I first discovered these incredible creatures when I visited San Francisco in 2007 and it was love at first sight. Their prehistoric nature, majestic wingspan and peculiar feeding style fascinated me. I spent hours trying to photograph them from the docks of Fort Mason and learned that near sunset every evening, thousands make their way west across the Bay – flying under and over the Golden Gate to nest on the rocks near the Sutro Baths.
Brown pelicans, San Francisco.
I was on the N-Judah train, headed east into downtown from Ocean Beach, on my way to meet up with an old friend from high school I hadn’t seen in 20 years. As expected, a local character boarded the train at Church and Duboce – just outside Safeway. He had a swagger in his step and was holding something inside his jacket. Fortunately, the expression on his face incited more curiosity than fear.
Within seconds, I had my answer as he pulled out a big pack of cold steak (straight out of the Safeway freezer) and tried to auction it off right there in the aisle. After a few unsuccessful attempts at shoving the large package of meat uncomfortably close to the faces of my fellow riders, he, of course, decided to plunk down next to me. He sat smiling, staring. Then he put out his hand for me to shake. Awkwardly, I gave him a little wave instead.
More smiling and staring.
Then, unprovoked, he looked at me and said “I don’t like you anymore”.
Oh SHIT. What did I do? What do I do?
“That’s because I LOOOOVE YA!”. Exhale. Cringe.
I faked a phone call and fortunately he got off at the next stop, but not before taking advantage of one last opportunity to get the attention of everyone on the bus. He strutted back around to my window, smiled and blew me a kiss.
The next stop was mine. As I got up to make my way off the train, the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and with an empathetic smile, handed me a red carnation.
“This is for you. You’ve earned it.”
As I accepted this thoughtful gift, a happy, knowing grin appeared across my face. Four words immediately came to mind : only in San Francisco.
I landed at SFO last night with a heavy heart. That was the last time arriving here would be arriving “home”.
In July 2008, I moved to San Francisco from Toronto with two suitcases, oodles of optimism and not much else. No job. No work visa. No friends. No address or phone number. Just a feeling in my gut that I couldn’t shake. A feeling that the next chapter in my life was supposed to take place in San Francisco. I just needed to get here and the pieces would fall into place.
I was a 30-something single woman looking for love. A teacher looking for a new career. A former travel junkie looking for a little adventure. More than anything, I was looking for somewhere new to call “home”.
San Francisco welcomed me with open arms. I took a huge risk on this city and she paid me back in spades. Amazing friends. Incredible adventures. A new career. A wonderful husband. And a beautiful baby boy.
Seven years later, and it’s time for a new beginning. In less than a month, I’ll be boarding my one-way flight east to start a new chapter in Asheville, North Carolina. A chapter that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t book that one-way flight to San Francisco seven years ago.
In celebration of all that this beautiful city has brought to my life, my posts over the next month will be dedicated to a long lingering farewell to my City By The Bay. I am not ashamed to admit I’m a total cliche. San Francisco, you will always have a piece of my heart.
I walked past this sign in my neighborhood the other day and couldn’t help but to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if some of our romantic relationships came with a warning sign this imposing?”
I mean, how convenient would it be to know from blocks away that any forward movement would be a giant waste of time and energy? A simple straightforward sign like this could help us to mentally and emotionally throw ourselves in reverse before we got too close, turned that no-turning-back-now corner, and inevitably got stuck at the end of a road where the only way out was some kind of crazy six-point turn.
Though I suppose many of us would walk right on by, wouldn’t we? (Sigh.) The huge sign (or signs!) are there in front of us and yet we choose to ignore them. Some of us might convince ourselves that we don’t see them, but in our heart of hearts, we know that we do (you can’t really miss something that big!).
So why do we do it?
We choose to ignore not because we enjoy making one wrong turn after another, but because lonely hearts don’t seek convenience – at least not in that way. Lonely hearts choose to believe that even though someone else decided that the road leads to nowhere, there’s still a chance that they’ll be able to transform that dead end into something with a sprig of life. Lonely hearts don’t see what is, they see the potential for what could be. And they will spend an obscene amount of time and energy trying to create the outcome they believe is possible. I know, because I’ve done it.
Instead of looking at the sign and driving away, I drove right on by and sat at the end of the road trying to forge a way forward on more than one occasion. Embarrassingly, (especially when everyone else could see the huge sign behind me) I sat there for months thinking there was some way through the wall in front of me. That if I just said the right thing, or did the right thing, or learned to be patient, and waited long enough, that the bricks would start to crumble, the path would appear and my efforts would magically turn out to be completely worthwhile.
Of course, eventually (and every time), I had to swallow my pride, shift into reverse and get the hell out of there before any more of my life ticked on by – but at least I (eventually) learned a hard lesson from the time spent staring at the wall:
I finally realized that the best way to not end up staring at the wall ever again was to look at the map well in advance (when my head was clear and my heart was preoccupied) and avoid any part of town where dead end streets existed. I learned that although this would mean a self-imposed ban on some of the most attractive parts of town, potentially limiting the scope of my forage for love, it also meant that my lonely heart would not be tempted to put the blinders on again and sit in front of that damned wall.
When we’re younger, there truly are fewer ‘dead end’ relationships out there – and in my opinion, more reason to be naively optimistic that things will just work out. But as we get older, the signs get bigger, the patterns more apparent, and that means we can use the information we’ve gleaned from past experiences to strategically chart our course (we can and we must!).
From 1997 -2011, I was single and on the dating scene – joining the online dating pool around 2004. After online dating on and off for more than six years, on three sites, in two cities and at some point, expanding my search to include the entire country, here is the line that I finally added to my profile that kept the dead ends off the map:
“If you’re married, separated, divorced less than six months (I would update this to a year) or interested in dating girls under the age of 25, this isn’t the right time for us”.
Yes, it might sound kind of ridiculous, and it might not be the solution for everyone, but this one simple sentence saved me from having to engage in conversation with an entire demographic of men who I knew were not looking for what I was looking for: marriage and babies. As fun as these guys can often be to hang out with, because they’re new to the dating scene, eager to please and express a vulnerability that ‘available’ men often keep tucked away, they are dangerous for the lonely heart. The danger, often unintended, comes in the fact that they have no idea what they want. Yes, they’re lonely, too, but not in the way that we are. They will happily let us play, as I like to call it, “Patron Saint of Unavailable Men” – building their confidence, stroking their egos and gently holding their hands as we guide them through the ropes of the dating jungle, but at the end of the day, they don’t want what we want and they will leave our lonely hearts even lonelier than they found them.
They need time and lots of it. Time to sort through their emotional baggage, understand what went wrong with their past relationships, have all the fun they think they’ve missed out on, and learn to trust again – and we don’t have time! I don’t care how old or young you are, none of us have precious moments of our lives to waste on more hurt.
I learned the hard way that the best thing a single woman can do for herself is to shout a resounding “No!” to what she knows is not good for her (and believe me, she knows). As tempting as it might be for a lonely heart to take something over nothing, if someone keeps driving themselves willingly down dead end roads, they can’t blame anyone else for the wall they keep running into. Single women need to be absolutely clear about what they want and extremely disciplined about refusing to waste time considering anyone they know is looking for something different (hint: if you’re looking for marriage and babies, this includes all men who are unhappily married, separated, divorced less than a year or interested in dating girls under the age of 25. If you’re over 35, it includes the above and all men under 30). Yes, these might be generalizations, but why take a chance this big on something with a miniscule success rate? It might sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best solution is eliminating your options – especially the ones that are distracting you from focusing on finding what you want: someone who wants what you want.
And just to be crystal clear, this isn’t about lowering standards and trying to make a relationship work with someone you’re not really into because you think maybe you’re being too picky. I applaud too picky. Too picky is fantastic. It’s about raising expectations in terms of how you expect to feel in a relationship and having zero tolerance for wasting your time on anyone who doesn’t show a helluva lot of potential from the get-go. If you’re anything like me, it might also be about admitting that you’re attracted (addicted?) to the challenge and charm of the unavailable man – and now would be as good a time as any to stop torturing yourself. Being single is hard enough as it is – that kind of drama will deplete you.
Ultimately, this is all about being more focused on finding the person who wants what you want and wants it with you.
He’s out there – believe me. But you’re not going to find him if you’re spending your time staring at another brick wall.