So a few years after I split with my husband, I found myself in a situation which is hard to explain unless you are like me in being late in the game in realizing when you are being naïve. I was raised to be that way, rewarded for always being earnest and constantly tipping my hand because I thought that’s what made me a good person, to have no guile. Maybe it was a Catholic thing, or maybe just having parents who liked to hold up standards that they never approached themselves. But the naïvité has gotten me caught off-guard on more than one important occasion, and I feel sets me up for failure in many relationships.
Maybe it’s just that there is a disconnect in how I come across to other people and how I really feel on the inside. I wonder sometimes if it’s because I’m tall and people assume that means I’m always assertive and domineering. It’s like they expect Samantha from Sex in the City but I’m far from it. If a guy tells me he’s married and just wants to be friends, I believe him. I don’t look to seduce him and don’t assume he is trying to seduce me. But tell this to most people and they’ll shake their heads and tell me “tsk, tsk,” as if I am in the wrong for not reading between the lines.
So, yeah, you can probably guess where this is going.
I have spent a lot of time in the last twelve years on soccer sidelines. For many years, my weekday evenings were spent driving between fields, schlepping gear and chairs from the back of my beat-up minivan, and trying to figure out how I was going to put something approaching a nutritious dinner into my kids’ mouths by the time we made it home at 8:30 pm. On the positive side, lots of other parents are in the same position, and it can be a fun time to socialize, so long as you steer clear of the super helicopter, my-child-is-going-pro parents.
There were a couple of fun dads along with the moms on the sidelines. Some were being good dads and sharing driving duties; a couple were the only parent who ever showed up. One of the dads was a wealthy, older man, whose wife I never saw. He had raised another family, and the daughter on the team had been adopted during his second marriage. He’d chat a lot with me and the two or three other women I spent most of my time talking with. Sometimes, he’d smuggle us a bottle of wine onto the sidelines. He was about fifteen years older than us, and always seemed amused by us, and always very kind to all of us.
At some point, he found out I was trying to raise money to pay for a flight to Europe. I had been awarded a scholarship as a teacher to study one summer in a pretty incredible program in Rome, and the one thing the scholarship didn’t cover was airfare. One evening, this wealthy dad approached me and said that he’d like to use his frequent flyer miles (of which he had over a million) to buy me my ticket. He said that it was because he had profound respect for me as an educator, and that he felt it was the least he could do to give back to all the teachers who had given him the tools to be so successful in his career. I had never accepted a gift like that before, but he was so kind and insistent on it being a good deed for him, I accepted. (Yes, some of you reading this are now shaking your head and making that “tsk” sound. I know this now, but didn’t then.)
He let me know a week or so later that he had booked the tickets. He talked to me at the soccer sideline and asked that I not tell his wife about the tickets, just because it might look wrong to her. I didn’t even know who his wife was, as she never came to the soccer field, so I figured there was little risk in ever ever being in a position to have to not mention it. But it was kind of unsettling to even be asked to keep something secret between spouses, even if he was significantly older and more like a dad to us on the sidelines. When I paused in responding to him asking me this, he reassured me that he truly felt it was his obligation to pay it forward, and asked me to please accept the ticket. He hadn’t paid any money out of pocket for the ticket; it was booked, and he just didn’t want anything to get turned into a point of gossip for the soccer moms. I believed him; he asked for my email so he could forward me the flight confirmation, gave me a quick, friendly side-hug and drove off in his Porsche. I wanted to believe that Billy Crystal was wrong in When Harry Met Sally. Maybe I was finally just getting a little bit of luck to swing my way in running into this kind man.
Spring moved forward, with lots of soccer practices and games, and I plowed forward with work and kids. I was dating a guy with whom I had a hot/cold relationship for years. That is something for several other posts. And then, in late April, I received a beautiful delivery of white roses at school, no card or name included. I knew it wasn’t the guy I was dating (not his style), but I was at a loss for who it was. The next day, I got an email from “rich dad” asking if I had gotten the flowers and asking me to meet him for a drink the next night. I got a little nervous and decided I didn’t really like where this was headed, but decided I should tell him in person that I was uncomfortable. I told him I’d meet him, but my time would be limited.
The next night, we met, and he immediately started off by saying how happy he was that I was going to get to go to Italy, and that I deserved the most fabulous time. Then he asked for my social security number. My heart started racing and a thousand thoughts flew around in my head in a split second. Was he trying to scam me somehow? It was like in the old cartoons where, in a puff, the devil version of the character would appear on one shoulder of a person, and the angel version would appear on the other shoulder; but in my case, it was the naïve version of me, and the other side, the cynical version of me. They had to fight it out.