He came from somewhere
back in her long ago;
The sentimental fool
tryin’ hard to recreate
what had yet
to be created
once in her life.
She musters a smile
for his nostalgic tale,
Never coming near
what he wanted to say.
Only to realize
It never really was…
— Michael McDonald
There is a man in my bedroom.
He’s hooking up my new DVD player. Okay, so it’s not so new. I’ve owned it for several years now, neglecting to even take it out of the box until its predecessor was suddenly on its last gasp. Typical me.
Already, he’s removed my now seasonally inappropriate air conditioner from the window (another task I hadn’t bothered with). Later, he’ll attempt to correct a glitch in my surround sound, but only after he’s treated me to brunch and loaded my fridge with the groceries he’s carried in from the store.
It’s lovely…and a bit overwhelming. Do I need him to do any of these things? No, not really; though my aching back—after refusing to ask for assistance moving furniture days before—might beg to differ. Frankly, I don’t really recall asking him to do any of this either; but I’d forgotten what it’s like to have someone do these things for me. So, there’s that.
And now, there’s a man in my bedroom, wearing a t-shirt bearing the name of my alma mater. Which I guess is appropriate, since that’s where we first met, over twenty years ago. At the time, I was a coed new to New York City; he was a native and local rising rapper. We spent a few hot and heavy weeks together before drifting apart. No harm, no foul, no drama… In the end, it was really no big deal.
New York being the small town that it is (no, seriously: TOO small), it’s amazing we’d ever lost touch, since we still share much of the same close-knit network of mutual friends we did then. But by the time we ran into each other a few years ago, our paths had diverged considerably. He’d settled into a job in community service and a committed relationship; now it was my turn to be in the full swing of a music career. Minus the attraction of our younger days, we assumed the role of old acquaintances, seeing each other at the odd social event, more often on social media.
On occasion, the Old Acquaintance and I would reference our (very) brief history, as well as the fact that he’d barely even recognized me when we’d met again. But as the years passed—as did our respective relationships—it was impossible to ignore a gradual but perceptible shift in his attentions (and intentions) toward me.
Never having been one to retrace my steps, I admittedly wasn’t very receptive. As far as I was concerned, our past had long since passed, and barely warranted revisiting, anyway. We’d no doubt be better off as friends—without benefits.
So, why is the man now in my bedroom?
Well, they say that a Mercury Retrograde is prime time for the reappearance of former flames, friends and foes. Since we just happen to be muddling through one now, it might explain why I’ve encountered several exes—four, to be exact—in as many weeks, with varying degrees of comfort and composure.
Oh, and…I might’ve invited the Old Acquaintance to a gathering at my place. I didn’t think much of it. But given his fondness for me, I wasn’t surprised that he accepted.
That said: I didn’t necessarily expect him to stay.
But stay he did, lingering to chat and clean up as we downed the last of the wine we’d been swilling all evening. When the last guest left, he was the last man standing, and maybe it was boredom or the booze, or the very becoming beard he’d grown since I’d last seen him; but making out with him suddenly seemed like a great idea.
*shrug* What can I say? It made perfect sense, at the time.
And now, after a 48-hour movie marathon—admittedly, less “Netflix and Chill” than “Netflix and Cuddle”—interrupted only by naps and brunches (our shared favorite meal of the day), I’m struck by the fact that this is the most time we’ve spent together in over two decades, even when we were dating.
Come to think of it, it’s the most time I’ve spent consecutively with a man in years. It’s like a relationship-refresher course, complete with hours of comfortable silence, a surprising lack of self-consciousness, requisite goofiness and stellar back rubs—if a bit heavy on the snuggling, for my taste. The Old Acquaintance is thoughtful, patient, affectionate, attractive, and entirely open about his willingness to “put in the work” of being in a relationship.
And I am most definitely a piece of work.
In short, he’s perfectly lovely, generous, and obviously boyfriend material. He feels familiar, yet entirely new to me, and there’s something surprisingly gratifying about this unplanned graduation from “friendly” to actual friends. Hey, it only took us 20 years, give or take.
It’s clear that he cares for me, as I do for him. But I’m equally clear that he’s not my guy.
So, what’s the problem? At the risk of sounding terribly clichéd, the problem isn’t him, it’s me—and the fact that I’m suddenly empathizing with every guy I’ve ever wanted, but couldn’t meet me halfway. Frankly, it’s causing a cognitive dissonance that’s disturbing as hell.
Over the years, there have been too many of these disappointments to count—with a few more recent additions—but the best of the bunch may always be the one who told me, after one of the best goodnight kisses I may ever experience:
“I may regret saying this later, because you’re beautiful, and smart, and so sexy, but…I’m not the guy to hope for a relationship with.”
Oof. Break it to me gently, why don’t you?
That was about 10 years ago. I was struck by his candor—and perhaps, a bit seduced. I decided to date him anyway, though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped to dazzle him into changing his mind. He didn’t. And not too long after, he did end up in a relationship—a couple of them, in fact—before eventually finding love with another old acquaintance of mine (no, I didn’t introduce them).
But we remain friends to this day, because he was the first guy who’d shown me enough respect to help me make an informed decision about how to share my heart and time. Again: no harm, no foul, no drama…just honesty. I’ll always appreciate him for that.
Especially now, because after 25 years of dating and one long weekend of playing house with the Old Acquaintance, now I finally get it: One can be perfectly lovely—dazzling, even—and yet, not be “The One.”
How many hurt feelings could I have saved myself with this painfully obvious bit of common sense? How much damage and emotional devastation? How many years spent picking myself apart, over-analyzing every word out of a man’s mouth? How many times did I convince myself that he simply hadn’t realized yet that he loved me, that it was only a matter of time—and my undying devotion, of course—before he realized that I was not only good enough, but the best he’d ever have?
Yeah, I know: this revelation was all glibly summed up years ago in the “he’s just not that into you” trope. But everyone who has ever wanted someone to reciprocate their feelings knows exactly how fruitless a turn of phrase—or even cold, hard facts—can be, when all you want is the un-gettable get.
“I think it’s going to sneak up on you,” said the Old Acquaintance. “I think you’re going to be with someone, and look up and realize: this is it.”
Yeah, that sounds like me…or at least, someone I used to be. It’s been years now, but I remember the feeling well. Truthfully, I’d welcome its return, if just for the moment I realize that my blinders are back on, because suddenly, I can’t see anyone else…
And this is how I know that I’m not there yet: Because as grateful as I am to get better acquainted with the Old Acquaintance, and as comfortable as we’ve been this weekend, it hasn’t killed my curiosity about anyone else. On the contrary, my mind is still wandering, wondering what kind of comfort and connection I might experience with men I’ve yet to meet. All while he’s here, now: present, and patiently waiting for me to stop searching.
But I can’t; not now, when I’ve come so far. Innately, I know this isn’t my destination.
The empath in me wants to protect him from this revelation, and from me. I want to save him time wasted wanting someone who can’t meet him where he is, because she’s destined for somewhere—or someone—else. I want to keep him safe from my often fickle and restless heart, to keep his heart safe for the person truly meant to claim it: a woman who can see no one else but him in her future.
“I want to take of care you,” he says.
Yes. I know, Old Acquaintance. I want to take care of you, too. But I know that’s not my work to do.