They meet cute online, where loneliness is all you have in common. Sometimes that's enough. It's mid December and 'tis the season to feel badly about being alone. She sets up a profile to find a man, inadvertently adding an extra digit to her minimum age for a desired mate, leaving her cruising cyberspace for a man four hundred and one years or older. He suggests that perhaps she is being a bit too ageist and should just settle for someone who enjoys Renaissance Fairs. Witty banter ensues. They talk on the phone, mostly about his work and his family. She finds his attitudes to be vastly unspoiled, often in staunch opposition to her cynical sensibilities. He is attractive and kind and leads a clean life, a consummate catch on paper. But it is not meant to be, she is a city girl, he lives in the woods. Sure, opposites attract, but this isn't practical. Did I mention she is lonely? They agree to meet in the city closest to him, about eighty miles from his wooded retreat. They eat lunch and make small talk. After, the kind of scene transpires that happens when people haven't been touched by another in awhile and they may never see each other again. He invites her to the woods for a visit. She agrees. She'd like to see how the other half lives. She comes to find out they live a tranquil existence filled with birds warbling, smells of homemade pie, and unconditional canine adoration. She could get used to this. She returns to the city, but continues to visit the woodsman. She meets his family at his birthday gathering. Pictures are taken and funny stories and pleasantries are exchanged. Although their conversations remain light and insubstantial, there is a certain intimacy derived from cooking and eating together. That combined with quixotic fantasies of her youth and a nesting instinct derived from the comfortable surroundings make her feel like she should be in love with him. She exudes that "I'm ready to take that next step" aura, even though she's not. He walks two feet ahead of her in public. It's not meant to be, she tells him officially. He is too far away, we are too different, we are old dogs, there are no new tricks. She turns her sights back to the city.
They continue to email on occasion, mostly small talk regarding life's ins and outs and what's for dinner. The kind of chat that you cherish when you are dating. She presses on with looking for love in the city. She makes rapturous speeches about how the woodsman is not her soul mate as he is too staid for an urban wildflower like herself. Her mother remarks after seeing his picture, "I don't know, honey. He looks good and you're not getting any younger." After a period of quiescence, he returns to her email box, asking a routine favor, which she obliges. He thanks her with tickets to a show in his town. She figures, why not? Did I mention she is lonely? She shows up with a new attitude, this time she's just here to get out of the city. He tackles her for a kiss in the grocery store on the way home from the airport. Indifference proves to be an intoxicating cologne. She enjoys spring colors, meat killed with a bow and arrow, petting furry friends, and small town musical theater.
And for awhile, it's all quiet on the communication front yet again. He reappears in the email inbox fortuitously while she is in the midst of self doubt and anxiety about her first half marathon that she is scheduled to run the next day. She doubts herself; she's not sure she can do it. He assumes she has diligently trained, which she has. He tells her she should stop being concerned and start giving herself credit for the hard work she's done. The outcome of the race is immaterial. She runs it in record time.
She gets caught up in the sultry splendor of summer in the city and turns another year older. In discussing the celebrations a few days after, he remarks, "I didn't know it was your birthday". Of course he didn't. She's not his girlfriend. She keeps looking in the city.
Christmas comes yet again with all its pageantry and caroling and gatherings and loneliness. She suggests they meet when she comes to his closest big city on a shopping trip, as she needs to deck the halls and purchase gay apparel. 'Tis the season for merriment and food and festivities and family. Or whatever you can throw together to fill the void. They share a fancy French dinner at an upscale hotel and make small talk about his work and his family and even though they're not dating, it's pleasant enough. Sometimes it's nice to pretend to be something that you're not around the holidays. Afterwards, there's the kind of encounter you have at Christmastime in an upscale hotel when it's been awhile and you've stopped believing in Santa Claus. The season of giving casts a spell that causes them to make plans for her to visit the woods once again.
The New Year's tarriance is quiet and restorative. There are sing-alongs at the piano and soups from scratch and the sounds of the creek outside the window. It's all deliciously conventional and she thinks perhaps someday there could be more than small talk. At the airport before returning to the city, she assures him she will let him know when she makes it home safely. He replies, "Just tell me when you're coming back". A hint of romance from the usually stoic woodsman.
She is back in the city and thinks not of the woodsman. She thinks only of her city life, a life that is rich and fulfilling and does not require the love of a man. She comes to realize that being romantic is a characteristic, a personality trait, like being agreeable or thoughtful or neurotic. It's not a product of the right two people together. Eureka! She realizes she's not being rejected by the world; she's just not finding those who are romantic in their nature. She makes grand declarations about how powerful it is to be a woman. About how important it is to be on your own, to realize your own strengths, to make your own decisions, to forge your own path. She receives amazing feedback from friends and strangers alike, thanking her for her courage and inspiration. Her college boyfriend tells her he hopes his daughters grow up to be like her, independent and smart and thoughtful and witty. On the outside, she is fearless and empowered. On the inside, she is still an empty shell. She feels like a fraud. She yearns for peace and quiet, both inside her mind and outside her window.
The woodsman is insistent that she come to visit again. It will be good for her to relax and take a break from city life. She concurs. He emails and calls, bringing his best and most interested self yet to the equation. But the numbers haven't changed. Again she wonders if perhaps there is a bridge to be built over such a large gap. She envisions them making a fire, making dinner, making love.
She is to call him to finalize the arrangements for her impending visit, but the call must be postponed. She must call her brother back, a minor family emergency has occurred. She lets the woodsman know that they will talk when she gets it sorted out. Later on the phone, he remarks, "You never talk about your family. I forgot you had a brother". She decides to make other plans in the city.
It ends, just as it began, with an email. Let's not do this, it can't work, the scheduling is too difficult, we're too different, it's just not possible. Let's keep in touch and stay friends. It was fun while it lasted, best of luck to you. A small talk conclusion hides the bigger feelings that never came to the surface on either side.
She continues to look in the city. Not for love, not for romance, but for connection. She surveys the faces of passersby, wondering what their lives are like, wondering what is to become of the rest of her life. She goes to work and enjoys the company of friends. She runs errands and goes to social events. She wonders if this is all there is. She envisions a quiet place of her own, perhaps with the unfaltering love of an animal companion. She puts her dance card back on the table and smooths out its tattered edges. The woodsman may not have told her he loved her, but he did. And she loved him in return. And she learned to stop being concerned, to give herself credit for all she's done and that the outcome of the race is immaterial. She makes no plans for the rest of the race, except to finish strong.