In Search of a Meatball

Young couple in love walking in the autumn park holding hands looking in the sunset
Young couple in love walking in the autumn park holding hands looking in the sunset

My unofficial personal ad for basically all of my 20s (and admittedly the first couple years of my 30s) was pretty simple...

Woman seeking man. Must be devilishly handsome. Six-foot-one or taller with dark hair, a five o'clock shadow, and stormy eyes. A bit of a cad. Emotionally unavailable. Athletic (climbers and cyclists preferred). If you read (or at least own books), listen to good music, have Peter Pan Syndrome or a touch of the narcissism, work with your hands, and consider yourself a tortured artist and/or misanthrope, that is icing on the cake.

And that was my type. I dated a lot of pretty carpenters. They were in general an aloof and uncommitted bunch. But I lived for sparkle. If he couldn't keep his hands off of me it didn't matter if he was closed off or a little crazy.

This proclivity landed me here, at the generous age of 33, with a six-year-old daughter and nary a long term relationship under my belt.

And while I was getting my shit together and raising a kid, I watched my girlfriends fall in love and get married. To really awesome guys.

I've had my fair share of "what's wrong with me?!" tantrums, but in general I've done enough work to know that the absence of romance in my life has very little to do with who I am as a person and everything to do with the choices I make. This last year especially, I've spent a lot of time and energy dissecting my "intimacy issues." It turns out, that laundry list of super deep and spiritual traits I've used as my compass of love thus far, has only been in service of keeping my heart disengaged and my status single.

I started looking at the truly happy relationships around me  -- the ones built on friendship and fun and mutual respect -- and noticed that they all had something in common. In each case, my friend decided to date someone who made them feel good, instead of someone that looked good on paper.

They let themself fall in love with a person, not an ideal.

Like when you see a gorgeous young woman with an average looking older guy and wonder how the hell that happened.

It could be his money. Or he could be her meatball.

After a long, drawn out divorce and custody drama that had her swearing off men forever, my friend started seeing this guy. They met at her job, connected on Facebook, and started getting together to play music. He was so much fun, and their comedic chemistry almost immediately became the other kind of chemistry. One late autumn evening, she sat shivering in his studio, and he asked her if she was cold. Pointing to her long and very narrow frame she exclaimed, "Yeah! I'm built like a piece of spaghetti!" He stopped what he was doing, and looking at her with unabashed glee shouted, "I love spaghetti!" And then, pointing to his own shorter, rounder frame, added "I'm built like a meatball!"

The next time they hung out he made her spaghetti and meatballs.

It was, she claims, the nicest thing a guy has ever done for her. Needless to say, they're together, in love, and she's genuinely happy.

Every happy couple I know has some version of this story. A memory of the moment they surrendered to a compatibility so rare and delightful, even though it was in the last place they expected to find it.

So when I sit in my friend's kitchen beating the dead horse of my most recent dark haired, narcissistic carpenter, and she tells me that I have to be willing to date a meatball, I know she's speaking the truth.

The meatball has become the Holy Grail of men. A sleeper. Potentially unremarkable at first glance but undeniably appealing. Satisfying and delicious. Real sustenance.

And how does one find their meatball?

Step One. Throw long list of prerequisites out the window.

Step Two. Decide on a new list. A short list that's as much about you as it is about them. Mine is as follows: I must think he's super cool (by my own standards). He must be really into me. And he must communicate. Boom. Done.

Step Three. No matter what, follow what feels good, not what looks good (i.e. pretty faces, imaginary futures, fame and fortune).

I've been living on cake and wondering why I'm so damn hungry all the time. Not because I'm so shallow, but because chasing what I think will make me happy has kept me at a safe distance from actually being happy. Because being happy means being open and vulnerable. And man, does that scare the crap out of me.

But since lately I'm really into doing things that scare me, I've placed a new order with the great universal kitchen: One meatball, please.

Order up.