Category: Southern Illinois

June 3rd, 2012 — 3:20pm

Like most thirtysomething singles, I’ve been on my fair share of first dates. And yet, it doesn’t seem to get any easier to answer the unavoidable first date question — how to say goodnight?

Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer because so much of it depends on how the date goes in the first place. A recent evening out with OkCupid bachelor JC reminded me that more often than not, parting company can be more than a little awkward.

The date itself seemed to go well — decent conversation at a cozy wine bar, with a few laughs along the way. JC indicated he was disappointed that the bill came while I was in the bathroom. When I informed him the waitress brought it without any prompting from me, he said–

“The night doesn’t have to end here.”

And so, we went on to a nearby bar for one more round before heading toward the subway. As we approached the station entrance, JC said regretfully–

“Oh, this means our date is almost over!”

I assumed that he meant he’d like to get together again. Which is why I was more than a little surprised when his parting words were–

“Don’t be a stranger.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of that one. Did he want to get together again? Was he trying to gauge whether I was interested enough to make the next move? Granted, that’s one of the trickiest parts of a first date — who takes the leap of finding out if there’s going to be a second one? Experience has taught me that even though the so-called ‘rules’ say that responsibility belongs to the guy, men don’t always want it.

Not too long ago, another OkCupid guy ended our first date by handing me his business card. We didn’t exactly click, so I understood him wanting to put the ball firmly in my court.

Then, more recently, there was my final Nominate A Date bachelor Marcus. Despite asking several questions about whether I’m relationship ready, Marcus made it clear he wanted friendship only — inviting me to keep in touch about my dating projects (ugh).

But the most surprising conclusion to a first date I’ve ever experienced happened more than a decade ago. After hours of effortless, flirty conversation and palpable mutual chemistry, Southern Illinois cutie said goodnight with….a handshake. I remember being completely floored (especially since I was so convinced about a forthcoming kiss, I’d discretely popped a breath mint minutes before).

Steve and I later had a good laugh about it after smooching at the end of . And so began a wildly passionate romance that evolved into a friendship which endures to this day.

The longer I’m on this journey called singlehood, the more I realize that you really can never predict when, where or how romance is going to ignite. Sometimes a lukewarm goodnight means it’s just not happening, sometimes a handshake is a precursor to being completely smitten. And the only way to find out is by braving first dates, awkward moments and all.

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December 2nd, 2010 — 10:44am

When you’re dealing with the formidable foes of long distance and bad timing, sometimes love isn’t enough. I learned this painful lesson for a second time during my passionate romance back in ‘02 with Southern Illinois sweetheart .

Four months after embarking on our whirlwind relationship, I found myself at a crossroads both personally and professionally. An amazing trip to Australia had me hungering to go back and live Down Under for awhile. I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up — and that it was a leap I had to take by myself. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the spring of 2002…

New York, NY
April 8, 2002

Dear Diary,

I’m feeling really sad. I keep thinking about how incredibly loving and good Steve has been to me…and it just tears me up to think about hurting him.

Over the last couple of days during his visit, there were so may sublime moments — playing piano together, singing some of our favorite songs while curled up by candlelight, kissing at the Empire State Building.

I feel more connected to Steve than I have to any man in a long time. And I will miss him terribly if I have to walk away.

* * *
April 23, 2002

I’ve taken two big steps since you last heard from me — I’ve decided to go back to Australia and I broke up with Steve.

The latter happened earlier tonight, in a brief conversation that had me fumbling for words and Steve very gracious and mature.

“I knew I’d hear those words from you sooner or later,” he said, after I told him our lives our heading in different directions.

As I struggled to explain my decision, Steve brought our final exchange to an end.

“Well, I guess that’s all I needed to hear. Have a good trip.”

I’m going to miss Steve. And I will never, ever regret a single second I’ve spent in the warmth of his arms and light of his love. Steve has shown me that throwing caution to the wind doesn’t have to be a bad thing, that the most exhilarating romances are the most unexpected ones. I love him and feel profoundly grateful he came into my life.

* * *
Little did I know when I broke up with Steve that Cupid wasn’t quite finished with the two of us. In the meantime, I turned my attention to Australia — where romance unexpectedly found me once again.

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August 5th, 2010 — 5:10pm

In long distance relationships, I’ve learned never to say never when it comes to whose turn it is to travel. I was reminded of this a few months into my romance with Southern Illinois native Steve.

Steve and I were missing each other desperately. Having already gotten on a plane for him once, I wanted him to reciprocate — until he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the spring of 2002…

LaGuardia Airport, NY
March 2, 2002

Dear Diary,

Well, surprise, surprise, I’m on my way to Illinois to see Steve.

Though it came about quickly, I’m happy to say I’m not simply acting on impulse. Steve is taking care of my airfare and also planning (at last!) a visit to New York later this month. Needless to say, I was floored when Steve called yesterday and suggested I visit. He says he’s suddenly in a better financial situation because of two tuition refund checks.

“We’ve been apart for almost two months, and I just can’t take it anymore,” he said with great urgency.

St. Louis: Steve and I spent part of our reunion here

I’ve been so wrong to compare what Steve and I have to what I had with Sparky. Other than both relationships being long distance, there are NO similarities. Steve and I call and email regularly, and we’re both trying to see each other whenever we can. And I have a love and respect for Steve that is unlike what I felt for Sparky.

It’s also be foolish for me to be scared of somehow reverting to who I was eight years ago, with Sparky, simply by following my heart. I’m no longer the naive college student who expects every romantic encounter to be so blissful it makes up for the time apart. As long I feel that electricity with Steve and like we’re communicating, I’ll be a happy camper.

* * *

USAir Flight to NYC
March 6, 2002

It’s been an incredibly intense, exhilarating, exhausting couple of days. My feelings for Steve are just as strong as they were two months ago.

For as much as money was an issue during our last rendez-vous, it wasn’t this time. I took care of the accommodations, while Steve treated me to some wonderful meals and he even wanted to take me on a carriage ride in St. Louis (too bad the horses weren’t around!).

This morning, he proposed all these wild ideas — from eloping to driving across the country. A big part of me was tempted to just throw caution to the wind and see where our love takes us. Being unemployed makes such propositions pretty enticing.

For now, it’s back to the job search grind.

*  *  *

The search for my next career move would take me to the other side of the world — and force me to make a decision about Steve.

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July 17th, 2010 — 5:41pm

When you’re in a long-distance relationship, scheduling conflicts are par for the course — as I learned for a second time with Southern Illinois native Steve.

After a whirlwind couple of weeks toward the end of 2001, I moved back to New York. About a month later, when I was on my way to Australia, we were reunited in St. Louis. It was at this juncture that Steve and I had hit a rough spot, trying to figure out when and how we could be together again. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the winter of 2002…

New York, NY
February 3, 2002

Dear Diary,

Today brought some unsettling news from Steve. He said he’ll have to postpone his New York visit from early to mid March (this after pushing it back from the end of February). Why? Because he has to look after his parents’ cat while they’re away.

Call me insensitive, but he keeps saying how much he misses me yet doesn’t do anything to act on it. Broken promises, whether big or small, are not a good way to build trust.

* * *

February 16, 2002

Well, after a glitch from the florist, the most beautiful arrangement of flowers arrived today from Steve, along with a card saying “I love you.” The flowers give me hope, as did Steve’s last email, in which he said–

“I know it’s up to me to do the traveling now.”

* * *

February 26, 2002

Last night, Steve an I had the most wonderful hour-long conversation. He reassured me there are no hidden reason behind him not coming to visit me.

“I’ve been thinking about you so much, it’s distracting me at work!”

I admitted my insecurities have flared up because he can’t commit to coming to New York. It felt so great to clear the air. We reminisced about what we’ve shared — and talked about what we’ll do whenever we’re together again.

Our conversation was so great, I found myself thinking about going to see Steve. Because of the frequent flier miles I racked up going to Australia last month, it wouldn’t cost me anything. But then, there’s the hefty price tag if I give in to that impulse — my pride.

* * *
Little did I know I would soon be putting aside my pride — and that an opportunity oceans away would force me to make a decision about my future with Steve.

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July 10th, 2010 — 1:51pm

When you’re in a long-distance relationship, navigating the intensity of the highs and lows is a constant battle. I experienced that for a second time during my romance with Southern Illinois native Steve.

After three blissful weeks together in December of 2001, we were reunited a month later. Our second encounter brought the uncertainty of our situation into clearer focus. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the winter of ‘02…

Carbondale, IL
January 11, 2002

Dear Diary,

Well, the chemistry between Steve and I is as intense as it was last month. That’s the good news. The bad news is I’m having doubts about our future together.

First, I have to say that Steve has been wonderful — incredibly romantic and affectionate. After checking into our hotel room, he gallantly carried me over the threshhold.

“I’m sure we’ll still be holding each other like this when we’re 150,” he said.

He’s brought up marriage more than once, and has also asked me for a commitment, which is a far cry from the laissez-faire attitude he seemed to have back in December. I’m crazy about Steve, but as much as I hate to say this, I’m concerned that we’re at different junctures.  He’s finishing up school and trying to get himself settled financially. I’m wrapped up in my career and traveling. Is it right to enjoy him when the future for us seems so murky?

I don’t want to go through the heartache of another long-distance relationship just to find out we’re not meant to be after all. Last night, I started crying as I thought about all of this — and how much I’m going to miss Steve over the next couple of months. Steve tenderly stroked my face, telling me–

“I’ll never leave you. I love you…forever.”

He asked me if missing him was the only thing on my mind. I lied and said yes. What else could I say? That while he’s having visions of matrimony, I see doom and gloom on the horizon?

* * *

I didn’t confide my fears to Steve. Shortly thereafter, though, fate would intervene as a life-changing trip found me going in a completely different direction.

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June 20th, 2010 — 8:16pm

When you’re in the throes of new romance, every moment feels fraught with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. So it was after I met Southern Illinois native Steve back in December of 2001.

Our chemistry was immediate. The wrinkle — I was moving back to New York a few weeks later. That unavoidable fact, though, didn’t stop us from falling in love. I now Open The Vault and take you back to winter of ‘02..

New York, NY
January 3, 2002

Dear Diary,

I’m trying to just enjoy what Steve and I have without getting too worked up about it, but it’s hard. I will say, though, I feel much better about our ability to handle a long-distance situation than I did with Sparky. I trust Steve’s intentions and feelings.

I was still figuring all of that when we had our third date. When Steve showed up, his cologne and my intense attraction to him made me temporarily misplace my keys!

“It’s your fault for being so distracting,” I said playfully.

Mollie’s Bar & Grill: Steve took me here for our third date

Steve took me to Mollie’s, a cozy little bar in Marion. After a few drinks in the main room, Steve led me into a quieter, more romantic area — comfy couches, fire dancing out of a pond, etc. It didn’t take long for our lips to meet. I couldn’t get enough of kissing him.

Steve soon suggested we get a bottle of wine and go back to my place. We spent the night talking, kissing and holding each other,  until Steve had to leave for work.

I was deliriously happy for the rest of the day. Even on no sleep, I felt energized in a way that I hadn’t in years.

* * *

A few days later, after I spent the weekend visiting a friend in St. Louis, Steve and I went over to his parents’ house for dinner. Being with him around his family, the people who’d become my surrogate family in Southern Illinois, intensified the feeling that we had been dating much longer than ten days.

Later, at my place, we held each other by candlelight and opened up about our pasts. He told me about his divorce, I told him about David and Sparky.

“How would you classify our relationship?” I asked.

“It’s too soon to tell,” he said. “But right now, I’d call it bliss.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

* * *

Though our feelings managed to overcome geography for a time, Steve and I would soon face other obstacles — of our own doing.

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June 11th, 2010 — 5:00pm

When you truly connect with someone, it can overcome even the most mixed signals. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened after my first date with Southern Illinois native Steve back in 2001.

Steve surprised me by ending a flirtatious, conversation-filled evening with a handshake. Our second date concluded very differently. I now Open The Vault and take you back to December of ’01…

December 20, 2001
New York, NY

Dear Diary,

I’m just amazed at how good the communication is between Steve and I. I’ve been without a man who stimulates all of me for so long, it’s still hard to believe what I’ve found with him.

For our second date, we drove to Carbondale again for dinner at Chicago Underground. The food was only passable, but our chemistry continued to grow. I felt truly at ease with Steve and loved hearing his stories and his laugh.

Unfortunately, like our meal, the movie (“Spy Game,” an espionage flick) was a disappointment — so much so that I fell asleep. My embarrassment turned to relief when I woke up and Steve suggested–

“Do you want to leave and go rent Dirty Dancing?”

Dirty Dancing: things heated up between Steve and I as we watched the memorable 80’s movie

We had discovered during dinner our mutual love for the classic 80’s movie, so I happily said yes.

At my place, Steve sat right next to me on the couch. I could feel my insides reacting to his proximity and loved every second of it.

I became increasingly distracted, finding it hard to concentrate on something other than Steve. Finally, the movie ended. We made some small talk, but I couldn’t hide my feelings any longer.

“Do you usually end your dates with a handshake?” I asked.

“No,” he said, smiling irresistibly. “And I did want to kiss you the other night.”

“Do you think you’re going to tonight?”

“I think I’m definitely going to.”

And with that, his lips came to mine.

“I want you so bad,” he murmured as he caressed my back.

The subject of getting together again came up.

“How about tomorrow?” he whispered in my ear.

Our goodnight kiss was wonderful. After Steve left, I was glowing. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt this kind of connection with a man.

The question now — what comes next?

* * *

With my return to New York right around the corner, Steve and I quickly found ourselves in a long distance relationship, one that would be tested by an opportunity for me to live on the other side of the world.

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June 4th, 2010 — 2:16pm

When it comes to falling in love, I’ve often found the element of surprise is a big part of it. I learned that lesson all over again after meeting Southern Illinois native Steve back in 2001.

A few weeks before my year-long TV reporting stint was about to end, Steve and I met through this family and went on our first date. Like the day we had met, the chemistry was immediate and effortless. I now Open The Vault and take you back to December of 01…

December 20, 2001
Marion, IL

Dear Diary,

I swore after ending it with Sparky years ago that I’d never do a long-distance relationship again. The difference this time, though, is feeling like I fit so well with Steve — intellectually, emotionally, physically. And no man has ever demonstrated his feelings verbally the way Steve has.

It’s hard to believe our first date was only three weeks ago. I was excited that he showed up on time — less so when he suggested Red Lobster for dinner. Fortunately, when I expressed my lack of enthusiasm, he suggested Hunan, a Chinese restaurant with much more atmosphere and the one I’d had in mind to begin with.

Hunan: One of my favorite restaurants in Southern Illinois -- and where Steve took me for our first date

The evening got off to a perfect start when Steve held the car door for me before going around to the driver’s side. He does this every time we go out and I love it.

Conversation flowed freely between us. I found it very easy to open up to Steve — he is a great listener and talker, and he’s funny. At one point, when I was lamenting my non-existent love life over the last year, he said sympathetically–

“Not even a fling?”

“Not even,” I said, laughing as I did so often over the course of the evening.

“You look really nice, by the way,” he said.

I thanked him, admitting how embarrassed I’d been to have no makeup on the first time we met. He assured me I’d looked just as good without it and I smiled.

Our next stop was a casual, underground bar. The flirting between us was intensifying — we sat this close to each other and joked about a buttery nipple cocktail.

By 1am, I was feeling sleepy even though I didn’t want the night to end. Hoping a goodnight kiss was right around the corner, I made Steve stop at a gas station — claiming it was for a bathroom break when really I wanted to do a breath check and get some gum.

When we pulled up in front of my building, we both said we’d had a wonderful time.

“I wish we’d met sooner,” I said.

“Better late than never,” he replied.

He suggested we get together again a few days later. Then, instead of kissing me, Steve completely threw me when he shook my hand as I left the car.

In my entire dating life, that was a first.

* * *

Thankfully, Steve’s surprise gesture wasn’t at all indicative of his feelings for me. Date #2 would find us taking our chemistry to the next level.

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May 28th, 2010 — 6:31pm

When it comes to romance, I’ve found again and again that fate tends to have an unusual sense of timing. So it was back in 2001, as my year-long stint in Southern Illinois winded down and I connected with local bachelor Steve.

We met about a month before I was scheduled to return to New York — and he captured my heart right away. I now Open The Vault and take you back to November of ’01…

Marion, IL
December 20th, 2001

Dear Diary,

Well, my hope to have a little romance before leaving the Midwest has been realized in the biggest way.

His name is Steve, and he is smart, cute, funny, affectionate and giving. And the chemistry between us has made me delay my return date to New York three times!

It all started just before Thanksgiving, when my neighbor’s family — Steve’s parents — invited me over for dinner. Tired from a hard workout the day before,
I decided to keep it simple — no makeup except concealer, a t-shirt and cargo pants.

I ended up regretting my casual mode as soon as they introduced me to their stepson Steve. Several trips to the bathroom didn’t make me feel better, but the undeniable chemistry between Steve and I did.

Conversation flowed freely during dinner, and I found myself thinking how nice it was to be setting across from a cute, personable man for the first time in ages.

After eating, we continued talking. Somehow it came up that I’d never seen all of the house, so I suggested Steve give me a tour. As I followed him up the stairs, I could feel sparks in the air. Needless to say, I forgot about my naked face at this point.

Back in the living room, Steve and I talked about everything from travel to TV shows, laughing often and communicating well — until the subject of Thanksgiving came up.

I asked him about his plans. Steve hadn’t mentioned her once all evening, but he suddenly admitted–

“My girlfriend.”

I was both annoyed and disappointed, so I left shortly thereafter and figured that was that.

Until ten days later when I came home from work to find not one but two messages from Steve. The first one was endearingly nervous.

“I hope we can go out for drinks,” he said. “But if not, that’s okay too.”

In the second voicemail, he left his number — after forgetting to do so in the first but telling me to call him. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted what came next.

* * *

The connection between Steve and I quickly blossomed into love — a love that, like my first, would be tested by geography.

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May 21st, 2010 — 11:35am

Over the years, I’ve found that there are more pitfalls than plusses to dating younger men. Back in 2001, my experience in Southern Illinois with fellow TV reporter Erik was an example of this.

He was 23, I was 27 — and we had very different ideas about who should take the lead when it comes to courting. During our second date, Erik implied over the phone that I should be doing the calling. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the spring of ‘01…

May 5, 2001
Marion, IL

Dear Diary,

I told Erik that not only do I not usually make the first move — I don’t make the first six.

“You’re really sweet,” he said with a smile, “But underneath, you’re hard core.”


He doesn’t call the next day, but surprises me the day after that by calling me from work.

Later in the week, I unexpectedly run into Erik in a courthouse covering the same story. He comes over to me and tries to charm some information out of me. I smile and say nothing. He is after all, still the competition. He asks if this is my first hearing. I say yes.

“Mine too,” he said, ”It was fun sharing it.”

Against my better judgment, I call him that night. Decent conversation, until the tail end of it, when he says he’s going to St. Louis again this weekend.

“Sunday night…” he says vaguely.

“What about Sunday night?” I ask.

“I’ll be back late Sunday night,” he says, and with that, he cuts me off.

Simply put, if Erik was really interested, he would have made a tentative date with me or said he’d be in touch upon his return. I don’t know if part of the problem is Erik assuming I will be the pursuer because I asked him out first.

And, in this particular situation, it doesn’t help that I’m living in the land of rednecks and frat boys. It’s unlikely someone else around here will capture my attention.

* * *

As it turned out, someone else would very much capture my attention — just as I was getting ready to leave Southern Illinois behind.

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