The Story of HB and The Story of Stu overlap in some ways, so it's been difficult to figure out how to write the stories chronologically without sounding like I was stringing two men along at the same time! Of course, there is the technical fact that HB and I had not been together together since the spring of 2010, so me meeting Stu on Plenty of Fish – during one of my lonely “I-wish-I-could-just-meet-someone-and-get-HB-out-of-my-system” moments – in December 2010 and the subsequent flurry of emails exchanged with him can not be considered cheating. Although my heart was with HB, I was already attempting to pull away from him, as I knew he was from me, and I went back to the only way I knew to move on from a boyfriend: try to find another boyfriend. Hey, it worked with Black Luke when I had finished with Crumbs; it worked with Stringer when I was trying to get over Black Luke; why not try it again? (See a pattern here? This is why a year off from dating is a good thing for me.)
Stu's PoF profile was actually one I had looked at the previous year, before I met HB on that very same site. His picture showed a very attractive man – who bore a surprising resemblance to a famous actor renowned for being quite handsome – with a solemn, unsmiling face half hidden in shadow. His write-up very clearly announced him as a Christian, which immediately drew me...and made me wary at the same time. At the time, I was dealing with several people who called themselves Christians and used that designation as permission to tell other people what to do and how they should behave. I knew a few women who had been “cowed into submission” and, although I definitely do want to be a help and a support to my husband, I also want to be allowed free thought and the right to make my own mistakes and decisions (and learn from them). My first thought upon seeing that he was a fellow believer was excitement, but the thought immediately following was that I would end up in a relationship with a man who would dictate to me, tell me what I could and could not read or watch or listen to, and refuse to allow me to spend time with my friends. At that time, I didn't feel I could handle someone who trumpeted his faith so blatantly in such a public forum – if he was so brazen with his beliefs on a dating website, I was certain that he would be even more so in person. I didn't send him a message, and instead ended up in the long drawn-out saga we now all know as The Story of HB.
By December 2010, however – and despite the fact that I had designed and commissioned a ring for HB, and he had a matching one made for me in return – I knew that HB wouldn't be able to hang in there much longer before panicking and running away from me again, and I was determined that I wouldn't sit around waiting for him to make up his mind about where we were going to go. At this point, it had been eight months since he had last kissed me, and although he told me he loved me on a regular basis, I began to wonder if that meant to him what I wanted it to. We were “friends who loved each other”, a strange limbo-land that I still hoped would evolve into a real relationship, but always in the back of my mind was the thought that it would never happen. Once again I created a profile at plentyoffish.com, and began halfheartedly scoping out the possibilities.
And there was Stu's instantly familiar profile again, staring out at me. Once again intrigued, I read it over a couple of times, chuckling at his sense of humor and wondering if he could possibly be someone who would meet me halfway. After some hesitation, I decided there was no harm in contacting him. I wrote up a quick introductory message and hit Send.
It didn't take long before Stu and I were exchanging regular emails. It was an excellent way to start: he tested my knowledge of pop culture and we told each other a few anecdotes about our walk with the Lord and how we had grown – and were continuing to grow – in our respective faith. I began to look forward to hearing from him, and while in real life my up-and-down back-and-forth emotional struggle with HB continued, Stu and I got to know each other.
It soon became very obvious to me that Stu was not anything like most of the men I had met through PoF who were only interested in one thing (you know which one thing I am talking about), and that he was a very slow worker. Sometimes I wouldn't hear from him for days or a week, although when I received an email it was always fun to read and engaging. I wasn't falling for him simply by reading his letters, but I liked the person I was getting to know through the once- or twice-weekly missives. Part of me was anxious to meet him, but another part of me wanted to hold off as much as he apparently did. I wondered at the time why I waited so long to ask him if we could meet in person, and recognized that if I met the real-life Stu, I might very well start to like him even more, and that would mean that I finally would have to let go of HB completely. I wasn't ready yet. Nor, apparently, was Stu, though not for the same reasons.
It was a full six months before we finally arranged to see each other in the flesh. We had exchanged few photographs, preferring instead our free-flowing conversation, and Stu had advised me that he no longer looked as much like that famous actor as his profile picture showed. He had changed quite a bit, he said, and wanted to make sure I knew that before we met. That didn't bother me, since I liked the way we had communicated and didn't want to meet him solely for his attractiveness. In a way, I think I hoped that his physical traits - if they truly were changed - would make him less attractive to me. His messages had shown that he had many of the things I knew I wanted in a man, and although it didn't make me care for HB any less, it made me wonder if there was someone out there who would be a better match for me, and who I would be able to be with in a comfortable way without all the drama and stress and insecurity about the future.
Stu and I planned to walk around Beaver Lake together, and he said he would meet me at the sign marking the entrance, and that he would be hard to miss with all his facial hair. I pulled up at the sign and saw a tall man standing there, his long hair curling as the wind teased it around his head. Nerves caused my heart to beat faster, but I steeled myself as I got out of the car, telling myself that if it was meant to be, it would, and if not, there was no harm in a walk around the lake.
He grinned as I got closer to him, and I noticed that the handsome face I had seen in his profile picture was still there, under the wild hair swirling around his head and face. His eyes were beautiful and soulful and his teeth, straight and even as he smiled, sparked an answering smile in me. Between the gorgeous eyes, high cheekbones and infectious smile, I was at once reminded of Black Luke. I was attracted to him, and as he welcomed me to our “first date” with a hug, my thoughts were a mix of excitement, hope, possibility...and dread at the realization that no matter what happened during this walk with Stu, it was finally - really - time for me to tell HB that we were done.
...to be continued...