The Funnel

The Funnel

I left the novel I was reading and had loaned to Diana the week before we broke up at her house. We met at a book club reading suspense and true crime novels. We began by reading three novels by John McDonald. I’d joined the book club after the divorce from my wife and carefully recovering from that event for a year and then on the day after the anniversary of our officially splitting up I began to think about how I could date. Dating for me was a project. It was the same as finishing the deck, writing a technical manual, or anything that had logical steps that would result in a long-term relationship. I created a plan and had to conduct live trials. The first aspect of this plan was to learn how I could convert contact in on-line dating profiles to coffee dates, and then second dates, and then a sexual relationship and dating. I observed immediately that dating was identical to looking for a job. You needed to send out a lot of resumes and queries to get an interview. And you needed to interview a bit to find a match and then if the match seemed promising you would get a position, but still, you didn’t need to make a career of it. I essentially created a sales funnel, but you might call it a relationship funnel. I learned that it took 20 contacts to result in a coffee date and it took five coffee dates to get to a second date and it only it took two second dates to get to sex. From there the entire equation took a strange turn. I had figured that sex and a possible long term relationship would be the same thing, but in fact, it took about five sexual relationship to turn into a possible long term relationship, and so far I had not yet converted a possible long term relationship into a relationship. The entire process of developing this funnel and then executing this funnel resulted in a strange world view. I would get worked up when I have coffee now. The coffee date was the perfect first date because both parties were in a public place. They could assess each other without any obligation. And to get to an in-person coffee date seemed like an astounding feat when in the flow of rejection in the context of making contact on the dating site itself. The trick was not to lose hope, to not become cynical, and to know that you were looking for a match.

The other odd aspect of this approach was it shifted my thought about how to meet people. I needed to produce more than just the dating web sites into opportunities to meet people. This meeting people was to throw the net wide. Obviously, I didn’t want to just go out into the world and meet people to try them out as possible hook ups and possible long-term relationships, but this did become the motivator. I joined a watercolor meet up group. I began to go to a tech group that held weekly lectures. I joined the suspense group where Diana was a member. I enjoyed her comments. She began to sit next to me. We talked, and I could tell from the skills I had learned from my funnel she was interested in me, and I mentioned I had coffee before the group at a small independent cafe up the street that roasted their own coffee and had baristas skilled at making faces and things in the foam. It was a well-known place that was quiet and where people worked on their laptops and journals. I had not been going there, but then began to go there, and then she showed up before a book group one day and we talked about other books. And then we began to meet there before the book group, and then we talked through the book group one day. And then the next time we said we really shouldn’t miss the book group and then we came back to my house and had wine and made out. She didn’t have sex. “Is this a date?” She asked.

“I don’t know. Is it?”

She shrugged.

“Diane, would you like to go out with me on a date? I can pick you up at your house next week at six?”

She smiled and said yes and then we went back to her apartment in an old brick building in one of those grey zones in the city that no one really thinks about it, and yet this one had a block of residential houses with a single apartment building. It had been its own town in the 1930s when the building had been built, and then a highway had been run about half a mile away, and the swamp land between the town and the city was filled in and became warehouses, and yet the small town remained even thought it was inside the city. The old Main Street was now a row of thrift stores, a coffee shop, an organic grocery store, and a hardware store that seemed to make its business selling handmade tiles created by local artists in a warehouse. In the late spring, with the rhododendrons and hyacinths in bloom, the building smelled like flowers and mildew. The hallways creaked when I walked through them. She was on the third floor, up three flights of broad stairs and down a hallway. She had a cast iron fire escape outside the hallway window, and inside her apartment, three rooms that overlooked the rooftops, the industrial sloughs, a bend in the thick grey and green Duwamish, and the county airport about three miles away the place felt like both part of Seattle and also removed from it. Even though I had a house, I didn’t want to stay in my house that retained memories and patterns of my life with my wife. My house has been occupied by my past live and I liked stepping out of it completely into Diane’s life in the city.

Our first night together was delicate. Closing my eyes, I could hear her carefully providing me instructions on where to touch her and how long. She felt under my fingers like a paper water balloon. That is like a layer of soft and somewhat scratchy paper, a membrane of latex, and water. I moved so not to jostle her and then as I pressed into her and followed her instructions which were like instructions to a tie a shoe with my eyes closed I could feel her tense and then release. She sighed and then was rather limp and disinterested in what we were doing. We got up naked and fixed herbal tea and talked and the talk was a soft murmuring, more of a way of making sounds that were soothing than to say anything meaningful. She became aroused and then finished what we started. She said as she had finished making something and slapping it down on the counter: “Yes.”

my ears ringing, I thought it couldn’t get better than that.

“I hardly ever, you know,” she said. “That way.”


She raised her eyebrows.

“You just did?”

“Yep,” she said.

Later, I walked to out my car and drove home in the early morning and slept until I absolutely had to wake for work and step back into my life.

I was of course correct about it not getting better than that. The novelty and completely removed frame of reference from my own life and the new smells of Diane and my thought this was the ground floor to something all of that create an impression that ended up being more pleasurable and enduring than the reality.

Diane suffered from migraines and she had been diagnosed with cyclothymia which oscillated between mild mania and mild depression. Her manic periods could either go into anxiety or could result in a burst of steady energy that climaxed in a crippling aura of lights in her vision and then skin crawling pain. Her condition, that was her word, her condition, began when she was in high school but was very manageable and even useful in college and graduate school. She had studied ceramics. After school she had worked as an assistant in an architecture firm and then had somehow become a professional administrator running the offices of architects, lawyers, and environmental mitigators. She worked for mitigators when we started dating. She had been married to a software engineer who she called “the coder” form her late 20s until she was 37 and said to him, she didn’t want to have kids because of her condition. Her husband left, married a woman ten years younger, and moved to Kirkland. Although she had their house, she sold it, went on a two-year worldwide trip in what she thinks now was a manic episode and crashed while living and working as an English tutor in Thimphu. She said this like I had a clue where this was. Later I tried to Google it, but I didn’t know how to spell it. Google said Dimpoo was not a name. Diane said it was very rare to have any sort of mania for so long, but she felt free and then trapped without a lot of money on the other side of the world. “I don’t know why I came back to Seattle. There isn’t anyone here.”

Diane was plump, but not fat. She went to two yoga classes a week and did a routine every morning. She said it helped with her migraine and her condition. Her hair was dark brown as it has been when she was young. She had a severe jaw line, and a pronounced, crooked nose and could easily play if wearing make up a classic, cartoon witch. She moved with a steady grace, and when she laughed, I could see her teeth. I found her attractive and graceful but also somewhat brittle and fragile as if I held her incorrectly something unfortunate would happen. And this odd resilience and fragility seemed like something I could possess. I think that was the main thing about her I thought, yeah, this could work. I could care for her like a plant. And in turn her presence would nourish me like a plant.

But she wasn’t a plant. She had survived a career as the administrator of small law firms and professional mitigators and her condition because she kept her shit together in the face of it always seeming like it would spin out of control.

We made a book group of our own. In the first month we read three books. It should have been a warning sign to me that I checked these books out from the library. I was giddy even if she seemed a bit depressed, perhaps because of her condition. She had to go out of town gave me a key to water per plants. I thought it was a good sign that she could keep her plants alive. She had dozens of ferns and a rubber plant. I liked being in her apartment while she was gone. I went to the coffee ship and went back and watched a program on her TV and then watered her plants. It seemed like things were going well. She didn’t even ask for the key back when she got back.

But that first night that had been exciting because of its firstness never built or proceeded beyond that. We became better at having sex with each other and that initial impression of fragility gave way to the fact that she was in fact in good physical shape because of her yoga. She said to me sometime early on, you can be rougher. You may bruise me, but you aren’t going to break me. By the second month she showed a carnal side. I had thought she was interested in me because of the book club, because of the discussions and sharing of ideas, but by this point she just wanted me to throw her down and fuck her. She was flexible and strong and had endurance and I found myself exhausted and sweaty within minutes. She laughed, and we read our books. And then she began to have not read the book. We were reading a suspense book that I had loaned her. I had not been able to find a copy online, and we were to the part where the detective had just lost his car in a swamp and is making his way to the remote cabin where he believes the antagonist is hiding out and something else we couldn’t figure out was going on. We were reading the book out load after sex and by this time in our relationship this reading the book was better than the sex. The falloff in the intensity of the sex I felt was nearly all me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested, I was just more interested in other things.

And then she said we should meet in the coffee shop near her house. It was the one near her house and so I thought maybe there was a reason and then we would go back to her house. At this point the sex was a signal of continuity and a future such as it was diaphanously present if we were having sex and would be gone if you were unable to have sex.

She broke up with me. It was short and direct. “I don’t want to see you anymore. I’m not enjoying this. I don’t see any aspect of it improving.”

I would have liked to say, “but you who are you going to find,” but that fact is online dating had taught me there is always a lot of people for anyone provided you set up a good enough funnel. I had whatever our relationship had been. This was the exit. There was no room in the breakup for me to do anything. I learned from my first marriage that if you must make a case, you don’t have a case.

“It will be best if I block you on everything,” she said. “It isn’t that I am disinterested in your life. It isn’t that I don’t like you. But where are at right now can go either three ways. It can get worse. it can stay the same. Or it can get better. I don’t believe it can get better. And I am not interested in this as it is, and if it gets worse, that will just be unpleasant. If stop seeing each other, we may both me tempted to start it back up with memories of something that never really happened but seemed like it might happen. It is better if we just put a hurdle there and that is to block it from happening.”

“But —-“, I said. Her rationale made sense. She was breaking up with me in person, something she didn’t have to do but was civil in a way that I couldn’t manage myself, I think she knew this about me.

“Why are here at this coffee shop?” I asked.

“Because I didn’t want you to know for sure,” she said. “But now it has happened.” She stood up, and I realized she had on her hoodie and crossbody and had never removed them. She had sat in her chair like she had just come off the street, and she could just return that way as well. “Have a nice life,” she said and kissed me on the cheek and left.

She had left me with her key. I figured she would change her locks. I went back to my car, and I called in sick. And then lying in bed the next day around three o’clock I crawled out of bed and did my exercise bike for two hours until my legs felt like rubber. I wondered what happened with the guy got to the cabin in the swamp. I would never find out.

I returned to work, and then two weeks later began to fire up the machinery of my funnel. I also tried Diane’s social media accounts and I could hardly see anything. A few of them had some public posts, but for the most part I was blocked. I thought about blocking her back and then didn’t. A month out, I had been on some coffee dates and I was potentially seeing someone, but they calmed out and then a dry period in the middle of the summer struck. I recalled it had been that way before, the seasonality of dating, which made it seem like I was running a business.

What did the guy find in the cabin? She had the book. I really wanted my book back. It was a library book. I drove to her neighborhood during my lunch break and in the middle of the day. Her car was not in the parking spot in her building. I parked around the block on the street and tried the key on the front door. It opened, but that was the front door lock. The building smelled the same, but the summer warmth left a kind of slightly tar odor as well. The floor creaked and then I climbed the stairs and was a bit breathless at the top. I listened to the building. Someone ran water from a tap on the second floor. I could hear a TV somewhere. At her door I inserted the key into the brass lock. It fit. And then I turned, and the tumblers clicked, and the door opened to her apartment.

The air of the apartment rushed into the hallway. Instinctively, I almost closed the door, but then I thought about it. I could just grab the library book. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me and made sure it was locked.

I should have right then grabbed the book. It was where we had put it before having sex for the last time face down to the spot on her bookcase next to the flat screen. The tag for the library branch was on the spine: WRC. I grabbed the book and turned to leave.

There was a new bicycle in the nook by the kitchen. There were some new plates, and an inexplicable pizza box on the kitchen table. She never ate pizza when I saw her. There were three slices. I pulled one out and ate it as I walked around her apartment. It had sausage. Really good sausage. Her bed was made, like always, and I noticed then she had a few new office clothes in her closet. She said the reason she rented this apartment and could never move was because of the closet. If I’d lived there, I would have turned the apartment into an office.

As I was coming out of the bedroom finishing the slice of pizza, I could hear a key in the door. I swiftly walked into the bedroom and the thought of going through the window and somehow jumping to grab the cast iron fire escape flashed through me, but that would make a lot of noise.

Instead I went into the closet and found that I could stand behind the rack of clothes and I was totally not visible.

She was laughing with someone, and I could hear a low, mumbling voice. She laughed, a high-pitched guffaw, a bird-like guffaw if that was possible, and then the low rumble. It was a call and response until it was quiet. I knew they were in the apartment somewhere and then I could faintly hear a huffing and smacking sound like someone making a show of chewing something up. They were kissing, I guess. The door to the bedroom opened with a creak and then a forceful slam against the wall. The springs on the bed popped and rattled and then the headboard was engaged in slapping against the wall. It was like someone playing a bongo, dunga dunga dunga dunga. Her work perfume came into the room and the smell of gin or something, an alcoholic smell. “Keep at it.”

“It’s out,” the low voice said.

“I’ll fix it,” she said. And then there was slurping and the man’s voice making showy moans like something he’d heard in a porno. And then it began. He began to instruct her to lick him places that I didn’t believe should be licked. And Diane must have, because he affirmed her work with peeling grunts and “yeah.”

Finally he said, “Back in business,” and then they went back to the bongo playing, dunga dunga dunga dunga but this time it went for a very long time and then finally Diane said with a kind of finality, “yes.”

They were quiet for a while. “I hardly ever, you know,” she said.


“Have an orgasm though vaginal intercourse.”

“You just did?”

“Yep,” she said.

It was quiet then for a long while and I had to figure out how to make myself comfortable in the closet. I would be there for the duration. The guy began to snore. I found I could lay on the floor and cover myself with some clothes that had fallen off the hangers and I just waited. I woke at one point in the middle of the night having to pee. I peed into one of her boots and then put it into the corner and then went back into hiding. The next day after they had left, I let myself out and walked back to the car with the book. I called in sick again and then finished reading the book to find out what happens.


About the Author

Matt Briggs is the author of eight works of fiction including The Remains of River Names and The Strong Man. A collection of very short stories is forthcoming from Dr. Cicero Books. His fiction has appeared in the Northwest ReviewChicago ReviewWord RiotZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. Briggs's fiction has been awarded The Stranger Genius Award, The Nelson Bentley Prize in Fiction from The Seattle Review, and The American Book Award for his novel Shoot the Buffalo. He has an MA in Fiction from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and lives near Seattle.


Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash