Our first date happened almost seven years ago and I wasn’t attracted to him then. I was young, bored and I liked the way he complimented me with a serious expression, refusing any protests, feeble or otherwise. I let him take me out, I let him kiss me, and I let him buy me things to the point of being ridiculous.
But eventually I got tired of trying to like him “that way”, of letting him touch me when I didn’t really want him to, and stopped returning his calls. I found someone else and conveniently forgot about him, until his name would show up randomly on my phone or I ran into him in town.
Most of the time I ignored his texts and calls, saying only the bare minimum to be polite. I would wave and hurry away when I saw him out. But every now and then, he would catch me in a rough patch. Whether it was due to boredom, loneliness or deflated ego, he’d happily step in and boost me back up. And with an attitude that said I was clearly doing him a favor, I’d let him.
When I didn’t need him, he irritated me. I hated that he always seemed to show up everywhere I went. I felt like he was stalking me at times, but really, if I’m going to be honest (and this is all going to be brutally honest), he wasn’t doing anything that I didn’t allow him to. I never would have admitted it to myself, or anyone else, back then...but I wanted him on the back burner, just in case. Telling him off might have meant alienating him completely. And too, he was so fucking nice that I just couldn’t bring myself to really be mean to him.
Except now I realize that I was cruel to him all along. I knew he was crazy about me, possibly even in love with me. And instead of calling time of death, I let him repeatedly shock our relationship back to life. Let him hopefully watch a bunch of feeble lines on a monitor and wait for them to get bigger, all the while knowing what he didn’t – my heart would never work properly for him.
Seven months ago I made a stab at behaving like a decent human being. I had feelings for someone and, no matter how at odds their words and actions sometimes were, I knew they didn’t feel quite the same way about me. Because they never came right out and said “I don’t want you”, I kept thinking “it could happen”. But it didn’t, it won’t, and I knew there was a distinct possibility they were doing to me what I’d done to him, whether they realized it or not.
So when I received a message asking me to hang out and, as usual, telling me how wonderful I was...I finally said what should have been said ages ago. I told him that he wanted to be more than friends, he always had, and I didn’t. I told him that I couldn’t hang out with him unless he was prepared to accept that. I was proud of myself for not dicking around, for saying it in what I thought was a decent, but clear way. He responded that he was sorry for making me uncomfortable, which made me feel like an ass, and then he promptly disappeared.
I thought about him for awhile after that. I wondered how he was doing and if he would come back around and try to be my friend, or if maybe that was something he’d never be able to do. I crawled even farther up my own ass, and wondered how long it would take him to get over me. How much time was I worth? But after a few months without a word or a glimpse of him, I forgot to wonder.
Then a few weeks ago I was driving home. I’d had one of the toughest, most emotionally charged days of my life. I don’t cry that often, but when I do it’s...volatile. I’d been blubbering for most of the hour it takes me to drive home when my phone went off. It was a message from him. He’d passed me, seen what a spectacle I was, and wanted to make sure I was alright.
Of course that set me off more, but I replied that I was okay. Then he said, after seven months of silence, “I always hoped it would work out between us. I’m still crazy about you.” Etcetera, I’m gorgeous, etcetera, he misses me.
And instead of saying “don’t” or “I’m sorry”, I latched onto those words like a life raft. I said “thank you” and sent a smiley face, knowing it wasn’t a good idea.
“Why didn’t it work out?”, he asked.
“I don’t know”, I said, all the while hating myself. I was feeling rotten and I wanted someone to make me feel better and I knew that, with a few noncommittal responses, he’d do just that.
He comforted me, asked me out to lunch, and I accepted. I was back on the vicious cycle, attempting to justify my behavior like I always had before – by telling myself that maybe this was it for me, maybe I was supposed to be with someone that loved me more than I loved them. He was a great guy, with a lot of qualities just screaming “settling down material”. Maybe I’d read too many romance novels and was overlooking what was supposed to be my chance, while I waited for a passion that didn’t exist. But I knew better – even though I was stepping back into the ring, this time I was completely aware of what I was doing. I was going to sucker punch him, and apparently no amount of self-loathing was going to change that. If I was cruel before, I was downright sadistic now.
Two days ago he showed up right on time for our lunch date. Everyone else was gone when I let him in the front door and he followed me back to my office. I was nervous, but it wasn’t the fluttery nervousness of a normal date. It was a nervousness born of knowing I was doing something wrong, and wondering if he’d call me out.
“You look nice”, he said.
I was surprised by how relaxed and casual he was and I forced myself to calm down too. He didn’t reach for my hand or my arm as we walked to the café, like I thought he would. He didn’t touch me at all.
I’d made jokes about getting a free lunch out of him, because that’s what I do...make terrible jokes. But when we arrived I waved away his protests and paid. I couldn’t have that on my conscious too. And apparently, buying him a club sandwich was supposed to make me feel better.
We sat down at a table by the window and we talked – about our kids, our jobs, and all manner of things we’d missed out on in the months we hadn’t spoken. I found myself laughing with him and feeling comfortable. He didn’t question me or compliment me, he didn’t look at me like he wanted to peel my skin off and wear it like a wetsuit. It felt normal – like two friends having lunch.
On the walk back I looked at his face, relaxed and confident, and I wondered if he knew. I wondered if he thought he was “wearing me down” or if, like me, he simply couldn’t stop himself from gravitating to what he knew would never work, out of some unfulfilled need.
In the lobby of my building he hugged me goodbye and kissed me on the cheek. “That was nice”, he said. And I agreed, smiling and waving as he walked out the double doors and into the parking garage.
But my smile didn’t stick around very long. I’d no sooner sat down at my desk when I thought, “Wait...what just happened? Is he over me? He’s never that casual. What was wrong with him?” I knew I was being an egotistical asshole, but I couldn’t help wondering why he didn’t fawn all over me like he normally would.
Two hours later I received a text message that said, “Thanks for lunch, had a great time. You looked stunning, as always.”
That was more like what I’d come to expect. And because my vanity knows no bounds, I grinned like a Cheshire cat.
I’d be willing to wager that I’ll hear from him again soon, and I’m not really sure what will happen. After exploring every unflattering angle of my behavior, and branding myself with labels I hate, yet completely deserve (like needy and cruel), I know something has to give. I know that, no matter how many times I may try to pretend or convince myself otherwise, he isn’t what I’m looking for. Now I just have to figure out if I’m the kind of person that needs something so badly, they take what isn’t rightfully theirs. I hope not. I hope I can find the courage to push him away for good and learn how to be truly alone, because maybe that’s all fate, God, or whatever decides these matters, is waiting for.
The Itch - a story
5 days ago