Story written by Rick
First published: March 2006
Last Update: August 2011
Chapter Seven - The Fairy Tale
Starting at the
stroke of Midnight, the wee hours of Monday
had been some of the happiest moments of my life. Throughout
the darkness, I grew closer to Marla than I ever could have
Now as the sun rose
in the east, I was sad that our long night was over.
However, I thought nothing more of it. I expected that
daylight would bring nothing but further happiness.
Isn't Dawn the eternal symbol of new beginnings? Maybe
so, but not today. Monday would become one of
the most painful days of my life.
Marla didn't turn
into a pumpkin at dawn, but she did manage to mysteriously
As the sun rose in the sky,
I invited Marla to go back to the cabin for much needed sleep. Marla
shook her head. She said she preferred to go to her own cabin.
I furrowed my brow.
That wasn't exactly the fairy tale conclusion to the evening I had
hoped for. Weren't we supposed to fall in love and live
happily ever after? To me, that meant staying together.
As I would find out, modern fairy tales are much more complicated.
Marla asked if she could
have her key back.
I was very surprised.
I took that as a bad omen. Just as handing me her key had been
a good omen, asking for her key back was the opposite.
I wanted her by my side, so
I protested. Perhaps she had misunderstood my intentions.
I explained that when I said 'sleep', I said I meant 'sleep'.
There had been no hanky-panky. Any mischief was of the hugs
and kisses variety. Pretty innocent stuff, actually.
I told her I fully expected we would both keep our clothes on.
I just didn't want to be apart. I wanted to wake up with her
Marla shook her head.
She wasn't going to change her mind. Then she added some very unsettling parting words.
"Rick, first I need some
rest, then I want to give my relationship with Chris a little thought in the light of day before making any final decisions."
That didn't sound good to
me, but I nodded okay. I didn't think revealing my sudden pang of insecurity would help matters.
I handed her the key.
Marla hugged me, kissed me, and left.
I just stood there watching
her go. I felt hurt. What had just happened?
Failure to Communicate
men and women are the stuff of legends. Shakespeare's play
Much Ado about Nothing gives testimony to the damage that
can be caused by gossip and rumor as well as the danger of jumping to conclusions.
Presented as a comedy, I never took the play too seriously.
My attitude was that in
real life, there was no possible way people could get this confused
Or could they?
Marla would later say
she meant by her statement was that her mind was pretty much made up
to end her six-year time with Chris. But six years is six
years. Marla wanted to get some rest to clear her
mind. First she wanted to review the events that had
doomed her relationship with Chris. Then she wanted to give her feelings for Chris one
last look before signing off on the decision. This time alone would be her own private 'goodbye ritual' of sorts.
At that point, she would ready to move on. Marla added that
the context of her parting hug and kiss should have made all
this perfectly clear to me.
Presented that way, Marla's
plan made sense to me. If that is what she had
said, Marla's wishes would have been perfectly clear and not so ominous.
But that's not what she said and that's not
what I heard.
It was classic Venus-Mars. In her mind,
what Marla said meant one thing, but what I heard meant another.
What I heard was that Marla
was still considering returning to Chris. Marla needed time to
think about it when she had a clear head. And she didn't want
me anywhere nearby to pressure her.
When I awoke at 9:30 am, I
was still upset at how we had parted. After the night we had
together, I couldn't imagine Marla ever returning to Chris.
Nevertheless her parting words threw me off balance. There was
now a definite seed of doubt planted in my mind.
As I ate a quick breakfast
alone, I thought long and hard. At daybreak, Marla seemed to
be distancing herself. I was definitely worried.
I tried putting myself in
her shoes. Marla had put a lot of time into this man.
They had a long history together. They had similar interests
and had their schedule down pat. For lack of a better
description, her relationship with Chris was comfortable and
Based on our talk last
night, there were two main problems. First, Chris took Marla
for granted. This was a huge hot button for her. Chris
seemed to have not a clue how lucky he was to have her. He
behaved as if he assumed Marla would always be there.
Second, and more serious,
Chris seemed to be cheating. Marla had lots of circumstantial
evidence, but it was mostly excuses and explanations that didn't
quite ring true. There was nothing solid she could pin on him.
Instead she was left with a constant feeling of distrust.
Marla had been unhappy for
well over a year. Unfortunately for Marla, she didn't trust
her misgivings enough to take action. Did Marla really
have the guts to break up with Chris without cold, hard evidence?
So I could see why
Marla wanted to spend time alone thinking it all through
again. From my point of view, I wanted her to cut the
guy loose now and turn her attention to me. But from
her point of view, there was less urgency. After all,
she was giving up a sure thing, albeit flawed, for a man she
had just met. Why make an impulsive decision?
What was the harm in examining her thoughts after some rest?
So what would Marla
decide to do? Of course I hoped that Marla would
decide the events of last night was a clear indication her
relationship with Chris was no longer worth pursuing.
However I also figured
there was a strong possibility that Marla would decide to
postpone her decision. In that case, she would spend
as much time as possible with me for the duration of the
trip while she mulled it over further. If so, I had three more
days and nights to help persuade Marla I was indeed the better man.
The thing I feared
was that Marla would awaken and find herself beset with
guilt. She would have second thoughts. She would
realize that she was lonely and vulnerable, but that last
night had been foolish. She needed to get her
priorities straight. Casting away the security of a
comfortable relationship for a potential gigolo wasn't in
her best interests. She would retreat into a shell and
spend the remainder of the trip reevaluating how to patch up
her six-year relationship.
If Marla truly
wanted to return to Chris, of course that was Marla's right.
I would be heartbroken, but I would find a way to accept it.
should I do until Marla made her decision?
For starters, I didn't think interfering
was a very good idea. In the past, I had once lost a
relationship in its early stages because I followed a woman around
like a puppy dog. Elaine got sick and tired of seeing me
everywhere she turned. I could tell Elaine was
pulling away, but I was clueless what the problem was. Elaine
wasn't the type to talk things out. All I knew was that it
came to a quick and sudden end. After a couple dates, Elaine
said it had been great and see ya later alligator.
I was baffled at the time.
What did I do wrong? Fortunately my roommate had watched me
interact with Elaine and was able to suggest what might have happened.
I learned my lesson.
Women do not like men hanging all over them. I didn't want to make that
mistake again. Marla had hinted that she needed distance.
Fine. You got it. I would give Marla as much distance as
she wanted. No smothering from me. Let her make up her
mind without pressure from me.
I thought my decision to
back off until she had time to think was the fair thing to do.
As it turned out, my
decision to leave Marla alone was a very bad decision.
It started with my 10 am dance lesson.
I planned to teach some Western Swing patterns to members of our dance group.
Operating on three hours of sleep, I clearly wasn't at my best.
But my biggest problem was that I didn't know how to act around Marla.
Complicating things, I was late to class.
This meant I was
unable to talk to Marla before entering the room. As a result,
I could not ask her in advance what role to play. Should I
acknowledge her or keep things secret? In the absence of
any direction from Marla, I decided to
pretend she was just one of many. I expected to talk to
her after class and
I would explain then... except that she disappeared before I could
talk to her.
During the dance lesson, I
kept my distance from Marla. I had a reason. Marla's last words to me
were that she wanted to think about her boyfriend. I doubted
seriously that Marla would decide that last night had been a
mistake. However I wasn't going to make things awkward for her by
behaving in a way that would tip off her friends. Yes, we had
kissed last night, but it had stopped there. We had not crossed any lines that Marla would have
explaining if she decided to return to Chris. Better to keep
things private until Marla had the chance to think things through in
the light of the day like she had asked.
Of course I said hello to
Marla when I saw her... but I whispered it. That immediately
bothered Marla. Why was I whispering?
The problem, of course, is
how to avoid someone for their own good, yet find a way to explain why
you are avoiding them. It was impossible. There were curious eyes in every
direction. There was no way I could communicate my reasons
with two dozen people watching. I had no choice but to avoid speaking to Marla.
As it turned out, my
chivalry - if you could call it that - totally backfired.
'Stupidity' might be a better word.
That said, my intentions were decent,
I was simply giving her some room like she asked.
Unbeknownst to me, Marla
was upset. Marla
was stunned that she was getting the brush off. What the hell
was wrong with me? Last night had been wonderful. Had
something changed in the past three hours? Why didn't I pay
attention to her?
Marla was perplexed. My behavior made no sense whatsoever.
morning when Marla returned to her cabin, Sherry had
awakened. Sherry wanted to know what had happened.
When Marla had told Sherry about our night together, Sherry
mentioned she had
heard a rumor about me that I was a
ladies man. Maybe Marla should be a little more careful.
Marla was old
enough to take those words with a grain of salt.
However, now that I refused to pay attention to her,
suddenly Sherry's casual comment took on new meaning.
Watching me smile at every woman in the room, Marla got
suspicious. Was there another woman in this
room I was trying to avoid tipping off?
It hurt her terribly
to think I was chasing someone else in addition to her.
However that was one reason
that might explain my distance act. What other possible reason
could explain why was I acting so aloof?
When I failed to ask her to
breakfast during class, this was yet another brush-off that stung terribly.
Hurt and angry, she left the class early in a huff. Marla
had completely misinterpreted my actions.
I didn't even see Marla
leave. I certainly had no idea what was going through her
mind. By the way, just to be clear, there was never another woman.
Since Marla took off without speaking
I had no idea what was going on in Marla's mind. I thought it was odd that she didn't stick
around, but I assumed she wanted more rest or maybe she had chosen
this moment as her "time to think".
As for me, I still had a lot of sleep to catch up
on. I was exhausted. On my way back to the room, I had an
unsettling thought. What if Marla had already made her decision to return to
Chris and didn't have the courage to talk to me about it after class? That
would explain why she seemed to be avoiding me. That thought
sent a huge chill through me.
When I got to my room,
I laid there wondering what she had decided to do. If she had decided to
return to Chris, I didn't have to panic. He was there
and I was here. Surely it would all work out. With that, I shut
my eyes and took a nap.
What I didn't know is that
I was in the middle of a
dangerous misunderstanding on both our parts. It would
fester and strengthen all day long with serious consequences.
By coincidence, that
afternoon Marla and I both returned to the same deck where we had
spent the early hours of the morning. Except that we arrived
separately. While I sat on one side
of the deck doing a crossword puzzle, I had no idea Marla was
nearby. I may not have seen her, but Marla was definitely on
Meanwhile, my fate was being decided just
Marla was engaged in some serious thinking. My behavior that
morning had put a real scare into her. It's one thing to fall into
another man's arms at 2 am with the help of Senorita Margarita and
a night of sexy dancing. It is quite another thing to willingly
jeopardize a six-year relationship for a man you barely know after
you sober up, especially when the same guy mysteriously acts like a
complete jerk the next morning.
Marla decided to handle one
guy at a time. As she expected, Marla realized she felt absolutely no guilt over the events of the
previous night. Marla concluded that last night would
have never happened if the relationship was more solid. Her
relationship had been going nowhere for a long time. Marla decided the time
had come to end the
relationship with her boyfriend. She was sad, but certain this
was the right thing to do.
Marla quietly said
goodbye to Chris in her thoughts. No tears, just regrets.
And with that she threw him overboard. Six years had come to
an end. Whether things worked out with me or not, it was time to
As for me, she placed a
serious question mark next to my name.
I had some explaining to do.
There was a dance coming up in
an hour. Marla decided it was time to start getting ready.
As she got up, that's when I saw her leave. Expecting to meet again at
the Captain's Reception, I let her go without a word. I was
still in my "give her space" mode. I
I would discover my fate soon enough.
Chapter Eight - The Captain's Reception
That evening was Formal Night on
the cruise. There was a Captain's Reception in the theater.
This was a fun event for our group. While the ship's
orchestra played Big Band music, the dancers were allowed up on
the stage of the theater. Not only did we have lots of room to dance,
we had great music and a huge audience as well. Being on stage
suited us just fine. It was a huge ego boost to be up there.
We felt like we
were performers. In fact, we were so much fun to watch that
people in the audience thought we had been hired to entertain them.
At times, there were as
many as twenty SSQQ couples
up there. Every couple danced like a pro. Once the general public
saw the caliber of our dancing, they had no desire to join us
and risk comparison. Consequently the stage belonged to SSQQ. We
danced Swing, we danced Foxtrot and we danced Whip. Every one of us felt like a
star. We waved to our friends in the audience and enjoyed our
moment in the spotlight. We were the Show!
Marla and I arrived
separately. I danced with Marla the moment I saw her.
danced each subsequent song with a different lady. However I saved the last dance for Marla. The band chose
Stars Get in Your Eyes, a great song from the past.
I was so happy. The song reminded me of last night.
Although Marla and I had still not talked, the moment I had her in
my arms, I was no longer worried about losing out to Chris.
Marla's smile said it all and the warmth of her touch underscored
the message. Reassured
that Marla had feelings for me after all,
I could no longer continue the charade from the
morning. No more distance. I was definitely in love.
held her very close and Marla returned the gesture. I guess I
wasn't fooling anyone. Sure enough, our dance on stage did not go unheeded.
As I had suspected, I was
hardly the only man who had his eye on Marla. She had just
dashed the hopes of at least one other man. In the theater
when I wasn't looking, a gentleman touched her hand and
pointedly asked Marla if the two of us were dating. Marla just smiled
and gave a non-committal answer.
The curtain came down and
show was over. I was about to walk Marla to the Dining Room
when someone put on a tape of disco music just as we were all leaving.
Aha. This was great Whip music. Here was one more opportunity to show off!
By chance, Jill, one
of my instructors, was close by. Jill was not only a very
pretty lady, she was a great dancer.
On an impulse,
I invited her back up to the stage. We put on an impromptu
Whip solo. People stopped leaving and turned around to
Ordinarily I do not like to perform, but
my dance with Marla had me feeling very confident and happy. I
danced to the top of my abilities for one single reason - I was
trying to show off for Marla. She had never actually seen me
"dance" before. I wanted her to be proud of me, so I
turned up the energy.
Jill and I put on quite a
show. We got a big hand when the
song was over.
However, when Jill and I
finished, Marla was nowhere to be seen. That bothered me. I thought it was odd that Marla hadn't waited for me.
Oh well. So much for impressing her. I headed
over to the Dining Room to search for Marla. She wasn't hard
to find. Marla was standing
large group of SSQQ people.
They were all lined up outside the
Dining Room waiting for the doors to open. Marla and I stood there for a good ten minutes talking to
each other and to different
people in our group. I assumed Marla and I would dine together. After seeing how happy she had been dancing with me on stage, it didn't
even occur to me to ask her to dinner. I assumed standing
right at her side was all that was necessary.
Unfortunately, there was a
serious problem brewing that I was absolutely clueless about.
Unbeknownst to me, Marla
was upset for a number of reasons. Until the Captain's Reception, I had
not spoken to Marla the entire day... and the only talking I did
there was to ask her to dance. During the day, Marla had plenty of time to think. As
they say, idle hands are the devil's workshop. Nietzsche
once put it another way - too much time to think is the parent of
psychology. He may have been on to something.
When I had deliberately
kept my distance from Marla at dance class earlier that morning, my
actions had seriously spooked her. And why didn't I seek her
out during the day? She had no idea what was going on
with me, but she wasn't happy. Marla was almost certain I had
been playing games all day long.
After making the decision to end her relationship,
Marla spent the rest of her time thinking about me. Despite how wonderful last night had been, during the
day Marla had begun to worry about my character. She had heard
rumors about me. My behavior that day didn't help matters.
Was I really a walking time bomb
with an anger problem? Was I a womanizer?
Did I take women for granted and discard them at leisure?
Did I have other women lined up on this trip?
A strong possibility had
crept into her mind that I had avoided her during the morning class
to keep my options open with other women. What if there was
another woman at that dance lesson that I was also chasing?
That was a very disturbing explanation for why I
had avoided showing public interest in Marla.
Marla could not have cared less about protecting her "reputation".
Quite the contrary. What Marla wanted was for me to openly
show the same affection for her in public that I had shown last
private. She wasn't the type to fool around behind closed
doors like some cheap hussy. If I was truly interested in her,
then show the world. She wanted me to welcome her at dance class with
enthusiasm. Try a hug for starters and then improve on that. Instead I had
limited my response to an inaudible whisper and pretended like she didn't even
Marla had lost her temper
and left when I had my back turned. Now she regretted her
decision. She wished she had stuck around in the shadows to
see what I did next. Her departure had given me the perfect
opportunity to invite a woman back to my cabin for the rest of the
morning. All kinds of doubt crept into her mind.
doesn't come easily to Marla. Marla had been the victim of
betrayal in her marriage which caused her great
pain. Later on, her snake of a boyfriend Chris had likely
betrayed her as well, but he was too slick for her to be sure of the
full extent. For that matter, when it came
to slick, I was a little too smooth for my own good as well. I
seemed to know my way around women. I was starting to behave
just like Chris.
At this stage of her life, Marla had no desire to rush
blindly into another mistake and get hurt again. Burn me once,
shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me.
More insecurities had
arisen during the Captain's Reception. Marla wasn't sure why I kept escorting one lady up on that stage after
another to dance. Marla had never seen me in any situation
other than dance class. Marla knew so little about me that she
wasn't really sure what I was up to. All she knew for sure was
that I was ignoring her again to spend time with other women.
When she wasn't dancing herself, she studied me very carefully for
Marla thought back to last night
when her roommate Sherry had come along in the middle of our
conversation. Sherry's presence had
forced Marla to debate whether to keep my attention or set me free
to dance with anyone I wanted to. Marla realized that my
dancing with the masses could be easily explained as
courtesy and good business. On the other hand, there could be a darker
explanation as well. Watching me smile and talk to the women
while I danced, I did absolutely nothing to dispel her
fear that I was courting at least two and maybe even more women all at the same
time. What was I whispering to them up on stage? Was I
lining them up like bowling pins to be knocked down as the
opportunities arose? Was my mind in the gutter?
It did not help that various woman from the studio had warned her
that all dance teachers were womanizers. That kind of gossip
acted like acid on her confidence. Was she being played for a
fool? Yes, she had heard that I
had a solid reputation during my marriage, but could any dance
instructor really be trusted?
Now that she was paying closer attention, as far as Marla could
tell, I was fulfilling the stereotype to a tee. On the other
hand, Marla accepted there were other explanations as well.
One of my nicknames for Marla is "Both Sides Now".
I have never seen anyone work harder to see things from all angles
True to form, throughout the Reception, there was a great
debate raging in her head. It frustrated Marla no end
that she didn't know which was the correct explanation for my
behavior. She had just spent six years dealing with a man who
lied through his teeth. Marla certainly did not want to go through that again,
but damn it, here she was stuck in the same agonizing guessing game
again. She felt like she had just stepped from the burning pot
to the frying pan.
Then came our romantic slow
dance at the end. Marla had just gotten the reassurance she needed. Finally she
got a much-needed glimpse of the same man she had grown fond of the
night before. Marla was just about to dismiss her day-long
fears as ancient, but groundless phobia. Why had she felt so
Then it all fell apart the
moment I asked Jill to dance
the Whip on stage. That was my downfall.
Marla and I were hand in
hand after the important slow dance. The orchestra had
disappeared behind the curtain. We had just begun to walk out
of the theater when someone put a tape of some Blues music. It
was being played as background entertainment for the people as they
left the area.
On an impulse, I literally
let go of Marla's hand, grabbed Jill who was walking with us and
hauled her back up on stage. Jill didn't mind a bit. She
is a natural performer. Once she made it back upstage, she
turned on the juice and enjoyed herself. I think she enjoyed
Meanwhile, Marla was left
standing alone in the middle of theater aisle. She couldn't
believe I had just left her without explanation and climbed back on
stage. Now I was strutting around up there like I was thought
I was Mick Jagger or something. Marla immediately frowned.
She thought that was rude.
As Jill and I danced, a man
who had stopped to watch us dance also noticed Marla as she stood
there half-staring and half-glaring. He came up from behind
and stood next to Marla. He said, "I saw you and Rick dancing
up there a second ago. It looks like you and Rick dating.
Marla took her eyes off me
and stared at the man for a second. She was surprised
that our connection had been so obvious. Marla said, "Nah."
That's Marla for you. We were practically in love, but we
weren't dating. Therefore, in her mind, that meant "no" was
the correct answer.
Marla knew she had been
abrupt. On the one hand, she was pleased that our affection
had shown to other people. But she was also still peeved that
I had l left her side.
The gentleman did a
double-take at Marla's curt answer. Marla's answer didn't feel
right. He was just like me. Marla had a way of saying
things that didn't always jibe with a person's observation. He
stared at Marla for a second and almost asked another question.
Then he changed his mind and left the theater.
Marla turned her attention
back to our dancing. Marla was growing increasingly unhappy.
It had nothing to do with
Jill. Marla wasn't jealous of Jill or upset with her for
dancing. Jill was not the problem at all.
The problem was my
behavior. First, she was mad that I was showing off. The
curtain was down. Playtime was over. How many times did
I need to show the world that I could dance? Plus the thought
crossed her mind for the umpteenth time that it might not just be
her I was showing off for.
However what really had
Marla on edge was that I had interrupted our first romantic moment
since last night to go back on stage. She was getting
increasingly tired of sharing me with every woman on the ship. Last
night she thought she had finally met a nice guy. Now Marla
wasn't so sure any more.
Marla had just decided to end a six
year relationship based to a large extent on the surprising strength of her feelings for me.
However, that man had disappeared. Now as Marla watched me show off up on the stage, I was
a million miles away. Marla felt like a fool. The man
doesn't even know I exist. Damn Rick anyway.
Marla left the
She was seething mad inside.
Chapter Nine -
Marla Meets the Most Fascinating Man in the World
Dinner time on a cruise
ship is one of the most important features of the entire trip.
This is a time reserved for friendship and romance. Every
cruise ship goes out of its way to make sure the dining experience
is as pleasant and enjoyable as it can possibly be. Evening Dining
is typically a popular occasion for everyone. If a couple is
traveling alone, this is a moment for private conversation.
For a group like ours, this is a time to see friends and to share
the experiences of the day.
Considering I had
deliberately avoided Marla all day long, I was more than ready to be
with her again. Our intimate slow dance just moments earlier
had made it clear to me that Marla's decision had included me in her
plans. She had not held back at all. Now I could not
wait to introduce Marla to all my friends. I was so excited!
I caught up
with Marla at the dining room. It was fifteen minutes until
the doors opened, so the entire SSQQ group was busy talking up a
storm in a
The area was very crowded with people. Marla seemed a bit quiet, but I had no idea
that anything was wrong.
As we stood milling about,
a young couple from our group approached me. Back at the
studio, Doug and Jamie had taken several private lessons from me to
get ready for their upcoming wedding dance. Now they had a question
for me. I don't remember what their concern was, but it was
involved enough that I turned to face the two of them.
noisy in there and this was only way I could hear both of them speak at
the same time. This
meant that I had to turn my back to Marla. Thanks to a
childhood accident, I am blind in my
left eye. Normally this poses no handicap for me, but I have
no peripheral vision to my left side. As a result, I never
even noticed that Marla had started to walk away
Trust me, if I had any
inkling Marla was angry at me, she would have had my full attention.
What is absurd about this situation is that I was on Cloud Nine and
Marla was in the depths of despair. We were a chasm apart and I
was clueless. It doesn't seem possible but it was true.
To this day, I have never quite
understood why turning my back
upset Marla so terribly. However, Marla insists that my
behavior really bothered her. At this point Marla was
evaluating my every move with a jaundiced eye. So I can only
assume Marla was hyper-sensitive about everything.
For a long time, I
assumed Marla's complaint was another case of wondering if was
disguising evil intentions. Did I turn my back to avoid
tipping some woman off that I was standing next to Marla? But
Marla later explained that wasn't the case at all. Her
frustration with me was my lack of courtesy.
Yes, it was true Marla had
been upset about
watching me show off with Jill, but she had already gotten over
that. Now her concern was about manners. It really irritated Marla that I seemed to have
forgotten that she existed. She pointed out that I spent five
minutes talking to Doug and Jamie. During this time I did not
introduce Marla to them, I did not once halt the conversation
to check on her, nor did I have the courtesy to ask her to have
dinner with me. Instead I let Marla stand there alone for five
solid minutes with my back turned to her. Marla felt ignored
This was just another
example of me paying attention to everyone on the ship but her. As far as Marla was concerned, I had
either avoided her or acted like a jerk all day long. And now this. Not that turning my back
was much of a crime, but it was the final straw.
Marla had two problems with
her ex-boyfriend. One was his deceptiveness. The other
was his tendency to take her for granted. As for me, I had
spent the day acting just as suspicious as Chris ever had. Now
I was ignoring her to boot. Had Marla just traded for the same
stupid horse? This was ridiculous.
her temper and took off. She was determined to teach me a lesson
Do not to take her for granted.
With my back to Marla, I
had not noticed her leave.
When I saw that people had begun to move, I turned back
I was shocked to see she was no longer at my
side. I looked up and realized she was fifteen feet away moving towards the dining room.
Marla was walking very rapidly. Nor did she
glance back to see if I was coming.
I was confused. Why didn't Marla let me know the doors had
just opened? Now she was moving so fast it would be
hard to catch her. I didn't want to believe it, but her speed
made this separation seem intentional. It looked as if Marla didn't want me to catch up.
I actually began to sprint, but it was too late.
When I entered the dining room, Marla was
already seated at a table with her roommate Sherry on one side and a
handsome young man on the other. Nor did Marla make eye contact as I passed by.
She turned and asked Sherry a question. There were no
other seats at her table. That left me with no
choice but to sit at a different table.
I was crushed. Why had Marla ditched me like that? I
found this situation extremely baffling. I was lost.
During the meal, I watched Marla out of the
corner of my eye. It seemed to me that Marla was laughing and having a very
good time. I stared in horror. In six months of
watching her like a hawk at the studio, I had never once seen Marla
flirt. Not with me, not with anyone. Now, however, there
was no doubt in my mind. Marla had just turned on the charm.
She was definitely flirting with the young man sitting next to her.
She was good at it too. Too good.
In fact, her behavior scared me to death. Laughing, touching,
giggling, smiling. Marla acted like she was sitting next to
the most interesting man in the world. Not once did she ever
look my way. I no longer existed. I began to feel
incredibly insecure. The pain of losing her made me sick to my stomach
How could this
be? Just fifteen short minutes ago I had held this same woman in my
arms. We had slow danced to a beautiful song. I had held
her close enough to tip off that man watching from afar. Marla had smiled
at me for the entire song and looked in my eyes. Now she was openly laughing
and flirting with another guy. Nothing made any sense. I could not think of any explanation.
I was being punished for something, but what?
I wasn't much company at the dinner table.
I barely touched my food. Nor did I say a word unless someone
asked me a question. All I could
think about was how hurt I felt. I was lost in my confusion.
Someone asked me if I was okay. I smiled
wanly and replied, "No, not really." In fact, I
was feeling faint. I got up and
I literally staggered back to my cabin. I
collapsed on my
bed and stared at the ceiling. My mind raced as I tried to figure out why Marla had rejected me
so coldly. I couldn't help but believe that Marla's performance had been
directed at me somehow. It felt like payback of some sort, but what
had I done to deserve it?
Then a painful thought
stabbed me in the heart. It had just
occurred to me that this might
be related to Marla's decision to go back to her
boyfriend after all. She didn't have the guts to tell me to my
face. This bizarre dinner display was her strange way of telling me
last night was a mistake. I felt like someone had just stabbed
me in the stomach with a knife. That
thought was more than I could possibly accept.
I had completely opened
myself up last night. I could not believe Marla had decided to
return to that man. That completely contradicted everything I
believed about our night together. Even if
Marla did decide to return to Chris, surely
she would have the decency to break it to me gently. This dinner
behavior was not the way a lady would handle rejecting
someone who had obvious feelings for her. It had to be something else.
Then an even more painful
thought popped up. Let's say
Marla had indeed decided to end the relationship
with Chris. That meant she was a free agent
now. What if Marla had already found
someone else she preferred to me? I gasped in horror.
What if Mr. Fascination had taken my place?
Surely no woman is that fickle. But
maybe... I shook my head in confusion.
Whatever the story, Marla's dinner behavior was a cruel blow. Just the thought of losing
her caused me deep anguish.
This sudden turn of events
left me completely flat-footed. I didn't see it coming, I
didn't know the reason why, and I had no clue how to react.
Was last night just a
dream? Right now our Midnight Encounter seemed more like a
fantasy than a reality. I could not believe how sure of myself I had been last night.
I thought Marla was the real thing; how could I have been so wrong?
I had never in my life seen a woman flip like this before. Her
behavior bordered on the bizarre. I had no logical
explanation for it.
Whatever the explanation, I
felt like I had lost her. I was beside myself with pain. Why did I risk so much so quickly?
First the divorce eight
Then there was my crush on Marla that had gotten me nowhere. I
cringed as I recalled all my months of
pining for a woman who had never shown the slightest bit of interest
in me. Then suddenly all that had changed last night. Or
had it? I
thought we were both in love. I really did. Now I had
just been ditched in such a heartless
way. I didn't even know who I was being ditched for - the guy
back home who didn't give a lick about her or some new guy she had
just met on the cruise!
Either way, I felt so
Lost in my pain, I knew I
wanted to love and be loved like
anyone else. Everyone needs love, but why does it always have to be
so difficult? This feeling of loss was unbearable. Having felt
warm emotions for the first time in
ages, I could not bear to have my hopes taken away from me.
This was so unfair. Why? I hadn't done anything wrong to deserve this.
Was I supposed to believe last night had meant nothing to this
Her laughter was still
ringing in my ears. Was she laughing at something her new boyfriend
was she simply laughing at me? Or were they sharing a joke at
my expense and laughing at me together?
Were they jeering at me? I felt embarrassed and humiliated. Ha ha, Rick. Look
what you get for sticking your neck out.
Finally I just couldn't be
brave anymore. I wasn't remotely strong enough to face this kind of disappointment. At
this point, the dam broke. Eight long months of bitterness, frustration, insecurity,
loneliness, and disappointment all
hit at once.
I broke down completely. It was a pretty rough moment. There
was a lot of pent-up emotion in there. I
turned on my stomach, buried my face in my pillow and sobbed
I hadn't cried like this
since my parents announced their divorce. Suddenly I was nine
years old again. Abandoned.
Chapter Ten - The Heart is a Lonely
Back when I was in graduate
school in the early Seventies, a woman named Jan told me she was in
love with me. I felt the same way about her. Jan officially became the first woman I had ever
fallen in love with.
Unbeknownst to me, one night a week later
while I was studying, her old
boyfriend came knocking. Jan let him in. The
next thing Jan knew, she had two boyfriends. Jan had plans to
leave town in one month to get ready for college in another state.
Rather than choose, she decided to keep us both. For the next
month, Jan tried to juggle both men. Keeping me in the dark,
Jan told me one lie after
another to explain her mysterious absences.
I spent an entire month
confused out of my mind trying to make sense of her strange excuses.
I basically went through the same thing with Jan that Marla would
later go through with Chris. It wasn't till Jan left town that
I finally discovered
the truth from her girlfriend who took pity on me. I was stunned. Jan's blatant deceit caused me the worst heartache of my
The pain Jan caused was almost too
much for me to bear. Thanks to her, I had so much anger and
distrust of women
it was three years before I had another girlfriend. I could
not let down my guard again until I figured out a way to protect
the next treacherous woman. I vowed I would never allow myself to be
deceived like that again. From that point on, it became my
habit to question the suspicious behavior of any woman I was
developing feelings for. I refused to trust a woman blindly. They
had to earn it. If something in their story didn't make sense
right, I would back off.
No one was going to make a fool of me again like Jan did. I
was determined to use vigilance and direct questions to prevent that
kind of pain from ever happening again.
I thought I had learned my
lesson from Jan, but I
was wrong. I was completely blind-sided by Marla's sudden
desertion. Memories of Jan were
definitely in my mind during my crying spree over Marla. Even
though I barely knew Marla, the pain was identical. Just like
Jan, I believed
Marla had seemed to love me only to turn around and find she had been
playing me for a sucker. The pain seared through my body. I
cried my guts out. I suppose it took me fifteen minutes to regain
After the pain subsided a bit, it was replaced by
a vicious anger. No woman has
the right to treat me like
that. I had done nothing to deserve this. Yes, it was a woman's right to reject me, but no woman had
the right to torture me in the process. I could feel that ancient darkness start to wash over me.
It was scorched earth time again. I can be just as mean as the next guy when I feel burned. Two can play this dirty game.
I was full of rage mixed with hurt. I
wanted to retaliate in the worst way. I wanted to find a way to pay
her back. I decided I would find some other woman and give Marla a bitter
taste of her own medicine.
I sat on the side of my bed seething with anger.
After ten minutes of pure
hate, I finally began to cool off a little bit. What good
would retaliation do? First I had
felt pain, then I had felt anger. Now I just felt sad and empty.
Okay, Marla had made a fool of me. Ha ha ha. However
striking back had virtually no point to it.
After I calmed down enough,
I realized my eyes burned. I went into the bathroom to wipe my eyes
and clean the salt off my face. As I
looked in the mirror, I just stared at myself for a moment.
Marla's behavior didn't make any sense. A completely different thought
was struggling to be heard.
Who was this woman I had
spent a long romantic evening with the night before? Last night had revealed just how lonely I was and how much
I wanted to care for someone again. Had my heart chosen the
wrong person? Was I so determined to fall in love again that I
had invested all this feeling in a woman who did not even remotely
feel the same way?
A small voice in the back
of my mind said there was no way that our time together last night
had been a fake.
Some genuine sparks had flashed between us.
there was no way that our dance on that stage tonight was a fake
small voice was
certain this was true. Something was wrong, yes, but Marla had
shown genuine affection for me. That possibility cheered
me up a bit. Maybe I should go out and find her.
Then I hesitated.
All my distrust of women came surging to the forefront. Bitter
memories of problems in my two failed marriages stopped me in my
tracks. Thoughts of Jan's deception warned me to watch out. Don't be such a fool!
Just like Jan, this woman is playing me for a chump. Marla had
obviously gone out of her way to slap me around tonight. What
on earth was I doing taking another chance on her?
That is when I had to sit
back down and mull this over. I realized I barely knew the
woman. She was a complete mystery to me. I had no idea
what Marla's true character was. What was the explanation
for her behavior?
They say the Heart is a
When someone is as lonely as I was, they wander
through life with their
judgment impaired. In this weakened state, their heart
makes a foolish lunge at the first person to come along who might be
"the one". Was this what I had done? In
my desperate search for love, had I risked too much
of my heart on the wrong person?
A raging debate
erupted in my brain. Was Marla a she-devil or a nice girl? I shook my head in consternation.
I could think of examples to support both positions.
Whenever I face a problem,
I always rely on my ability to reason. But tonight my brain
wasn't working. I was too upset to think clearly. Faced with these contradictions, my brain
simply couldn't figure Marla out.
Ordinarily I fear relying
on my instincts. But my brain was useless. I decided to turn to my instincts. What did my gut say?
My gut replied that deep
inside I truly
believed that Marla
I took a deep breath.
How much could I trust my instincts? I had trusted my instincts
about the secret of Marla's boyfriend for the last six months.
I discovered my instincts had been right. I was proud of myself for
guessing correctly, but what about this time?
My gut said, "Only
a monster would behave the way I thought Marla was acting."
I asked my brain to comment. My brain told me that Marla was not a monster.
She might be mixed up, but she wasn't a monster. I had been watching Marla for six months.
Marla had behaved like a down-to-earth, decent person the
entire time. There was nothing phony about her.
Furthermore, throughout the intensity of last night's
encounter, Marla had conducted herself with dignity. Marla had been a lady in every
sense of the word. No, Marla was not a monster. It had
to be something else.
My mind replayed Marla's
Tonight's behavior at
dinner was radically different from every other time I had ever seen
her. At one point,
Marla had actually leaned sideways against the man's shoulder for
support as she laughed her head off! Just thinking about her
laughter made me angry again. If she was trying to piss me off, she
could not have done a better job. I was jealous beyond
I took another deep breath. Now that some of my pain had
subsided, I was able to think
more clearly. A new thought crossed my mind.
What if Marla's flirtation had been an act? At the time,
I assumed Marla was just trying to hurt me. Now I considered
the possibility that maybe she
was sending me a message. For me to accept Marla's dinnertime
behavior at face value, our time together the night before had been
nothing but a lie.
Why would any decent person spend six
solid hours last night lying to me?
And why would any
decent woman snuggle in my arms on the dance floor, then jump into
another man's arms 15 minutes later?
My word for it was 'Taunting'. She was
flaunting her attractiveness to men to prove some sort of point. Marla was showing me I wasn't the
only guy who was attracted to her.
If so, I already knew that.
The look of pain on that man's face at the Captain's Reception was
evidence enough. Furthermore, I didn't appreciate her effective public demonstration of
her attractiveness to men one bit.
But Marla had NEVER
flaunted her looks before. I had known her for six months.
Marla was not a tease. That wasn't her style. Tonight's behavior was totally out of
character with the woman I thought she was.
Up to this point in my
life, I could only remember one or two women who had taunted me like
this and that was all the way back when I was in my twenties.
Yes, there were women who played these games, but usually not for
the sheer fun of it. In fact, I could not remember a grown woman ever
behaving like this before. The kind of women I am attracted to don't
play games like this without some sort of provocation.
Ordinarily a woman
behaves like this either to attract a man or to punish a man.
Was I being punished?
If so, what did I do to provoke
this? I shook my head in confusion. Nothing that I could
think of. I had done nothing to deserve being punished for.
That meant Marla must have
been trying to "get a man". My mind wandered over to Mr.
the object of Marla's affection.
What about this new
guy? Marla had mentioned being interested in some guy at the
studio for a while, but I didn't know who the man was. I
doubted seriously it was Mr. Fascination. For one thing, he was at
least ten or more years younger than Marla. Furthermore, I would be very surprised
if Marla even knew this man before the trip.
They never came to the studio on the same night or took similar
I racked my memory. I had not seen
dancing with Marla at our "Welcome Aboard" cocktail party early
yesterday evening, but I couldn't be sure. I had
definitely not seen this man at the Disco
late last night. If something had clicked at the "Welcome
Aboard" party, Marla would have been with him, not spending
the entire night talking to me.
Or did Marla just discover
him today? Mr. Fascination clearly wasn't on the deck with Marla when
I doing my crossword, but he had taken my dance class. Did Marla
connect with him during dance class? Hmm. Maybe that's
why she left class early this morning.
If so, the two of them sure moved quickly. However, assuming
they met today for the first time and got all hot and heavy as
Marla's behavior led me to believe, then why didn't Mr. Fascination
accompany Marla to the Captain's Reception?
Furthermore, if Marla had
experienced some sort of afternoon delight, that why did Marla spend
her last moments before dinner in my arms?
In this world, anything is
possible, but there are laws of probability. For Marla to be
so attracted to this man, they must have really hit it off in the
morning. Except that women don't typically turn their
feelings on and off quite so easily. For this to happen, Marla
would have to be fickle in the extreme. Marla didn't fit that
description. Marla's typical demeanor was cool and collected,
not hot to trot. For example, no woman who is
'fickle' would come to my studio in the middle of a shaky
relationship and choose to date no one for six entire months. If anything,
Marla seemed loyal to a fault.
None of this was adding up.
If my reasoning was accurate, Marla had no idea who this guy was.
Now that I thought about it, at dinner this man seemed
surprised at the extent of Marla's attention towards him. Or was this just wishful thinking on my part?
I doubted Marla was quite as interested in this man as it seemed on
the surface, but my confidence was pretty low
and maybe I wasn't thinking straight. Could I trust my own
I concluded Marla was
probably putting on an act, but this was just a guess. So
what's new? I had spent six months guessing about this
woman. I was right about her boyfriend, but what if I was
wrong this new guy?
I decided I was not wrong.
If that was the case, then maybe I should go talk to her. As
shaken as I felt, did I have the guts to approach her tonight based
on another hunch?
Fear of More
I shook my head in despair. I was much too
vulnerable to be wrong. I could not afford to make the wrong
move. Some guys can take rejection and let
it roll off their back. Not me. My feelings for Marla
were much too strong. If Marla brushed me off a second time, it
would be a long time before I bounced back from this.
I had already been terribly
hurt once tonight. I didn't know if I could face the chance of
feeling that kind of pain again. I knew I couldn't take
another fifteen minutes of violent sobbing, that's for sure. I
frowned as I stared at my tear-stained pillow. It was still
soaking wet. I hated feeling
so weak. This was pathetic.
catastrophic fantasy was that Marla would say, "Aren't you old
enough to read
signals, Rick? Do I have to spell it out for you? I thought I made it clear at dinner that I
had already made my choice of men. Get lost and don't bother me again."
Unfortunately for me, based
on Marla's performance at dinner, this harsh possibility seemed much
Given her state of mind, approaching her again tonight seemed like a
huge risk. I obviously did not have a clue what was going on in
Marla's mind. If Marla had indeed changed her mind about me and rejected my next move
with the same energy she had at dinner, I didn't know if I could
handle it like a man.
I recoiled at the thought of letting her see
how hurt I was. Would the pain show on my face? Would I
say something ugly I would regret? Would I be so hurt that I
had go hide to avoid losing control in public? I had
silently cared about Marla for six long months. To be so close to
her one night and have
my heart ripped to shreds the next night by the same woman was more than I could
thought I could take.
turned white with fear.
Maybe I should wait until
tomorrow. Approaching Marla now would take more
guts than I had ever risked before.
I reviewed my thoughts
one more time. My pursuit of Marla had been an uphill struggle
now for six months.
From the beginning of March all the way
till now, I had faced an unending series of negative signals. If it hadn't been for my instincts, I would have given
up long ago. Now I had to search inside one more time before
My instincts had been
right last night. In fact, my instincts had been right all along.
Then again, maybe not.
My instincts had not
predicted tonight's rejection. I was
completely blindsided by that. Did I dare trust my instincts
Historically, I have always been
far too analytical for my own good. Trusting my feelings is
something I have always been uncomfortable with. However, tonight I could see my brain was
completely fried. No matter how hard I racked my brains, I could not
come up with a no-doubt explanation for Marla's behavior. I
didn't like trusting my feelings on something this important, but
what choice did I have?
I was preparing to take a
leap of faith. I have learned over
the years that in the face of uncertainty,
instincts often work better than reason. So be it. In the face of so
much uncertainty, like the ancient Greeks who
turned to the Oracle of Delphi for answers, I asked my instincts to
My instincts replied that
something I did not know about had gone wrong. I did not know
what it was, but that might
explain why she had lashed out.
My mind drifted back to the
thought that Marla had been punishing me. "Ordinarily
a woman behaves like this either to attract a man or to punish a man."
Ridiculous. I had
already been through this. Why punish me? I was
guilty of nothing. My conscience was absolutely clear.
If Marla wasn't chasing Mr.
Fascination, then the only other explanation that made any sense was
that Marla was punishing me.
Maybe my brain wasn't
working because I didn't have all the facts. Maybe my gut was
right - I couldn't figure it out because of an unknown factor.
Maybe someone had said
something negative about me. Maybe someone had planted some
sort of doubt in her mind. What if Marla was worried that I
was a womanizer and a cheat? If so, maybe Marla had concluded that
last night was an act on my part... in fact, maybe Marla was thinking the same
fearful thoughts about me that I was thinking about her.
Marla one night, some other girl today.
Maybe Marla was just as
scared as I was. Hmm.
What other explanation
could account for Marla's flirtation? Marla was not a monster.
Furthermore Marla liked me. Something must have triggered her dinner show.
Now my mind wandered
back through the day. What about my dance with Jill? Maybe it was Jill.
In a flash, I suddenly remembered that Marla had mysteriously
disappeared while I had danced with Jill. Finally a clue.
I got excited. I finally had a hunch that was a real possibility.
Had Marla been jealous of Jill? Did Marla think we were
dating? Had someone told her that Jill and I were dating?
I had never dated Jill, but watching us dance might
give that impression. Or maybe Marla didn't appreciate seeing me show off
with Jill when I should have been at her side instead.
Whatever the exact answer, this was the first thought
I had all night that might explain the mystery.
Sometimes people who are in
love do crazy things when they get afraid. Maybe Marla was
just as scared of getting hurt again as I was. I nodded.
No one said love was easy. Marla had to be paying me back for something,
I was sure of it.
Whatever Marla was thinking,
I was certain she had come to the wrong conclusion.
I refused to give up without at least an explanation. Now I
had to overcome my anxiety and go find her. Faint heart never won fair maiden. Let's go find out what the real story was.
I changed out of my formal clothes and
put on some jeans. I took one step towards the door, then
stopped cold. I still wasn't ready.
I really wasn't looking
forward to this.
Based on what had happened at dinner, I saw no
reason for optimism. What would I do if Marla was still
with Mr. Fascination from dinner?
If Marla was hanging out with
him, I guess I would have no choice but to back off. I
suppose that before entering any particular room, I might want to
peek around a corner first. On the other hand, I certainly didn't want to appear to be
stalking the woman. Running into the two of them together was
just a chance I would have to take.
Shaking my head in disgust
at all the uncertainty, I walked out of my cabin.
To my surprise, Marla was right there in front of me!
Well, not right in front of
me, but almost. Marla was
walking down the hallway with her back turned to
She and Sherry were about fifty feet
ahead. I assumed they had left their cabin just seconds
before I did. Hmm. Another interesting coincidence.
I watched them walk away
from me while I thought about my next move for a moment. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that Mr. Fascination was nowhere
in sight. My heart jumped a little bit.
Maybe I had a chance after all. Then it occurred to me they
were walking to his cabin. Now I frowned.
Oh, what the hell.
Take a risk. I
decided to chase them.
I ran half the distance,
but when I was near enough, I slowed down to regain some dignity.
I didn't want them to think I was sneaking up on them even though
that was exactly what I was doing.
That is when I called out to Marla. "Going
to another singles dance?"
Marla whirled around.
There was a look of shock. Marla was definitely surprised to see me
and who could blame her?
Where the heck did I come from? The hall was empty just
My heart skipped a beat. Was
frowning? I couldn't tell, but she and Sherry were clearly waiting for
me to catch up. Good enough.
As I closed the gap, I
smiled and asked, "So where are you guys
Marla smiled, "We are going to see the show.
Would you like to join us?"
I nodded with relief. Yes, indeed I would.
I took Marla's hand and we walked down the hall together. I had a
feeling this was going to work out after all.
The Two Faces of Rick
the show was over, we returned to my room. We began another
talk that lasted till dawn. That made two nights in a row.
Unfortunately, tonight's talk wasn't nearly as much fun. This time
we got down to business. As
wonderful as the romantic first night had been, the second night was
In Marla's mind, I was two people:
Night and Day. Good and Bad. Jekyll and Hyde. Last
night I had been Prince Charming. Today I had been Mr. Toad.
Marla had watched me avoid
her for an entire day for no obvious reason. She carefully
explained the progression. First, I had not said a single
word to her at the morning dance class. I had not smiled at
her and I had avoided eye contact. Nor had I invited her to
breakfast. Second, I had not looked for her the entire day.
Based on my behavior at the morning dance class, my absence could
very easily be explained by the presence of another woman in my
Third, my behavior at the Captain's Reception didn't make any sense.
Why had I danced with every possible woman in the room? Was I
playing the field? How many women was I chasing? Marla had almost been able to put her
suspicions out of her mind when we danced the last song together.
But then I couldn't wait to show off with Jill, the devil in
the red dress! So, Rick, who had really gotten the Last Dance?
Was it Marla
In Marla's mind,
it was Jill who had been given the honor of the Last Dance.
It didn't help that Jill looked damn good up on that stage.
Wearing a short red dress that showed off her long legs, Jill was
a very sexy dancer. Marla noticed every man watching Jill up
on stage was mesmerized. They couldn't take their eyes off Jill
Nor did Marla blame them. Jill had a lot of talent; she was putting on quite a show.
I had been
wrong about one thing. It turned out that Marla was not
jealous of Jill.
Marla had let
go of her two-timing fears when I danced so close to her on stage.
That was no longer the problem.
anger switched to something else.
insulted. Rick had to have one more dance with a member of his flock. It was more important to Rick to show off than to be a gentleman and
escort Marla to dinner. Marla was just one of the many. Marla
had gotten her duty dance, then it was time for the next woman. It was tough to
feel special when Rick dashed from one woman to the next with the
greatest of ease.
Hurt and confused, Marla left. I almost got back in
her good graces when I chased her down while the group waited for
dinner to start. However, when I turned my
back on her for five entire minutes without bothering to do
something as simple as ask permission, here we go again.
Everyone gets Rick's attention but Marla. That was the last straw. Marla felt forced to
she would not be taken for granted.
If I wanted
Marla in my
life, then I better learn to pay attention to her. She could play the field too
if she wanted. So, yes, she did some flirting of her own with another
guy. Yes, she agreed her flirtation was a nasty lesson, but under the
circumstances I deserved it. In the future, show some respect or pay the
There was a
part of me that felt the punishment exceeded the crime, but I
definitely got the message.
she had gotten some of her defiance out of her system, Marla calmed down
a bit. At this point, she patiently went over today's events
to show how avoiding her had done so much damage. It all
started when I avoided her in dance class this morning, then it got
listened to her explanation, I frowned.
First I lost one relationship for puppy dog behavior; now I had
almost lost another by staying too aloof. I was
perplexed at getting
chewed out for giving Marla too much space. Wasn't this the
same woman who said she needed "time to think"?
bothered me most was how totally clueless I was about her
suspicions and anger. How was it possible for me to spend the
whole day adoring her and alienating her at the same time?
What man can ever
possibly understand a woman? I am sure I am not the
first man to throw up his hands in exasperation.
Nevertheless, despite my
frustration, I paid attention. Marla had clearly begun a
"teaching moment" as they say. Told from
Marla's point of view, I slowly began to grasp how Marla arrived at
her series of wrong conclusions.
agree with everything she said, but I was definitely sorry to
discover how I had inadvertently hurt
Marla just as much as she had hurt me. At least I could
finally grasp where the seeds of doubt had come from. In my
mind, I had done nothing wrong, but then I had the advantage of
knowing exactly where my heart was.
On the other hand,
Marla was forced to operate in the dark for most of the day.
She was almost convinced I had brushed her off and might even be two-timing
her. Although our slow dance together had solved that problem,
my blatant disregard of her moments later first with Jill and then
in the dinner line had gotten me in trouble again. I wasn't showing much respect. Marla
wanted to show me that if I was going to spend the entire day
ignoring her, she could find other friends. Marla's
dinner show had
meant to demonstrate that she was not dependent on me for friends.
She could make friends all by herself.
Unfortunately, while Marla thought she was merely teaching me a lesson for
ignoring her in the dinner line, I assumed something far far worse.
Marla had no way of knowing her little act could possibly have
caused so much heartache. She just wanted me to pay better
attention to her, but I completely misread her behavior. Talk
about Venus-Mars. I was
so confused that I was almost ready to jump off the side of the
in disbelief. Surely
there was a better way to handle her uncertainly than her
grandstand performance in the dining room, but I had to admit I had
read a lot more into her actions than necessary.
So who was
more guilty of
overreacting? I suppose it was a toss-up. At one point
Marla had me dating every woman on the ship. For my part, I had definitely gone off the
deep end when I saw her flirting with Mr. Fascination. Now I
felt sheepish. I could not believe how easily I had been
manipulated. Marla had accidentally hit right on top of the
most sensitive nerve in my being - my fear of being deceived. I took everything she did the
wrong way. Yes, Marla may have her share of inner demons, but obviously I would not
have gotten so upset if I didn't have a few demons of my own.
obviously scared to death of deceitful men. And I am obviously
just scared of deceitful women.
I found it
very strange that it was so easy to fool the other person.
Obviously we both had developed excellent masks to hide our true
feelings. Both of us
had felt inner turmoil the entire day, but to the world we appeared
happy go lucky. Although I assumed my pain was written all
over my face, Marla said she had idea I was falling
to pieces inside at dinner time. All day long, neither of us had the slightest clue how the other was feeling!
Consequently we both assumed the other person could have cared less.
It was scary how easily we were both misled by the other.
Now that I
much damage my 'mask' had caused, I decided it was high
time to become more transparent. At this point, I began to dredge up the past.
shared my experience with Jan as a way of explaining why I had
overreacted so badly. Marla turned around and did the same.
She spoke of Chris and of other
problems from her marriage to Tom. Our long talk brought back
painful memories for both of us. After
listening to her
stories, I realized Marla had just as much right to be on guard as I
wasn't the only person terrified of being hurt again.
wants to distrust another person, but once a person has been hurt
badly, distrust will always be present for the rest of their lives.
The only solution is communication, but when a person's
hurt feelings are on the line, that is much easier said than done.
Take my word for it.
with a series of highly ambiguous situations all day long, Marla's past
experiences made her worry that she was developing feelings for a
man who would betray her like the others had. Now that I
saw things from
Marla's perspective, I understood how she had every right to arrive at
although it is a shame I had to be taught such a hard lesson, Marla's wakeup call
did a lot of good.
it, last night had been so powerful that today we both feared we were
moving too fast. We both sensed that we had invested a lot of
hope in a person we barely knew. Love is the ultimate "risky
business". Our instincts told us we were dealing with a good
person, but after all the crap we had been through in earlier years, our hearts needed
a lot more evidence of good faith before moving onto the next step.
it took me
four hours to work my way through all my psychological scar tissue.
Finally, thank goodness, I was able to reach the point where I
felt safe again with Marla. It had definitely been a hard day's
night. Marla felt the same way, exhausted and frazzled. We were
both very vulnerable, no question about it.
entire day had been fueled by misunderstanding on both sides.
There are times in life when trust is in short supply. I am
proud that I found the courage to take one more chance to find out
what the truth was, but it still bothers me that I almost didn't
take the leap of faith.
Neither one of us was very good at this "Trust" stuff. But once we
were able to admit our fears to each other, the problem went away.
I ended our
talk by telling Marla I didn't want to see other
people. Nor did I want to play any break up and make up games or do anything further that
would make her suspicious. Let's commit to one another right
now and see how far we could go. Marla said that would make her very
happy indeed. And that's how our long talk ended.
problems on the second night turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Our ability to overcome this rough patch
gave us both the confidence that we could handle anything
the future might bring.
Watching how hard the other person was working to solve the
problem also helped bring us closer together. It served to deepen our sense of
commitment to each other.
It was gratifying to learn right from the
start that neither of us would quit at the first sign of difficulty.
Instead we knew the other person was willing to talk through our problems till we found a
From that point on, it was smooth sailing
for the rest of the trip.
Thanks to our long talks, by the time the 2001 trip ended, we were
about as tight as two humans could possibly be.
and I agree that we were married from the Stroke of Midnight on the
first night of our cruise.
the cruise as two people, but we left the cruise as one.
We have never been apart since.
So why did
I share such a personal story? Because many people don't
there is such a thing as romantic love.
serves as living proof that romantic love is not a myth.
met Marla, I certainly didn't believe in love.
When I boarded the cruise ship, I was in the
darkest, most cynical 'scorched earth' mood imaginable. After
my divorce, I
didn't believe 'romantic love' even existed. And then to my
surprise... and relief... I discovered I was wrong.
Marla and I
spent six consecutive months leading parallel lives without the
single spark flashing between us. We were both lonely, but not
miserable enough to actually take action to change direction.
suddenly - without any warning whatsoever - love
magically appeared out of
nowhere to give us both a fairy tale romance. Except that it
wasn't a fairy tale... it was real.
single thing that I wrote in this story is the complete truth.
That means that no matter how skeptical the reader might be and how
improbable my description of the twists and turns might seem, that is
still the way it happened. Gypsies, lightning bolts, crushes,
coincidences, misunderstandings... all true.
I wrote this story to
remind people that if this experience can happen to me, it can
happen to anyone.
I had another reason to tell my story as well. I wanted to address the fragility of love.
This story reads like a well-crafted plot from a Shakespeare play.
Othello and Romeo and Juliet are two
examples of plays where
Shakespeare demonstrated how easily doubt can arise through
circumstance, lack of knowledge and rumor. As Shakespeare
pointed out, love is easily destroyed by misunderstanding.
Misunderstandings between men and women are as old as Adam
and Eve. It
was a shame Marla didn't have the benefit of reading my mind (or me
hers for that matter), but I am convinced these things can and do
happen to all of us. The meaning of words can be easily
twisted and actions can be misinterpreted.
I was subjected to a frightening view of the damage that
misunderstanding can create between new lovers. Fortunately,
after a very painful struggle to overcome my fears, I had the sense
to do what needs to be done when a misunderstanding occurs.
Communication isn't easy, but I had to try.
There is no other way. Through all the hurt, pain and
confusion, a person must find the courage to reach out to
the other person and learn what is wrong. Certainly
you will be scared to death to stick your neck out and, yes,
your attempt might even fail. Success is never
when it does work, you might end up with the finest
relationship of your entire life. Love is worth the
risk; Fortune favors the brave.
realize I am not saying anything that hasn't been written in
a thousand self-help books. However sometimes it is
good to hear the same advice from someone like me who has actually
shed some blood while learning this valuable lesson.
Back when I was in my twenties, an older man named Philip
told me the biggest struggle of his daily life was to
maintain hope and sensitivity. He told me that all the
bitter experiences of life can easily make a person cynical
and suspicious. In
his opinion, most men his age date younger women because all
the women their own age were either too smart to fall for their
games or had run out of patience. Then he added that most
men his age were too scared to take a chance on someone who
might actually be a good match for them. It was easier
to find a plaything.
Philip said that adults learn to hide their feelings behind
a stoic mask. To show emotions is to show weakness.
Showing weakness gets you hurt. On the other hand,
while becoming hard and well-defended
might promise safety, it also guarantees loneliness and a
superficial existence. Philip concluded the smart ones
try to have it both ways - they mask their feelings until
they learn who they can trust. Then they remove their
During my four-hour ordeal with Marla, I thought of
Philip while I struggled to cut through my
"psychological scar tissue". I wanted to
trust Marla in the worst way, but the events of the evening
had scared me out of my mind.
I had to ask question after question after question until
finally my fears subsided. I was in pain the entire
time. It physically hurt to talk about my fears and
find ways to cope with them. My stomach was in knots,
I was gripped with nausea, my shoulders were tense, my head
throbbed, and I trembled with fear. I had become so
hardened with bitterness and suspicion that I was in agony as I tore down
the stone walls around me.
was an ordeal, but I am glad I did it. The reward far
surpassed the pain. It was worth the struggle.
I guess my
other point is this - there is no such thing as a perfect person.
During this story, I made my share of mistakes and so did Marla.
Surely the reader kept score. Furthermore, I have two
divorces, Marla has one divorce plus a failure in a long-term
relationship. So don't think for a moment we are perfect.
We are no better than anyone else. If there is only one skill
that we can point to, it is our willingness to share our thoughts on
everything. No secrets. No deceptions.
Thanks to our commitment to honesty and transparency, our
relationship has none of the drama and intrigue that was so
much in evidence during our cruise ship courtship.
Once the walls came down, for the past ten years we have
done everything in our power to keep them down...
Trust is the very foundation of love. Trust is a
fragile thing. Never do anything to hurt it.
Once you lose someone's trust, you may never regain it.
among us hasn't been burned? We all have war stories
and scars to prove it. It isn't called the "Battle of
the Sexes" for nothing. By the time we make it to fifty,
we all have enough bruises to justify allowing ourselves to
stay hardened and cynical.
Sensing it takes real courage to care, most of us take the
easy way out and make fun of love instead.
"I never knew what
real happiness was until I got married;
by then it was too late. My first marriage was a
three-ring circus: Engagement ring, wedding ring, and
Obviously the institution of marriage is fertile ground for
humor. I laugh at jokes about marriage all the time.
So does everyone else.
However some people mistake the jokes for 'wisdom' to live
life by. This cynical approach is a shield for the
people who have given up on finding someone to care about.
They just don't have the courage to risk opening up again and
taking the chance they might get hurt.
My response is
that loneliness is rarely any fun. We are
social creatures. Don't be so afraid of the fire.
While it is true that getting too close to the fire
can get you burned, if you approach it just the
right way, the fire will also keep you warm.
Find somebody you can trust and open up.
I believe life's experiences are a
lot more satisfying when I can share them with someone
special like Marla. The one thing I learned from my
first two nights with Marla is that when we communicated, we
As I struggled with my fears about women, I believed
if only I could break through to the other side and
find trust, there was
a great chance we would make excellent companions.
was right. From the moment we connected on that trip,
Marla has been the very best friend I have ever had.
success of the 2001 Cruise, it is no surprise that we decided to
organize another cruise the following year. This time Marla
wanted to help. She was just as committed
to making the next trip a success as I was.
delight, the 2002 Cruise had tremendous magic in its own right.
It became crystal clear to me that my dance studio and these dance cruises
were a perfect fit for each other. I wanted to do more of
these trips, but I also wanted the studio to benefit rather
than hand the proceeds over to some travel agency.
It was on
the 2002 trip that I first spoke to Marla about the possibility that
some day she might be willing to organize the cruise trips herself.
Marla had every talent in the book - love of travel, knowledge of
travel ins and outs, organizational skills, and salesmanship.
I knew she was a natural... and Marla knew it too. She said
special in other ways too. My friend Gary Richardson
demonstrated the importance of photography to me. He also
showed me how important it was to provide as many dance
opportunities as possible for our guests. George Handsome
taught me the importance of the hot tub and Phyllis Phrog taught me
the importance of causing trouble. People behave too
much at home. The ocean is the perfect place to misbehave.
Working as a team, in 2002 Marla and I spent time getting to
know people in the group on a personal basis. We formed
friendships with many people who shared our interest in travel. The people we grew close to in 2002 would go on to
take one trip after another with us. They became the Founding
our Travel Club.
Marla and I may have been co-captains on each new
trip, but we also had an army of friends who came along to
contribute in their own way. Each new trip saw this 'army'
make sure the newcomers
were quickly included. The newcomers were so appreciative,
many of them decided to come again the next
year. As a result, every
subsequent trip we took began to feel more and more like a family reunion.
Dance and Romance at Sea
Over the years, Marla and I have observed the SSQQ Slow
Dance and Romance Magic is just as strong at sea as it is on
land, maybe even stronger.
obviously not everyone has the good fortune to meet
the love of their life on a cruise trip like we did, but you
would be surprised. Each
ocean voyage has an uncanny ability to touch people on a deep
emotional level. Over the years, my story has been
repeated several times on SSQQ cruises. In fact, irony
of ironies, the young man Marla flirted with... yes, Mr.
Fascination himself... met his wife on our very next cruise!
Don't tell me there isn't more to this world than meets the
Whether they meet someone or not, I can say without
hesitation that the singles have the time of their lives
stuffing hot tubs, posing for pictures and dancing the night
away. A cruise trip is quite the playground for
fulfilling fantasies of all sorts. I
think in many ways I am guilty of the same thing as the the
TV Show "Love Boat". Each episode focused on the
antics of the wild and crazy singles and their hijinks
aboard the ship. I suppose I do the same thing.
After all, the singles are not only entertaining to watch,
they are fun to
write about as well. Except that I can't tell you the
really juicy stuff or I would get thrown overboard on the
very next trip.
However, there is so much more to each trip than the
shenanigans of the singles. What about all those quiet
married couples and people in committed relationships?
I believe our trips help bring couples closer together. Back
at home, we get so busy we don't pay enough attention
to one another. A cruise trip can change that in a
flash. I have noticed that Marla's cruise trips
attract a great number of married couples who originally met at SSQQ. It is
great to have these
couples come along. Not only do they love dancing
together in such a beautiful setting, but they delight in
reconnecting to the same group that helped bring them
together in the first place. In a way only they can understand, they appreciate
that SSQQ Slow Dance Magic works just as gracefully at sea
as on land.
That Romance Magic seems to work on a group level as well.
Shared joys make friends of us all. Whether it is the silliness of 30 people stuffing a hot tub
or 40 people taking a bus trip to see
Michelangelo's masterpiece, these powerful shared experiences bind us all
together. Marla and I have taken great
satisfaction watching our guests use these trips to form friendships that will
last a lifetime.
course there is the dancing, always the dancing.
have documented time and again the power of dance to create
romance. Dancing played a huge role in bringing Marla
and I together. Dance has done the same thing for
countless other people in our group as well.
On any given trip, there are literally dozens of couples
within our group who owe their relationship to dance.
Small wonder that dancing is just as popular on our cruise
trips as it is back at home. Dancing is not only the
perfect way to meet someone, it is also the perfect way to
keep the romance strong.
beauty of social dancing is that it works just as
effectively on the group level as well. Dancing is
truly the common thread that holds us all together.
It is the activity that links us into our extended family.
marvel at how many people try to dance with every single
person in the group before the trip is over. One good
trip around the dance floor seems to make friends out of all
us. There is no other social skill on earth that is
more conducive to bringing a great number of people
reason of course is that dance is unquestionably one the
finest skills for meeting people ever devised. In our case,
is there an easier way to break the ice and introduce
strangers than a 'welcome aboard' dance party?
Once two people are in each other's arms, dancing has been
known to melt fences faster than Cupid on his best day. It
is perfectly acceptable for a man to put a lovely woman he
barely knows in his arms instantly.
Dancing is a team sport. Two people who have just met
have the delightful task of seeing if they can cooperate
together to move around the floor. It requires knowing
a secret language known as "lead-follow" to play together. If they succeed...
and they usually do... at the end they are grinning at their
accomplishment. Their dance skill allows them to share
a smile. From this point on, they have the start of a
Dancing creates love, it creates warmth, and it creates
unseen ties that bind us all together as a community.
And of course we owe our thanks to Marla, the love of my life, the lady
of the fateful Midnight Hour.
Ten years ago, I had a headache - how could I ever figure
out a way to have a relationship and be effective as the
social leader of my dance group at the same time?
One of the many facets of Marla's cruise magic is that
she has helped me solve my age-old dilemma. Marla's cruise trips
allow not just me, but both of us to participate in the social side of SSQQ
and enjoy our relationship too.
When Marla first met me, I was very much a loner. In
the ten years we have been together, Marla has seen me
become much more at ease with my role as host on these
trips. It's true. I have indeed become far more
outgoing. And I suppose we know who gets the credit
Thanks to Marla, I
have finally found the answer to my problem. A cruise
trip allows me to be happy in our relationship and
contribute to the energy of every cruise without having to be single
I am certainly
not the only person to benefit from Marla's talent. Now
that many of us finally have some free time on our hands, we have
the chance to act on our lifelong dreams to see the world.
Thank goodness Marla came into our lives at the perfect time.
Marla has accomplished at sea the same thing I once accomplished on
land - she has helped to create a huge community of friends who
dance, thanks to travel, thanks to Marla, thanks to me - and thanks
to many of you!! - the future is bright. The whole gang has
all these incredible memories to look back on and all these great
places to look forward to. Marla and I look forward to sailing
and dancing across the Seven Seas just as long as we possibly
can.... not by ourselves, but with our friends along to share the
It has been
a great ten years. On the Tenth Anniversary of our
cruise-inspired relationship, we both
thank all of you for giving us the chance to serve in this way.