I’m no dummy but will own my, umm blind spots. So when I received a surprise invitation to have dinner with a peer from Heald College (which I happily accepted) then when she stated her reason for the invitation, I quickly did the emotional math and realized that I was doomed. There would be no clean way to fold up this date. Injuries were now certain and my only choice was to attempt to mitigate–or not.
I chose to triage as best I could, and here’s how it all worked out.
After starting trade school at Heald College, I joined the ranks of the early risers hopping the Golden Gate Transit bus for school in San Francisco. Early each morning found me boarding the bus and hoping for a seat up front so I could enjoy the company of friends who were commonly there. Sometimes, one of them would even hold a seat for me – because that is what friends do.
Alicia (not her real name of course) was often among this group. After about 6 months of together, I caught myself hoping for a seat next to her. She was shy, on her way to the same school I was going to, attractive, funny and best of all, seemed to enjoy my cross-threaded humor.
We were all part of route 74 which started in Santa Rosa, passed through Petaluma and eventually deposited us one block from our single building trade school, Heald College. I was in the Electrical Engineering Program and Alicia was in the Business Management program.
I boarded at the last Petaluma stop and then for the next 90 some-odd minutes we passed the time annoying other riders who were trying to sleep by: cracking jokes, talking too loudly about books we were reading, and how our studies were progressing.
A great start to the morning was indicated when Alicia had my seat ready, next to her, and the conversation quickly got lively and worth waking up for. If that seat had already been claimed, That person quickly learned why sitting in the front of this bus was simply not wise unless you were part of the club, and rarely repeated the offense.
Once we arrived at school, Alicia went to her classes and I to mine and, because we were in different programs, rarely saw each other until the ride home and sometimes not then because we did not always end up on the same bus for home.
I enjoyed her friendship when she was there, regretted it when she was not, but did not think much more about it because we were friends and I’d see her again in the morning, until I didn’t.
“Alright guys, where’s Alicia been? I haven’t seen her for almost 2 weeks.”
All I got back were clueless looks and shoulder shrugs that said something similar to, “I dunno. Did anyone see The Brady Bunch last night?”
So what happened to Alicia? Had she dropped out of school. I didn’t even know her last name or have her number.
I found out about a month later when, yes! I ran into her during our lunch break. She was still in school but had moved to the city and was living with her older sister so she didn’t need that long bus ride every day.
I was envious. We talked for a bit, got caught up and actually managed not to have lunch together. Focus! Got to work on my focus! But she was fine and that was all that mattered.
A week later, she was waiting for me after my last day class. “Hey you. What’s going on?”
“I know you told me that you have a night class this quarter, Do you have enough time to grab dinner with me?”
Dinner? With Alicia! “Absolutely! We’d have to go right away because my class starts in about 2 hours. Where were you thinking of going?”
“What do you really like?
“Tommy’s or Arnie’s are my favorites and they’re both really close.”
She looked thoughtful. “I’ve been to Tommy’s but where is Arnie’s and what do they serve?”
“That’s no surprise. His restaurant is down the Cedar Lane alley across the street. I found it only by accident one day. They make an amazing Swedish meatball plate.”
“That sound perfect. You’re sure you’re okay with class and timing?”
“I’m good if we go now. We’ll even beat his dinner rush.”
Off we went, but in the back of my mind an ominous question was forming. What is this about? Why the sudden, out of character invitation to dinner? We’ve never even had lunch together. . .
We sat down, ordered, food came, we chatted and she gave me more details about moving in with his sister and living in the city, but it all felt preliminary somehow. Shy Alicia had something else on her mind.
I was just starting to worry about if she was about to tell me that she was developing feelings for me and while this would not be a bad thing, I was just starting a relationship with a gal I was nuts for and besides, did not think that we knew each other well enough to justify romantic feelings.
She took a bite of her meal, creating an awkward quiet moment, then laid down her fork and looked me square in the eye, which was also inconsistent with this quiet personality.
“Gary, I just got engaged.”
Paalooosh! All the air escaped from my burst balloon of worry and I fought off what would have been a insulting sigh of relief. I also felt like a fool for even thinking that such a gal would develop feelings for me. High School was still fresh in my mind and I had a lengthy list of reasons why I did not merit the attention of such a great gal.
But something didn’t add up. My thoughts went like this: But she does not look happy–not in the least. Why would she invite me to dinner to tell me this? We’re not that good of friends–are we? Surely she can’t want my marital advise. I’m missing something here.
I adjusted the attitude I was about to assume, one of congratulatory joy for her great news, and gave her a cautious smile instead. As I met her eyes, the clues were starting to shake loose. She was near tears.
“Alicia. This is a good thing; yes?”
“Maybe.” She went into some strained description of how long she had known this guy. I’d never heard of him, but saw no reason that I should have. “So his family and mine thought it was a great idea and timing and he asked, I felt like I had to accept, but. . .”
“But you’re not sure you love him?” I asked.
“No–I’m not at all sure, but I am sure that I love you.”
I almost choked for lack of words.
As I looked back at her, unable to hide my shock, she realized that whatever she had hoped would happen next was highly unlikely. I didn’t need to say anything like, “but I don’t love you,” because she had to have seen it in my face. Along with a lot of other clutter that was blowing around my brain, there was also the thought, I must keep my new girl friend from learning anything about this. which was a stupid idea on the face of it, but I was in a strange state caught between confusion and shock and ideas, both good and bad, were sprouting organically as if fertilized by irradiated steroids.
How could this be? I wondered. Things like this don’t happen to me.
If I just tell her this is a no-go, it would hurt and insult her and that is not acceptable. I can’t accept what is a partial offer to marry me. but what do I say and. . . wait, why did she even accept his offer if. . . ?
“Alicia–,” I actually reached across the table to take her hands thinking that it would actually help sooth my response. “Wow, I did not see this coming and have a question. Why did you accept his proposal if you have any thoughts of loving anyone else?”
I tried to wax a bit eloquent but eventually got back to saying, “You must have accepted for the wrong reasons.”
I was doing so well that Alicia looked positively miserable and on the edge of uncontrollable tears.
I had lots of thoughts at this point I could make.
- Let’s finish dinner and I’ll walk you to your bus so we can both sleep on this and talk tomorrow.
- You’re not really in love with me, but perhaps you are desperately looking for a way to prove you’re not in love with him.
- You’re joking, right? Did Joseph put you up to this?
- Say what? I’m already in a relationship. We need to cancel this dinner date right now.
- Alicia, you can’t do this to yourself. That you would even begin to think that I’d be a better husband is a huge red flag that you should NOT marry this guy or be talking to any other guy about marriage until you settle what’s going on with your own heart. You need to break it off with him.
That last one is actually the tact I took. I only wish that I’d said it that well. I got the message across. We talked. I tried to reason. She tried to justify. She cried. I tried to give her space to cry without losing our place in the conversation.
I so badly wanted to encourage her without encouraging her. I did walk her to her bus. She calmed down and I tried to be a better friend than I had been up to that point.
But the damage was done. I’m sure she was too embarrassed to face me and likely went out of her way to never see me again. The only answer that might have comforted her would not have been honest, but she had gathered her courage and put herself out there but I rejected her.
I have replayed that dinner over and over, but have yet to come up with a better way to respond.
I never saw her again and hope that whoever she married, still realizes what a great gal she is. Maybe she’s even able to laugh about that dinner.