I used to date a veterinarian who immigrated to the USA from New Zealand. I met him when I brought my birds to him for their annual checkups and vaccinations, and I was intrigued by him. He was new to New York, so we made small talk about all the things to do here. The next day, I took his business card out of my wallet and asked him out to dinner via email.
“Steven” was an interesting case. I did not find him handsome, although many other women certainly would. He was slightly overweight, with tightly curled hair and a ridge on his brow that I think of as the “cro-magnon” ridge.
Steven was definitely not a cro-magnon. What attracted me to him was his intense focus on my birds as he examined them. I could see him assessing them, looking underneath their tiny colored feathers to imagine what was beneath. He handled them carefully, with respect, even Monster, who is a total asshole who bites the shit out of you whenever you touch him. People are always at their most attractive when they are doing the activity they love best; whatever it is they are born to do, whether it be cooking or fixing machines or teaching. Steven was a born animal physician.
We went out to dinner, and after three dates, we commenced a six-month relationship.
He treated me well. He had his neurosis (as do we all), but he was a healthy man. He was, however, still in a lot of pain from a recent divorce. His wife ended the relationship a year previous. I could perceive that he wasn’t over it, nor did I expect him to be.
I was, of course, dating the Surgeon at the time and I had to plans to change that. After several months, Steven was startled to learn that I wasn’t monogamous. He’d assumed that we were. My natural view is that until you have the DTR (“Defining the Relationship”) discussion, where you commit to each other, both partners are free to do whatever the hell they want. I just met the guy eight weeks ago–what does he expect?
Anyway, I hurt him. He was one of those guys who latches on, and he liked me more than I liked him. The person who cares the least controls the relationship. I liked Steven, and I always did what I said that I would do with him, but even still, the relationship was recreational for me. I never came close to falling in love with him.
I enjoyed studying him, though, and I learned a lot by comparing him to the Surgeon. I noted that although both were physicians, the Surgeon was by no means a healer, but Steven was.
I remember one night I was with Steven while he was making the rounds at his hospital. He took out a huge Macaw in order to feed it its medicine.
A Macaw, if you don’t know, is an enormous parrot–probably the largest kept as pets. They are magnificent animals, and they have tremendous, sensitive beaks that can break a walnut or sever a person’s finger.
The bird, understandably scared, freaked out and turned on Steven, biting his lower arm. It broke the skin. Deeply.
Steven hissed air over his teeth in pain, but did not flinch. He got his hand on both sides of the bird’s head to stabilize it, and waited till it calmed down.
“That bird bit the shit out of you! Are you okay? It’s mean!” I said.
“The animal is never at fault,” he said. “The animal is never at fault.”
It occurred to me then, out of nowhere: This man would be a good father.
One time, we were at his apartment close to Central Park. I was sitting on his couch and he was laying down with his head in my lap. I think it was the second week of our relationship. We were talking about his past, his life.
He had a framed photograph of a parrot on his wall. I asked him who the bird was.
He said that the bird was his and his ex-wife’s, and when they divorced, his wife wanted the bird, so he gave her up. He didn’t want to fight over the bird, even though he loved it.
He started to tear up. Actual water came out. This was weird to me, because the men in my family don’t cry.
I bent down and kissed his forehead, and then held him for a long time. I said, “It’s okay, Steven. You did the right thing. Your bird will always love you.”
When I sat up again, he looked at me. He looked at me the way he examined my birds the first time I met him. He saw me. He really saw me.
“You’re such a kind person,” he said.
I’ve always remembered it. It was one of the most meaningful compliments I’ve ever received in my life.
But I kept Steven at arm’s length. I liked him a lot, and I like to think that I appreciated him, but I wasn’t that attracted to him. I found him interesting. I gave him a lot–got to know his colleagues, listened to his work drama, nursed him through a cancer scare–but I wasn’t really there.
He dumped me, which was a complete surprise (he did it via text-message, too, which was completely uncharacteristic for him–I think he was trying to treat me with the same casual indifference I’d been treating him. The text, which I’ll never forget, said “It’s been fun, but we’re done! Adios!” I almost fell off my barstool. I texted back: “Did you just break up with me via a text? Keep it classy, Steven!”) . I had zero expectations out of him. It was a dinner-conversation-sex relationship. Most men would kill to have that sort of relationship. Hell, they PAY me to do it now (we have BDSM and not sex, but you know what I mean).
I wasn’t very hurt when he broke up with me, just surprised. I don’t know why I couldn’t fall in love with him. He didn’t capture my imagination, probably because he didn’t want to kill me. I did learn from him, however.
I hurt him, and I do feel badly about that.