The morning after my second coffee with Craig, he sent a follow-up text, just as he’d done after the first. I was in a meeting and I only had a moment to glance at the name of the sender and to register that it was a long one. I smiled. Clearly he’d gotten over that jolt that I was friends with his ex. I knew he had a busy week so I assumed he was offering a couple of openings when we could meet. Maybe he was even apologizing for the sudden shift in the tone on our walk after I accidentally mentioned Jay. Vancouver is such a small town, ha ha.
It was an intense day at work but I slipped into my office for a moment at lunch to read the text.
Thanks again for the coffee and walk yesterday. I enjoy chatting with you, and would like to continue getting to know you. I’ve had a chances to reflect and I think what I’m feeling is more platonic…Blah, blah, blah.
It happened again.
Two steps forward. Two steps back.
I was (mercifully?) called out of my office immediately and didn’t have another moment to reply until I got on the ferry that evening and headed home. Sometimes being busy after a pinch of rejection is a good thing. No rash text response. No wallowing. Just keep going with the routines that make a day pass. But I was bugged. Craig strikes me as a kind person and someone who, like me, is precise with his words. The blah, blah, blah had been about wanting to develop a friendship and to have more coffees and chats, but my hunch had been that everything was fine—great, in fact—until we stumbled on the realization that his ex was my tennis bud. Even though they broke up a year ago, I sensed I’d inadvertently scratched a scab off one serious wound. That bugger risked getting infected all over again. I wanted Craig to admit as much. This was about his continuing struggle to right his life, post-Jay. This was not about me at all. And so I texted—How did you determine this needed to go down the platonic path? Own up. Mention Jay.
But I didn’t get what I wanted. Not Craig and not the explanation. You and I presented (I would say) fair and honest pictures of who we are to each other. It comes down to chemistry and I have to go with my gut. My gut says, “great guy! Good possible friend!” I can’t explain but, it’s in that hard-to-point-to place called “This is what it feels like.”
It is me.
F#*kin’ chemistry. Yet another reminder that high school is nothing like the real world. In eleventh grade, I made As in Chemistry. One semester I even got 100%. I had this science down to an art!
It was only two coffees, one more than I usually manage. It’s no big deal. I know this. If Craig texts sometime in the next month and wants to go for a platonic coffee and a platonic walk, I can do that. I can smile and be genuinely invested. I need more friends.
But I’ve spiraled downward in the days since. It’s not about Craig. It’s about the message, not the messenger. I’m a great guy. Super nice. Gosh golly swell. But whether the guy calls it chemistry or the elusive spark, I don’t have it. I’m not date-worthy.
Yep, I went there. When you hear the no-chemistry/no-spark line enough times, it sinks in. Hello fifteen-year-old me. I’m right back to What’s wrong with me? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME?! Teen Me thought everything would be better if only the Clearasil could just ward off the blackheads and if I just committed to using the weight set in my room. Coax some semblance of a bicep to make an appearance. And stop telling people Air Supply is my favorite music group.
I need to snap out of it. Reverse the numbers in 15 and act my real age. At 51, I’ve got a lot going for me. The pimples are long gone. The muscles finally showed up. I’m incredibly fit. I still have a full head of hair (I think. I make a point of not looking in any hand-held mirror at that point at the top of my head where I had a cyst removed.). I’m regularly told I look much younger than my age. I’ve earned three degrees. I’m a leader at work. I’ve got that Sally Field factor: people like me; they really like me.
But not like that.
I want to scream. I want to blame someone. Damn single gay men. Flakes, all of ‘em. I could call up my 60-year-old single gay friend, John, and meet him for coffee. He’ll commiserate. Yep. They’re all fucked up. Flakier than a chocolate croissant. (And then our bitch session would take an intermission as John goes back to the coffee counter and gets that last croissant, the one that’s distracted him repeatedly during our conversation. He’ll return saying the calories will go straight to his belly. Not that it matters. Flakes!)
So here I am after all these years, still wondering what’s wrong with me, still trying to improve myself, still not being enough. What does it take to have real-world chemistry? How do I radiate a spark? Where the hell do I buy myself a warehouse of figurative fireworks?
The truth is I always hated Chemistry.