After several days of putting it off, I decided to meet with Steven. It almost seemed unfair to be holding him back this way, even if from my perspective he's a total stranger who only thinks he has a right to my time.
As that last paragraph should tell you, I was and am still extremely bitter about (gestures around wildly) all this, up to and including being told "this stranger thinks you're his girlfriend."
My thing is, I so badly want to live my life, my way. But that's so not possible. The life I lived as Jenn - oh God we're getting to the point where Jenn is a past-tense person aren't we? - no longer exists. The man who took my life made some terrible choices, besmirched my name, and will live out his days being punished for it. As me. My stomach turns at this.
Steven won me over, or wore me down you could say, by showing a lot of respect and concern for me during this time. Yes, he was texting constantly, giving me updates on his life and asking how I was, but he really seemed to care, and when I indicated I wasn't feeling up to engaging with him, he demonstrated that he respected my privacy and reminded me he would be available instantly if I felt I needed someone.
Well damn! Steven, why did you have to be so good?
I do need someone. I hate to feel like I'm using him as some kind of emotional crutch here but a lot has been put on my plate lately and sympathetic ears have been hard to come by.
So I agreed to meet him for ice cream. Now, I still haven't gotten over my self-consciousness of my appearance to where being seen enjoying a double scoop on a hot day doesn't feel a little embarrassing - like, "look at the fat chick going to down on that sundae" - but I really am trying to lean into this "fuck the haters" thing and be body-positive. I might have some trouble with it behind closed doors but out in public, it's their problem and their opinions aren't worth hearing.
Besides, more of America looks like me than like Chrissy Teigen.
With some reservations I agreed to meet him. I had a hard time figuring out my exact wording, how to set up a date that wasn't quite a date, where I could basically say "Hey, this is to determine if I want to actually have you as my boyfriend." I thought about breaking his heart. I didn't want to do that without at least meeting him. I owed him that.
We went. I was more nervous than I thought I would be, since I haven't had a real first date in years. I wore some of Shona's nicer clothes and even pit on makeup - but I was a little out of practice and Shona's face is quite different from what I'm used to so the result was not quite up to my standards, or what I'd seen from Shona's social media. I suspected Steven wouldn't notice though.
The weirdest part was as much as I wanted him to like me, I realized that was almost an afterthought and what I was really nervous about was whether I would like him. On the one hand I built him up in my head as a really exceptional guy and how much of a relief that would be after all I've been through, and on the other I was afraid of liking him too much and feeling like I had to stay with him, feeling like I couldn't bring myself to let him down, trying to let him into my life while he is convinced I am actually a totally different woman. It would be so much easier if he just... sucked.
The reality was somewhere between. His face was very kind, very plain, round with a beard. Two years ago, when I was me and in a very different headspace than today, I would have swiped past him on Tinder with hardly a thought. He seemed very mild and meek. Physically I didn't think he took overly good care of himself. Everything about him seemed to me to be the kind of person who would be with someone like Shona, and maybe, based on her Instagram feed where she's having fun and living out loud, lucky to be with her.
If it had truly been our first date, and I was me, he might have been too intimidated to do anything and been poor company. As it was it was clear he was at ease with Shona. I liked that. There were moments where it felt like he took our setup for granted - overly physical, some tellingly obnoxious remarks I guess I was expected to find amusing and a lot of the conversation was anecdotes about people and tings I guess I was supposed to know or care about, which was boring for me - but mostly he was quite nice. I had to remind myself there was a reason he wasn't working too hard to impress me, and that from his perspective the relationship is established and lived in. He sure did act like it.
I paid him a kiss at the end of the night and told him candidly that I was at a crossroads, and that might mean putting "us" on hold. That it wasn't personal really - all it was was about me - and I owed it to him to be straight up.
He accepted that without question. That annoyed me. I actually kind of wanted him to fight back.
It all left me more uncertain than when I went in. I had hopes he would fall one way or the other - jerk or saint - but as with most things in life it wasn't so clear cut. If I was with him he might actually be the nicest person I've ever dated, but niceness isn't everything.
Do I feel like I deserve better than what I've been given? Maybe. But is it realistic to throw away a potentially good thing?
I just don't know.