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April 4, 2022

Love Letters: Manny

Love Letters: Manny

This week we welcome our friends at Love Letters from PRX and The Boston Globe. Meredith Goldstein is an advice columnist and host of the podcast Love Letters. We set her up for a check-in a year later with Manny (Aziz's second date) for a chat about breaking the rules when it comes to love. For more episodes of Love Letters go to: loveletters.show


This week we welcome our friends at Love Letters from PRX and The Boston Globe. Meredith Goldstein is an advice columnist and host of the podcast Love Letters. We set her up for a check-in a year later with Manny (Aziz's second date) for a chat about breaking the rules when it comes to love. For more episodes of Love Letters go to: loveletters.show

Transcript

Jesse: This is dating, I'm Jesse Baker. 

Hiwote: And I'm Hiwote Getaneh. 

Jesse: So I'm not the type to play favorites 

Hiwote: I am. 

Jesse: But I will say Manny was a fan favorite. 

Hiwote: A hundred percent. Everyone loves Manny, it's hard not to. 

Jesse: You all remember Manny. He was Aziz's date on Aziz date two. He stole our hearts, and left us with some questions. A lot of times on these dates, we get to explore one side of a person, or we get to tell a few stories, but it's not an exhaustive look at the inner workings of someone else. It's a date. It's one hour of someone's life cut down into 20 beautiful minutes, awkward minutes, funny minutes. And a couple of weeks ago, we were talking to a friend who hosts a podcast called love letters from the Boston Globe, and the whole theme of their season was about breaking rules. 

Hiwote: I can't think of a better person to introduce them to if we're talking about breaking the rules, than Manny.

Jesse: Exactly. So we set Manny up for a conversation with Meredith Goldstein so that we can all have a little more Manny in our lives.

Meredith Goldstein: From the Boston Globe and PRX, this is Love Letters. I'm Meredith Goldstein. Now it's our turn to dive more deeply into Manny story, because Manny's romantic life has had many chapters leading up to that date with Aziz, including one chapter that happens to fit with this seasons rule-breaking theme, pretty well. To understand why, we first need to rewind back to 1990s Los Angeles.

Manny: I grew up in a modern Orthodox Jewish family, but my mother was the main breadwinner of the family. She was a bankruptcy lawyer. My father was a helicopter mechanic from Afghanistan and they married when they were in their late thirties, had me in their early forties. So they were a little bit older than the typical religious Jewish parents.

Meredith Goldstein: If I asked you to sort of characterize your early romantic life, when did it all begin? 

Manny: My early connection to romance elicited a lot of fear because I was romantically interested in the wrong kind of people. Being a Yeshiva boy and having crushes on other Yeshiva boys is not a safe thing to have happened. I remember going to Jew camp in the summer, sleep-away camp thinking, oh no, this is going to be a problem. For the first group of years that I started having feelings towards other men, I tried to stop those feelings, change those feelings, pray them away, hope that they might go away. And so my connection to my early sexuality was dangerous and scary for me. It wasn't really, until I left Los Angeles and came out of the closet and went to college on the east coast, that I started really creating a new relationship with my sexuality, my feelings, and my early romances. 

Meredith Goldstein: After high school, Manny enrolls at Williams college, a small liberal arts school in Western Massachusetts. He finds the dating pool there very limited. While visiting a friend at another college, he has an early brief romance. 

Manny: He was a cross country runner. And, um, we had a very romantic set of, you know, first meetups. And it was in the early days of Facebook where you just were able to start sending messages. So we would send these long romantic love messages to each other over Facebook. We thought we were so cool. 

Meredith Goldstein: Manny is pretty politically active on campus at Williams, he's co-president of the student body. Literally the morning after graduation in 2011, he starts work as a summer intern in the Obama white house. And then in late summer, many leaves on a trip that will change his life. He wins a coveted international fellowship from the Thomas J. Watson foundation. This gives him the opportunity to study LGBT rights movements in six countries over the course of the next year.

Manny: You have to be alone for all 12 months. You can't come back home at all. You can't go to any country you've ever been to. So it's a year of discomfort, which is supposed to both facilitate transformation and also try to create a cohort of more active participants in the world community, really trying to kind of branch Americans out to see the rest of the world.

Meredith Goldstein: The idea of the fellowship is you don't stay in any one place for too long. Time doesn't allow you to get settled anywhere. Many starts out in England, then spends three months in India. He helps organize a pride parade in Bangalore. Next he lands in Australia, which is in the middle of a years long debate over legalizing same-sex marriage. Pretty soon after Manny gets there, something big happens. 

Manny: I organized my trips that I'd be in each of these countries around pride time. And so I was there for Melbourne pride. I had seen a poster somewhere that they were looking for volunteers, they gave us ribbons to sell to random people, to. For charity for the, for to help support the pride organization. And I saw this young man sitting under a tree in this park, alone, reading a book, and I walked right up to him and I didn't introduce myself. I just said, Hey, what are you reading? And he looked up at me and said Nietzche. And he showed me the book and I said, well, I need you to help me sell these ribbons. I can be persuasive and I didn't really give him much of a choice and to his credit, he closed the book and stood up and he basically kept me company while I walked around and random people and sold ribbons to them. And that's how I met dale.

Meredith Goldstein: Manny is pretty smitten with Dale, right from the start. 

Manny: Dale is a bit thin, brown hair, beautiful eyes. He has kind of like olive features, my height, kind of 5 10, 5 11. Erudite, very beautiful, very, very intelligent, has big lips. 

Meredith Goldstein: But Manny tells himself, don't be so easy. Don't let Dale see how Gaga you are. 

Manny: And then I was like, well, it was nice meeting you, and I walked away and he walked away. And I was like, Manny don't give him your number, don't turn it around. You know, like stay strong. And I kept walking and kept walking and I looked back and I saw that he looked back and then he turned around and started walking, walking back towards me. And I turned around and started walking back towards him. And then he said, can I get your number? I said sure. 

Meredith Goldstein: I'm trying not to faint from. I'm trying not to swoon. Okay, so he did the thing, he got your number. And at this point, how much time do you have left? Like how, how soon into?

Manny: Just the beginning. 

Meredith Goldstein: This just the beginning. So you had time. 

Manny: I had time, but I didn't tell him when I was going to leave. I kept it a secret.

Meredith Goldstein: Manny and Dale fall pretty hard for each other. 

Manny: I've never felt this strongly about another man ever. And I just remember crying a lot, like a lot, a lot. And I don't even know why I cried so much. It felt like my heart had exited my body and was in my hands. And he was like squeezing it really hard. And it felt so strange to have my heart outside my body, in this strangers possession. 

Meredith Goldstein: They go to concerts together. They visit Dale's hometown outside of Melbourne. They rent a little blue car and drive to the capital Canberra to watch Question Time in the Australian parliament. It is all very romantic and beautiful, but for Manny it's tinged with sadness because he knows he has to leave Australia soon. And Dale remember, does not know this.

Manny: He knew that I had to go at some point, but I didn't tell him when until I think maybe a couple of days before, because I didn't want him to basically not invest in me out of fear of hurting himself. 

Meredith Goldstein: I mean, it seems like the timeline led to the intensity too, of also what you were feeling, right? The better it got, the more fraught it might've become knowing you were, you know, knowing there was a clock, you know ticking. 

Manny: I didn't want to fuck it up. Like I didn't I, and then also it was hard to parse out my feelings, like how much of this is the kind of romance of, wow. I met someone, but I'm leaving. So it's, we got to get it in. And I also couldn't force it cause he didn't know when I was leaving. So I kept wanting to see him more and more and more, but I didn't want to seem too over eager. And I didn't know if, because I had never felt this way before, I didn't know what my feelings, what they meant. And so it was all very confusing to me. 

Meredith Goldstein: Toward the end of his time in Australia, Manny decides he must visit Ularu, this giant monolith way out in the middle of the Australian outback. 

Manny: So I rented a car and I put an ad on, on Gumtree, which is their version of Craigslist too, because I needed people to share the gas and share the car with me. And I found three random people. One of whom didn't even speak English. He was an Italian man with curly hair that spoke not one word of English. And I picked up these three strangers and we drove for two and a half weeks through the Outback. I shaved my head and all I could think about the whole trip was Dale.

And finally it became so overbearing that in this town called Coober Pedy, I think it was. In the middle of nowhere, an Opal mining town, I had to find a payphone to call him just so that I could hear his voice. And, um, I called him and I was crying, of course. And I put the payphone down and I cried in that payphone booth in the middle of the Outback with no hair. And I was like, this is real. This is a real feeling.

Meredith Goldstein: It's a real feeling, but Manny has to continue his fellowship. It's time for the next destination, China. The night before many departs Australia, Dale gives him a framed photograph of the two of them. It shows them kissing under an umbrella at Mardi Gras in Sydney. They hadn't really talked about what was going to happen next, whether they would stay in touch or whether this three month love affair would stand on its own like a dream. When Manny leaves, he's a total wreck. 

Manny: And I remember arriving in Beijing and it was smoggy and dirty and gross. And I got into this random apartment in the middle of this giant city, and I just sat on the edge of my friend's bed and held this frame and cried for a long time. And then just kept going. I thought I'd probably never see or talk to Dale again. 

Meredith Goldstein: Little did he know. Manny's story continues after the short break.

Manny told me that he's been carrying a portable speaker around with him ever since he was in high school. It gives his days a soundtrack he says, because he wants his life to have a cinematic quality. So picture the scene of Manny flying away from Australia, away from Dale, with no plan about what happens to their relationship. No real conversation about what comes next. That was 11 years ago. 

Manny: You know, a lot's happened in 11 years. What I remember is there was a period in the beginning where we, we didn't talk for awhile and the tools of technology made it easier and easier for us to you know, check in, communicate, see how things were going. And I think where it kind of settled in the beginning was we both became a places of support and security for each other, when we needed them. Like when I was going through something, either a bad breakup or a job transition, or when I moved to San Francisco for the first time, I would check in with Dale and ask his advice.

We had this familiarity with each other, that while we were not romantic, that familiarity maintained, it continued where I just feel like he knew me. He, he knew what I was about. He saw a version of me in Australia, a vulnerable version of me that not a lot of people have seen. And he, I mean, whenever he has going through stuff, he would reach out to me. And so we just became pen pals, basically. 

Meredith Goldstein: This correspondence between Manny and Dale, it becomes regular, like super regular. Every day regular. And this raises the relationship rule that Manny is kind of, sort of breaking. The one that says you'll never get over an ex without making a clean break, without putting some distance between that life and your new life. Talking every day, that's not exactly putting distance anywhere. Now, technically you could argue the Dale isn't Manny's ex because it's not like they had some big breakup, but as time goes on, it becomes clear that their lives will remain on separate tracks. Dale in Australia, Manny in San Francisco. Being together isn't really an option.

Manny: I'm not moving Australia. I work in American politics. I'm on the board of our public transit system. I own a brick and mortar business. Honey, I'm here. I'm staying in this country. This is my career. 

Meredith Goldstein: One day five or six years ago, Manny gets a cockamamie idea, his words. He'll fly to Australia the next day and just show up on Dale's doorstep to surprise him. Both of them are starting to date other people at this time. 

Manny: And that wasn't the point I wasn't going to Australia to like get back together with Dale. It just, for some reason, I was like, I need to do this. Let's just do this. I'm tired of waiting. I want to see Dale. 

Meredith Goldstein: Many conspires with a mutual friend in Melbourne to make sure Dale will be at home. When Manny gets there, Dale opens the door, he sees Manny before him and gets emotional. 

Manny: The first thing he said was no one has ever done something this grand for me before dale grew up in tough circumstances, it tough circumstances financially familiarly, you know, not the greatest part of Australia. I mean, he said he had a tough upbringing and he was able to pull himself up. He got a degree, he got a law degree in a philosophy degree, and now he's a lawyer and he's able to really change the circumstances. And I think just to have someone do quite that much, just to see him, was a bit overwhelming for him in a positive way. 

Meredith Goldstein: But I'm sure it was confusing too, right? Because you show up and regardless of your intentions, you're looking at this person who has metaphorically held your heart in his hands. So how do you experience that, but keep him in a certain column in your life? 

Manny: Yeah, it was confusing. And honestly, it wasn't even the best trip ever because he was like, I'm so glad you're here and I'm kind of dating someone and I'm like, that's okay, I'm also kind of dating someone. We don't need to do anything. I'm not here. Like with any assumptions. But we ended up making time for each other. We had a bunch of meals and then we ended up going on a road trip down the great ocean road, which is beautiful, uh, and stayed in the cabin. And it was kind of awkward cause we wanted to be romantic, but also felt, and this has kind of been our thing over the last 11 years is the timing has never been right. It's just never worked.

a couple of years after that he did come to San Francisco and it also was the wrong timing. He had just started dating this other guy. And so it's almost like fate has laughed at us. Like it gets a chuckle out of us, every time. So there was an awkwardness about it, but there's also a sweetness and I'm really glad I did it.

Part of it also is I want to be the kind of person that does that because it's so easy to turn your blinders on and your heart off, and to just get tunnel vision into whatever it is you're supposed to be doing that day, that month, whatever your professional goals are, I never want to lose that. 

Meredith Goldstein: One of Manny's relationships at home is a pretty serious one. He falls in love with a ballet dancer, they're together for three and a half years. 

Manny: I traveled all over the world with him on tour with his, his company, and basically became part of the company in a way. It was a very romantic, very tumultuous, very stormy love, lots of ups, lot of downs, lots of, you know, fights in the streets of Paris and breakups and crying. And, and I don't regret it. Um, we broke up many times. I finally ended it because I felt like the kind of person that I wanted to be, I couldn't become with him as my partner. 

Meredith Goldstein: Talking to Dale about all of this is complicated on one hand, Manny relies on Dale for love and support, but he also doesn't want to hurt Dale.

Manny: There's a balance between cluing him into my life and also exposing him to pain by getting them into the inner workings of my own romance and love and relationship. 

Meredith Goldstein: So we did a whole episode the first season, I think of this podcast about whether people should talk to exes and sort of what it does to you and what it might prevent you from doing or what it might hold you back from doing. And obviously there are no universal rules, but I want to talk about how keeping him in your life has both helped and been a support system, but also maybe has been in a place where someone else might go and that might not be true. So I'd love to get your take on that, sort of like how, how you've been able to keep in touch and maybe sort of break that rule and the ups and downs of that.

Manny: It's a concern of mine. And there've been times where, because of that concern, I've cut off our communication to kind of keep moving. So I don't know the answer. I don't know if Dale is a crutch to me emotionally and that, I don't know if our connection's holding me back from finding love here, or if that isn't what it's doing and it's more innocuous. If it really he's, he's just a man in my life giving me love and support and I, him and we're close friends and it's a, it is a relationship of mutual support. I mean, there's a consistency, you know, we really do talk almost every day and we have for a very long time, I almost don't care at this point because even if he's holding me back from finding love right now, having someone who's there for me pretty much whenever I need him to be, it's just so grounding. And he really believes in me, like he believes that I'm going to be able to do whatever I want to do. And that is awesome. 

Meredith Goldstein: At one point, many is talking to a behavioral scientist for a virtual event and she tells him, look, it would be healthier if you just let go of this thing with Dale. 

Manny: And I said, you know, I think it would be good if we take a break and stop talking for a little bit to see if things changed for me, like if all of a sudden my heart feels more open and if I, you know, men start coming into my life and I can accept their love. I was kind of like, you know, when you, when you're not sure if you're like allergic to eggs or whatever, and you like take it out of your diet to see if like your eczema goes away. I took the eggs away for a little bit to see if like all of a sudden my heart was different. 

Meredith Goldstein: And? 

Manny: Well, we realized was like, there were certain things that we were doing that were unhealthy in our conversations and certain words we were using and things we were saying, and you know, that kind of thing that we're veering into the wrong way to is that have that connection and that there needed to be some kind of boundaries, emotional boundaries between us, but that it was that the connection itself was not causing a lot of harm.

Meredith Goldstein: One ground rule they come up with, how about, let's not call each other when we're drunk. 

Manny: For instance, let's say I was feeling lonely because of something that didn't have to do with him. And I thought, well, I know it'll make me feel, not lonely. It'll be to call Dale and get him to like, say that he wants to be with me. Well, that's not really fair because Dale's in a relationship right now with a man who loves him and like me getting a dose of Dale to feel less lonely, is not necessarily fair to his life. And so really being conscious of those moments and not taking advantage of our connection in that way. 

Meredith Goldstein: Manny says that when he's with his close friends, they can tell when Dale calls because Manny's body language changes noticeably. But outside of that group, Manny says he doesn't talk much about Dale. He keeps it private. If someone does ask about him, Manny will say, Dale's probably the guy I'll marry someday. It's hard to tell if he's joking.

Manny: What does it mean to be done with someone? I'm not done with Dale, he's not done with me. The experience of being alive is a lonely one. And when you find a heart connection with somebody, and you don't have to give it up. I think it's a tragedy to do it. Not all exes are built alike. My relationship with Dale is without pain, I'm not lying at home, you know, awake at night, feeling a deep sadness that Dale isn't here. I'm not having sex and wishing it was Dale. Like, you know, he's he does not withdraw from my lived experience. He only adds.

Meredith Goldstein: This summer, Manny and Dale have tentative plans to rendezvous in London. 

Manny: I was thinking yesterday, like, what's it going to be like when I see him again, you know, where will we meet up? What will be like to, to see him again physically? So I think about him, but it's the same kind of daydreaming that we do about all sorts of things. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. And I don't know if I'll make it to July. If I'm lucky enough to make it to July, I'm lucky enough to get it, be able to get on a plane. And he's lucky enough to get on a plane too. And we're there together, then my, at least my hope is that I'll be present and that I won't waste those moments thinking about what I've done or what I should do or where we should be. But ultimately, like my perspective at this point on life is like, if we can just be as present as possible and just appreciate the time we have. Then we'll have done it right. 

Meredith Goldstein: Thank you, Manny so much for telling this story.

Manny: It was my pleasure. Thank you very much for holding it.

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Manny: I'm a half Afghan, half Polish, religious gay Jew. 

Meredith Goldstein: That's so many things. 

Manny: It's a lot of things.

Meredith Goldstein: It's a lot of things, I'm just, I'm just, I'll just Jewish. 

Manny: That's okay, listen we'll take what we can get, that's okay. 

Meredith Goldstein: Right? Okay. Okay. Thank you. 

I'm Meredith Goldstein. Thanks for listening.