Happy Eva After: Tom, get thee to the land of limits

EVA ruminates on dating in the 21st century.

Dating in the 21st century (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Dating in the 21st century
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Recently, I revisited a more carefree time.
Going for dinner with the stated aim of “salad” – sorely needed after a three-day Rosh Hashana of intense gorging – my friend and I bypassed our regular haunts.
Instead, we picked a very “dude-bro” spot catering to the early 20s crowd – clearly not my target demographic.
But post-holiday, it looked like the only place that was happening (and taco salad counts, right?).
Turns out it was broadcasting American football, and all the bochurim in Israel for their post-high school year come to see it.
Though I could have been their mother (well, in the haredi world) of the frat-looking boys and scattered girls pretending to like sports, I reveled in the young energy.
They all seemed so innocent, so unconcerned – very normal for 18- to 21-year-olds. I remembered myself at that age, my petty, adorable worries, being so fresh and open to anything.
Now, that is not me anymore.
Oh, I’m somewhat open-minded, and let myself have fun. But I’m focused on what I want, and don’t waste time with those who don’t fit the bill. I don’t have the boundless energy I did at 19, and have to be selective where I direct the reserves I do have. My boundaries are strong, and I’m not afraid to state them.
Basically, my mid-30s self is no longer 18.
Into this picture entered Tom.
I MET the 30-something Sabra by the moniker of Tom (Israeli pronunciation: Tome) spontaneously. Stopping at the shuk with my good guy friend Rob, we started chatting with the nice-looking guy next to us at the bar.
Rob and I both thought Tom seemed cool, and we shot the crap with him about work (his: hi-tech – very acceptable) and his background (traditional).
Seeing the cunning stranger and I appeared to have chemistry – his opening line to us had, after all, been to ask me if I went to Hebrew U. – Rob gracefully bowed out, with a discreet aside to go for it, as Tom seemed like a nice guy.
Getting Rob’s thumbs-up gave me the confidence to go for another drink with Tom. We walked to a nearby place and passed an enjoyable hour yapping; I then spontaneously agreed to go for a stroll with him.
While enjoying the unexpected nature of it all, I didn’t like that near Jaffa Gate, Tom began stroking my waist and went in for a kiss.
“I’m not like that,” I droned (haven’t we heard this song and dance before?). “I prefer to wait until I really get to know someone.” He backed off, then drove me home.
We exchanged numbers, and he contacted me shortly thereafter to ask me on a real date. Being I had firmly stated my boundaries, and Tom seemed to have listened, I felt OK saying yes. I was wary – he could think I was an “easy American” – but he also seemed like a good guy. Perhaps he was serious material? Either way, I was confident I could handle it.
HMMM. TOM was a beast unto himself.
Driving me out to scenic Ein Kerem, we dined on salads (finally!) alfresco. In contrast to our last, impromptu meeting, he didn’t have much to say.
Given I didn’t have much invested in this date, I wasn’t overly perturbed. If he turned out to be a dazzling conversationalist and the love of my life – great! If not, I’d sit back and enjoy the view.
And that’s what I did. Tom bored and annoyed me with his monosyllabic, not-really-trying conversation, and I focused on the twinkling lights. One thing he did say somewhat alarmed me: Asking about my plans for Succot, he seemed disappointed when I said I was staying in the area.
“Oh,” he said. “I thought we could go to a hotel.”
Umm… we had literally just met? Getting the Scooby sense this wasn’t going to be the romance of the century and he was really waiting for the main event – going for a gander on a darkened path, where he could oh-so-conveniently make another move – I somewhat shamefully yet wholly skillfully employed a trick I hadn’t used in years (used by women throughout the ages): When the bill was about to come, I suddenly had to urgently powder my nose in the ladies’.
I was relieved to see Tom had paid the bill when I returned, nose appropriately matte. We left the café and – surprise! – he suggested we go for a little walk.
I agreed, rolling my eyes in the dark. We set out on a charming street, dogs baying in the distance. Tom clasped my hand, I loosely returned the favor. We sat down in a nice spot, and he began stroking my back.
I enjoyed/ignored it for a few minutes, then shifted out of his grasp, suggesting we keep walking. “How about a hug?” he asked. “Normally I bite, but I remember what you said.”
Bite? Er… just no.
And so it went for the rest of the night. Me capitulating slightly with a little hug, him holding on tightly for too long, despite my protests. Lather, rinse, repeat, in different pastoral locales. He didn’t appear to respect my boundaries, though he kept insisting he did and saying this was a way for us to “get closer.”
Finally, after time indeterminate, I insisted on being taken home. Agreeing to get together again soon – just take me back! – I gave him a quick hug before I left the car. He extended it, giving me a lingering bite on the neck before I finally jumped out of his man-vehicle.
I got inside and dead-bolted the lock.
UGH. THE next morning, I told a friend of the experience, trying to process it.
“I thought he was a nice guy, working in hi-tech and being somewhat religious, even Rob liked him. But we just met and he wants to go off to a hotel? I feel like I was shaking his octopus hands off me the whole night.”
“Yikes!” she yelped. “This man does not respect you, no matter what he said. Tell him the buffet’s closed!” I agreed, realizing with a soul-shattering insight that Tom was not the man for me. Taking action, I texted him: I will not be going on another date with you. You said you respected me, but I practically ran out of your car.
His reply: Why? I accepted what you said. This was followed by two phone calls, which I didn’t answer.
I figured that with that, I was done with the Tomster.
But I had underestimated his being the type of guy who won’t take no for an answer. Still, he took it to new levels.
That night, drowsing on my laptop around 11, there was a most unusual ringing of the doorbell. I flipped on the hallway light: There stood Tom, with something in his hand.
Curiosity overtook me. Whatever could he want at this hour, after I had ignored his calls? I swung the door open, still in my gym shorts (argh).
Tom thrust a bouquet of yellow roses in my hand, clearly just purchased at the 24/6 Mart (closed on Shabbat). “Sorry,” he drawled, pleased with himself. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Hurt me? He had missed the point. What was he trying to do? He certainly was not gaining entry to my bed, leaving petals in his wake, if that’s what he was banking on.
“Thanks,” I stammered, “but I wasn’t expecting guests.
I’ll call you,” I said, closing the door.
I DIDN’T call Tom. Though perhaps aiming for a grand gesture, it seemed misplaced and disrespectful of boundaries to me.
Who, in this modern age, comes over so late without clearing it first, when we barely know each other? Did he think I would invite him in out of guilt, giving him license to get all handsy again? I figured Tom would get the message after the lack of excitement/contact over his doorbell roses. But no: A few days later, he was back, texting me, “Gmar hatima tova.”
Then, later that week: “Hi. How are you?” Days later, with still no reply from me, he called.
I was done. With this type of guy, only a clear message would do. “I’m absolutely not interested,” I texted. “Please don’t contact me again.”
Some days later, there’s thankfully been no response from the ardent Tom. I’m hopeful this will continue.
Here in Israel, we’re always fussing about pre-1967 borders and Green Lines. You’d think a native Israeli would be more understanding of personal boundaries – and I’m not big on drawn-out negotiations.
Get thee to the land of limits, Tom.
And next time, I’ll get a prospective guy’s preconditions for what he’s looking for in a relationship, before I go on any spontaneous little strolls.