I had a boyfriend for a short while today on my flight from San Francisco to Detroit. He was funny and smart, a techie who loved his job. He wore a light grey t-shirt with the classic blue Twitter bird printed on the front and jeans. He was good-looking with smooth brown skin, a well-groomed beard and mustache, perfect white teeth, and an easy smile.
We chatted away on the runway and through take off…laughing, comparing notes on stuff, like where to get the best burritos in the Mission. He was on his way home to New York after two weeks working in the San Francisco office. He told me about his work. I was impressed with his example of why it was meaningful to him: “It connects people in ways unimaginable a few years ago. People really depend on it to transmit critical information during times of political unrest for instance or storms”. He asked about my work too. I told him about my work advocating for babies, birth to 3. We discussed how far behind the U.S. lags in social policies, things like paid parental leave and quality affordable infant care. He seemed genuinely interested, like he “got it”, without much need for explanation. Younger people usually do get my work.
That’s when we established he was, in fact, exactly half my age (23 years old)… which, other than the fact that he understood why investing in babies matters, came as a total surprise to me. Coincidentally, my aunt recently explained to me over the phone, in reference to this phenomenon I’ve noticed lately of talking to men and being suddenly surprised that I could be their grandmother, “I’m afraid it always does (come as a surprise) Jul”.
We shifted our discussion to matters of parenting and family. I was thinking if I couldn’t date him, I wanted to know how someone raises a child like him? Was I doing it already with my two children OR were there secret ingredients I might learn from him that I could add to my parenting mix? He told me about his mother – how she shared my love of hot yoga and healthy eating, having no shame in calling him on a business trip to ask what he was eating and if he was taking care of himself? He said it was sweet not meddling, and he added that she has always been this way. He said, in fact, her interest in conscious living was so deep-seated, she and his father were currently in Nepal on a “healing retreat”. (Time out: Married people in their 50’s together on a healing retreat? I was already in love with them and didn’t even know their names.) He went on to tell me about his sister who just graduated from Juilliard as a ballerina. I think he told me about other siblings as there were 5 and he was the youngest, but some of this is a blur. I started to go into my own little Fantasyland at Nepal. I do remember he talked about his love of all things nerdy and how I should continue to support my son’s interest in coding in particular and my daughter’s gift for the performing arts. He said it sounded like I was doing everything right as a mom. I was getting a pep talk from a 23 year old and it felt good. By now I was ready to sit down to dinner with his family and ask them more questions… “How did you do it?” I’d begin, while sipping hot tea.
I really admired what a confident and alive young man he was…well, until the turbulence started and suddenly, without any warning, he grabbed my hand with his, which was cold and clammy. With a look of shock (at himself I think or maybe in reaction to my look of shock at his grabbing my hand so unexpectedly?) but not letting go, he said “I’m scared. Can I keep holding your hand?” At this point the whole left side of his body was pressed against the right side of mine. I hadn’t noticed it before but the armrest was up. His thighs were bigger than I expected. His body was strong and warm other than his hand, like I mentioned, which was clammy and cold. It seemed a little forward and odd of him to want to keep holding my hand…but i said sure, of course. I mean what else could a good person say? That’s when I noticed he was holding his breath. I suggested he close his eyes, try to think about something relaxing and breathe with me. He did and we breathed together. I told him to concentrate on breathing out (I know from consulting my best friend who happens to be a therapist, the problem lies not in breathing in, the problem lies in not breathing out.). We breathed together…in… and out… in… and out…in…and out. Eventually, his breath calmed down and was in sync with mine. We kept breathing like that until, well, I finally had the nerve to look over at his face (before this point, I didn’t want to look directly at him and hold his hand and breathe with him. It all felt just way to intimate somehow) and that’s when I realized he had fallen asleep… holding my hand!
The really awkward thing was my sister was sitting several rows up. I kept wondering what she would think if she walked by and saw me holding a random guy’s hand, someone I met just twenty minutes ago. She’s too nice to say anything—plus I’m going through a divorce and while she has historically been exceptionally generous and patient with me, she has been particularly so lately, as I’ve begun to navigate the dating world. Would she think it was all prearranged on-line? I couldn’t help but imagine her look of total disbelief. At the very least, she’d give me a “WTF?” with her eyes. His grip was strong and I worried if I pried his hand loose to avoid all that embarrassment with my sister, I’d disturb him and he did look awfully peaceful. So, I just decided to enjoy it…because really, WTF?
So I closed my eyes too and pretended that I was on my way to Paris for the weekend holding hands with a new lover (instead of on my way to a memorial service in Detroit, holding hands with a stranger). When he woke up (what seemed like a really long time later), the turbulence was gone. He thanked me and smiled and we unpeeled our hands. The rest of the flight I felt a little cheated somehow…like that was it?
And that’s the story of the boyfriend I had for a short while on a flight from San Francisco to Detroit.