She Inspired Me, and That Was a Deal-Breaker

The calm before the storm.

You make me want to be a better man,” I said to her, beaming. We were at a Bob Evans off I-40. It was a warm day in September and we were both wearing shorts and flip-flops.

She set down her coffee. “I’m not sure I understand you,” was her reply.

“I’m just saying that you inspire me,” I tried to clarify. “Like, to do great things in my life. You know — to impress you.”

“What kind of things?” she asked. She moved her coffee to the side and leaned towards me, arms folded.

Several months before, I had been subpoenaed to testify in court for one of my clients. Cross examinations give me the jitters..

“Good things,” I said. “Professional things. Things that would make you proud of me.”

“I’m already proud of you, sweetie.”

“Sure, sure,” I said, not actually knowing if that was true. “I guess I’m talking about things that will make you even more proud.”

I could hear myself. I knew I sounded foolish.

“Are you going to tell me,” she asked, “or should I guess?”

I cleared my throat. “Well. I’d like to get published in an online news magazine. Like The Huffington Post. If I do that, I can get a ‘Verified’ Badge for my Twitter account.”

“What’s a Verified Badge?”

“It’s a thing famous people have so you know it’s really them,” I explained. “It’s just a little blue check mark. You know what — It doesn’t matter.”

She looked incredulous. “Is that what you call a ‘great thing?’

“No, no, no,” I stammered. “I mean, it’s a goal. You know, for professional development and brand recognition. It’s a means to an end.”

“I see,” she said. “And you’re saying that I am inspiring you to do this?”

“I sure am,” I said, looking hopeful.

Beat.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable being your professional muse. You need to do things for yourself because you want to do them, not because I’ll be impressed by them. That doesn’t sound very healthy.” It sounded like an admonishment.

The conversation was now spinning out of control. My sole objective had been to convey to her just how important she was to me. But instead of just saying that, I had to make it complicated. Now I was in full retreat.

We had been dating for six weeks. We’d met on Match.com, which should have been my first warning. She was ten years younger than me, beautiful, smart, with triceps that felt like stone. We both had masters degrees — mine was in Counseling, hers in Occupational Therapy. She made more than twice what I did, and owned her own townhome. I was naturally intimidated by her, because I have a massive inferiority complex and I’m always comparing myself to others. And she was an impressive person — funny and creative, smart and gorgeous, fit and sociable.

I held my hands up in mock surrender. “I tell ya what. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put too much pressure on you. I know we’ve only been dating for a few weeks. You just have a way of inspiring me is all I mean.”

She was returning a text. “It’s not a problem,” she said.

Our server appeared with a check and set it in front of me.

She reached across the table and slid the bill towards her side. “I prefer we split,” she reminded me.

About a week later, on a Sunday, she surprised me by driving over to my apartment. It was unexpected, as she lived a solid 45 minutes away. I opened the door and she asked me to come outside, and we sat on my patio while she broke up with me. The whole thing seemed very matter-of-fact, like a performance review from HR.

Later, I slunk back into my apartment, head hung low in disgrace. On the wall in my office was a list of goals I had written. I thought for a moment about taking them down, as perhaps they had now been tainted. But they were good goals, regardless of who had inspired me to make them. So they stay on my wall, and I’ve decided they won’t come down until I have achieved them. This time, I’ll do it for me and no one else. This time, I’ll try to impress myself first before putting that pressure on anyone else.

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