I met Jersey Boy the way any Internet writer who dates her fans does.
He emailed me. Jersey Boy said that a piece I did about Artie Lange finally getting sober -- versus the notion of "dirty sobriety" -- spoke to him in a way nothing else really had and inspired him to commit to what he knew he needed to do in his life: stop drinking. The email he wrote me gave me goose bumps and touched me deeply. I emailed him a thank you, but as with many people who write me, I figured that was probably that.
Then Jersey Boy emailed me again. He said he would like to buy me coffee sometime. I didn't respond. Sweet, but I just have so little time. He emailed me again saying that if I ever wanted to talk -- as weird as he realized it was, and he had never done something like this before -- to feel free to call him. Sweet, and I liked the boldness, but again, I didn't respond. He emailed me again and asked if I wanted to do a Skype chat. I seriously dug this dude's persistence, which is a tricky thing to master without doing it in a creeper way, but still, I didn't respond.
And then one night, restless and alienated and just crushingly lonely, I ached for some humanity-restoring sense of authentic connection and possibility. So I scrolled through my emails to see if there were any interesting guys who had responded to the Craigslist ad I posted a while back looking for Mr. Right. I was seeking a few key qualities. Integrity. Kindness. Intelligence. Confidence. Adventurousness.
I responded to a few of the Craigslist respondees (an array of guys from academics to lawyers to entrepreneurs) who seemed interesting. Then I came across Jersey Boy's emails. I did my standard Internet due diligence on him. His Twitter feed seemed all right. But I wasn't sure. He seemed like a dude's dude. Like he might be prone to bro out any second. I teetered back and forth -- naw, naw, naw, you know what, what the hell, I got a sense of goodness and intelligence and that cracky trait: connection, so fuck it -- I texted him. "Hey Jersey Boy, it's Mandy Stadtmiller. I'm going to call you momentarily."
Guess what. He wasn't around. Of course he wasn't. The hurricane had destroyed cell phone reception and his place had been partially destroyed from Hurricane Sandy. He hoped I was OK, and said he was glad to hear from me. Cool. Sweet. I didn't know if I'd reach out again or ever talk to him, but then when a text came from him on Friday asking, "Hangin' in there?" I decided to respond. What did I have to lose?
We texted and then talked for a few hours. I told him that he was probably too dude-dude-y for me, and I would be his polar opposite, and he said honestly, he just wanted to thank me for being the impetus to embrace sobriety for real. I asked if he was still sober, not expecting him to say yes, but in fact, he was. (To be clear, he gave me permission to share these details of his story in the hopes it might help someone else.)
"Reading that was the first time something spoke to me, Mandy," he said. "I know it sounds crazy, but I just felt like you were being real. Like you were in it. Like you were looking for a sunny day, too."
As we spoke, Jersey Boy said he was sleeping on his friend's couch because the ocean flooded all the way into the first floor of his apartment, ruining everything from his important documents to his clothing to his furniture. I told him how sorry I was, I wished I could help and that, to be quite honest, I had embarrassingly never even really been to Jersey.
"Know what?" he said. "I have a crazy idea. Do you want to come out here tomorrow? I'll give you a full tour, and you can see where Sandy really hit. We can Sandy it up."
"You'd have to pick me up," I said.
"I could do that," he said.
"OK," I said. "I'm game."
He drove all the way into the East Village on Saturday and picked me up at 10 a.m.
"You ready to volunteer in Hoboken?" he asked.
"Absolutely," I said. Then he turned on "Badlands" by Bruce Springsteen because he said he wanted me to have the full Jersey experience. There was one particular lyric he liked the most. "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."
The volunteer lines snaked out of the city and several people greeted Jersey Boy warmly. Everywhere we went, he asked the National Guard and the police and the old ladies waiting in line for bread, "You doing OK? You holding up? Here let me get that for you."
"Are you always like this?" I asked. He said he tried to be.
It's amazing how completely winning and charming small considerations can be in showing your character or personality. And I say this as someone who is friends with Neil Strauss and appreciates "The Game" for what it is. But so many guys who follow it without any self-awareness, I think, are liable to see it backfire with any girl who has a shred of self-esteem. I do not want to be "negged." It does not turn me on. I don't want to be treated poorly by some guy who thinks that poor treatment will then somehow make me want to, I don't know, like fuck him into being nicer to me or something. Or whatever the fratty mindfuck strategy is there.
To me, it takes so much more guts and commitment to be an authentic good caring person who does decent acts and isn't afraid that such exhibited kindness is then some form of awkward societal commitment or contract. Do you know how many people are just terrified to extend kindness or courtesy to a stranger for fear the stranger will then expect something of them? I love kindness. So hard.
Throughout the morning and afternoon, Jersey Boy and I helped where we could, and eventually we bought supplies for the volunteers and helped unload. Then one of his buddies from the first grade called and said it was time for Jersey Boy to start doing the receiving. His friend wanted to bring Jersey Boy some new clothing to replace what had been lost and mildewed and ruined from the ocean flooding. We went to meet the friend at his apartment on the Shore, and he showed me the devastation on the beach, the trees felled, the long gas lines, the National Guard deployed everywhere. Some neighborhoods were still without power. He said he considered himself lucky.
I learned throughout the day that Jersey Boy is the first in his family to ever go to college. He was supposed to be a cop, but his father took him aside and said that his one dream was to have a kid get a college education, and Jersey Boy made that dream come true. His father said that you can look someone in the eyes and tell if they are a good person or not in the first five minutes and that's how you know. Most of his friends are cops and construction workers, and he said -- I love this -- he's been turning them on to xoJane.
"I'm telling you," he said, "there's a whole untapped demographic there. The writing is real. You don't see that kind of honesty in other places. It's where I go online now to clear my head."
"That is so fantastic," I said. We swapped stories for most of the day, and he did all the things that any man who ever wants to impress a woman ought to do. Asking if I need anything, can he get me anything, was the heat all right, did I want this, could he get me that, and generally showing me his kindness and thoughtfulness extended through his actions -- not just bullshit words.
At his place, I volunteered to help pick up ruined possessions and throw them in trash bags by his side, and he said, "See, you really are my guardian angel."
Now, when guys say things like that, it can be cheesy, it can be a line, it can be a move, it can be a hustle -- or when delivered with an honest heart, it can be incredibly endearing.
He drove me back home after a long day, and I wondered what would happen. If I don't have interest in someone -- no matter how great they are, it's not me, it's chemistry and plenty of people have no interest in me, chemistry-wise so I get it -- I just tell the other party that I couldn't see myself dating them. So there won't be any awkwardness. I didn't say this to Jersey Boy. So my heart started beating faster the closer that we got back to the East Village. The adrenaline of wondering if someone will make a move is always one of the most unnerving, exhilarating things in the world.
We arrived at the apartment where I'm house sitting.
"I'm going to kiss you if that's all right," he said, with zero nervousness at all, which is quite possibly more attractive than even looks to me. And then he did.
All I could think about as I walked to my apartment was the song still running through my head.
It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.