Tuesday, June 12, 2007

From Where He Sits

In general I’m a nice guy. Thankfully busy with work again, I keep to myself mostly but now and then I try to get out with friends. No real time for romance or inclination to get involved in something that messy again having survived a long-overdue divorce. I don’t ever want to have the words “My wife” in my vocabulary again. Things are good as they are. Good enough.

My neighbor, the social butterfly, invited me to dinner. There was a girl there. Cute. Funny enough. Turns out she lives down the street. We both had a lot to drink and long night of talking and music. Really, that was all, I swear. I liked her. Nice girl. And she seemed pretty into me. As much as I don’t need it, I’ll admit it feels nice to have a girl look at you like that.

Over the next few months we hung out a lot. Always just talking. We walk the neighborhood. Sometimes hit the café up the street for breakfast. She’s fun. Makes me feel younger. I even met some friends of hers. A couple. The husband’s my age; the wife is the girl’s age. Not that I’m thinking that way at all but it was interesting to see that it could work. You know, in a non-clichéd way. Anyway, I liked the couple. The husband and I had a great conversation about music. I don’t meet very many people with a musical background and knowledge like that – like me. It was a good night.

A few weeks ago now, the girl invited me to dinner with her and that couple at a French place we’d all talked about. As it got to be the day of the dinner I realized I was too swamped with work. And maybe thinking about how much time I do or don’t want to spend out at fancy dinners with this girl. But mostly just swamped with work. I emailed her about noon to cancel and went about my day.

This is where it gets weird. Later that night I got a voice mail from the girl saying she was ready – this was five-ish when I would have been picking her up. But like I said, I was busy and figured she had my email. The next day I see her walking and her face is all funny. Hard. She says she didn’t get my email and was waiting for me, all done up. Well it’s not like I didn’t try to give her as much notice as I could. Doesn’t everyone have a Blackberry these days?

I asked if she and the couple went to the French place anyway, without me. And she says no, but practically spits the word at me. What the heck? Is a guy not allowed to change plans?

So this all just reminds me why I don’t want these complications in my life. Especially with some emotional young girl. Even if she is pretty and fun to talk to. She’s emailed and called a few times, trying for our walks and so forth. I either don’t respond or tell her I’m busy. I’m hoping she’ll get the message and let it go. I just don’t need the drama, you know?

And what he doesn’t know…

My friends and I had planned for dinner at the French place for months. Saving up as it’s not the kind of place any of us can actually afford but this is important. It’s business. I’d promised them he’d be there and we’d been working on a plan. Between us, we’d been so inspired by this man’s musical career that we had a documentary project ready to pitch him. Everything about the project was inspiring and relevant. We couldn’t wait to get to that dinner and pitch him. In addition to being fun and potentially lucrative for us all, it would be flattering for him and that was important to me as I had genuinely come to care for this new friend of mine.

But instead my friends and I had sat dressed up, made up, prepped and ready for him. As the appointed dinner hour came and went and my voice mail went unanswered I worried something was wrong. When my internet came back online later that night I got my answer from the email he’d sent at noon. Yeah, I was upset. I wouldn’t tolerate being treated that carelessly by someone I was dating. But wait, it wasn’t like we were dating. Even for just a friend not to call to confirm that I got the cancellation… I was annoyed.

What was just a simple dinner plan to him was an important, exciting opportunity for us. What he read on my face that next day wasn’t a woman scorned or a hurt date as I’m sure it must have looked. It was the guilt I had in disappointing my friends and my helplessness in not being able to communicate with him. It was the frustration of one more idea for a film project slipping away. And I couldn’t tell him in that moment: But wait, I’ve got a pitch for you! That would have gone over well - right out of left field.

Though I had resolved to keep my relationship with him as friendship and hopefully professional, now it was all mixed up and seemingly ruined on all fronts. And that’s that. He ignores my emails now and even looks away when he drives past me.

My dad recently imparted a great wisdom to me: approach every relationship as though it may be a long-term friendship and professional connection. Don’t come at it from the “would he be a good date?” perspective. If something develops later, great but the fact is usually it won’t and you’ll have lost that potential friend or business connection.

So I’ve learned – or should I say relearned - my lesson, the old saw: don’t shit where you eat. No more mixing business with pleasure. Definitely no more mixing neighbors with flirting. Sounds like a good idea in general would be: don’t mix dating with life.

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