"Bring your overnight bag and something to sleep in," I said to Donovan, before we even met for our first date.
"I don't plan on getting much rest," he answered playfully via text, after we discussed how many children we wanted to adopt and the speed at which we might relocate to New England as a family.
Donovan and I had undeniable textual chemistry.
"You're different from all of the other men I've met," he continued. "It seems like we have a real connection." A mid-40s anesthesiologist from Santa Monica, Donovan was tall and handsome - not to mention rebounding from a 9-year relationship with a man who was more than a decade his junior.
"There's definitely something between us," I said, giddy at the idea that I may have been set up with "Mr. Finally The Right One." After all, his Australian accent spiced up our phone conversations and his nurturing style reassured me that - through one cellular text message after another - he wanted to start a life with me. The fact that we had yet to actually see each other face to face seemed an inconsequential detail.
A week earlier, a close friend asked if I'd be open to a romantic set-up, a blind date with an Ivy League doctor who was newly single. It took all of my will to keep from jumping into her car so she could chauffeur me to his ocean front house immediately.
"He's the sweetest, cutest guy," she effused. "I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner!" I could play similar phrases and exclamations on a loop in my head, echoes of all the other girlfriends who were certain they knew the Prince Charmings of West Hollywood. (Note to all gal pals: being an indispensible, gay BFF does not a good dater make! A funny friend with a drippy quip - as solid a compadre as he might be to YOU - is not always the most mature suitor.)
Donovan, however, seemed to have a leg up - not to mention a career, a hefty bank account, a social life and a good family - on the other gentleman callers who had crossed my path, and he came with a valued friend's stamp of approval.
"Give him my number," I said, hopeful that he'd use it. And he did.
Our initial conversation flowed easily, his Aussie inflections charming me into an extended conversation about his work.
"I'm on-call quite a bit," Donovan told me. "I spend most of my time at the hospital, putting patients under 'general' for surgery." I knew the lingo, being the child of a doctor.
"Well, can you make time for dinner this weekend?" I asked, which was exactly four days away.
"I think that could happen," he said. "I'm so excited to meet you. I hope we can talk and text in the meantime." I wish that the flashing lights and alarms from the plutonium plant in Silkwood had sounded in my head and that I'd been rushed into a steel shower stall for a harsh, cold scrub-down. Instead, I said, "I would love that."
The next few days gave birth to a full-fledged love affair. We learned everything about each other's passions, interests, families and desires by phone and text. We discussed our sexual proclivities and decided to eschew the traditional first date dinner at a mid-way restaurant for a rip-your-clothes-off throw-down in my bedroom. Our feelings for each other were melting every cell tower in Los Angeles.
By the time Saturday night rolled around, our combined energies were about to combust. I hadn't been so excited to see someone since Channing Tatum announced that he'd star in Magic Mike 2.
"Am I everything you dreamed of?" I asked jokingly as I welcomed Donovan into my living room, expecting him to devour me with his pulchritudinous lips.
"I guess," he answered. Huh? What just happened?
"You seem disappointed." All of the air left the room.
"No," he said, "it's just different now that I am here in person." The accent that had more than once turned me on now had a monotoned disinterest that could put even the toughest patient to sleep without a drop of Ketalar. Did this mean no twins (a boy/girl combo, by the way; might as well get it all handled in one swoop)? No little house in Connecticut where I would be a stay-at-home dad and write my next book at night?
"So, I take it that you'd like to put your overnight bag back in the car?" I asked.
"Yeah, I think I might have overreached," Donovan replied. "Let's just have dinner." I'm no Brad Pitt, but I certainly hadn't misrepresented myself with trick photos and disingenuous phone chatter. Having grown up bullied and having survived eating problems, a comestic surgery addiction and soul-crushing friendships, I had already been conditioned to believe that I wasn't good enough. The last thing I needed was Donovan to drive the message home.
"You know," I said, "I think I'll get dinner by myself. You should probably get your bag back to Santa Monica." And, his flat-as-a-pancake ass, too.
As I watched Donovan's Audi SUV exit my garage and head west, I realized that I was letting a total stranger rob me of the self-esteem for which I had so fiercely battled. I wanted desperately to find my other half, and I fell for a facsimile of the real thing. I bought into the fantasy - the tall, hot Australian who couldn't wait to take care of me and make me feel whole - without looking past my iPad. I learned from Donovan that a "relationship" could live its entire life span on a smart phone and that, instead, I had to be the smart one going forward.
Technology is a danger of the contemporary dating landscape. I don't have it all figured out, but I have developed the "Donovan Rule:" No frequent calling or texting before the first meeting - and no overnight bags on Date 1.