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The Ex Files

Claire Heath

April 03, 2009

Claire Heath is a native Los Angeleno who worked in film marketing for 11 years before chucking it all to write full time. Now she works for a start-up called LikeMe.net that offers personalized lifestyle recommendations, and spends her free time writing pieces for websites like WaitingRoomMagazine.com and ModernTonic.com while trying to find someone to buy her first feature screenplay. She hasn’t had much formal musical training, but likes to belt out tunes by Pat Benatar and Mary J. Blige in the shower or at the odd night at karaoke.

I realize I should have known better.

In my early twenties, I dated a recovering alcoholic-turned-gambling addict. After suffering sleepless nights obsessing over how I might come up with money to pay off his debts so a wise guy named Frankie Knuckles wouldn’t bash his knees in with a baseball bat, I finally wised up myself and cut him off. Years later, he tracked me down. He wanted to apologize for everything he’d put me through.

He also wanted to fix me up with one of his friends. (Let’s call said friend Mark – as in “I was a ‘mark’ in my ex’s dirty con.”) I’d never heard of an amend that came with a parting gift. Yet the same sucker in me who dated this schmuck in the first place believed that maybe he was trying to repay his karmic debt to me by introducing me to someone who would treat me well - the way he should have. And wouldn’t it make a fantastic story if one of my worst relationships actually led me to “The One”? I told the ex he could give Mark my number.

Mark and I had a decent pre-screening phone call. He was a numerologist. Hey, I liked math in school. He was also into ‘70s R&B and Soul. I could dig it. We planned to meet in person.

First date restaurant choice says a lot about a person, so I was pleased that Mark picked a cozy Italian joint that my family frequented for special occasions. The restaurant happened to be a block away from his apartment, so we decided to meet in front of his place and walk over together. Although this put me on his turf, I found it preferable to A: giving my home address to a veritable stranger who might choose to stalk me later and B: resorting to the “I’ll be wearing a black scarf and holding a red rose” blind date identifier.

Mark was no looker, which might be a problem for some but wasn’t for me since I’m always more attracted to the present than the wrapping anyway. But his personality points took an immediate hit as we walked to the restaurant. A construction site lay between us and our destination, and I nearly rolled an ankle hobbling along in heels over the graveled, uneven pavement. Did Mark offer his arm to hold me steady? Suggest we cross the street after watching me stumble? No. He just laughed. Dude straight laughed at me. I wondered if he’d also find it humorous if I lost my job or got hit by a car. Not an auspicious beginning.

Once we were settled into a booth at the restaurant, Mark exhibited a quality that hadn’t been apparent during our initial phone call: the inability to talk about anything other than himself. This wasn’t just nervous chatter. This was an “I really, really love the sound of my own voice” extended monologue. I heard about his crappy childhood, his difficulty finding work that he loved, his failed past relationships. If I interrupted to volunteer some information about myself (“I went to school in Philadelphia for a couple years…”), he managed to turn the focus right back on him (“That reminds me, I went on a trip to Philadelphia when I was a kid. My parents fought the whole time and it was really traumatic for me…”). As we were finishing the meal, he complimented me on my listening skills. Gee, thanks.

When the check came, I did the obligatory polite girl move. Here’s the way it works, guys: the girl grabs her wallet as if to offer to pay for her half of the meal, and the guy waves it off like, “Your money’s no good here.” I understand that dating can become an expensive proposition for a man if you follow this rule of courtship – especially after I’ve put all that pressure on first date restaurant choice – but most girls (the cool ones, anyway) would be just as impressed with a cheap dive that serves amazing pho as they would a fancy wallet-buster. It may seem old-fashioned, but having a guy pay on the first date makes a girl feel good. It’s like saying her company was worth the price of a meal.

Mark wasn’t aware of this little dating dance. He told me how “refreshing” it was that I would pay for my half, unlike the “gold digger” chicks he usually went out with. Despite the fact that I felt like he actually owed me money for the therapy session I had just presided over, I wasn’t going to make a fuss over his misreading of my gesture. But I was appalled when he itemized the bill to determine his share vs. my share. This isn’t just a date thing, this is an adult thing: when splitting a bill, cut it into equal parts. It makes life easier for your server, and you don’t look like an anal-retentive cheap bastard.

I couldn’t wait to get to my car. Besides making sure to steer us down the safe side of the street, I didn’t say a word on the walk back. Which, as you can imagine, was not a problem because Mark was more than happy to fill in the silence with more about him. When back on his block, I started to say my goodbye as I headed for the curb and he headed up his walk. He was shocked that I wasn’t going to come in.

“No, thanks. I need to call it a night. I’m really tired and I have an early day tomorrow and I’m….”

And I’m a sucker.

Mark begged and pleaded that there was some music he wanted to play for me and he insisted that I come in for just a second. I know this doesn’t bode well for when I become a parent, but I relented just to make the whining stop.

The décor in Mark’s apartment was…. unexpected. It was a studio so I immediately got to see the bed in all its splendor. There was a metal loop mounted on the wall above it from which white chiffon draped like a canopy. I have only seen such a thing in pre-teen girls’ rooms. There were also garishly framed prints of men kneeling while being knighted by damsels with flowing hair. And some fake ivy hung over the doorway to the bathroom. It was as if I had just entered a Renaissance Faire. I was thankful that I wasn’t remotely attracted to Mark. There was no way I could handle spending the night in that room.

Mark had me sit on the couch while he set up a boom box on the coffee table. He sat down next to me, smirking, as the music started to play. It was an R&B ballad I had never heard before. It wasn’t very good.

“Guess who this is?” he asked.

I shrugged.

“Guess!”

I told him I really didn’t know.

“It’s me! Don’t I sound black?”

I’d had enough.

I gave him a vague compliment on his singing as I headed for the door. He jumped up and blocked the exit, demanding that I stay a little longer. He was holding on to my arm a little too tightly, with the bed a little too close by, and visions of date rape started dancing in my head.

I told him to let me go. He wouldn’t. He just kept telling me to calm down – which only served to make me more uptight. Then he had the gall to try to kiss me. I turned my face away from him and told him that if he didn’t let go of my arm – and I mean NOW – I was going to scream. That finally did it. He eased his grip and I flew out of there like a bat out of hell.

The next day, my ex called me to find out how the date had gone. I didn’t even want to get into the details. I just told him in no uncertain terms that Mark “wasn’t for me.” He made some “oh well, I tried” kind of comment and all I could think was, “Served me right for trusting you again, lose my number, thanks.” Click.

The day after that, Mark called. He said he had heard from my ex that I didn’t want to go out with him again and he wanted to find out why. Because he had no idea why. Because most of his dates end with him holding the girl against her will and her threatening to shriek to be rescued by his neighbors?

Yes, I should have known better. And now, hopefully you will, too. If your ex-alcoholic, ex-gambling addict ex-boyfriend ever offers to fix you up with his supposedly excellent friend, no matter what your politics are, take a page from Nancy Reagan. Spare yourself the agony and just say no.