February 8, 2021

Dating horror stories: Rebuilding trust after divorce

“I’m not feeling a spark, but I like you. Let me know if you want to be friends.”

These are the words I found myself saying to Ike, the sexy art curator with the hot accent and keen intellect. He was the type of guy you brag to your girls about, which I had done profusely as soon as we matched on Bumble. But here we were on our third date, and he hadn’t made a move. I was a single mom four months out of an unhappy marriage and looking for instant gratification. Part of me was disappointed things hadn’t turned out differently. But our connection fizzled into sporadic texts.

Six weeks later, I was perusing the shelves at the Santa Monica Public Library and spotted a new book about the fraught relationship between author Zora Neale Hurston and poet Langston Hughes. It made me think of Ike. On our first date, Ike and I bonded over a mutual love of Harlem Renaissance artists and the drama between them. I texted him a photo of the book jacket. And just like that, we began talking and texting regularly again.

Among all the wonderful things I learned about Ike, one raised an eyebrow: He’s friends with all of his exes, each of whom he dated through unstable times.

“So you like broken-winged birds, huh?” I asked, self-conscious that’s exactly what I was.

I wondered if Ike was the type who could love a woman only until she loved him back, if I was the type who could love only a man who was fundamentally unavailable. Thankfully none of that mattered, because we were just friends.

I quickly developed a crush. Ike was sensitive and good-natured, and complimented my comma usage. To protect myself, I decided to set him up with someone else. I scored double-date reservations at the newly opened Lowell Cafe, but our counterparts bailed at the last minute, so we found ourselves on a date meant for others. It felt like fate.

Back at my apartment, I asked, “Can I change my mind about being friends?” Our first kiss burned longer than sparks.

A few weeks later, I introduced him to my 2-year-old son at Solange
Knowles’ “Bridge-s” show at the Getty. They got on well, and for the first time in a long time, I saw hope for a romantic future.

Then the panic set in. I freaked out and broke up with Ike while driving home from a stressful introductory meeting with a TV studio in Burbank. Then, a mere hour later, I freaked out and took it back.

“My problems aren’t yours to fix,” I told him to assuage the hurt. I started seeing a therapist to tackle, head on, my trust issues. He did the same.

He helped me move to Highland Park, into the first apartment I would live in as a legally single woman. Despite the difficulties I faced in navigating my new life, I was leaning into my feelings and establishing healthy boundaries, and Ike was there, steady and supportive.

Then one day his ex texted, and I saw that he had heart emojis around her name in his phone.

He apologized and said it was an idiotic oversight on his part. I called my girlfriends, sure they would back me in my “I’m going to drop this player, men are trash” tirade, but to my surprise, they didn’t. Neither did my therapist. Everyone validated my feelings but said if I believed it was an honest mistake, I could forgive. So I did. Still, I knew our relationship couldn’t grow with this particular ex in his life. Ike said he knew what his priorities were and would cut ties.

Ike and I built our love in the time of COVID, leaning on each other in our pod of two, occasionally three, including my son. We saw each other through canceled jobs, canceled openings, depression, anxiety and protests. We celebrated the airing of my first episode of television and his securing new performance projects.

When the 2020 presidential election was finally called, we danced naked together to Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” After my agonizing divorce, I was proud of myself for getting to a place where I could love a man who could love me back. Nothing was perfect, but we were both growing, and that’s what mattered. That night, I draped myself across his body. “I can feel myself coming back to life,” I said.

When we celebrated our one-year anniversary in late November, I entertained the idea of being with Ike forever.

But as I became a little more committed, he seemed a little less. Earlier in our relationship, when I’d asked him what he wanted for our shared future, he didn’t hesitate to say marriage. In a later conversation, he’d said he just wanted us to be happy together. It was a mature answer, maybe, but also struck a disappointing chord.

Then, as I brought him his phone on the way out the door to buy a Christmas tree, his ex texted:

“What are you doing Saturday morning?” It was followed by texts inviting him to her brother’s birthday Zoom.

My heart dropped. Over the next several days, I struggled with what to do. Should I accept his (probably) sincere explanation and keep trying? He’d explained that while he’d cut ties with her, he’d kept up with her brother and father. I thought he might be telling the truth, but I still felt betrayed: Why had he failed to mention any lingering entanglements and instead given me the impression of a clean break?

And, of course, there was a self-protective side of me that thought it was possible he was covering up something. I just didn’t want to be played for the fool ever again.

I broke up with him in his beautiful apartment in Koreatown, the Hollywood sign bearing witness through the window. He asked me not to end things. I cried. He cried. But I told him, “If I don’t break up with you over this, I’ll hate myself and resent you.”

He walked me down Wilshire Boulevard, to where my car was parked at the meter. “We can be friends,” he said, without the requisite irony.

But ultimately I don’t want to be friends with Ike.

Because to me, he was infinitely more.

The author is a TV comedy writer whose credits include “Archer” and “Woke.” She is on Instagram @bamanniegram.

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