I Guess It Wasn’t So Bad
We all have our stories about being wronged in romance; most of which are sad, sometimes heart-breaking and often difficult to share with others without a long story with a lot of details.
I am going share a story about a night out with a neighbour.. The thought still makes me shiver. This may not be a romance gone wrong, but it sure was a disastrous evening full of awkward moments.
For the sake of kindness, I will say that the gentleman’s name is Norman. I had known him for many years and had been friends with his wife. I divorced and moved away from the area for two years, meanwhile his wife left him during the same time span.
Every morning, as a habit, Norman walks his dogs.. Actually, Norman runs his dogs up the street to get the mail. He is tall, lanky and kind of awkward to begin with, running is not the most picturesque of sports for him. Well it could be. If he was not wearing a full suit, dress shirt and tie with dress shoes as he runs up the street with a tiny little tea-cup dog.
He would say good morning as he ran by, as often I would just happen to be leaving to drive my daughter to school before going to the office. My daughter (who was then around eight years old), said “Mommy, don’t you think he is kind of obviously like, running by every morning exactly when we are leaving?” I had, of course, already noticed, but said that we must be on the same schedule.
The weather got warmer and as I would be going to and fro, bringing my daughter to dance lessons, watching her play outside, his habit of running by became more frequent and oddly enough, right on what seemed to be a shared schedule. His house is at the end of the street, which is a cul de sac, so his bedroom window can clearly see my driveway.
The instance of these coincidences increased so much that my son said “um Mom.. You know that Norman guy down the street? He’s giving me the creeps. Every time I’m outside, he walks by seven or eight times. I think maybe he’s looking for you”.
Ugh! Not that I had ever had any negative interactions with him before, but his personality was just odd to me. Boy, I must sound so ill-hearted right now, but let’s face it. We know when the vibe is there or isn’t for us and it was as far away as could be with him.
I remembered when I would come to visit my friend, he would just saunter into the room and start singing loudly, or start a really (lame) joke. I was courteous, but we just didn’t meld at all. I really cherished his wife though. I felt bad for him when I knew his wife as she was playful, sweet and clever and although very good-natured, he was, in one word, awkward. Like Big Bird without Snuffleupagus. Awkward stance, awkward conversation, awkward jokes, awkward silences.
Finally the day that this story really begins arrived. He had my schedule so down-pat, that he caught me just when I was arriving home from my daughter’s dance lessons and he walked right into the driveway to start talking. “Oh boy,” I thought. “Let’s go watch some paint dry. It would be better than having this conversation”. There was the “how are yous?”, the “how are the kids?”, the “oh my gosh! So sorry to hear of your divorce” and the “so are you seeing anyone?” that I knew was coming.
“Yes, I am.. It is a long-distance relationship, but I am really hoping that he can move here as he has a job offer in Toronto”. I thought that was a pretty clear message. Or not.
“We should get together sometime.. Catch up on life, kids, etc”.
“I don’t think that is a good idea, Norman. I am seeing someone, as I said and I would not want to date anyone else”.
“Well, it is Katie’s 16th birthday next week and she doesn’t want me around. How about we just hang out, grab something to eat and just chat, just as old friends? “
I know where this is going. I can see that he has that sparkle of hope in his eyes that obviously had filtered out enough of the conversation to only hear what he wanted. I felt very uncomfortable on so many levels. I just was not at all interested (even if I had been single), I had never felt that we had gelled, and I just didn’t want to go. I felt so pressured.
Still the long pause; growing increasingly awkward.
“Listen, you can have an evening out and I can give Katie some peace and quiet. No expectations.”
Pressure builds and now I am feeling like a really mean woman. I said “ok, but as long as you know that I want to remain friends only and I am seeing someone that I am very happy with, despite the distance.”. He gleefully agreed, we set the date, exchanged phone numbers, our night was to be two nights away.
The next day at work, he calls. Seven times. Oh my gosh! SEVEN times!!!!!! “So, I was thinking.. Where would you like to go eat?”
Twenty minutes later; “Oh and don’t worry about if it is an expensive restaurant, I have not been out in a long time and would like to enjoy a nice meal”. Haven’t been out in a long time? No kidding.
Twenty minutes later “Oh, by the way, do you prefer Italian food, or would you rather a seafood-type place?”
“Norman, um.. Can we talk about this later. I am new in this position and it is an open space, so awkward to speak. I will think about where we can eat, I tend to prefer Italian though. If you have a favourite place, just make reservations”.
He sounds a bit disappointed, but agrees.
Twenty minutes later; (yes, really he called again twenty minutes after I asked him to not call, he called twenty minutes later. I apologized to all of my colleagues as we sat in a bull-pit style room with all of us facing each other, as was the best approach to our recruitment, sales, etc. “Oh ok.. So you want me to pick? Uhhhh… I know this great Italian place”.
“Oh good, whatever you choose will be fine.”
“Or we could just go to another place I know.” He says with a defined lilt of hope in his voice.
My eyes roll back and I sigh. This is getting so frustrating that I want to cancel, but I don’t because I actually feel bad for the guy. “I’m really sorry, Norman, wherever you pick will be fine, I am sure, but I really have some calls to make and it IS an open concept here, so everyone can overhear my conversations.”
“Oh yeah, sorry, yeah. Sorry”….. “I will call you later then”.
Oh my gosh! I don’t want another phone call.
Twenty minutes later, he seriously called again. I din’t pick up the phone that time, or the next, or the next time, which were twenty minutes apart and let his messages go into voice mail. My goodness, how was I going to face an evening of this!!!!!
5:00 pm came and the day was finally over. I drove home to get my daughter ready for dance and guess who comes walking up the driveway again! “Norman, I know that we agreed to go out as friends to chat on Friday, but I really think that somehow I must have given you the wrong impression; I don’t want this to be a date as I am already very much in love with someone and we have been dating for two years now.”
We hear the term “his face fell” and picture it, but what is it really? What is that term describing to us? I will tell you. It was his face that moment. His head dropped like a sad puppy, his eyes looked down and he muttered, almost to himself “I know; no worries, we’ll just go for some good food and great conversation.” Thank God he understands, I was a little bit worried, My gut told me otherwise though.
The next day, which was the day of the not-a-date night, I was working from our down-town location, so was not at my desk. When I remotely checked my messages, there were five messages from him. The last of which he actually sounded down-hearted and discouraged, wondering why I had not picked up the phone. I didn’t think that I could handle speaking with him so I sent him a text message saying that I was out of the office and asked him to wait until the day was over to call me on my cell. It worked. It worked, but I had now gone from awkward feeling to dreading the evening coming.
He drove up the street to my driveway at precisely 6:00. I had practically begged for 7:00, but he insisted on earlier as Katie wanted him out of the house as early as possible. Norman reminded me of a happy puppy dog as I climbed my way into the front seat of his family van.
“Oh boy, isn’t this great? After all this time, we get to go out for dinner!”
Smile. “Yes, it is nice to get out for a change.”
He was timid, but excited. He fell all over his words and chattered away all the way to the restaurant, which happened to be one of my favourites at the time. I may be in for a long night, but at least I knew that I enjoyed the ambiance of the restaurant as well as the excellent selection of Italian food.
The night was long. Awkward silence, awkward conversation, awkward jokes, awkward pauses, awkward glances that made the pit of my stomach feel more stressed than it had. Norman is not the best at making conversation, so I decide to fill in the blanks. I am not comfortable with small talk at all, so I “put on” the glib disguise of happiness and tell him one story after another, to kill this painful night. The people in the tables next to us come and go. Our meal has been finished for quite a while. I suggest that it may be time to leave. He looks at me.
Oh my gosh! this is so not happening!
“We’re staring at each other”, he says with puppy-love hope written all over his face.(Dang! No!!)
“No.. I was just waiting for you to answer me.”
“OH. I thought we were staring at each other. Uh…. I was staring at you.” Earnest hope wells up on his face again.
“Oh. Well that is very kind of you.. So shall we head home then, it seems that everyone in the restaurant has left”. I smile the most genuine smile that I have smiled all night. I am so relieved that the night was finally over. It had been so very uncomfortable.
“So should we go somewhere for desert?” Hope was literally oozing from his face.
“We just had desert and coffee. Thank you though. I think that we should call it a night, I am really tired and it is almost 11:00.” I smile sweetly and put my hands on my lap.
“Oh – well.. No.. I mean, Katie said that I can’t come home until midnight! We have to stay out at least another hour!” Really? I mean REALLY????? After this frightful night preluded by two depressing days, I have to make it last another hour when I am so tired from stressing about this the night before that I could not sleep.
“I didn’t sleep well last night.” A shimmer of hope that he will take pity on me and just go home and head upstairs leaving Katie and her friends to their party. But no..
He puts his chin on his hand leaning forward onto the table and gooey eyed says “me neither, I was just so excited about tonight”. Oh for Pete’s sake!!!! Had I not made it abundantly clear that this is NOT a date???
I am stupefied. “Ok. Why don’t we just head down to the Lakeshore for a walk then?” I figure that at least it is a more controllable length of time in that I could get us back to the car in time to be back by midnight.
We arrive at the Lakeshore, which typical for the time of year is buzzing with lovers, families (yes, even this late), people of every kind enjoying this spectacular summer night. The quaint shops that fill the street are still open and he decides we should have an ice cream. Straight to my hips, but at least if I am eating an Ice cream cone, I will not feel as obligated to speak with him and the silences, that have taken over the night, will not be so awkward.
We saunter along the street not speaking then barely above a whisper he says “can you believe this?” What? “Can you believe this? I mean, here we are after so many years of knowing each other, out together, you and me. Who would’ve thought this would happen?”
I sense him walking a little closer and I edge towards the other side of the sidewalk. He creeps closer, I creep to the opposite edge of the sidewalk. Dang I am on the end of the walkway!
“I mean, it’s you and me. The stars in the sky, a perfect night out. It’s as if we were meant to be together”. Fuzzbukets!!!!!! Seriously? How is it possible that he is saying this??? I talked about my boyfriend all night; I made sure that it was clear that this was NOT a date; I tried to squish any hope of being together. I thought that he understood!
His hand, as if a separate entity from the rest of him, starts to reach out for mine. I feel his arm before I feel his hand. I try to imperceptibly pull my own fearful hand towards my body, but then realize that his hand is going to keep going and will touch my hips soon if I don’t let him take my hand.
“And we can go to Stratford Festival this summer, I have season tickets.”
I feel his hand against mine and fingers, like long, desperate tentacles, reach out to find mine. This cannot be happening! No way! I talked about my sweetheart all night long. I never let him think for a moment that I am available. I had been very conscientious of making sure to let him know that I was deeply in love, hoping to marry my boyfriend, I consciously gave no “available” signals. I didn’t flirt. I didn’t smile coyly. I didn’t make my eyes sparkle, I dressed modestly. I purposefully kept away from anything that in any way lead him to believe that there was a chance of us seeing each other.
Yet. Here I am, his hand now touching mine, fingers searching for my own as he is beaming up to the moon and telling me how perfect we are together. He doesn’t look at me as his hand searches out my own. He ignores it and finds my baby finger. I fold the rest of my fingers away, This cannot be happening.
I have somehow turned us in the other direction and gotten my hand back. I am silenced by the awkward situation. He is silenced by the thought of the perfect beginning of love meant to be.
Finally we reach the car. He is talking again. A lot. About where we are going to go next. Talking about what he likes to do. Talking and talking and talking. “And won’t the kids be so excited! They’ve always loved you so much!”
I can’t take it anymore! “Norman… I think that there may be some misunderstanding between us.” He glances over at me as he is positioning himself to drive. “You are really sweet and I have enjoyed this evening a lot, but I am in a relationship, and I have been pretty clear in saying that I don’t want to be dating anyone else, including you.” He visibly sinks down in his chair. “I am so so very sorry. You are so sweet and if timing was different, I would have considered seeing you again”. (Or not.) “Please forgive me if you felt that this was a date, but I had told you several times that I did not want to date anyone but my boyfriend. I thought that you had decided to come out with me knowing that it was just friends catching up, as you had suggested”.
He is now slumped so low that he has his head on his hands on the steering wheel. I am floored. I am never at a loss for words, but at this moment. I cannot think of a single thing to say.
He doesn’t start the car. He doesn’t take his head off of the steering wheel. He just sits there for a very long time.
Time tick-tocks in this thick, tumultuous silence. “Norman?”
Then exaggerates a deep, deep, sad sigh and says “okay.”
“OK?” I ask. “I mean, from the moment you asked me, I had said that I would be unable to make this evening a date. That it would be nothing more than a night of catching up because you needed to be out of the house. I hope that I did not give you the wrong impression?”
He doesn’t answer. He just pulls out of the parking lot, still hunched over. Face crumpled. I thought he was going to cry. You probably think that I am just saying that to make this story a little more dramatic, but I am not. He looked like he was going to cry. He remained silent all of the twenty minutes very long minutes that it took to get home. Twenty very long minutes with him petulant and ogreish. I am afraid to speak so I sit in silent awkwardness imagining the tick-tocking of the silent digital clock on the dashboard as we inch our way closer to home.
We arrive. I thank him for the evening. Say I am sorry that there was some misunderstanding. He looks frustrated. Even a bit angry. I canont deal with this! He simply says “goodnight” and I close the door, ending this horrible night.
I knew that he was odd, I knew that he was ogling me and so I should have stuck to my “no”, but instead left feeling guilty for having hurt his fragile feelings.
Funny enough, I never saw him walking the dogs, or rather running the dogs anymore in the morning. Once in a while we would drive by each other on the street and I’d wave a hand which he would glumly return a raised hand as he glanced away.
guessI have not seen him in a couple of years, much to my relief. I feel guilty for thinking so poorly of him, but he did not play fair and respect what I had told him. I hope that he is able to find someone that will appreciate his goofy sense of humour and his enthusiasm.