The Baron and I met through Match.com. I imagined him to be a sporty guy who often left town on the weekend for an adventure because his online photos had him on snow-capped mountains in ski gear. A rugged outdoorsman was just the alpha male I was interested in at the time.
Our first date was a meet and greet at the Half King Bar in Chelsea. For the initial interaction I wore a fail-safe outfit: a black cotton top, dark jeans, and heels. The Baron greeted me at the bar in a crisp-pressed oxford shirt, dark jeans, and driving moccasins. Visually we “matched” – at least superficially in our clothing tastes. It was a good sign.
What was supposed to be an hour chat turned into an entire afternoon. We meandered through Chelsea art galleries and talked about painting, politics, and New York. The conversation was breezy and effortless, like two old college friends.
Because we had good banter, he fast-tracked me. That is, within six weeks he introduced me to his family. I was still unsure of my feelings towards him. And my ambivalence only made him chase after me more. He should have recognized my detachment when I didn’t invite him to my sister’s wedding the next month. To confuse matters, I called him continually the week I was away. It was the worst of combinations, I was needy and distant all in the same instance.
Five months in the Baron broke the news. Every night out we were together, I’d start a fight. He never knew what would trigger me. Something in our communication would break down. So finally he decided to call me out on the bad behavior. When I calmed down, I apologized and did my best repair the situation. Too late, he ended it at month six.
A few weeks later I sent the Baron a birthday card, which opened the door to a call, then some emails, and finally a New Year’s Eve drink. Maybe it was manipulative on my part, but I wanted a different ending to our relationship. He had a certain quality that made me feel special, desirable and intelligent. My ego didn’t want to believe our reunion just about sex.
But maybe it was. A month later there we sat in the Bryant Park Café. The lunch was just a formality. I had planned to tell him that he was good guy, list all his great qualities and then pass him a shopping list. In the first six months we had dated, he had asked me to help him refresh his wardrobe. We never got around to shopping.
The handwritten list was split up into casual, sporty, and dress sections. Each column suggested pieces at various price points that would suit his swimmer’s frame. His usual uniform mirrored what he wore on our first date. For variety he wore a blazer. Even though he fancied himself fashion-forward, his style was decidedly All-American, bordering on fraternity brother. I think it was a reflection of his St. Louis, Missouri upbringing.
My break-up speech fell out of my mouth as I slipped the Baron the shopping list. His eyes scanned the page and he paused before responding.
The Baron was discreet about his financial situation. All I knew was that he left his hedge fund job on mysterious terms. That’s how my sister came up with his nickname, the Baron. It wasn’t that he was royalty, but he had an air of entitlement. I figured the arrogance was a by-product of his success. And to be fair, at the time, I had a thing for the ambitious Wall-Street type.
His silence in that moment frustrated me. Baron von Vague was the full nickname I had assigned to him. Did the mixed signals I sent throughout our time together have anything to do with his lack of clarity?
True to our dynamic, I decided to inject more drama into the situation. This time I didn’t pick a fight.
“Remember that ex- fiance I told you about?” I asked.
“Sure, what about him?”
“He showed up with a brownstone”
The ex-fiance had won a New York city housing lottery. The prize was the right to buy a fully-renovated brownstone at a subsidized cost. And the ex-fiance wanted me to have the prize.
The Baron was happy for me, I think, and at the same time wanted to know more about the ex-fiance. I filled in some details. Besides his physical appearance, I described his work and that the ex-fiance’s family was well entrenched in the finance world and ran a global food business.
Like a peacock mating ritual, the Baron had to show me his plumage too.
“You know how much money I made the year I left my job?”
“Nope,” I replied.
“About a million.”
I tried not to look impressed.
As we left the restaurant, it would have made sense to hug goodbye, wish each other well, and part ways.
“Want to shop?” I could hear myself utter the words that I knew were wrong. Rather than break-up sex, the Baron and I had a break-up shop.
The Baron gave the appearance of cool and calm and mellow but really had high expectations for comfort, value, and style. He was more complicated than he let on, a lot like me. As we walked down Madison Avenue our first stop was at Alden. The Baron was still relatively young and more hip than the shoes on display. Alden reminded me of CEO shoes, worn by the likes of Warren Buffett or Ben Bernancke. A few styles came across to me as grandpa attire, I expected to find orthotics inside. Despite some old-fashioned manners the Baron was too vibrant for the footwear. I convinced him to leave.
I took him to Cole Haan where the selections called out, “I’m a nice guy who will help old ladies cross the street.” I pictured the shoes the US Olympic swim team wore at their charity events. The Baron complained that the quality of the leather had gone down over the years. Rather than convince him otherwise, we walked out of the store.
Then it was a quick-pit stop into Ferragamo, but the Italian styles were a bit too bespoke. The sales clerks were from an unspecified European country, reed thin, and all sharp angles. It made me uncomfortable that no one spent any time in the sunshine. I vetoed the shoes almost immediately. The toe box of the shoes was too pointy and uncomfortable. If the Baron was Nicholas Sarkozi with a younger model wife, then perhaps he could suffer through. We quickly exited.
Finally to Barney’s, where I thought we should have started the whole expedition. Turns out the Baron had a lot of specifics of what he preferred: round toed shoes, something that could be resoled, a thicker leather but not too stiff, no more than $400, and no boot cut because they usually hit his ankles in the wrong spot. Suddenly, my mellow mid-Westerner became over-the-top specific. I was up for the challenge and pulled 5 pairs from the racks for him to try. In a moment of vulnerability, he let me choose a style outside his criteria. I picked a John Varvatoss ankle boot, which, the salesman informed was the number one shoe picked by girlfriends for their boyfriends. Barney’s however, didn’t have the shoes in the Baron’s size.
Am I proud of that shopping trip? Not especially. I don’t fault the Baron for indulging me that afternoon. Our expedition was intimate, full of banter and flirtation. Whereas break-up sex is short-lived, our break-up shop was territorial. Perhaps subconsciously I knew the clothes would show up in his next relationship with another person. I’m embarrassed to admit that in the end it was less about me wanting to improve his style and more about claiming the Baron as my own.