Sam’s profile picture was handsome on the OurTime site; salt-and-pepper hair, a soulful look in his eyes that made him appear kind and poetic. There was no date on the picture– like so many on the sites.There were a few other photographs and one that appeared more recent– with telltale signs of growing older– more weight, glasses, more face hair, reading to a boy–likely a grandson. His occupation was listed as an artist, and one of the activities he enjoyed was dancing. He had not written a lot of detail in his profile, but made a point of his Christian faith being important to him; all of that sounded good to me.
I ‘Liked’ him and got the conversation started with a simple follow-up question–asking him what kind of art he did.
That began our messaging on the site, and later a plan to have a phone conversation. In that initial call, we talked for almost two hours and I liked the sound of his voice–warm and engaging, kind like his picture. He even said he liked my Southern accent– telling me he’d grown up in Texas and had moved to Michigan where he lost his Lone Star State accent.
After he had my phone number, he’d send texts. It was nice feeling connected to a guy– but I knew that it was best to meet in person; You couldn’t really tell about him without meeting face-to-face. Don’t drag this out if there’s no potential, I told myself.
We made plans to meet for coffee at my go-to place near my home– Panera. But the day before we planned to meet, he called and said that unfortunately he’d have to postpone; his grandson had the coronavirus and Sam would have to be in quarantine. That resulted in more texting and phone calls. Eventually, we had a plan to meet on a 36 degree morning in February.
I wore my best jeans with boots and had on a nice blouse. Even on a Saturday morning at the mall, it was important to dress nicely–especially for that first impression.
We met in the parking lot near the entrance, deciding it would be good to start there for our first in-person meeting– without a mask and at the six-feet distance. It was nice that his voice was familiar; at least that part wasn’t awkward.
I was surprised that for the weather being so cold, he only had on a thin green windbreaker with his baggy jeans–looking like he was running out to the hardware store. When we decided it was better to sit outside, I asked him wouldn’t he be too cold, judging that my winter jacket would be sufficient but not sure about his.
He responded, “No, I never get cold. Only wear a jacket like this all through the winter.”
Well, he had lived in Michigan so cold weather in North Carolina would be nothing to him.
We got our coffees and sat at one of the tables. When I leaned down to put my purse on the chair, I noticed his shoes. They were the white, nondescript, velcro-closured type I’d seen so many residents wearing at my mother’s nursing home; easy to get on and off, never an issue with untied shoes being a tripping hazard. They conjured up memories of those eight years of visiting Mama and seeing residents pushed down the hall in wheelchairs with the legs extended, ulcerated shins and calves showing above the functional white crew socks. It gave me a feeling of immediate repulsion–not something I’d counted on feeling when we sat down at the table.
We drank our coffee and settled into an easy conversation. We shared about being parents, and grandparents, and a love for art. I learned he was a visual artist and while I hadn’t dabbled in that area for years, I did love that medium. He’d listed dancing as one of his interests in his profile, and when I asked about that, he hadn’t actually gotten around to it.
“When I moved here, I signed up for ballroom classes at Arthur Murray. But then the pandemic shut everything down–so I never took lessons. Always wanted to dance, but my wife didn’t– and I didn’t want her to feel bad.”
I’d been impressed by his empathy since the first time we’d messaged. He’d been there for his wife through her long illness until her death– and spoke more about his concern for her than himself. Sam had also impressed me with his ability to express his emotions easily– something I hadn’t seen in any man.
I thought that lack of emotional expression by a man must be what you should expect–since that had been my experience. But after reading a book a friend recommended, Are You the One for Me? by Barbara De Angelis– noted LA psychologist and relationship expert, I learned that wasn’t the case for all men.
De Angelis outlines six qualities to look for in a mate. Of all of them, the one that surprised me most was “Emotional Openness.”
She breaks this down into four characteristics:
- Has feelings
- Knows what he is feeling
- Chooses to share those feelings with you
- Knows how to express those feelings to you
In the short time I’d known– or kind of known, Sam, he had been able to do that.
We ended our coffee ‘date’ and made a plan to meet for dinner the following week. I wasn’t sure there could be any relationship in our future, but there was much I liked about him. I felt we needed at least another in-person meeting to have a better feel for any potential.
I couldn’t get the image of his shoes out of my mind. I’m very visual, image-driven and it was hard to erase that sight of his shoes and connection with the frail nursing home residents. I looked back at his profile headshot and realized that it was the same one that he used on his artist website–that would have been taken about twenty years ago. With closer inspection of that photo, he’d worn a Ban-Lon style black shirt that was crumpled-and unbuttoned just like the one he had on under that thin windbreaker.
Sam was not a man who took pride in how he dressed. Those men, whether for their headshot or for a date, would be self-aware. They’d likely put on a long-sleeve button down white shirt– pressed and crisp, that would add to, not take away, from their attractiveness. Sam had a sloppy appearance; he’d had the same look for years. How could a visual artist be so unaware of his visual presentation?
Thinking about the issue of appearance, I was was reminded of another section of the De Angelis book. In Chapter 10 “Compatibility: Finding Out Who’s Right for You” she provides a Compatibility List. First up is Physical Style– appearance with examples “Cares About Appearance” “Likes clothes/dresses well” etc. I could say that my husband had been good about paying attention to his appearance– and I’d always liked that.
I didn’t want to rush to a harsh judgement about Sam. I’d give this another chance with our dinner date the following week; it would be telling to see if he dressed differently.
When I arrived that night at the Italian restaurant, I saw a man across the parking lot that I thought was Sam. He appeared to have on a sports coat and looked nice. But as I drew closer, it was not Sam.
Once inside, the hostess took me to the table he’d gotten. He stood to greet me and I felt total disappointment: Sam had on the same green windbreaker over an unbuttoned Ban-Lon shirt with a pair of baggy jeans. I couldn’t help myself; I looked down at his feet. He had on the same white velcro shoes.
I’d never been a shoe person–so for Sam’s shoes to bother me so much was a new experience.
When I was a girl, I hated shoe shopping. I remember when I was twelve and Mama took me ‘uptown’ on the Saturday before Easter to find patent leather shoes. We went to Avent’s Shoe Store and the salesman with the dark brown hair, prominent eyebrows, and a serious expression waited on us. He measured my foot, then went to the storeroom to gather dress shoes in my size. He returned with two pairs, and sat down at the stool in front of my chair for me to try them on. When I struggled to get my foot into the tight shoe, he said, “With those feet, you should wear boxes.”
Yikes! Did he realize he was talking to an adolescent girl who was already self-conscious about everything; Probably not. He had that fussiness of someone who’d never had to be patient with children. He didn’t know I was one of the taller girls in my 6th grade class and that I had inherited larger feet from the Rosser side of the family.
Buying shoes wasn’t the end of my feet embarrassment. When I was in high school, kids would go to the hometown bowling alley–OK Bowl either in a group or on dates. I was petrified when I realized they advertised your shoe size by putting them on the heel of the shoe; made it easier for the staff to reach into a cubby and pull out your size.
If a guy mentioned going bowling as a date night option, I would quickly steer away from that choice. Better to be in the darkness of a movie theater and no size screaming from the back of my shoes!
Lest you think I’m superficial, the way Sam dressed was not my biggest concern. In the time we’d gotten to know each other, he’d mentioned some looming health problems. While I know that changes in your health are likely at my age, I don’t want to start out with that issue.
Sam had read my memoir and I’d read his novel. During our dinner, he asked me questions about my solo journeys–and wondered about me going away on my own. He said he and his wife had done everything together and he would have been lonely traveling without her. But as he told more about their relationship, it also seemed to me that he was too dependent on her–relying on his wife to fill gaps in his confidence.
When we left the restaurant that night, we talked about going for a hike the following weekend. But as the time neared for him to call to make plans, I felt it was not right to continue; I saw too many red flags.
Fortunately, when we talked he had come to the same conclusion. I never mentioned the shoes and I’m sure there were things he didn’t mention to me; I have my blind spots, too.
When I remember back to Sam being the man in my path, or the toad on the table— as I’ve previously referred to guys, I see those white velcro shoes. Sorry Sam!
They’re just one reminder of all the components that go into finding someone who’s a match and the crazy journey you walk– in whatever shoes that are to your liking.