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"You're so much fun. So handsome," I said to Bernie over dinner. We'd met on a blind date the week before and struck sparks. "How is it that you're still single? What's your deal?"
Bernie froze, looked down at his plate, then zeroed in on me with his hazel eyes.
"What do you mean, you disappear?"
"It's bad," he said, twisting a finger through his blond curls. "I do it in business and in love. If things get too hard, or I sense I can't win, sometimes I just take off."
But after days of backpedaling, reassurances that he'd overstated his Houdini tendencies and promises that as long as I searched for him, he'd always return, Bernie convinced me he was worth the risk.
"I've lost out by not being more open. My life has been all about work. Now I'm ready to settle down and have a real relationship," he said.
Ah, a man who has learned from his past.
But could I really trust Bernie? Or myself? "Every man comes with a Lemon Law disclaimer — the fine print that tells you where he's broken," says my friend Lauren Frances, a relationship coach. "Men are, for the most part, honorable. If you ask what's wrong with him on the first two dates, he'll answer truthfully. But he may never be that honest again."
I took an informal poll of girlfriends; sure enough, their first dates were a trove of warning signs and guideposts — men coughed up stories of intimacy and anger issues, even jail time. Then I remembered the first date with my ex-husband 20 years earlier. He'd told me he'd been with an astonishing number of women. Naïvely, I thought, "OK! He'll never wake up thinking he's missed something!" But, after multiple warnings over 19 years, he left me for another woman.
This time, I thought, I'd make Lauren proud. But how to ensure I'd heal my codependent patterns and be clearheaded amid the addictive blush of new love? How could I stay alert, aware, accountable?
What if I kept a daily diary? A Boyfriend Log to record our ups and downs?
The diary started off like a travel log through exotic lands:
~ His muscles glistened in the sun as he scrubbed my fountain!
~ After his catering job, he brought me handmade chocolates and a soul-mate card.
Within months, however, the entries began to change.
~ He's so friendly outside until we shut the door and his face turns to stone.
~ He no longer asks about my day with enthusiasm.
I'm a self-help author, but I couldn't figure out how to help myself. I'd look at the text in my diary and think, "Are there more good days than bad? Are we healthy? Am I in denial?" I suspected patterns, but I couldn't decipher them.
Then it hit me — a simple color-coded highlight for the date of each entry would allow me to see my romance at a glance … how things were really going.
My color-coding system looked like this:
Green = Romantic.
Yellow = Neutral.
Blue = Sad.
The goal was to be consistently happy and not living on an emotional roller coaster. Yet soon I could spot a blue day coming simply because we'd had three green, romantic days in a row. I detected a pattern: advance, advance, advance … retreat!
As promised, Bernie always returned. My diary proved that as long as I focused on his needs, my kid didn't make noise, my dog didn't bark and he had money to pay his bills, Bernie was adorably green.
But when I needed to talk about my problems, spend time alone or travel for work, he often came unglued. Or grew distant. We seesawed. The closer we'd get, the more dramatic his pull-away. The better the sex, the happier the weekend, the more Monday was a sure-fire nightmare.
Like my ex-husband, Bernie's good traits were so good that I desperately wanted us to work. But my Boyfriend Log became visible proof that Bernie wasn't worth the chase. The more I got a life, the more he disengaged. The more I stopped helping him solve his problems, the more he disappeared.
No longer willing to do whatever it took to manipulate green days, I stopped dancing so fast to please and imploring him to tell me what was wrong. I focused on myself, my work, my kid.
It wasn't long before Bernie made his final disappearing act, burning rubber out of my driveway. I grabbed my toy poodle for a happy dance. I was finally free.
An hour later, my codependent patterns raged. It took everything in me not to call him, but I knew this pattern was my undoing. I wiped the tears from my cheeks and opened my diary. There, in living color, bluer than blue, was all the evidence I needed. Yes, there were beautiful green days, when Bernie made me feel sexy and adored. I'm grateful for those days; they got us through some tough times. But I couldn't ignore all those blue days staring me in the face.
It was time to seek greener pastures.
Sivertsen is the creator of the Boyfriend Log iPhone app, which can be downloaded at https://www.theboyfriendlog.com.