We met on MySpace. I was nineteen. I had just posted a default picture of myself in black and white, digital, but with flash. I looked mature, like I took myself seriously. I also had perfect skin. Years of Acutane and picking my face delicately had now paid off because I got a love letter/let’s meet up MESSAGE from Shawn: 24, engineer, muscular and a total babe despite the goatee and mole on his forehead.
At the time, I had already decided I was in love with a Russian philosopher in Santa Barbara, Nikolai: 20, college student, well-read, genius. Somehow, with all his intelligence, he really “got me”. Maybe it was because we had gone to the same high school, only a year apart. He was pleased I actually listened to his nonsensical rants about the government. The week before Shawn messaged me, I had taken a train all the way to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles, hoping to seal the deal on the girlfriend status with Nikolai, when what happened was actually just a long weekend of watching documentaries and reading David Sedaris novels to each other. The first lesson I learned on the love boat was: never take a train to see a man of interest. He comes to see YOU. I left with a: “I don’t think it’s going to work out” and “Your girlfriend is beautiful” from his stoned neighbor.
So, when Shawn messaged me, I was elated, bubbly, over-the-top excited. We met up at Coffee Bean even though I had a penchant for Starbucks. At this point, I was agreeing to anything as long as a boy was saying “yes” to liking me. After a tea, instead of coffee (I was preparing myself for any sort of make-out situation), we played CHESS on the BEACH. CHESS. I was immediately infatuated with Shawn’s brain despite the fact that I had no idea how to play what I considered a very “mathematical” game. But Shawn guided me. He held my hand through it. He proved he was stable boyfriend/future husband material.
Then, we started dating. The age difference was immediately apparent. After work, he liked coming home and watching TV. After homework, I liked partying and going to art galleries. His dream was to play bass in a band but he was quickly realizing the reality of it. My dream was to… I didn’t have any at that point. We were obviously not in tune with one another but I had already decided I wanted to “take it slow” and “make it count” with Shawn.
When the first take-off-your-shirt moment happened, my attraction to him changed forever. It wasn’t that he was fat or anything. I dated one of those and I actually liked it. Shawn was muscular and I dug it, but it wasn’t the end-all-be-all. What really just ruined everything was the panther tattoo on the side of his chest. I mean, it was huge. It had green eyes, claws digging into the side of his nipple and said nothing about who he was as a person, which at that point, I guess I didn’t know he was an aspiring member of Hell’s Angels. He was “dark.” He secretly enjoyed Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. And, he used to have an eyebrow and lip ring. These were all superficial signs pointing to ‘NO WAY.’
I asked Shawn what that panther tattoo meant to him and all he could say was, “It doesn’t mean anything ’til I evolve.” What!?!?!?!? That was a non-answer answer. Who was Shawn? A transcendental hippie with a punk rock/metalhead edge? A guy who quoted Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell? I am sorry. What was Shawn evolving into? A larger panther?
Now I know tattoos can be teenage mistakes, just body decor or the result of a drunk adventure, but Shawn really stood by that panther. It meant a lot to him, though I didn’t think his vague meaning really translated into anything. My mistake was that I spent more and more time with him even after I saw it. Every night I drove to his house (again, always make the guy come to YOU), watched cartoons with him (that’s perfectly fine, but that’s all we did), then fell asleep (bored as ever with his personality). See, that panther tattoo was covering up the fact that there wasn’t much to him. He was pretty bland. He liked grilled cheese without tomato, not even garlic. And he would never go outside his cave of a home. I got so bored I had to think of him as someone else and at that stage in my life, I hadn’t dated one good person, so I was imagining he was someone else.
I let the dating continue when it should have stopped at the panther tattoo reveal. Somehow, I thought he was still good husband material even though I was allergic to his chain-smoking habits. At one point, I went to Wisconsin to meet Shawn’s family and when they handed me a I Love Jesus Christ necklace (even though I had said I was Jewish many, many times), it was over. I had tried so hard to make it work. I straightened my hair for Shawn when he was bored of my curly hair. I made myself look like a stripper per his request by wearing short skirts and shaving my legs everyday (I am a lazy woman and never do these things). Shawn never got my artistic sensibilities, I never got his hermit habits… the panther and I never got each other.
My second lesson learned on the love boat: Never date a man you clearly don’t gel with. It just leads to bad love-making, a slew of terrible decisions, and an identity crisis. Who was I now that I had dated this man and his panther? What did that say about me? Clearly I was naive. My third lesson learned on the love boat: Never settle on a guy. There’s always someone better, lurking in the dark deep recesses of the dating world.
Fortunately, I am now with a man that is kind and thoughtful, also genuine. And for whatever reason, he doesn’t have tattoos. Not that I am against tattoos. I have two of them. I just like them to mean something… or at least have a story behind them. Shawn’s tattoo had no depth and somehow, despite his engineering degree and ability to play chess, it eventually mirrored the fact that Shawn had no personal depth either.
Wow. I seem so harsh. Please don’t think I am judging you if you have a panther tattoo. Of course I’d love to meet you before I made any assumptions about your personality. If anything, I am just simply trying to say, a tattoo says a lot about a person’s ability to think before acting. It says a lot about their values, or it may say nothing at all. At least make the tattoo have some sort of personal meaning to you. And, don’t make the same mistake that I did. Never date a man with a panther tattoo.