When I was in my late 20s, I had a crush on a guy I worked with. He was tall and preppy, and looked like he’d stepped out of a J. Crew catalog. Every Monday morning I’d skip down the aisle, lean on the wall of his cubicle, and ask him how his weekend was, and he’d tell me about the restaurant he went to or the movie he saw.
He loved music, and I thought I could love him, so I invited him to see my friend and her band rehearse one night. She was an incredible up-and-coming singer who had the same manager as Alicia Keys, and my crush was thrilled to get to go to her rehearsal.
Afterwards, we stopped at his apartment. I took my Joss Stone CD out of my knapsack. “I think you’ll like this,” I said, handing it to him. He put it in his stereo, turned up the music, and turned off the lights.
”“Check out my view,” he said, guiding me to the window while Joss belted out a sultry song. “I have a great view.” As I kneeled on his couch looking out over the dark New York City streets, he stood close behind me, and I felt his breath on the back of my neck. Is he going to kiss me? I thought.
“Let’s get dinner,” he said, stepping away, and I nodded. Is this a date? Oh my God, we’re on a date!
He took me to a Mexican place in his neighborhood. I sat across from him, imagining that he was my boyfriend, that this was the first of many dinners at quaint West Village restaurants. “I love guacamole!” I said, shoving a guacamole-covered chip into my mouth.
“So does my girlfriend,” he said.
WHAT?! I thought, coughing and choking on my chip.
“Whenever we go to a party, she makes it from scratch. It’s her favorite thing to make,” he said, nodding.
You have a girlfriend? But I thought we were on a date! I thought back to all those Monday mornings. He always used the pronoun “I” – “I saw such and such movie,” or “I went to this or that restaurant.” He hadn’t lied, he hadn’t said that he didn’t have a girlfriend, but he’d never mentioned her and he’d never once used the pronoun “we.”
Thankful that I’d kept my conversations about this being a date in my mind, I quietly finished my meal. After months of hoping he’d ask me out, I looked down, focusing hard on the beans and rice on my plate as my fantasy shattered. The next Monday, I didn’t stop by his cubicle to hear his not-totally-true weekend stories.
Several years later, another guy left out crucial information about his girlfriend. It was a warm September night when I ran into my ex in front of a barrel of nectarines at an organic market in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I hadn’t been able to get over him, and the month before I’d given into the temptation to Google him thinking, What could it hurt? But it did hurt, when I clicked on a link that revealed he had a girlfriend.
We talked in front of the nectarines, moved to the iced teas, and were still talking at the checkout counter. Then we stood outside the store under the bright lights, talking more, and I never wanted to walk away. During our whole conversation, he didn’t mention his Googled girlfriend. Maybe they broke up, I thought, shifting from foot to foot, hoping. Maybe he never got over me, either.
He told me he’d been invited to do a reading in England and asked if I thought he should go. Why don’t you ask your British girlfriend? I thought, remembering a detail I’d discovered online. “Um, I don’t know. You could charge by the hour and include travel time,” I said, and he laughed.
“I have this reading next week,” he said, and I raised my eyebrows. “In Brooklyn. I’d love it if you could be there.”
“I’d love to be there!” I said, electricity shooting through me.
All week, I fantasized that he’d broken up with his girlfriend which was why he didn’t mention her, and that we’d get back together. I pictured going out for drinks after the reading, me warm from beer, my body close to his. I realized that I was setting myself up for devastation if he hadn’t in fact broken up with his girlfriend, so the day of his reading I emailed him, “Is your girlfriend going to be there tonight? It would be hard for me to meet her.”
“I thought about that,” he wrote, “but I didn’t bring it up because she won’t be there. She’s out of the country so it’s sort of moot, if that’s what moot means.” No actually, moot would be if you didn’t have a girlfriend at all! I thought, wondering how an Ivy League-educated writer could not know the correct definition of that word. But I was still relieved that she wouldn’t be there.
At the reading,
“When I’m with you I want to pretend she doesn’t exist, too,” he said, looking at me.
This did not help. Because the only thing more dangerous than a trip for one to Fantasy Land, is a two-person excursion there. With him along for the ride, it was harder to tell that this was really not reality.
When we finished our drinks, we stood outside the bar. He hugged me close and held on for a long time, his head buried in my hair. My cheeks were flushed pink, and my heart was racing. Then he pulled away and headed west down the dark Manhattan street, and I walked east towards the train home. We didn’t talk again after that night but I spent many months pining for him, until I read online that he and his girlfriend had gotten married and were expecting a baby.
And then there was the guy who neglected to mention that he had a girlfriend … for five years. He was the son of family friends, and I’d see him every year when he came in from Philadelphia for his parents’ holiday party. From the first time I met him, he was flirtatious. I thought for sure we’d get together, until a family member mentioned that he was seeing someone. Still, every year he flirted shamelessly with me and didn’t say anything about a significant other.
One year, he started emailing me randomly. He called when he was coming into town for a weekend and invited me to hang out on his friend’s rooftop. After five years of holiday parties, he asked me out for drinks a few days after Christmas. We went to an upscale bar in my neighborhood and he pulled his bar stool close, his leg brushing against mine. With his elbows propped on the bar, he leaned towards me and I leaned into him as we took sips of white wine. This definitely felt like a date.
He walked me home in the cold rain and we both squeezed under my umbrella. Outside my building he faced me, crossing and uncrossing has arms. “I had a great time tonight,” he said.
“Me, too,” I said, hoping that he’d kiss me and thinking he was about to as he took a step forward.
“Well, gotta go!” he said and turned around, walking down the street.
I didn’t understand why he left so abruptly but this didn’t keep me from taking an express train to Fantasy Land anyway. I lay in bed the next day, thinking about our non-date date and our almost-kiss over and over again. I imagined him visiting me in Brooklyn that winter, me visiting him in Philadelphia in the spring. Philadelphia would be lovely in the spring. Maybe I could even move there and—
STOP! I thought. I knew I had to get out of Fantasy Land and back into reality before I lost weeks or more to this dreamy haze. Mixed signals and vagueness fueled my fantasies, so I emailed him to get clarity. I told him that I had feelings for him and was confused because I had the sense that he had a girlfriend even though he’d never mentioned her. He wrote back that he’d been torn standing in front of my apartment and had been tempted to kiss me. Finally, he said that he did, in reality, have a girlfriend, but he wanted to remain friends with me.
When men don’t mention their girlfriends, it’s easy for me to get pulled into this game of make-believe. After they’re done pretending, though, they go back to their lives and their significant others, while I abandon myself and my life, and cling to a dream of them and our imagined future relationship. Sitting at my computer that day, I saw how it could all play out—we would continue exchanging a couple of emails a month, and he’d call me when he was coming to town to meet for drinks, as friends. I’d hold my breath waiting for his emails, and count the days until he’d be in town, hoping each time that this was the time he’d broken up with his girlfriend he never mentioned.
And then I decided that I didn’t want to take this trip anymore, because when I was in Fantasy Land, I got lost.
“I’m not interested in having a flirtation with someone who has a girlfriend,” I wrote. I clicked send, opting instead for a one-way, non-refundable, ticket to Reality.