Ghost in the Machine

"It's been 12 years since Sunny Von Bulow left us," Brendan said during our first phone conversation, "and I still soldier through some really dark moments."

"Sunny Von Bulow?" I asked.

"Yeah, my golden lab," he continued. "She slept a lot as a puppy."

"It's hard losing a beloved pet; I went through it once myself." I could sympathize with Brendan's sadness, but suffering from depressively "dark moments" more than a decade after his dog's death seemed extreme.

"She was my everything. Her Waterford dishes just sit on the counter now, and her chair is empty and cold."

Dishes? Chair? My family doted on Muffin for all of her 15 years, but she had only one rubber bowl and not a piece of furniture to her name.

"Let's talk about something cheerful," I said, almost begging for a swift subject change. We had just recently met online, and discussing animals that had crossed the "Rainbow Bridge" was definitely a dating downer.

"Good idea," Brendan said, "I'll tell you more about me." And he did. For the next 120 minutes. Here's what I learned: he finds himself to be very loyal, kind and funny, highly intelligent and considers himself so well read that he can talk about any subject with any group of people at any given time.

"According to you," I said, "you're marriage material. I should put a ring on it right now!"

"You should," he continued, without once asking about me. Between his overly healthy self-esteem and his obsession with a dog that died so long ago, I was ready to say goodnight and goodbye to Brendan, a tall, dark and handsome movie studio executive who was much more appealing as a two paragraph online profile than a telephone conversationalist. But, as I was about to exit stage left, he cast his web.

"You're very cute and clearly accomplished professionally," Brendan complimented. His delicate sounds of approval erased the tones of the egotist I was ready to blow off only moments before. And, after all, some people are simply more charming in person than they are on the telephone. "Will you have dinner with me on Friday night?" he asked.

"Absolutely," I said quickly, without the hesitation that would have undoubtedly met an earlier invitation. His flattering words felt warm and filling, and they grabbed me like a tight bear hug from someone who didn't know his own strength. After all, Brendan was talking to a man who never felt good enough for anyone, a person who wanted to cling to every positive word as though his life depended on it. Never mind the fact that Brendan flashed with so many hazard lights that he might as well have been standing next to an accident on a freeway.

Friday's casual dinner at a neighborhood restaurant confirmed my instincts. For another two hours, I listened to Brendan's endless list of life achievements and his dazzling attributes; in fact, the only words I spoke were to our waiter when he asked if I wanted pepper on my salad and parmesan cheese on my pasta.

"Can I take you out next Saturday night?" Brendan asked, giving me hug and a small peck on the lips.

My mind flashed back to a series of conversations I'd had with my close friend, Georgeanne. She always questioned why I would agree to second and third dates with men I knew weren't going to go the distance. Her logic was to cut them loose politely but as quickly as possible. There was Clint and Edward and Mike and Kevin and Charlie - I could go on and on - all of whom made me feel desired. I saw each man multiple times, trying to squeeze my foot into an odd-sized glass slipper, even though I didn't desire him. For the longest time, I believed that settling for a lopsided equation was the best I could do; after all, it wouldn't be easy to meet a man who wanted me, imperfections and all.

"You know, Brendan, I don't think..." I paused for a few seconds.

"You don't think what?" he asked. "You don't think I want to kiss you?" With that, he pulled me into a secure embrace and gave me a passionate kiss. (For the record, one of the few things he was right about was his talent for lip-locking.)

"I don't think I can meet you until 7PM next Saturday." I knew I should say, "I don't think this is going to work out, but thank you for a lovely dinner," but, again, he wanted me, and I wanted to be wanted, regardless of the fact that his personality was so off-putting.

"You can expect more than a kiss next week; I think maybe we should have a sleepover," he said.

"You never know," I answered coyly as I got into my car. There was a satisfaction in knowing that I had charmed someone and that he was so enamored with me that he was already thinking about sex.

"I'll talk to you tomorrow," he yelled after me as I drove out of the restaurant parking lot.

Naturally, I was disappointed when he wasn't in touch the following day. Two days after the date, I decided that I could make an effort, too - I didn't have to play the princess - and I sent a quick text to check-in. No response.

I felt rejected and embarrassed for a couple of days with still no word from him, every turn of my stomach reminding me that I had let myself get too wrapped up in a man who I knew wasn't my cup of tea in the first place. And, I gave him the power to affect my own self worth. Georgeanne had been right through the years; I needed to value myself more. I called her to say how horrible I felt because of Brendan's disappearing act.

"I think you've been 'ghosted,'" she said when I relayed the sequence of events.

"What does this have to do with Demi Moore?" I shot back.

"You know, 'ghosted,' she reiterated. "When someone just drops off the map - you don't ever hear from him again, and he doesn't reply to you all of a sudden. He just disappears, like a ghost."

I'd never heard the term used in that context before; apparently, it was a part of the contemporary dating vernacular with which I was not familiar. "But he seemed really interested in me; he even suggested a sleepover."

"Oh, honey, if Patrick Swayze were alive, he'd be giving you a wake-up call right about now," Georgeanne said. "I feel bad to break it to you, but Brendan probably found some other guy to sleep with during the week. It's not about you; he's just a player."

"I guess there's no sure-fire way to know if someone will turn into a 'ghost,'" I said, somewhat perplexed by this courting phenomenon that I knew nothing about previously.

"That's true," Georgeanne answered, "but, like I've said before, it teaches you to let go of people the moment you know they're not for you. No need to make yourself vulnerable to someone you don't even respect or care for; you have a say in these situations, too. It's not all about them."

"I just hoped that he would turn out to be more substantial than he seemed at first."

"We both knew that Brendan wasn't going to amount to much in your life after he mentioned Sunny Von Bulow eating off of only fine china," Georgeanne said. "But, you liked that he liked you - and you left yourself open. I'm not making excuses for him - he's an asshole - but you could have avoided this by thinking with your rational brain and not the one that needs everyone to fall for you."

Always the voice of reason, Georgeanne had a point. I let myself get carried away and inappropriately invested in someone I didn't care much about - simply because he gave me positive attention.

"Next time," Georgeanne said, "call me sooner. I'll give you the signal if I think there's 'ghosting' potential."

"What's the signal?" I asked, laughing but also relieved to have someone looking out for me.

"It's so simple," she said with a chuckle. "Molly, you in danger, girl."