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Things Come in Ones
This week, I reworked the second piece I ever published in this newsletter, originally titled Things Come in Threes. It’s a piece that I always liked, but I knew could be improved.
The idea to revisit an old piece was prompted by the Foster writing community. Special thanks to JG Garibaldi from Foster, as well as Mark Koslow and Rory Davidson from my Wayfinder fam, for their helpful edits.
Okay, on with today’s story.
I don’t buy into the “things come in threes” concept.
Sometimes it feels like they do. Like when Michael K Williams, Norm MacDonald, and then Betty White passed during the latter half of 2021. That felt like a pattern. But when you look closer, you find that a bunch of other famous people died during that same timeframe too.
Things don’t come in threes. They come in ones. You only happen to remember three of them in a row. Humans really do love a good listicle.
I was a wreck at the start of 2013. My marriage was on the ropes. We had a rocky December with some of the lowest moments in our marriage and, for that matter, some of the lowest in my life. For a while, I clung to the idea that it was salvageable.
I thought, All we need is couples counseling. Splitting up doesn’t make sense. We’ve been together for so long and have shared so much of our lives. Despite all the things that have gone wrong recently, they don’t add up to divorce.
The problem was, she already had one foot out the door.
Eventually, the rational part of my brain finally kicked in, and I realized it was over. Of course, there was still some lingering denial and wishful thinking. It’s hard to completely turn off your feelings for a person when you’ve been together for over a decade. Even if that person is much different now than when you first met. Even if your time together hasn’t been very happy for quite a while. The fear of losing them hits you hard.
I moved out first—into an apartment in Santa Rosa with my friend and coworker Tristan. He and I worked together in the sales department of a horribly mismanaged company. Neither of us cared to be salespeople, but we both somehow stumbled into the job.
He had gone to Brown University, was well-read, played the guitar, and spoke fluent French. We would have conversations late into the night and watch thought-provoking movies together. We talked about moving down to San Francisco and starting over. I wanted to get into tech startups and both of us were looking for a way to move on from the company. The plan was to save up for a few months and make the plunge. It was admittedly a rough plan.
A few weeks after we moved in, I drove to my parents’ place in Los Gatos to watch the Super Bowl and stay for the weekend. I’m not a huge football fan, but the 49ers were playing and I grew up watching them with my Dad. So I made the two-hour drive from Santa Rosa to watch with him.
On Saturday night, as we were watching a movie at their house, I got a call from our sales manager, Brad.
“Tristan got into an accident on his bike today. I’m not exactly sure what happened yet, but his family asked me to let you know.”
“Oh man, is he okay?” I replied.
“I know he’s at Memorial Hospital, but I don’t know much beyond that. I’m going to head over there in a bit.”
I texted Tristan:
“Brad called and told me what happened. How’re you doing?”
He didn’t text back.
About an hour later, I got a text from another coworker:
“Tristan got hit by a car. His head was hit hard and now he’s in the ICU. They had to put him into a medically induced coma to reduce the swelling so his head can heal.”
It’s embarrassing to admit, but right after feeling bad for him and his family, I felt sorry for myself. Only a few weeks prior, I had made the decision to move forward with my life. Now I was alone again. It’s not like we were dating or anything like that. But he was around to distract me from my feelings. From feeling like I could burst into tears at any moment. From feeling abandoned.
Now left to my own devices, I fell right back into wanting to get my marriage back. I had a gaping, emotional hole that needed filling and I didn’t know what else to do. I cringe thinking about the desperate things I texted or said on the phone to her.
But she held firm and started putting together all the legal crap that comes with divorce.
On the surface, we had one of the easiest divorces ever. We had no kids. We had already sold our house. We each owned our respective cars. I was keeping the dogs. And she didn’t want any furniture or other household items.
Below the surface, it wasn’t easy at all. No divorces are, and I doubt many feel amicable while people are going through them. It's more likely that’s the story people tell themselves to ease the pain they felt at the time.
I didn’t have many close friends in the area, so I hung out with my coworkers in the days and weeks after Tristan’s accident. It was weird to lean into my work when not too long before we were plotting how we’d get the hell out of there.
In a stroke of luck, one of those coworkers, Danny, was looking for a place to stay and he took Tristan’s room. It must’ve been awkward for him to be staying in the same room as our now disabled co-worker did just weeks before. I was thankful for it since I couldn’t afford the rent on my own, and, to be honest, I needed the company.
We were both single. I wasn’t in the best mindset for dating, but I joined him at local bars from time to time anyway. He’s one of the most personable people I know, with an infectious laugh and outgoing personality. And seeing as we were reasonably attractive guys, we’d invariably end up chatting with some women. Most of the time, that’s all it was. A fleeting conversation at a bar over a few beers. That’s it.
A few months after unceremoniously and awkwardly signing the divorce papers with a notary and without my ex present, I was feeling better.
Shortly after a business trip to Philly, Brad moved into a new role and I took over as the sales manager at the horribly mismanaged company. So now I was part of the problem. But I was determined to fix things from the inside—like that would ever work.
On a warm night in early May, I was chatting and drinking beer with my friend Terry in the backyard of his parent's house in Santa Rosa. His Dad had a collection of 300+ board games in that same house until it all burned down in the Tubbs fire in 2017.
Terry is a software engineer, a self-described nerd, and he was single too. We were commiserating about our lack of dating lives. Granted, I was still married—in the eyes of the law, at least—because the divorce wasn’t finalized.
Who knew there was a six-month waiting period to finalize a divorce? If only there was a six-month waiting period for getting married. Like a free trial period. Maybe that could help people avoid this mess and heartache. Nah, we’re all too dumb when we’re in love.
“You should try OkCupid,” Terry said.
“Why?” I asked.
“They ask you a bunch of questions and then they have this cool algorithm that helps match you up with someone.”
“That’s cool. But has it worked for you? Like, have you met anyone on it?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never used it.”
A perfect answer from a nerdy software engineer.
Later that night, I debated creating an OkCupid account.
I might as well try it. It’s free after all. It’s not like I’m trying to get married again anytime soon. I’m just trying to meet new people and have some fun. And with OkCupid, I can be reasonably sure she’s not a chain smoker or a fan of The Chainsmokers.
I uploaded a few pictures of myself, wrote a short bio, and answered a bunch of the questions.
I don’t recall everything I wrote about myself. But I do remember saying I’m good at leisure sports. It’s true. I’m good at sports like golf, bowling, darts, cornhole, and poker (if you consider it a sport). Anything where you can drink or eat something while playing, I’m probably good at it.
My friends used to call me Long-Term Lyle because of the lengths of my past relationships. I wasn’t in that many relationships, so they were working off a small sample size. But they were mostly right. I liked being in a relationship. Maybe it’s because I had trouble being alone with my thoughts and insecurities, I’m not sure.
I liked being married too. There was a certain comfort to it that didn’t exist for me in previous relationships. Of course, that shattered with the divorce. But part of me still believed I could find it again. And I could better know what I wanted and needed in my partner the next time around.
So it shouldn’t have shocked anyone, or myself, that the first person I met up with in person would go on to be my wife.
That was the third thing that happened.
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For the record, neither of us has ever smoked a cigarette in our lives and she has no idea who the Chainsmokers are.