Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.
I was an old hand at meeting not-quite-Prince-Charming online when I met Peter Parker (not his real name, just who he reminded me of, on my laptop screen). I decided to give him a chance. I’d been hitting the delete button on these online relationships before they’d really had a chance to start. I was going to change that.
I reminded myself to push aside my short-click attention span when Peter and I had our first date IRL (in real life). I spent a few hours with him, chatting. It was pleasant enough to lead to another date, and another. The next thing I knew, my byte-sized sample dates with Peter evolved into the whole enchilada: We became a couple.
I started to see True Frugality in action. I was all for saving a buck; I never paid full price for clothes, was a big fan of any value meal, and even downsized my online dating budget when I met Peter. After years of paying for memberships to dating sites, I had met Peter on a free site to give my pocketbook a break.
But Peter was more committed to saving a buck than I was. Most people read the weekend paper leisurely, flipping though the grocery ads in passing. Peter analyzed them as if he was discovering the true secrets of the Da Vinci Code.
“Aha! Safeway has twelve-packs of coke for $4.99 each, but over here,” he said, waving the ad in the air, “it’s TWO for $9.00.”
“But I thought you wanted to go to Safeway to get the two bags of chips for three bucks?” I said.
“I do,” he said. “I will just go to both.”
To save a buck? I just kept quiet.
Now I understood how he ended up with so many groceries. He lived alone, but there was always enough food to feed a frat house. He would buy one to get one free even if he already had three at home.
He seemed to keep track of every dollar that each of us paid into this new relationship. It was irritating, but I rationalized reasons to feel good about what was behind it. I thought he wanted to make sure I understood he thought of me as an equal. He wasn’t a scrub who expected me to pay for everything, and he wasn’t all cave man either, not wanting me to “worry my pretty little head” about ever picking up a check.
We tried some entertainment on the cheap, like hiking. It was a beautiful day when we headed out to Peralta Canyon. We spent a couple of hours hiking into the canyon to get a glimpse of the rock formation, the Weaver’s Needle. I took a picture of him with that ancient volcanic plug rising majestically in the background, and he took one of me. When some other hikers arrived, we got a shot of both of us. It was a great day.
But then, our relationship started to get as rocky as that Arizona canyon. I was starting to see that my new boyfriend was as frugal with his time and energy as he was with his money. I had a condo of my own, and really tried to do the Ms. Fix-it work, but there were times that I could’ve used some help. I struggled with my wrench for hours before I called Peter to help when I was fixing my toilet.
“Why don’t you stay for dinner so I can say thanks?” I asked when he finally came over. It was a weekday, and we rarely spent much time together during the week, unless I went to his place. The fifteen-minute drive was an inconvenience, he’d say.
He didn’t stay. And I could tell he was quite put out. So the next time I had DIY work to do in my bathroom, I did it myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the proper ventilation in my tiny bathroom and practically solidified my lungs. Oops. I drove myself to the hospital and was admitted for five days.
Off oxygen and slowly recuperating, I called my boyfriend and asked if he would bring me some food. I don’t like asking for favors, usually, but almost dying puts some things in perspective.
“You haven’t gone to the store?” he asked.
“No, I still get winded crossing the living room to answer the phone.”
I really tried to ignore the exasperated sigh on the other end.
“Okay, I’ll be over soon.”
A few hours later, he stopped by with a few DVDs from his collection and five cans of soup. I asked if he wanted to stay and watch one of the movies with me. We hadn’t spent much time together lately. He visited the hospital for fifteen minutes one day (hospitals gave him the creeps) and hadn’t come over much since (that long drive). He didn’t stay.
When I finally felt good enough to make it to his place, we spent more time together. He cooked me a few great meals, we watched some local fireworks; it was pleasant. I was on the fence about the relationship.
I walked into his home office one afternoon in time to see him reading an e-mail with a familiar logo.
“You’re still getting e-mails from Match.com, huh?” I remembered that they tried to get me to renew my membership the last time I decided to quit. It took a while for the e-mail pleas to fizzle out.
Like an employee just busted by his boss for fooling around on company time, Peter closed the window. “Oh,” nervous laugh, “I tell them I’m in a relationship when they write.”
“When who writes?”
“Well, you know, the women.”
“Why didn’t you deactivate your profile?” I knew that was possible. I had dated mid-membership before. “We’ve been dating for eight months!”
“But Tina,” he said, in all seriousness, “I PAID for a full year.”
Later, at home, I signed in to the Match site (browsing’s always free) and discovered his profile. “I’m a Clyde looking for his Bonnie.” Cheesy. There was nothing about him being in a relationship. But there he was, smiling away in the Arizona sun, his face a bit red, as if he’d been out all day, a big rock formation in the background. . . .