It begins with a troubled, “dear in headlights” look that crosses their face when you say, “We have to talk”…”There’s something I have to say”…”Do you have a minute?”
You ask them to sit down, you give an abbreviated half smile to show it’s going to be ok, you clear your throat, touch their shoulder, and begin. You start telling them whatever it is that you don’t want to tell them. “I’ve done something”…”Something bad has happened”…”Something bad is ABOUT to happen.
You start with the other person, the receiver of this information in the front of your mind. You don’t want to hurt them and you’ve spent hours crafting this very encounter to ensure that doesn’t happen, or at the very least, that it doesn’t come off as if you’re intentionally trying to hurt them. But you find that instead of this conversation getting easier, because of course you’ve said some of the bad things already, this conversation is getting harder. And you’re starting to wonder, aren’t I supposed to feel better? When am I doing to START feeling better? You’re caught off guard and surprised that this painful encounter is not getting easier. It’s getting harder! Now this person that you care about is panicking, either verbally or the sometimes worst, silently, as they sit there with the helpless look of, “Why are you doing this to me?” And you try. You try so hard to help them, but it’s not working. You’re pleading, you’re complimenting, you’re telling them what a jerk you are and that how this is a blessing for them, because there are much better people for them than you! But they’re still hurt and you’re still helpless.
You start to think, with a wave of sad relief, that at least it’s done and now you can move on. You want this over. What’s done is done. Now another feeling is triggered. A more powerful YOU feeling is replacing the THEM feeling that you had in the beginning of this encounter. Now you’re thinking how you can get out of this conversation as fast as possible. Now you’re thinking about YOU. You have to get this over with. You have to start feeling better. You have to stop feeling like the bad person.
Then you wonder, how could I have avoided this? How can I have avoided them and this situation? Could I have?
And unfortunately, people do for the sheer fact that they want to be the nice person, the good person and the one that doesn’t bring pain. They want to come out on top from whatever it is that they are trying to escape from. They also want to be remembered fondly, instead of being that person who hurt the other in the end. They don’t want to see that look on their face, nor do they don’t want to have to answer obscure question about why this series of events happened the way they did. They want sans confrontation. They want an out. They want a safe haven. They want the chance to get out of this by the skin of their teeth without having to explain…without being accountable..without feeling guilt. Because isn’t disappearing better than a flat out rejection. Isn’t not knowing better than knowing?
But that’s not me. As me, I’m a lot of things that I’m not proud of, but I’m not an “unempathetic” coward. I don’t run away from things that scare me, nor do I disappeared without any sort of explanation or accountability because it’s easy, which is why at the age of 17, I told S* with my whole heart how much I cared for him, and how despite that, we could not be. I wanted so badly to still have him in my life, and I remember telling him as gently and as kindly as I could. I remember putting myself in his shoes as I wondered how this must feel for him. I remember thinking that this wasn’t about me. This was about him and how I could somehow make this better for him. What can I say to make him feel better? And by some miracle, we prevailed by finding our way back to one another as if that brief intermission between us didn’t happen at all.
As the story goes on, we made it. But as adults, I had my turn. This time I fell for him. It happened one spring when I was home visiting and we were getting together like we always did. He called me saying, “Do you have time for dinner? There’s somewhere I want to take you.” This was unlike S*. S* never plans, never makes reservations, never asked me if I had more time other than our usual drive-by drink session. This time he ended up taking me to an out of the way, trendy bistro that could have easily been plucked from my current residence of LA.
And I could go on. I could talk about that night. I could talk about how I suddenly saw him in a completely different way and as a completely different person than the one I’ve always known. I could talk about how I felt as he rested his hand on my back and how he declined to repeat what he mumbled as we parted. I could talk about what I was thinking at those moments and the ones that followed. I could talk about what led us to the Basement Tavern at the beginning of this story and how I felt when I was awoken by his 6am phone call telling me he was moving, for reasons other than me, to California. I could talk about how that cross country move made me felt and what I did as I waited for him to arrive. I could also talk about all the dreadful dating mistakes that I knew I was making as I was making them.
But more romance is not the point of this story, because while our relationship covers years, the fling that would destroy S* and Jen lasted so briefly that I sometimes wonder if it happened at all. Did we really have our chance or did I dream this? Is this really all I get? A 14-year friendship crossed the line over a few nights. A few nights where he seemed to be thinking what I was. A few nights where I thought he might be my person. However, I was wrong. After our last night, he vanished.
….To Be Continued…..