They got my test results back yesterday, and according to the late Professor Emeritus Wolfe’s analysis, I have the potential to be a competent computer programmer. Of course my high school CS instructor could have told them that and charged a lot less money for it.
As for the question of what programming has to do with a sysadmin job… Well, an NT administrator does have to write logon scripts. I’ll leave the reader to come to his or her own conclusion whether such a test is necessary to determine whether you can write logon scripts or not. It’s not in my best interests to comment on that. I will say there have been a few instances in my professional career where I’ve had to sit down and write some code (besides batch files), be it a quick-and-dirty-utility in QuickBasic or C or KiXtart, or some maintenance programming in Perl. I’ll also say it hasn’t been much of a struggle.

So now I know I’m promotable without changing employers, and that feels good. There’s pressure on me from outside to change employers, and they have some valid points. I guess I like having options.

Dan Bowman sent me a link, which is currently 120 miles from me (I’m in Columbia), which he speculated was a response to what I wrote yesterday. I read it and I concur. The argument there was that you shouldn’t necessarily look for fulfillment in your job when you can find fulfillment in what’s staring you square in the face when you get home: your wife and kids.

There absolutely was a time when I believed that, and there may come a time when I’ll believe it again. My gut reaction to Dan was my standard gut reaction to everything: “Why, that reminds me of a story…”

I had a late dinner a week ago with a buddy and some of his buddies. Technically it was his bachelor party, though some people might argue that a preseason hockey game followed by dinner doesn’t count as a real bachelor party. His 21-year-old future brother-in-law was there. And at one point, the subject of relationships came up. I argued that if you’re alone until you’re 40 when the right relationship comes along, that’s better than bouncing around from wrong relationship to wrong relationship until you finally find the right one. He disagreed.

“Nothing’s worse than being alone,” he said. “I know. I’ve been alone a long time.”

I told him I’ve dated exactly three girls since I turned 18. The first of the three was much worse than being alone. At one point I wouldn’t answer the phone, just in case it was her, for fear of what she’d say. She was always mad at me about some piddly little thing or another. It was cool for about a month. The last two months, forget it. We broke up and I was a whole lot better for it.

The second of the three was always mad at me for some piddly little thing or another too, but at least she didn’t nag. We broke up twice. A few months after the second breakup, she started talking to me again out of the blue. Another female friend asked why we didn’t get back together. All of a sudden it hit me. She had no respect for me. When I told my friend that, her attitude changed 180 degrees. “Forget that,” she said. “Everybody deserves respect.”

The third of the three was worse than being alone too. She was always mad at me because I only e-mailed her every second or third time she e-mailed me, and my messages were always shorter than hers. She only called me once or twice, so I wasn’t afraid to answer my phone, but I was afraid to check my e-mail. She prompted me to write my first-ever mail filter. For some reason I wouldn’t stand up to her. I never understood the relationship, because we never had long conversations, there was no emotion whatsoever, and we never laughed. She didn’t get my sense of humor, and I certainly didn’t get hers. All we could do was talk about baseball. Of course, I could talk about baseball with my guy friends, and they never nagged me.

That lasted roughly six months, if I remember right. I wanted to find out whether being with her was better or worse than being alone. Finally I decided I liked being alone better.

Along the way, I’ve met The One several times. I’m sure everyone knows what I’m talking about. You meet the world’s most beautiful woman, and she turns out to be really nice, and funny, and has several other qualities about her too. But I always ran into a problem. I could never talk to The One. Well, I could talk, but the words never came out right.

So, at best, The One and I would become very casual friends. And that was it.

Then a few months ago I read something that sounded wise. I don’t remember where I read it, but it sounded like it was directed at me. If you’ve met The One several times and you keep blowing it, you’re probably putting too much pressure on yourself. You’re trying to say the one line or one word that’ll win her heart for good, and you’ll never do it, so you’re fighting a losing battle. The article said to forget that approach. Get used to talking to women, it said. If there’s a woman around, talk to her. Not even if you’re not interested in her–especially if you’re not interested in her. Do that, and you accomplish two things. You learn what women think about and what they like to talk about, and you eventually quit putting pressure on yourself, so when you finally do talk to a woman you’re interested in, you sound natural.

So a few months ago I started doing that, to a degree. It’s not like I walked up to every woman I passed in the grocery store and started talking, but since I work with a lot of women, I had that opportunity at work. I talked to a moderately attractive intern at work. I struck out hard. Then I ran into someone who reminded me of someone I used to know, but I couldn’t place her. I walked up to her. “I feel really stupid asking, but you look really familiar,” I told her. I told her my name, and asked if it meant anything to her. Turned out I went to high school with her. We had a couple of long, pleasant conversations, and she didn’t run and hide! I was on a roll!

So I kept on. One thing I learned I should have known all along. There’s a girl at work who’s still in college, working part-time, who was getting some help on a project from someone else. I happened to be in Someone Else’s cube fixing her computer at the time. At one point, Someone Else asked me how you’d adjust the leading in Microsoft Word. I gave her the bad news: You can’t, which was why I wrote a lot of my papers in college in QuarkXPress–I could finely adjust leading and tracking all I wanted, to make a paper whatever length the professor was looking for. At one point, Someone Else went upstairs for coffee, leaving the part-timer and I alone in her cube. She and I talked, mostly about my job. It was pleasant.

The next day, I was in her area, so I stopped in. I asked how her project was coming along. She was completely floored. “It’s almost done. Every second it gets closer and closer,” she said. “Thanks for asking. That’s so sweet!”

Lesson #1: Take an interest in what girls are doing. Especially The One. Judging from this girl’s reaction, she doesn’t get that from guys her age very often. Lesson #2: I already knew Lesson #1, but rarely expressed it. So if you’re interested in what she’s doing, make sure you ask.

So now I’m sure you’re wondering what I’ve accomplished. I’ve talked to all these girls but haven’t found The One lately, right? Wrong. I don’t know if she’s The One, necessarily, but she’s a good prospect. We talk a lot and she doesn’t run away. I know her well enough to know there’s a joke hidden somewhere in almost everything she says, but I don’t know her well enough to catch it every time yet. She understands. I don’t fret when I talk to her, and I don’t dread hearing from her. We seem to understand one another. Good signs, definitely. So what am I doing about it?

I didn’t look for a smooth way to ask her out. I brought it up. She saw it coming. I wasn’t visibly nervous, but I got choked up for a minute. You can’t control your subconscious, after all. “I’ve been thinking,” I said. She saw it coming and seemed to enjoy it–here’s a guy who’s confident, yet vulnerable. My vocal chords betrayed that. (Girls seem to like confidence spiked with vulnerability.)

Then I asked her out.

She said yes. She left herself a small door for escape. Then she closed that door.

And that’s the end of the story, for now.

Now, if I were in the mode of relying on wife and kids for my self-fulfillment, I’d be a basket case right about now. What if she cancels? What if it doesn’t go well? What if it does go really well, but then when I propose to her she says no? What if I never find another girl like her?

That’s thinking way too far ahead. That’s too much pressure. It’s not fair to her. She’s got too many other things to think about to have to deal with all that. Every worthwhile girl does.

I’ve said a few things to her that seemed to really make her feel good. So yes, I get some fulfillment from that. I get some fulfillment from work. I get some fulfillment from this site, though it’s been months since I’ve checked my logs so I have no idea how big my readership is now. I get some fulfillment from the things I do at church. And I get some fulfillment whenever a friend calls up and asks for advice or a favor.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that fulfillment shouldn’t come from one place. All of those things will let you down at one point or another. But if you’ve got enough other things, when one thing lets you down the others can still buoy you up.