In her debut self-help/memoir, "I Just Haven’t Met You Yet" (Skyhorse Publishing, May 7), Tracy Strauss writes an open love letter to her future life partner, chronicling her dating history from the ages of 14 through 41 and depicting her journey to dismantle the effects and stigmas of an abusive past, break free of destructive relationship patterns, and ultimately conquer her fear of truly being seen by the world, flaws and all.
In her book, Strauss shares with readers the transformative lessons she learned and the self-empowerment she achieved while passing each hurdle along the way to finding her life partner, showing readers, through her own example, how to overcome hardship in order to live your best (love) life.
Dear Future Life Partner,
I thought I knew just how we’d meet.
We’d be classmates in college, or colleagues on the job. We’d meet in the office copy room, or on Match.com, or at an acquaintance’s wedding at the table for guests without a “plus-one.”
We’d introduce ourselves to each other at the café we both went to every Sunday with our laptops, early, when I was writing my first book and you were answering what appeared from the expression on your face to be some very serious email. You were the guy with his gaze glued to the computer screen, until you took the chance to look up, at me.
You were the one at the adult education class who came over and asked, “Is this seat taken?”
It wasn’t. I said, “It’s yours.”
I thought a mutual friend would set us up. We’d hit it off.
I thought we’d meet in the waiting room at the doctor’s office when I tore a ligament in my wrist during a boot camp class at the gym and you broke your arm in a bicycle accident on Massachusetts Avenue.
I thought, when I flew to out west, we’d be assigned the same row on the plane. I’d have the window seat, you the aisle. We’d say a brief “hello.” At takeoff, I’d turn my back so you wouldn’t see me becoming airsick, or hyperventilating from my flying phobia. You’d tap me on my shoulder and ask if I was all right.
I thought we’d meet on a crowded Boston subway, our bodies pressed together in the summer heat, the train stalling during rush hour, or on the commuter rail, like that couple profiled in the Boston Globe, who talked day after day on their way to work, falling in love. Three years later, he proposed. She said yes.
Yes, I believed we’d meet. Sure, I was being idealistic. I was conjuring up a future that relied upon stereotypical storybook circumstances, which do happen for some lucky singles—but such scenarios were my own magical thinking.
Love wouldn’t happen according to my plans. So, when I found myself over a certain age, when my friends had found their mates, but my life wasn’t the coupled way I’d once imagined it would be, I had to keep the faith. I had to stay optimistic. Though I sometimes felt discouraged, I wouldn’t give up hope, because you were out there, too.
In each man I met, my heart eagerly searched for you: “Are you him?” Well? Eventually, I grew tired of my dire and reflexive internal question, and the way I’d quickly find out, time and time again, that the answer was no.
“Desperation,” my therapist labeled my approach. “Grasping at something never works.” He likened the issue to befriending a cat: ever try to insist that a cat cuddle with you? It never works. But if you remain open, an interested cat comes to you, head butts your arm or leg, and takes a seat.
I’d learn, slower than I wished, to discern the difference between grasping and putting myself out there in an open way, without needing a partner to make me feel fulfilled. I clutched onto the former vibe until I grew tired of its burdensome weight. Only then did I put down my sense of expectation. Only then was I truly available for a real, satisfying connection.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you instantly appeared.
He practically had an orgasm at the table while talking about caramelizing onions. He said he loves to put scallions on his pasta, and that he taught himself a secret: you can cut your scallions down to the white part and put them in a glass of water and they’ll regrow, up to three times. He told me he just turned forty-five and how difficult online dating is.
Before we even ordered dinner at the Thai restaurant where we met for our first date, he suggested I move in with him in his condo in Brookline so that I wouldn’t have to continue paying my high rent. He told me his dying father wants him to have children RIGHT NOW. He brought up the importance of Judaism and we argued over his belief that I’d be “watering down the species” by marrying a non-Jew even if the non-Jew would allow me to raise my kids Jewish. He asked what I like to do in my free time. I told him I like to hike, bike, and kayak. He replied, “What’s a kayak?” Yes, he has a college degree and no, he’s not an alien. I asked if he likes pets. He said he wants to own three to five dogs. I said I have two cats. He said he hopes this isn’t a deal breaker but he’s deathly allergic.
Oh, really? Darn.
He asked to meet for “a coffee date.” At the café, he walked me over to the water fountain. He handed me a cup.
That was the date.
He was a hot ginger-haired chef with an advanced degree.
We met at a mandatory three-hour unemployment recipient meeting at Career Source. We were paired for a mock informational interview, an exercise meant to help unemployment recipients successfully reenter the workforce. Sitting beside each other, we shared our job losses, our struggles, our goals, and our wish for the meeting to conclude sooner rather than later.
We bantered. We flirted.
When we were finally dismissed, I raced out of the room and down the stairs.
“What, do you have a hot date or something?” the hot ginger-haired chef said, running after me, his voice echoing in the stairwell.
“Maybe,” I said.
What I had was a therapy appointment. I was going to be late.
I left the hot ginger-haired chef behind and dashed to my car. I shut the door, threw my purse onto the floor, and turned the key in the ignition.
On my way to the parking lot exit, I passed him.
Spontaneity struck. I stopped my car. I backed it up. I rolled down my window and handed him a piece of paper with my email address: “Write me,” I said.
He took my info, and grinned.
I thought that maybe losing my job might have a silver lining after all. Maybe my misfortune wasn’t an event marked by futility but one that had happened for a productive reason: meeting Mr. Right.
Twenty-four hours later, I found out that the hot ginger-haired chef was not Mr. Right when he sent me a photo of himself holding an Uzi.
He had a gun fetish.
And that was the end of that.
Some dating stories aren’t all that funny, in the moment. But after some time has passed, just when you least expect it, the cosmos delivers a twist, a point of cathartic relief.
His name was Jonathan. He was a professor, a rather serious-looking one, tall and fit as a basketball player, dark-haired and distinguished like a Disney prince. He was late thirty-something, though he looked mid-forty-something. He didn’t have a beard or mustache, but he wasn’t clean-shaven either. He wore a blazer and tie, and expensive shoes. He adjusted and readjusted the strap of his camel brown leather messenger bag, which he slung over his shoulder while he stood in the hallway before the start of class, keeping his eyes glued to his cell phone as he made rhythmical scrolling motions on the screen with his thumb, as if he were looking at a very important newsfeed or email, or pictures of his dog, a Doberman Pinscher. He appeared uneasy amidst the socializing students, and more comfortable at the front of the classroom, standing behind a lecture podium, in his role as an academic.
When I first met him, I wondered what he’d look like if he smiled.
The clunky gray university building where we taught was once a department store, its entranceway fashioned with a glass overhang shaped like the sun, with off-white opaque rays fanning outward. An American flag billowed from the rooftop. Muzak piped through the hallways of the first floor, where the university’s central mailroom, bookstore, an ATM machine, bubble tea bar, a ramen noodle lunch counter, and a coffee café were located. Classrooms were situated on the second and third floors, where the interior department store layout didn’t quite fit the institutional setting.
I introduced myself one day when I needed an eraser.
“Hi,” I said, entering his room, which was located next door to mine, before class began.
When he looked at me I felt my cheeks get warm.
“Would you happen to have an extra eraser I could borrow?” I asked. “My classroom seems to be without one.”
Jonathan glanced at the chalkboard. There was one eraser.
“Oh, you only have one,” I said. “Never mind then.” I turned to leave.
“Wait,” Jonathan said, reaching for the eraser. “I don’t need it.”
“I guess you don’t teach English composition then,” I said.
“No,” Jonathan said. He taught astronomy.
“I’m new here,” I said. “I didn’t realize I had to bring my own eraser to class.”
He grinned in disgruntled commiseration, his brown eyes shining.
Every Monday and Wednesday in the hallway, during the minutes before the start of class, we griped about our adjunct professor life. I talked about losing my full-time job and Jonathan shared his five-year plight for the elusive tenure-track position. As an adjunct, he taught twenty classes a year at three different universities in order to earn a decent living.
“What?” I said, flabbergasted. I’d never taught more than eight classes a year, and that amount was grueling. A standard full-time faculty load was six per year, five at the tenure-track level, and generally three at full professor status. “How are you functioning?”
“You’d be surprised what you can get used to,” Jonathan said. “The problem with teaching so many classes is I have no time to do my research.”
Or date? I thought. I wondered if he was single, straight or gay. I leaned over to grab something in my bag, catching myself employing a quintessential flirty woman move. Did he check out my breasts? I didn’t have the guts to look.
Later, I was in the middle of teaching a lesson on introductory paragraphs when I saw Jonathan, from the corner of my eye, tentatively entering my classroom.
“Would you have a piece of chalk I could borrow?” he asked rather sheepishly.
“Sure,” I said, taking two pieces from the chalkboard and placing them in his palm. “Here you go.” I felt the softness of his hand and electricity dancing on the tips of my fingers as they touched his skin.
I hoped my students didn’t see me blush.
Over the course of the semester, we discussed how much less stressed we’d be if we didn’t have to run around town to get to our second or third jobs on time, if we didn’t have to be beggars when it came to wages and job security, if we didn’t spend our Friday nights alone, writing job applications. Yes, it seemed, he was single. Together, we dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have one substantial gig, a stable place to land, a place where we’d belong.
Misery loves company, but I thought Jonathan and I had more going for us than that. He showed me photos of his dog, Abby—by this time, I’d worked through my fear of dogs in therapy and had actually grown quite fond of them, training them at the Animal Rescue League during my volunteer shift, though the thought of a Doberman did give me pause. I showed Jonathan a photo of my cats. I secretly fantasized about how we’d fall in love and move in together so that we could afford our rent. Then we’d both get hired at the same university for tenure-track positions. Then we’d get married and have kids.
Stop it, I told myself, stop it: how many times would I go down this road, getting ahead of myself, being unrealistic? I was setting myself up for royal disappointment. We hadn’t even gone out on a date.
When I asked Jonathan if he’d like to meet up for coffee he said yes, but we never did because he was always running from class to another job at another university, and he wasn’t free on weekends because he was either grading or jet-setting off to Miami to visit friends and play golf.
Mid-semester, in the hallway before class, he told me he’d just checked his email on his phone and received word that he was losing his job at another university where he’d been teaching as an adjunct for several years. This kind of termination was a common phenomenon for adjuncts, particularly once they met a particular college’s pay ceiling. How was he to function in the classroom after getting news like that?
“I’m sorry,” I said. He looked devastated.
Later, I sent him an email: “I’d love to take your mind off it all for an hour or two. Do you have a favorite pub with a dartboard or coffee place? How about we take a break in the grading action this weekend and meet up for pizza and beer (though I dislike beer so I’ll be the one having the wine cooler or nonalcoholic drink), and a vent-fest with mandatory laughs included, or Sunday brunch or a run around the Charles or something else of your choice. You name it.”
He didn’t respond. I felt annoyed at myself for possibly coming on too strong.
When I saw him before our next class, he thanked me for my email. He said he was sorry he hadn’t replied. He’d been busy.
“We should have coffee one of these days,” he said.
But then he was always busy. A few weeks later I casually said, “How about coffee next Monday after class?” But he was too busy again—he had to run off to another class, or home to walk Abby.
He was a workaholic: he never had time for anything personal.
On the last day of the semester, I decided to take a risk. I didn’t want to wonder “what if.” Not wanting to face rejection in person, I confessed my feelings for him via email:
I've really enjoyed our before-class chats this term. I confess that our banter was, some days, my only incentive for going to work. I have no idea if you’re single or in a relationship with someone, or if work is your main priority, but if you’d be interested in getting to know each other outside of the academic setting, let me know. I have a feeling, given your lack of a “yes” to my previous invitations etc, that you probably don’t have the same feelings towards me as I’ve developed for you, and no worries if that is the case. Such is life! But I didn’t want to regret not saying something.
He didn’t respond via email. He came to my classroom, walking in just after my students left.
“I got your note,” he said.
“Oh,” I fumbled. I felt embarrassed. I was still learning the difference between grasping and trying. I wasn’t sure if my honesty had come off as an act of confidence or desperation.
He smiled nervously. “I’ve just seen the end of a relationship.”
His phrasing was notably passive, ambiguous. I wondered who broke up with whom.
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’d like to get together,” he said. “At least to have coffee.”
“That would be great,” I said.
“After grades are turned in,” he said.
I sensed his hedging.
“I’m not going to chase after you,” I said, pulling back. “If you want to get together, reach out.”
“I will,” he said, looking me in the eye.
I almost believed him.
He never followed through, and I never saw him again, unless you count almost two years later, when I saw him virtually, when I stumbled upon his online dating profile:
I’m passionate...I give everything to those things worth giving anything to. I’m loyal...once you’re in the inner circle, I take it very seriously. I’m curious...learning is sexy.
He was looking for his match:
You care about worldly events, love dogs, challenge norms, want to pursue and not just be pursued, value intellectual sparring, work to understand and not just critique, enjoy people watching, recognize complexity in people’s character, are self-aware, and think the best moments oftentimes result from a balance of planning and spontaneity.
I felt a wave of longing for the relationship I’d wanted with him. Then I came upon his “stats” column, where he listed his habits and preferences:
Relationship Type: Mostly monogamous
Jonathan? I read it again to make sure.
I’d dodged a bullet.