. He told me he had been single for a long time and that he was looking for someone special. I’m special, I thought. Why couldn’t I be the one? We continued writing. I remained guarded.
Karl was from Germany and had a successful business here in the U.S. He was looking to retire soon. Having lost his wife a few years back, he was seeking a serious relationship and someone with whom he could spend the rest of his days. I was in a similar situation. Could this really work? Or was I just an email message away from being taken to the cleaners?
We continued to write.
We found that we had many things in common. He was German. My mom was German. He liked to travel. I liked to travel. He valued honesty and kindness in a relationship. I did too. He forwarded his phone number in the hope that one day I would see fit to call him. I told him I would.
One day his note began “Dearest Linda,” and I felt a little bit foolish. Nonetheless, I vowed to call him soon in order to move to the next step. I delayed that intention for a couple of weeks as I have a strong aversion to talking on the phone. Then, during a few free moments on a trip out of town, I sat down in a quiet café and dialed his number. Would I be able to think of anything to say? Would he like the sound of my voice? Would he have an attractive accent?
He answered on the second ring.
“Hello,” I said. “This is your online friend.” That was my not-so-clever way of finding out whether he was corresponding with multiple women.
But he got my name right.
“Well,” I began.
“Well,” he said; “How are you? I thought you would never call.”
“Well, here I am.” This was going to be harder than I’d anticipated. “How is your day going?”
“I was just working.” He pronounced it ‘vorking.’
“I hope I’m not interrupting. I could call back at another time.” I was hoping he’d take me up on that offer.
“No, no, you called at a good time. I work too much. And I needed a break. Really.”
The pauses between our responses did not bode well.
“So,” I began, trying to sound casual. “What are you working on this morning, Karl?”
“Just developing some bids for a new project.” He sighed audibly. “You know, I really am so glad you called. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.”
“No, of course not. I just wanted to find the right opportunity to connect with you. I’m, you know, kind of nervous about talking with people I don’t know well.” But I realized I suddenly wasn’t nervous at all.
We talked about his work and my trip and made small talk for a full forty minutes before he said, “I’m looking forward to meeting you in person. Perhaps when you get back in town, we could do that.”
“Yes, let’s.” I found myself agreeing without thinking about how awkward that meeting might be. “I’m looking forward to it, too.” We wrapped up the conversation with that plan in mind. I found myself thinking about Karl often and fondly during the remainder of my trip. I was falling for him.
But other things were happening as well. At the same time as I was getting to know Karl, I was preparing for a writers’ conference, for a couple of upcoming trips and trying to navigate the turmoil of a brother’s serious illness. I had a lot on my plate and I guess my mind was searching for things to jettison. I found myself wanting to put my new relationship on hold. I was experiencing sensory overload. Now just wasn’t the time, I told myself reluctantly.
From the start, he was on the relationship fast track, talking about how sure he was about me and using terms like “babe” and “honey.” It put me off a bit. I had only just met him and I wasn’t so sure. And, if I must be honest, there was a part of me that needed to control the pace of the friendship. I didn’t want to be put on the spot by an instant lover. His urgency added an element of unease to the process that I wasn’t prepared to deal with. Not now anyway.
Maybe, I thought, the answer wasn’t to put an end to the distracting thoughts and time-consuming emails, but instead to put it all on the fast track. I made a decision to forego all the flirting and information-gathering and get right to it. I would arrange to go ahead and meet Karl in person. That way I would know immediately there was a spark and if the relationship was worth pursuing. If it was, I could place it atop the already-precarious tower of things I had to attend to.
I was honest with him. I called from the road and told him I had too much going on, that I needed to skip all the preliminaries and schedule a meet-up. He didn’t pretend to understand my abrupt lack of hesitancy. We agreed to meet for coffee the next week at a café equidistant from our two homes.
By design, I arrived first. I touched up my lipstick, plucked a couple of errant cat hairs off my pants, turned off my phone and settled into the carefully-chosen window booth to await Karl’s arrival. He was right on time. I watched him as he self-consciously made his way up the steps and into the café. He looked around and met my eyes almost immediately.
“Karl?” I asked, holding out my right hand to shake his. I knew it was him but it seemed like the thing to do. I sure didn’t want him trying to move in for a hug. “Please have a seat. How are you?” I attempted to smile without looking nervous, desperate or goofy.
“Hello,” he said. “You look even more beautiful in person than in your pictures.”
What does a person say to an opening line like that? He wasn’t playing fair; “Thank you.”
There was the slightest of pauses. “I’m so glad to meet you.” We both said it at the same time and laughed nervously at the coincidence.
“How is your day going?” Karl began. “I hope it’s a lovely one for you.”
“So far so good,” I said. “Did you have any trouble finding this place?”
“None at all. You?”
“No,” I said. “It was easy.” This conversation had to get off the ground sooner rather than later. “So, tell me a little more about yourself. What are you looking for in a relationship?” This was territory we’d covered already.
“I’m looking for love,” Karl said with a directness that pleased me and tensed my nerves at the same time. “Whether it leads to marriage or a long-term situation or regular dating, it doesn’t matter. But I’ve known real love before, bless my poor wife’s heart, and I want to know it again in this lifetime. It’s a rare and beautiful thing.” He waited a moment for a response and then prompted, “And you?”
“The same.” I couldn’t think of any way to elaborate on a sentiment so well stated. I wasn’t much of a conversationalist this morning, I thought, and I didn’t want to bore him before we’d even begun to get to know one another. “So how do you feel about dogs?” I needed to connect with someone who wasn’t turned off by a little bit of hair and mess.
He laughed. “I like dogs. Do you have one?”
“I have two,” I said. “And two cats. I, uh, I like to travel. Do you like to travel?” More previously covered territory.
“Oh yes, I love to see new places and meet new people. I am planning a couple of weeks in Thailand next month. It’s a place I’ve never been before and I’ve heard good things.”
“It’s on my short list,” I said, genuinely delighted. “I intend to get there this year sometime as well.” So, we had things in common. I was ready to move ahead.
Reading my mind, he said, “Then perhaps we will wind up traveling the world together.”
The server came and took our order. I asked for a tall misto with whole milk and no foam. He ordered an Americano with two shots. “Are you feeling ill at ease?” Karl asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Terribly.”
“Don’t be. I’m really easy to talk to.” He was right about that.
“Yes, you are. You really are. But I’ve been shy all my life. I was an Army brat. My family moved frequently and I never got the hang of making new friends. I spent a lot of time alone. And with my brother.” Perhaps I was blurting too much.
“Well, now that we’ve broken the ice, perhaps you would consider having dinner with me one day soon.”
I sipped my drink. I could think of no reason to decline. “Yes,” I said. “I would like that very much.” So began our unlikely relationship. And in as many ways as we were opposites, we were also alike. We enjoyed one another’s company. We became comfortable together as we went to estate sales and farmers’ markets, played at the tribal casinos, saw movies and enjoyed live music around town.
Scarcely six months into our acquaintanceship, he brought up the idea of our moving in together. Of course, I had to demure. I had a life of my own that I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I had a daughter and several pets living with me. I had my writing. Underneath it all, I was protective of my solitary ways. My autonomy had been hard-earned and I wasn’t ready to give that up. Karl seemed to understand and we continued to see one another frequently. Maybe this was all there would ever be between us. I was okay with that. I liked this current arrangement. But did he? Perhaps he was looking for something more. Perhaps one day he would break up with me because I wasn’t able to commit. It had happened before. I vowed to treasure the status quo and to hope for the best.
One Sunday morning, Karl and I were scheduled to take a drive to the beach to have lunch and rummage through a couple of our favorite used book stores. When ten o’clock came and went and I hadn’t heard from him, I picked up my phone and called him. No answer.
By noon, I had unpacked my bag and poured the thermos of coffee down the drain. Whatever could have happened? I tried calling him again. Same results. I left a message. There was no call-back. By Sunday evening, I was sure Karl was in the hospital. Or worse. It wasn’t like him to ditch me. All I could do was wait to hear from him.
The day turned into a week and still no word. Then a month passed and I had to accept the fact that Karl was history. I had been too tentative and he hadn’t understood my intentions. Or maybe I didn’t understand my own intentions. Either way, he withdrew from the game. Whether or not I had characterized the situation accurately, there was something missing from my lame attempt to form a union. No doubt he would find someone who would meet his interest with more enthusiasm. For whatever reasons, I just wasn’t that person. I needed space and freedom. Evidently, I needed these things more than I needed a man.
I closed my account with the dating site. I vowed to be true to myself whatever the repercussions might be. I tried to think about being alone in a positive light. There would be no compromises, no equivocations. I would move forward surefootedly through this writer’s life. I would soldier on and be the person I was meant to be. But, still, I had to admit I was lonely. And I didn’t like that feeling.
I found myself picking up the engraved rock from my windowsill and wondering if fate would conspire to intervene on my behalf. In the meantime, I had my books and my animals and much to accomplish before my next planned trip. I should throw that rock away.
Linda Caradine is a Portland Oregon based writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including several essays that have been included in The RavensPerch to date. Her first book, a memoir, is scheduled for publication in April 2024. She is currently working on a novel.