I ended up living in that apartment in DC for two years. During half of that time, I dated a bright, kind, caring man whom I’ll call Brian. I’m choosing that name because I’ve written about him before under this same pseudonym, and I want to be consistent. I chose the name Brian because he once told me, “You never hear of a black man being named Brian.” He would know.

In that other book, called Word for Word: An Intimate Exchange Between a Couple of Kindred Souls, which is a back and forth of emails and texts between me and Scott (not the first one, a new one) as we were first communicating with each other, we changed the names of people and places. It felt like the right thing to do for that book. In this book, Walker, it felt right to use actual names, but in most cases, to drop last names. Guidance is funny that way; it’s not one size fits all. When we constrain ourselves to the limited purview of our ego, we are relegated to living by rules. When we live from our intuition, however, we are in connection with a greater reality that offers more wisdom and better solutions. Flexibility and structure are no longer opposites, but rather, equally essential.

In Word for Word, when I talked about Sevenoaks, I called it TwoPines. Given my history with the place, it might seem that was a cheap shot. It sounds a bit too cornball to be the actual name of a place, and that’s basically how I came up with it. There was no sense avoiding the name Sevenoaks only to create confusion with some other retreat center. An hour of Googling revealed that nearly every combination of numbers and words like pine, cedar, oak, river, meadow, forest and woods was already taken. But no one, at least that I could find, had used TwoPines. Plus, it cracked me up. (What can I say, I’m human.)

Living in DC, during the week I would write like a crazy person. On the weekends, Brian and I would tour the town. I can’t claim I saw everything there is to see in DC, but we sure saw a lot. By the time I left, I was on doubles and triples as friends and family came to visit. I recalled a good hiking friend in Virginia saying that the downside of growing up in DC was that every time someone came for a visit, you traipsed out to see the same old stuff. I drew the line at the fourth viewing of the film they show as part of the Capitol tour. That said, every tour guide there adds their own spin, deciding for themselves the best factoids to share. I found each to be very different, and all of them to be delightful.

One of the more unique experiences with Brian was attending Quaker meetings. He was typically one of the few black people sitting in the pews as we silently waited for spirit to move and a message to arrive. Personally, I felt the practice had somehow become stale, as those who may have had something good to offer kept a lid on it—frankly, I did that a time or two—and some who did speak may have been better served listening.

I met Brian the way I’m guessing a lot of interracial couples connect these days: online. I started giving online dating a whirl not too long after Rick and I divorced. Over the next many years, I would meet lots of interesting men. In all cases, whether they lasted an hour, a weekend or many months, they taught me something about myself I hadn’t known before.

Dating, in my opinion, is as much about getting to know yourself as it is about getting to know someone else. It’s interesting to see what you attract, to discover what you like and don’t like, and maybe even to push yourself into new territory you hadn’t explored before. About five years into it, I got a message from a very handsome black man who asked if I would be “open to dating someone outside my comfort zone.” Apparently, he could tell from the options I’d selected that this hadn’t been on my radar before.

I would go on to date a dozen black men I met through online dating. One of them, after I ended things, would later break into my house, steal something from me, and make a bit of a mess. I learned that not every good-looking guy should be trusted to know your security code.

Another of them, a FedEx pilot, was not a fan of the label “African American.”

“I’ve never been to Africa,” he said. “I’m black. We really need to get our management together about these things.”

At some point along the way, I wrote this:

Three R’s of Learnings from Online Dating

There is a powerful, humbling tradition in AA, where everyone starts their sharing by saying “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic.” I remember one old-timer who liked to fluff his intro up a bit: “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and considering the alternative, I’m grateful to be a recovering alcoholic.” Ah, perspective. Reminds me of what it’s like to do online dating. It’s downright terrific, when you consider the alternative.

On the upside, online dating offers an opportunity to meet people from walks of life you simply weren’t likely to ever bump into otherwise. The process also gives you a sneak-peak into seeing what you might be in for.

On the downside, it’s riddled with false positives. Plus, it turns out, there are a lot of quirky people out there.

On OKCupid, for example, according to one user, statistics show a high correlation between meeting someone and using the word “whom” in your profile. “So,” he asked, “Whom loves you, baby?”

This site has also devised a genius system of letting you answer hundreds, if not thousands, of questions, with a fancy algorithm in the background divining friend from foe. In the end, the questions all shake out into a few basic categories: Raunchy, Ridiculous and Revealing.

The Raunchy are, of course, mostly questions about sex. “Do you want your partner to be kinkier than you? Yes, No or Not Possible.” There are milder and hotter questions in this group, and thankfully, Skip is always an option.

The most Ridiculous has got to be: “In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be exciting?” And yeah, I have only seen one guy who answered yes. But there was one.

More useful are the Revealing questions. The trouble is, it’s not always clear what they’re trying to show.

For example, to “Could you date someone who was really quiet?” almost every single guy answers yes. What does this mean? It almost feels like a collective plea to Please, shut the hell up! I suspect I am taking something way too personally here.

When asked, “Which would you rather be? Weird or Normal,” men almost always say Weird. And yet this is my fundamental issue in dating, trying to find the one who isn’t weird. It turns out, that’s what they’ve been going for!

“Would you prefer good things happened, or interesting things?” More often than not, they say Good. I give up. Everything is always going to be a mix of good and bad, and if it’s not interesting, it can’t possibly be good! I suspect I may be overthinking things.

“In the line, ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ what does ‘wherefore’ mean? Why, Where, or Who cares / WTF.” There was one guy who dissected this in a long-winded comment, explaining why it isn’t really quite correct to say either Why or Where. WTF.

This next one may have given me the biggest insight into the great divide between the sexes. “Which superpower would you rather have? Flight or Invisibility.” It is nearly unanimous: all guys want to fly. Having raised two boys, this makes perfect sense to me. I, on the other hand, would opt to be a fly on the wall. And then when one guy did select Invisibility, guess how I reacted: I don’t trust him. No one wants to go out with some kind of creeper!

It’s a crazy puzzle, so why don’t we all just lighten up. There’s no magic bullet. Online dating is nothing more than a way to meet other people who might possibly be interested in meeting you.

For me, there were several key advantages to online dating. For one, I could do it from my home without going out to a bar. For another, well, I’m sure there was another. Oh yeah, without it, I could go for years without a single date. I went for three years straight date-free, two different times. After a while, a simple desire for contact will get you back in the saddle.

And often, even if they didn’t work out, I learned something. For example, a man named David taught me that fifty can be fabulous. He worked in wealth management, associating closely with many older men who were very rich. As he got to know them, he’d ask them all the same question: What was your favorite decade?

To a man, they said their 50’s. First, by then your kids are mostly grown. Second, you’ve figured out that this is probably about how far you’ll go in your career, so you can stop striving. And third, you still have your health. Bingo!

Across all the years I’ve been single, I have been in only a small handful of relationships with men I met offline. Flagg was interesting in that he was twenty years older than me. Retired from a career in the ad agency business and working as a spiritual director at an alcohol treatment center for professionals, we had a lot in common.

Flagg was there for me when I was struck down with a mysterious illness that knocked me off my feet. It started, unsuspectingly, with a work-related team building event in the North Georgia Mountains. A few weeks later, over Memorial Day weekend, I did a lot a yard work and managed to get poison ivy, which spread like crazy up and down my arms. I was miserable.

I went to the doctor about the poison ivy and was prescribed Prednisone, a corticosteroid pill. But as I was picking the prescription up, my gut kept telling me not to take it. I was still in agony and couldn’t make sense of this loud inner message I was getting. The only warning I noticed was that this medicine might lower my immunity. What did I care? I needed to lower the itching and burning. After a day or so of waffling, I took a pill. Within a day of that, the latent disease I’d contracted in the mountains that was swimming around in my blood stream careened straight to the surface, and down I went.

Flagg first took me to the nearby doc-in-a-box. They thought it was the flu and sent me home. Two days later, after I’d barely been able to move off the couch—literally, I would make a sandwich and then be too exhausted by the effort to eat it without resting first—he called and said I needed to be seen again. This time, the doctor sent me on to an infectious diseases doctor.

The new doctor was, in my book, amazing. He took down all my details and then pulled a bizarre sounding but spot-on diagnosis out of the air: ehrlichiosis. It’s a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks that causes flu-like symptoms. Most strange was that I hadn’t even thought to mention that, in the middle of all that muddle, I had found some kind of abscess in my pubic hair. But I was so sick, I didn’t have the bandwidth to investigate what that might have been. In hindsight, it must have been a tick.

The doctor started me on the correct antibiotic while we waited for the test results to confirm his diagnosis. The condition is so uncommon, even in Atlanta, all the samples are only processed roughly once a week. On my follow-up visit a week later, the doctor started entering my exam room, looked at me and walked back out. A few seconds later, he entered again.

“Jill? I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you from how you looked when you first came in,” he said. Yes, that was a rough patch, and I was grateful to Flagg for walking me through it.

Also during our short seven months together, his son—also named Flagg—got married. It’s entirely possible I don’t appear in any of their wedding photos, as they didn’t want someone showing up in them who might not still be in the picture after the film was developed. I completely understood.

The experience was, however, a brief brush with celebrity, of a kind. Prior to the wedding, Flagg had given me a couple of books to read. One was written by the son of a good AA friend of his back in Chicago who had died. The man’s wife had also died within a year of his death, leaving children who had to fend for themselves. The book, called A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius, was written by one of the kids, Dave Eggers, who was a close friend of the younger Flagg, the groom in the wedding. The book chronicles the kids’ lives after both parents died.

At the reception, where Dave gave a best man’s speech that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house, I spoke with his fiancée, Vendela Vida. The two had recently gotten engaged on the Bridge of Kisses in St. Petersburg, Russia, and she had just finished telling Flagg and me the symbolic meaning of each of the bands in her multi-banded engagement ring, when Dave walked up.

Seeing her showing us the ring, he said, “The bands all have special meaning, but we’re not sharing that with anyone. That’s just between us.” (Don’t worry, Vendela, I have long ago forgotten what you said. Your secret is safe.)

By now, Dave Eggers has many other credits to his name, including the books What is the What, Zietoun, and The Circle, and screenplays for the movies Where the Wild Things Are and Away We Go. He and Vendela share credits on that last one, and she has her own list of writing accomplishments. The brush was brief, but it made a lasting impression.

Another dating flame-out worth mentioning was Nick, a guy I shouldn’t have dabbled with but did. The magnetism was incredible, such that I went back to the 12 Steps for a time to get him out of my system. The attraction had an addictive quality to it, even though there was never any substance to the relationship. I also found that Brainspotting was an effective therapy for clearing the stuckness.

A slightly longer relationship with another man I didn’t marry was with Ken. Ken was a therapist and sometimes drove over to my place on his BMW motorcycle. Harkening back to my fun days dating Tim in college, I was looking forward to climbing on the back of it. He ordered me a brand new Bell helmet and I signed up to take a motorcycle safety course. But then I couldn’t do it.

The boys were fairly young at the time, eleven and eight, and I still couldn’t get on an airplane without a ball of nerves wadding up in my gut. (That hadn’t happened before I had little kids, and it went away once they got older.) I could still hear the panic in my mother’s voice as she pleaded with Pete—truthfully, it sounded a lot like yelling—not to get a motorcycle when he was in high school. She worked at an insurance agency and had seen firsthand what could happen. Bottom line: I had too much to lose. I sent the helmet back and cancelled the course.

In general, with Ken, I was challenged by the lack of depth in our conversations. But there were upsides to the relationship that kept me coming back. After it ended, I asked myself, ‘Would I do that again?’ What I meant was, ‘Would I hang in there for a year hoping for more meat, when meat was really all the relationship was offering?’ Probably. In many ways, that was a very good year.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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