Friday, March 16, 2012

Cupid's Trick

What does it mean to run into your last boyfriend on Valentine's Day?

I wish I could say I am asking this question hypothetically, as an experiment, or a kind of masochistic curiosity. Unfortunately, I want to know because this actually happened to me last month, and I have been pondering it ever since.

It sounds like a plot point out of a predictable rom-com. Too staged, too forced, too unrealistic. But there A was racing through Trader Joe's with five items in his cart and one in his mouth. Typical. He wore tight workout clothes that showed off his impressive forty-nine-year-old physique. Typical. He probably just came from yoga, and he's probably slept with or is still sleeping with his instructor and/or a student/s. The bastard. His head of hair was still gorgeous: full, thick, and curly. Indeed, A's the only man I've ever been attracted to in the flesh with gray -- no, it really is silver -- hair.

Aside from the clothes, he looked just as I remember from exactly a year earlier when we met at a Thai restaurant for dinner before taking in a showing of The King's Speech. I had bought a sparkly blouse for the occasion. When we came out of the theater, the sky opened up into torrential rains and gusting winds. We made a mad dash to our cars, deciding at his suggestion to say goodnight then and there because we would be seeing one another the next morning. As I followed A to the highway, he continued on in a surprising direction, which made me wonder if he was going to see another woman that Valentine's Day night instead of heading straight home. I tried to shake off the tinge of insecurity, reminding myself that I would be with him again in less than twelve hours. And I was. Yet being left with a question in my mind put a damper on an otherwise lovely holiday evening. Shame on you, A! Little did I know at the time that after three months it would be our last date.

A broke up with me eight days after Valentine's Day.

He cited one of the usual reasons -- the reasons that I, as an older single mother by choice -- have become all too unwillingly familiar with: My children are too young. Plain and simple. Though his, being fourteen and eleven at the time, were not a great deal older than mine at seven and nearly five, A was not interested in having a long-term relationship with a woman whose kids were younger than his.

Period. End of story.

During our drawn-out breakup, which took place over two phone calls and one emotional tete a tete, many issues were discussed. Yet the fact remains: He always had a great time in my presence. However, he reverted back to his overanalytical ways after our dates ended, his mind landing on the child problem and being unable to get past it. I encouraged him to live in the moment; he couldn't get out of his head. That was pretty much the roadblock in a pistachio nutshell.

As we sat at his kitchen table breaking up one Friday morning, A said he believed we could be good friends after some months had passed. I didn't know what to make of that statement at the time and, frankly, I still don't. Like most other women, I have heard the cliched line "I just want to be friends" many times before. But that is not what ends up transpiring in my experience. Too many hurt feelings, too much water under the bridge.

Did A want to be my friend? Or merely cushion the blow he'd dealt me?

I have run into him since the breakup, though only once that I can say for sure. Not long after my toilet caused an indoor flood late last May, I bumped into A outside Starbucks. He was in a hurry, of course, and wearing his workout clothes, of course. Banging someone from class again! (My mind always conjures up the worst-case scenario.) Nevertheless, he seemed really happy to see me and, dare I say, attracted to me despite my glasses and Sourpuss demeanor on account of the flood. We chatted briefly, mostly about my misfortune and not at all about someday becoming friends. As we parted, I did not look back at him.

In the late fall, my sons and I were making our way through REI to the boys's winter-jacket section in the back. My older son heard a man's voice say rather softly, "Hi, Shelby." He turned but did not see the man amid all the clothing racks. By the time Christopher told me, I could not find the owner of the voice either. I suspect it was A. He shops at REI, and he did not want to meet my sons during the time we dated. Since I was in their company, he would have chosen -- as this man did -- to remain hidden. I can't think of another man I know who, upon recognizing me, would split rather than show his face.

So that brings me up to Valentine's Day 2012 when I bumped into A at Trader Joe's. Again he acted pleased to see me. I mean, a little overly pleased as before. In fact, the same amount of pleased as when we were dating. Does he miss me? Is he sorry he broke up with me? Does he want me to contact him to initiate that "friendship"? As we briefly caught up on each others' lives, he noticed my full cart. Well, of course, it was full. I have two growing sons. Then he spotted the flowers in the cart and said, "Oh." I believe he was making an assumption that I was cooking dinner for a boyfriend and putting flowers on the table. In actuality, only the latter was correct. For his part, there was no indication based on his cart contents that he had any plans that lovebird holiday night.

I am a very perceptive person but slow on the uptake, especially when it comes to reading cues from men. So after he left the store, typical, I wondered if I should have made it clear that the flowers weren't what they looked like. On the other hand, I can't deny deriving some pleasure at having caused him to believe I had a hot date this Valentine's Day.

I was so hurt, angry, and stunned when he dumped me. "Pulled the rug out from under me" is how I describe being jerked around by him. The breakup came too soon, before we even got to spring and could try out warm-weather sports together. We were on the cusp of taking the relationship to a deeper level, but he decided not to go there.

Well, I decided not to go "there" (friendship) in return. It took me a long time to get over A because I liked him very much. In fact, I had told him I was "crazy" about him. In the end, I felt he had not been honest with me in the relationship. And if there is one thing that turns me off, it is dishonesty.

So perhaps I am answering my own question. All I know is: since running into A on Valentine's Day, I am reconsidering my decision not to be his friend or -- since I don't know if he was just feeding me a line -- my decision not to ask for further clarification.

Why does this business of the heart have to be so confounding? Why did I run into him -- the first time in nearly nine months -- on Valentine's Day of all days? Was it for the purpose of telling me we could have a future? Or should strike up that friendship? Or, perhaps, to stick it to A by giving him the false impression that I am taken? Maybe the chance meeting occurred so that he could feel some regret for his actions.

Oh, Cupid, why are you playing this trick on me?

Have you run into an old flame at an importune time? How did it make you feel?

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