It is a beautiful Spring day. I have the good fortune of working in a building with plenty of windows and skylights, so I can look out at the professional landscaping and sigh happily from the comfort of air conditioning. It is always so good when the sun comes back from Winter break.
Spring makes me want to write about love. Or maybe it is the sudden outcropping of barely-teenaged looking girls in hot pants and tube tops, walking too close to boys with awful hair and skinny jeans as they make their ways down to the brushes behind the playground that puts me in mind of it. I fully expect to see those same girls waddling up the sidewalk alone in a couple of months, hot pants unbuttoned to let their lineas negras breathe.
I find myself wanting to shout out the car window as I drive by, “Use birth control!” So young. So twitterpated. So in need of parental intervention. Boys and girls alike.
I never took walks like that, mainly because all the boys I dated were terrified of my parents. I would have gotten into a lot more trouble if I had been able to find a willing partner, but all of my dates had excellent senses of self-preservation. Having a Marine for a father takes the fun out of dating. The smart ones were more afraid of my mother. (Also, save for a couple of errors in judgment in college, I dated very nice, respectful boys. Shout outs to John, Jason, Sam, David and Tommy. You are great guys!)
But I was going to write about love. Love and shame.
When I was in second grade, my seventh grade friend, Laurel, shared a book with me. It was called The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, and was written by Julie Andrews. Nifty, huh? I loved that book so much! I searched for it for years after losing touch with Laurel. Unable to remember the author’s name (as it is written under the formidable Ms. Andrews’ married name of Edwards), since it was out of print, I was out of luck.
This was before the days of Amazon.com. I had that book on lists at several bookstores, and antique stores, and auctions. I was hunting high and low. I said to myself, “If I ever meet a man who brings me that book, I am going to marry him.”
I mentioned this to a coworker once, including the bit about marrying the man who brought me the book. He laughed. Two months later, he arrived at work with a little package. In the singlemost romantic gesture ever extended to me, he had gone on a wide-scale search for that book, finding it at a book seller in a flea market. He wrapped it in a scarf and presented it with this shy, hopeful smile.
Now, Chris was a most excellent fellow. We had met in our training class, and he had introduced himself immediately. I wasn’t sure about him at first. He looked like Jesus, declared there was no god, wore Birkenstocks unironically, and listened to Bob Marley on the regular. I was having a Gothic Lolita phase, teaching Sunday School in a Baptist church, wearing patent leather maryjanes, and listening to the Spice Girls.
As it turned out, he was friendly and funny, wicked smart, and genuinely nice. He was also living with a woman, and I was seeing someone long-distance, so when he showed up with the book I was agog and aghast. Did I have to marry him?!
He was in the process of extracting himself from the relationship with the other woman, and my long-distance thing was going badly. He suggested that maybe we could pre-date. I was…okay with that? I liked him. I could see myself having a lot of fun with him. I didn’t particularly want to kiss him, but I am practical about that sort of thing, and I wasn’t at all repulsed by him–it could have gone either way. I was intrigued. I agreed.
I had a very tight knit group of girlfriends, and one in particular whose opinion I weighed out like it was solid gold. My girlfriends, without the luxury of having gotten to know him like I had, did not think he was boyfriend material. At. All.
Now, I hadn’t told them that the group event we were attending was a pre-date, so they didn’t know I was considering taking a walk to remember with this hippy. All they knew was that this was Athiest Jesus-Man from the office, and that he was nice, wore socks with sandals, was in a very strange relationship, and that he liked cats. We were all dog people, so we were suspicious of a man who liked cats. I’m still suspicious of men who prefer cats.
When it became apparent that he was flirting with me, my girlfriends (who believed I thought of him only as Atheist Jesus Man) balked. Here’s where the shame part comes in: Because of their reaction, I blew him off entirely. Worse, I played into my girlfriends’ reactions in front of him. I mean girled him because I was afraid of what my girlfriends would think of me considering him for a date.
You know what is worse than that? If I had told my girlfriends that I was thinking of going out with him, they would not have hesitated to encourage me because he was a nice guy. They would have raised concerns about our difference in faith and litter boxes, but they would have been happy someone thought enough of me to go to all the trouble of finding my marrying book. I didn’t even give them the chance to like him. I let them think I wasn’t interested, and then clothes-lined him based on their reactions to my supposed disinterest. Confusing? Yeah. I know.
It was awful of me, and I didn’t even have the courage to apologize after. I was an utter jackass. I should have just told him the truth, that I am allergic to cats and ugly shoes, and that I was having a horribly, horribly shallow year. Instead, I embarrassed him out of having interest in me. Or shamed him out, like I thought I was too good for him. Tacky. Nasty. Awful.
A couple of years ago, I saw him in a bookstore. I hid behind stacks so he wouldn’t see me, and watched him as he walked around with a pretty, fresh-faced hippy-chick, carrying an infant in a sling. They went together like peas and carrots and he looked absolutely serene. Warmed my heart. He was a good man, and he deserved absolute serenity.
I wouldn’t change not dating him. Our religious beliefs alone would have been too much of a sticking point, and it would be another year before I worked out my Daddy Issues to the point that I was even halfway useful as a girlfriend. It would never have been a good match. I just wish I had treated him with more respect in backing down from anything more than friendship.
I also wish I had treated my girlfriends with more respect than to have used them like a Greek chorus to my Medusa. It is a good thing to present potential love interests to those who know and love you best, but you should let them know what you are doing.
Three years later, I met B. My friends knew I liked him from the get-go. They liked him, too.
And we all lived happily ever after.