tl:dr: I’m slow sometimes (oft’ times) when it comes to people.
Longer version: There was this woman (as sooooo many stories start), back when I was between wives. We met at a cooking group we both belonged to. She (I’ll call her C) asked me along on a visit to Annapolis, ostensibly to get an insider’s take on the Naval Academy and the town. We had a nice time, shared stories and laughes.
Then I found out C was dying. Of cancer.
Well, probably she was dying of cancer.
Okay, actually, it turned out, she didn’t know, but she’d found a lump, and her mother had died of metastatic breast cancer when C was a kid. So C was terrified, and she couldn’t tell her kids (both out of the house after she’d raised them solo post-divorce), and she hated her ex. So as long as she didn’t go through the exam, the cancer might or might not be there, right?*
So I went with her to the exams, and the x-rays and MRIs at Hershey Medical Center, and stayed with her when the results came back. And during this time we were… not-dating.
See, C had this theory that relationships were nobody else’s business, and she didn’t want anyone else in our cooking group to start insinuating things and asking questions and gossiping and so, we were a not-couple who were not-dating. (Were we having not-sex? Um, no. Well, we did once, but then we weren’t. Different discussion.) The great thing about not-dating was that there would never be the pain of a break-up if things went badly. Doesn’t that make great sense?
Okay, me neither, but I was stupid in love at that point and the not-relationship we were not-having was wonderful enough that I was happy to accept her as my not-girlfriend whom I was not-dating. And nobody knew anything about it, except my family to whom I blabbed (and who, upon meeting C, deemed her “strange,” which in retrospect was probably a fair summary).
And then C didn’t have cancer after all. And wasn’t dying. And realized that her not-boyfriend maybe needed some fixing up if she was going to live.
So I got to read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which is The Greatest Book In The Whole World for understanding male-female relationships (or even not-relationships, apparently). And I got told the correct interpretations of the book, because apparently when I read it I got horribly confused and needed to be set straight. And I got told the correct way to have phone conversations. And pay attention. And dress (lost any number of items of clothing around that time, some of which admittedly were probably past their expiration date, but still…).
And I got to be wrong. A lot. To where I was terrified about what I would do wrong next. And I was terrified to call C, because I’d get it wrong, but I couldn’t live without her, so. So. So what to do?**
But then, remember the great thing about not-relationships—you never have to actually break up. You can just start seeing someone else, and have a nice time with them, and maybe they don’t need fixing up so much and are a much better time investment. Right? And the other person in the not-relationship naturally picks up on the clues and is cool with the whole thing, and you can just be friends like before.
Which assumes that the other person picks up on clues.
Which, alas, is not always a good assumption.
Many clues, in retrospect. One was: C had gone back to college to finish her bachelors degree. This was a Big Thing, that she started when we were not-dating. And she made me promise—promise!—that I would be at her graduation, no matter what. So one day I got a card in the mail, with a Penn State logo on it.
Ah, the invitation to C’s graduation!
No. The announcement of the graduation.
Okay, well, sometimes these are big graduations where there are limited seats. As I mentioned to C’s daughter at C’s graduation party (I got invited to the party; a lot of people got invited to the party) only to be told that nope, there were lots of seats, and so sorry Jack that you weren’t able to make it (me: yep, sorry about that, things came up <cough>).
But R, a guy from our cooking group, was at her graduation. [Clue!]
A few months after that, C & R announced their engagement. At which point I realized, okay, yep, confirmed, we had officially broken up. (Not-broken-up?)
So, if anyone is still with me, my point is: yes, I’m a little slow sometimes when it comes to people and relationships and subtle (not-so-subtle?) hints, which is why I’m very lucky to be married to someone who spells things out for me now.
*Ah, said I, like Schrödinger’s Cat! Then I had to explain about the cat. Which sounded awful to her, because why would a guy keep a cat in a bag where it might die? Why wouldn’t he let the cat out of the bag? Was that where they got that expression? So then I had to explain gedanken probleme. Also that it was a box, which wasn’t actually there. C referred to him a time or two later as “the German guy who let the cat out of the bag,” so I’m not sure she was paying attention.
In retrospect, of course, this was a warning sign.
**At the time I was very confused, because it seemed like I had been sexy and wonderful and lovable to C, and then somehow in a way I couldn’t figure out I screwed everything up and suddenly I wasn’t sexy and wonderful and lovable.
Later I realized C, with her non-terminal terminal illness, was like getting with someone who was very drunk, because I understood about how I look to women through beer goggles and how it doesn’t mean anything. So it wasn’t that I wasn’t sexy and wonderful and lovable to C anymore; actually, I had never really been sexy and wonderful and lovable in the first place.