Our three-time love-lorn loser seeks advice from the Love Therapist on finding his Valentine.
Story by Christopher Heagy
Illustrations by Jim Hunt
Special Thanks to Therapist Vance Larson
What youre about to read is a real life version of Deconstructing Henry. Make that Deconstructing Heagy our guy unlucky at love.
Lets just say that with me around, shrimp cocktail has never had a chance. Once at a wedding, after I had devoured a double digit number of shrimp and pawed another handful of the tasty crustaceans, my embarrassed date yanked me away and forbade me to return to the raw bar. That relationship was in trouble.
At the Bay Weekly Christmas party, I had no such problems. Sans company, I munched on an unlimited supply of shrimp cocktail and raw oysters in relative peace until Bay Weekly publisher Bill Lambrecht strolled by
Chris, he said, as I dropped another shrimp in my mouth. Ive been thinking about your dating troubles.
Now Lambrecht is a sly guy, and I knew if he was thinking about my dating, I was a sad case.
Previously in Bay Weekly:
Its true. I worked hard to find love in the past two years, chronicling my efforts in stories. In five Valentines dates arranged for my Valentine Day 2000, Id been set up by friends, gone out with a woman I worked with and tried to rekindle an old flame. Each time, I swung and missed.
In 2001, Id tried web dating services with no luck. Ive even read manuals on how to pick up women and still I wound up alone.
Ive finally settled on a new philosophy, one my father tried to teach me many years ago. Women are like buses, he said. Another will be around in a few minutes.
Dad, sometimes I feel like Ive lost the schedule.
Shrunk over Shrimp
Back at the raw bar, Lambrecht had other ideas.
I suspected Lambrecht had been a long-time bachelor, spending his days chasing stories and pounding on a keyboard and his nights in smoke-filled bars shooting pool and drinking beer. With those good-old days behind him, hes settled into his married life. Now, he thinks all bachelors should follow his path.
Nobody preaches like the converted.
Chris, every Christmas we have a talk about your dating life and it never seems to change, Lambrecht said. Ive read about your dates. Now one of the girls you went out with has twins and theyre not yours.
I used to think you couldnt find the right girl. Maybe your timing was bad. But now I think its you. There has to be something wrong with you. You should see a therapist, he said.
Besides, sending you to a shrink might make for a damn funny Valentine Day story.
So there it was, the motive behind his questions. Id resolved at the New Year never to write another dating story. But I just couldnt pass up this chance.
Which is why Im knocking at the door of alternative therapist Vance Larson. Larsons not exactly a shrink; he specializes in re-occurring pattern therapy. The re-occurring pattern in my life seems to be the breakup of relationships.
Im not a mental health kind of guy. I handle my relationship problems when Im drinking a beer and talking about football with my friends. Still, with ex-girl friends, ex-dates, cousins, roommates and neighbors all getting engaged and married, I admit the whats wrong with me? question has crept in.
We are sitting in Larsons office, each on one leg of an L-shaped couch. Instrumental music lofts through the air. The lights are subtly dimmed, but it is not dark. For the next 45 minutes what unfolds is a real life version of Deconstructing Henry. With me in the title role, Larson goes about deconstructing Heagy.
First Larson wants to know how Ive met my potential mates.
When youre going to bars, sitting around having a cigarette or a beer, its potluck, Larson explains. You dont know why people are there. They may be raging alcoholics, just out with friends or once-in-a-blue-moon drinkers. You could get anything. Score one for the shrink.
Not to take anything away from dating services because thats fine, especially if youre very busy. But for me, dating services take the human element out of things. Its almost as if youre going to a fast-food restaurant, ordering something and getting it your way. Score two.
So whats a guy like me supposed to do?
The thing I recommend, said the shrink, is finding what you are passionate about in life. Then you do something in that area. You might meet someone, and right from the word go you know that there is something you both feel passionate about. How beautiful is it to start a relationship that way?
With the Maryland-Duke basketball game just a couple hours away, the only thing that Im passionate about is Terps basketball. So if there are any female hoops junkies reading, please speak up.
Beyond the Terps, Im not sure what my passions are. Still, Larsons idea is a more proactive way to find women.
Next Larson wants to look at how I present myself to my dates. Contrary to what I think, it isnt pretty.
In reading the stories, he says, one of the things that jumped out at me was that you were going on a date, yet you got a late start, and your clothes werent ready. Then something else happened. To me, that is just self-defeating behavior. If youre not going to take dating seriously, then why would a woman?
Its true that within my family, my problems with punctuality are legendary. But my articles have shown the lengths to which I go to make a good impression. Ive dressed in cars, brushed my teeth in gas station bathrooms and never eaten with my hands.
Still I drop the ball.
Because, shrinks he, shes getting a shot a the title. Come on now. Get with the program.
Ahh, okay, okay, I see the point.
But these are smaller things, things that with effort, attention and willingness to try new things I could handle.
Larson sees worse in my dating history.
It seems like you never really got over the earlier heartbreak, he says, my jaw dropping. That seems to be the pressing issue. Without truly getting over that relationship, you are setting yourself up for failure in the future. You are going to carry aspects of that failure into other relationships. Because that one failed, youre going to continue to fail.
Wait, wait, wait, Im thinking.
This is my question to you, he continues. What did you do in that relationship that caused or co-created the breakup?
Me? I mean, could I really have done anything to cause the failure of my love life? Impossible.
Hes insistent. Go back, he says, and think, what did I do that caused the break up? Dont just try not to do those things anymore. Dont do them.
Not wanting to supply Larson with any more damning material, I wiggle. She never fit into my life plan, I say.
Fitting into a life plan
Larson says with a chuckle while I squirm. She may not have, but all I hear in that statement is fear of losing control.
Me? Not Me!
Control, the shrink continues, is the one thing that we all want in life: control of ourselves, our jobs, our health. Truth is that the car and the house and the money, all that stuff can be taken away. We dont have any control. A life plan? Its great to have aspirations and goals, but when you say things dont fit into your plan, youre trying for control. Im thinking that you were afraid.
This is not what I want to be hearing.
One of the issues common to people in their early 20s, he says, is what can I do? what are my plans? Theres nothing wrong with that
I can handle that.
I dont like that word
you have to understand that the world doesnt revolve around you. You are living in this world, and you have to share it with other people.
Sharing never was my strength. I mean, one time I ate 36 shrimp at a wedding but thats another story. Maybe Im still not mature enough to make a relationship work, but my early 20s were a few years ago, so I hope Im getting closer.
Hope for Heagy
Sensing my growing concern, Larson lays things out for me.
Either you decide to be in this type of relationship, or you dont. After you make the decision, then you work at it. Every morning you wake up and think, what can I do for my partner? Because you have to be available and nurturing to other people or you will find yourself alienated from all these beautiful people.
People often think the grass is greener. It never is. If you want to know why the grass is greener on the other side, you need to look inward and say, why isnt the grass green here?
With our time winding down, Larson turns from hard truths to hope:
Were all damaged goods, he says, and thank God. Nobody wants to be with somebody who is perfect. It would be a pain in the ass. You need to accept imperfections going into a relationship.
Your life is the sum of your actions. You are responsible to make the changes in your behavior that will make a relationship successful. Dont just try; Do. You have the intellect to work on this.
When you do that, thats when youre going to find love. Because that is when you will be presenting yourself in your truest form. Youre going to meet the person who is attracted to you not for who you are going to become but for who you really are.
Best Foot Forward
Id like to say I walked out of Larsons house a changed man, ready to confront my fears, change my behaviors and mend my ways. Id like to say I was ready to look for love in all the right places, put on all my best faces and refuse to behave in a way that disgraces. I would find out who I was and put my best foot forward.
Yes, Lambrecht was right, I was the problem. In our lives we are all the problem. But problems can be solved.
Sometime before Valentine Day, I hope.
Everything I Learned about Love, I Learned from the Movies
For better or worse, everything I learned about dating I learned from the movies. Yes, you have Hollywood to thank for the prize that I am.
Movies give us heroes, and heroes become role models. While dear old dad has taught me a lot about dating, the men who taught me the most are the Crash Davises, Lloyd Dobbler and Jerry McGuires of the silver screen.
Just a note before we start: The Runaway Bride, Down to You, Pretty Woman, Shes All That, Forces of Nature, Bounce, Boys on the Side, Never Been Kissed and every bad Meg Ryan romantic comedy including, but no limited to, Youve got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle and French Kiss have taught me nothing.
Nothing, because I have never and will never see them. No self-respecting man should. Women see these with other women only. Give your men a break; they will thank you for it.
With that said, here are the five movies that taught me about women and dating.
When I was 12 years old, Bull Durham was the coolest movie ever. I sat stunned in a darkened theater as Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon let the innuendoes fly. Im sure I didnt understand most of what was going on in the movie. For the longest time, I thought they were talking about baseball. I slowly realized something else was at work. I walked out of the theater knowing for the first time that the sweet spot wasnt just in the middle of a baseball bat.
Next, John Cusack starred in Say Anything, the movie that launched 1,000 prom themes. Cusack, holding his boom box below Ione Skys window, brought us Peter Gabriels In Your Eyes. The song was played at every homecoming, prom, spring fling and winter social of my young adult life.
More importantly, just like every man born between 1972 and 1976, I, too, thought I was Cusacks Lloyd Dobbler, and that with quick wit and romantic timing, I could reach the girl of my dreams.
My Lloyd Dobbler moment came in the fall of 1991, sitting on the floor, watching that very Say Anything, explaining to a girl how professional mountain biking was the sport of the future. It made no sense and I didnt even own a mountain bike, but just like Dobblers, my off-beat story worked.
In 1995, I learned one of my most important lessons from Clerks, Kevin Smiths low-budget, black-and-white movie about slackers at a convenience store in a New Jersey suburb.
The movies hero, Dante, is contemplating leaving his current girlfriend for an old flame. Just when he decides to stay with the girl hes got, she finds out his old girlfriend is back in town.
With a kick to the stomach and a candy bar to the head, his relationship is on the rocks before he even knew what happened.
This is what I learned: No matter what, never, ever, ever and I cant stress this enough ever let your girlfriend know that you have talked to, seen or even thought about an ex.
Following that modern tale of woe came Casablanca, the classic story of a love denied. Humphrey Bogart stars as Rick, the owner of a swank nightclub in Morocco during World War II. When Rick sees his old flame, he breaks his pledge of sobriety.
Yes, the lesson is clear: Women drive men to drink.
Rick drank gin in a cool Moroccan nightclub listening to Sam play, As Time Goes By. I did my drinking on a baseball field in Camp Springs, Maryland, a cold dorm room in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and Bellas Sports bar in Cape Saint Claire. There I downed warm Busch Light cans with In Your Eyes playing in the background. I just couldnt get away from that song.
Finally, in Jerry McGuire, a chick movie that guys can stand, Tom Cruise stars as a sports agent. After losing his job and starting a new company, Jerry leaves his wife, the only woman who believes in him.
In a moment of clarity, he realizes he has his priorities wrong and that he wants his wife back. A few minutes into his I love you speech his wife says, You had me at hello.
Well, well, well, isnt that great. But now I have to question everything I have learned in the movies. In real life, when you leave, coming back aint that easy.
Editors note: Heagys got it wrong again. Bull Durham is, of course, a chick flick.