The Shy Man
Being lazy by nature, I typically choose to blog about subjects of my novels. Lately, my blogs have been about small-town settings and the benefits of community. I’ve been reminded, however, that I not only set my books in small towns, but I write about romance. So my picture above is perfect: the most romantic husband in the world. One of the reasons we chose the pen name together is because Mel taught me a lot about the dance of real romance–he just doesn’t know that.
Today we celebrate the 19th anniversary of our first date alone in a car together without the aid of my closest friends scrambling to get us both to a restaurant after Sunday night service, seated together, and talking.
“Honey,” I asked, “why did it take you so long to ask me out on a real date?”
“Because I’m shy.”
“Yeah, sure you are.” My husband, an ER and family doc, has his hands and stethoscope all over multiple patients every day, sometimes six days a week.
“It’s true,” he said. “It was easier to let Bro. Ron set us up on Sunday nights with the after-church crowd.”
“You do realize you were harder to catch than those feral cats we tamed a few years ago?” I asked.
He laughed. I groaned. Dating and falling in love with a shy man takes a special skill set. One needs stamina and patience, and the ability to learn the slow dance of romance. Obviously, I did a good job. It only took a year and a half for him to figure out he loved me. It was the night he asked me to marry him.
So if you find yourself falling in love with a shy guy–or attempting to tame a starving feral mama cat and her three wild, nursing kittens–here are some tips:
1. Stop and think–do you really want this? Because once you’ve won this worthy man’s heart (or tamed the cats) you’re in his heart forever. Get to know him and his friends, his preferences, his character. You should be sure you want to live in his life before you commit your heart. Me, I blew off that advice and sent him a card with the cow on the front, which turned out to be helpful because he’d grown up on a dairy farm. Inside the card, the inscription said, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” What I added was, “Don’t let my well-meaning pastor talk you into a romance you don’t want, but if you’d like a buddy to hang out with, go hiking, skip rocks, I’m here.” It worked. Taken off the hook, once he found the card buried beneath a mile-high mound of mail on his dining room table, he called me. It just so happened I wanted to attend a dinosaur exhibit at the zoo. It was a God thing, because he was the only person I knew who loved dinosaurs more than I did. Our first date lasted fourteen hours, and I gave him his buddy-hug goodnight as I fell completely in love.
2. Remember that it really is a dance. The only dance I learned when I was growing up was the square-dance, so this didn’t work too well for me. I didn’t want to change partners, and I didn’t want him to, either. No worries there. It took him months to work up the nerve to ask me out, so I figured it would take at least that long to do the same with anyone else. However, moving in on him after that first date is not a good idea. Feral cats will move forward to drink the milk you leave out for them, but make a move at the window, and they kick away from the bowl and send the milk flying into the air. Call the man and leave a message–because he has a huge wall built around him and never answers his phone–and he’ll feel as if he’s being stalked and take an extra week to think about whether or not to call you again. I moved backward in the dance and avoided calling again.
3. Don’t allow him to abuse you. Finally, the shy man called and asked me to attend a local gathering of German partying–the Ernte Fest. Somehow, he managed to get ahold of two ring-toss sticks, but he decided to show off some of the martial arts moves he’d learned from a buddy of his at the last hospital where he worked. “Now, watch, I’m not going to hurt you, just show you the moves.” He’d accidentally hit my leg. I’d holler. The German partiers, after too much time in the Bier Garten, watched as the dancing sticks around my legs made me dance. I promise he’d drank no beer, but he didn’t have the moves down properly, so he kept trying. On my legs. The next time he saw me, I showed him my tender memories of that night. Bruised memories. If the men from my church had seen those bruises, he’d have been out on his ear, but I took a chance and didn’t show him. He felt so badly he never got a stick close to my leg again. As for our poor feral cats, the time came for us to get them to the vet and have them spayed–all females. We had to set up a wild trap with cat food. One by one, and sometimes by two, we caught them and hauled them into the vet’s office. The vet had to keep them fenced in, and were terrified to approach them–the wild monsters–so we loaded the cage and took the kitties home with us after the dastardly deed was done. Abusive? They probably thought so, but we couldn’t afford to care for more cats. Once we released them, they raced out into the woods near the house. The mother, however, came over to me and nudged my leg, letting me know she was glad to be back “home.” I’d won her trust despite the abuse.
4. Don’t take advantage. On our first date, several friends told me, “Cheryl, he’s a doctor, he can afford to spend money on you, so let him. I had a different idea. Since he was the type whom people tended to take advantage of, I decided I wouldn’t. I insisted on splitting the cost of the date, even though he could have easily afforded it, and I had to struggle. I wanted him to know I wasn’t dating him for his money, or for the “prestige” of dating a doctor, but because I liked him. I saw his goodness, and wasn’t about to abuse that. He told me that he’d had a girlfriend before he met me that insisted he buy her all the best things, take her to the best restaurants, and plan to purchase the most beautiful mansion she could find. When I refused to do the same, he was impressed. Another God thing. The cats gradually began to allow us to pet them, feed them from our hands, and they loved being scratched and petted. We never pushed it too far, but they realized they could trust us.
5. Step back again in the dance. Six months after our first date, Mel and I celebrated Valentine’s Day. Mel teased me about what he’d purchased for me. He said it would lend great beauty to my life, and I would always remember him when I looked at it. Automatically, I thought, diamond ring. But I didn’t say that. Also, around the same time, he was hiking with me and put my first name and his last name together. He said it sounded good. Being the writer I am, I sat down and wrote him a letter asking him if he meant what he was implying, that he might want to consider marriage. His answer was, he thought me might love me, but he couldn’t be sure, so he wasn’t pushing further with that thought. After the build-up I’d received, I was devastated, and told him I was going to back away for a while until he made up his mind. He was welcome to call, but we could just be buddies for awhile. I wasn’t hanging by the phone every time he called. Sometimes he couldn’t reach me at all. He began to get worried, and he tried harder to spend more time with me. My step backward helped him realize I couldn’t be taken for granted, but he knew me well enough that he didn’t want to lose me. His turn to step forward in the dance.
6. Pray a lot. Nothing slaps you in the face so hard as the suspicion that you could be making a bad relationship mistake. What if we weren’t meant to be together? What if God didn’t want us together? I paced my apartment and prayed until one of the friends who had set us up called me one night and repeated exactly what I had prayed, and she answered my prayer. She reassured me that Mel was moving at his own, unique speed, and I needed to accept that speed, because that was the speed we would go for the rest of our lives. God answers prayers. As for the cats, they loved us. Only one of the grown kittens refused to come to us, and unfortunately she met with a sad demise with the coyotes. To my delight, Mel drew closer and closer to me. He started calling me every night when he got off work–often quite late–and we would talk for hours. That’s not good for sleep, but it’s great for a relationship. My prayers were being answered.
7. Let him go. Yeah, I know the old saying that if you love something, let it go. But I did. I gave Mel the freedom to be the person he wanted, and I didn’t try to change him, I simply let him know that I wasn’t going to dance to his tune always. I had my own life and I chose to hike sometimes when he visited family. I chose to spend time reading when he played ball. I learned the hard way that I wasn’t cut out for volleyball when someone on the other so-called Christian team spiked a ball straight into my face and knocked me out. That was my final game with that church team. I needed to let Mel know he could have his interests and I could have mine, and they didn’t need to line up. I think it intrigued him.
8. Enjoy him. I finally reached the point where the dance of romance became comfortable for me. I knew Mel and I had made great strides in our friendship, and we had a future together. We blended well, though we weren’t joined at the hip. I didn’t cling, and he didn’t try to avoid me any longer. As for the cats, well, more cats came to our door, and we took them in. One of the feral kittens became a babysitter for a kitten we rescued from the huge tire of a big truck in a Walmart parking lot. Because our feral cats were wild, they never became accustomed to staying inside at night, and one by one they disappeared. Their presence in our home brought other cats, and we are presently pampering four loving animals who have known nothing with us but trust and plenty of food and water.
9. Be true. Mel has taught me most about what I know about romance. I never had a clue before I began to understand his gentle love and tender kindness, his constant words of encouragement. He was the one, all along, who knew how to truly love. Me, I jumped from here to there in the dance, tripping us both up and trying to lead. Had I allowed Mel to lead all along, maybe it wouldn’t have been so difficult for me to learn to trust. But it was fun, anyway. Dance like you need the exercise, because you probably do.