IT HAPPENED TO ME: The Guy I Had a Crush on Died Before Our First Date

Our easygoing chats made me think we might really click.
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Our easygoing chats made me think we might really click.

Once, years ago, I was stood up. I was dressed in a short black racer-back dress and nude peep-toe heels. I made an effort. I waited for my date, nursing a dirty martini at a Hoboken bar. He never showed up. I ate olives for dinner and cried mascara.

I've also been the ghoster. I’ve nonchalantly blocked guys’ numbers and cut off all communication.

Friends have rescued me during a bad date with a bullshit emergency phone call so I could flee.

As of today, I haven’t been on a real date in more than a year. My last date wasn't even a date; it was a 2015 summer fling through Labor Day weekend. So a lot of sex, lost underwear, sexting, and Coronas with lime wedges in his pool.

I'm a single working mom, so there's just no time to date. Sometimes watching Netflix with my dog, Tucker, on a Saturday night is more alluring then going out with someone I met online. It's not like I don't have babysitters; I have a sorority of college girls who sit for me.

I knew I had to get out of this funk. A few weeks ago, I caught myself in the mirror with a messy bun, in a slouchy hoody, thinking I should be out somewhere, anywhere. A book club. A bar with a girlfriend. I was drinking hot tea at 10 p.m., anxiously awaiting a new episode of 20/20. I'm 35, and 40 flashed before my eyes. Would I still be single then?

I connected with Joey on Facebook, not POF or Christian-whatever site. I'm not on any dating sites. I deleted Tinder from my iPhone when I couldn't take looking at faceless, chiseled groin pictures anymore, or men who take selfies in public bathrooms.

Joey and I had real-life friends in common on Facebook, not just random people who I sort of knew from that bar in Paris in 2004, or the college friend I lost touch with but wished happy birthday to every year (because Facebook reminded me to).

He initially private messaged me because of a quote I posted on my wall: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

Joey said the quote was one of the most positive things he’d read in a long time. I read that quote every day. I scanned his profile before writing back and saw that we lived near each other.

He was cute and our private messenger exchanges were fast, funny, and easygoing. We had a fluid conversation for a good five minutes over PM before I gave him my cell number. Texting is easier.

As a single mom, dating is especially challenging because a lot of guys want a 24/7 girl, but I can't be that person and the guy will never be my number-one priority.

But Joey wasn't turned off that I had a daughter. Most guys I've dated claim to be cool with dating a mom, but ultimately can't handle the baggage — or play dates, birthday parties, sudden fevers that cancel a date night, all the pink and ruffles. However, these are my realities, so it's either attempt to date or be alone.

I was sick of being alone — at least when I was texting with Joey. Soon, texting switched to chatting on the phone. It turned out he was a bit of a "cheesy lines guy." The kind that asks stuff like: Did it hurt when you fell? I said, “Huh?” From Heaven. You’re an angel. Joey’s line was "brains and beauty!" — that's why he liked me.

He held his own when we discussed the disastrous upcoming election and didn’t demonize me when I told him I was #withher. The last book he read was American Sniper. I read that book and loved the movie (Bradley Cooper, obviously). I suggested he watch 13 Hours before our date so we could hash that out over the bread basket. "By the way, I eat bread," I told him. He laughed.

We decided to meet at a wine bar and then have dinner at an Italian place. Usually, first dates for me are coffee or a drink — and I always drive myself.

But this time, for whatever reason, I liked that he wanted to buy me dinner and, fine, OK, I was already physically attracted to him based on his Facebook photos — who doesn't love green eyes and a guy snuggling his rescue dogs? I even agreed to let him pick me up, only because we knew so many of the same people.

I told my girlfriend, Jessica, about the date. "Finally! Buy a new outfit and get a blowout," she said. "You need to get laid."

(I did need to get laid, but I didn't expect to have sex with him on the first date. I thought about date three, though. That's a respectable number of dates. I was getting ahead of myself to the casual couch, wine, and movie date.)

I selected a cute romper from a Bloomingdale's sale rack, decided I'd style my hair in a low ponytail, and splurged on a mani-pedi in a dark fall color. I was excited to have plans and do something out of the ordinary.

Romper date died

I chose this romper because it was on sale and also because it was flirty with an open back, but not too sexy for a first date.

Part of me gave up on love this past year. I kind of fell for my summer fling in 2015, and he didn't fall back. He just wanted sex. I had to cut it off. It didn't help that I was still feeling things for a long, long, long-lost ex either. I was in give-zero-fucks-mode when it came to dating, men and even sex.

Joey called me “Babe” on the phone even though we hadn’t met yet, and I liked it, because it reminded me of being in a relationship — and that reminded me of smelling a guy’s neck when you cuddle or tangling fingers together when holding hands. My last relationship was in 2012, so it had been a long time. Our easygoing chats made me think we might really click.

Fall manicure

So odd, but this color is called "Sole Mate."

Over the next few days, Joey and I texted back and forth constantly. "Good morning, beautiful" he'd type. I replied, with the coffee cup or smiley zzz's emoji. The little word bubble would hover for a moment and I’d feel butterflies in my stomach waiting for a response, any response — even "Haha.” On Facebook, he’d send the “hand holding flowers” emoticon via private message out of nowhere.

As our date drew closer, we continued to text and talk on the phone. When I didn't immediately get back to him, he'd send the tear-faced emoji.

The last text he sent me was, "Hey, how are you?"

It was a Sunday evening. I was cooking dinner, pasta with butter sauce for my kid, and sharpening pencils for back-to-school week.

I got busy with other things: walking our dog, packing a first day of school lunch, doing laundry, checking emails, and painting little fingernails the color of tangerine. By the time I tucked my girl in, I dove right into my bed too.

The next day, no good morning text from Joey. I really, truly wasn't playing games and trying to make him chase me. I'm too old for that bullshit. I didn't text him at all and drove to work, where as usual I became engaged in a disaster project that needed to be fixed immediately.

On my lunch break, I ritually scroll through Facebook while drinking coffee and eating a salad — and that's when I saw the shocking news when I peeked at Joey’s Facebook wall.

I expected to see a photo of his dogs from the weekend (and hopefully not a girl hugging him).

I saw neither.

Joey was dead.

Dead.

Or someone was making a really sick joke.

His Facebook friends posted things like:

"Gone too soon."

Old photos clowning around.

"RIP."

"Any details as to what happened?"

"I'm so saddened by the news."

What the hell?

I switched back to my text messages to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. He had texted me the evening before — a little over 12 hours ago.

"Hey, how are you?" The text before that was an exchange about beautiful weather.

A friend we had in common confirmed that my Saturday night date — just days away — was dead. Relapse drug overdose.

What?

I had no idea he was struggling with addiction. I understand the day-to-day battle it is to stay clean, because I come from a family of alcoholics. The Joey I was getting to know talked about adoring his dogs like children, going to the gym, and his love for Cherry Garcia ice cream.

Joey had strong opinions about Trump and Clinton. He loved his mom and dad and had three sisters, one with a “shitty husband.” Joey loved being a “cool uncle” to his two nephews. He called me "beautiful" and was excited to finally meet me in person. I was excited too.

We even had an inside joke: "I LOVE BREAD," I proclaimed, like Oprah Winfrey in that Weight Watchers commercial. "I LOVE BREAD, TOO," he'd say.

I sat in shock, staring at his photo on Facebook. Those green eyes. That confident, flirty, wise-ass smile. I thought about the sadness his family and friends must be feeling. I wondered about those two rescue dogs he loved so much and how they were probably lost without their favorite guy. Mostly confusion — I felt confusion. I wondered what could have driven him to relapse, and I felt terrible that in that moment, he didn’t have a friend to call and talk it out with. And then I started to feel guilty. I didn’t text back when he asked a simple question: How I was doing. I know I’m not responsible for his death, but a simple “good” or “busy with my daughter, ttyl” would have been the kind thing to do. I couldn't believe our tiny moment in time was over before it really started.

I threw out my barely eaten lunch and headed toward the elevator.

"Big date coming up," said Ellie, a friend and coworker, playfully slapping my ass as she walked past me with a stack of files.

The elevator doors opened. I stepped in. The elevator doors closed.

I didn't go to my date's wake. Or his funeral. I didn’t ask about it, because I just couldn’t bring myself to hear details of his death. Looking back, maybe that was shitty. I hope he’s free and happy now.

Once, when Joey and I were talking, I told him about my childhood dog, Willow, and that when she crossed over the rainbow, I was a blubbering 24-year-old mess. I hope they’re up there together. I know they’d like each other.