Back in my college days, I fell very neatly into the category of girls who efficiently filled a guy’s need for a friend or a little sister, but never for a girlfriend. I was obsessed with sports, by that time working the night shift and writing sports for a daily newspaper, fiercely independent, and a country mile from what one might define as hotness. In short, it seemed that I was a real hoot to hang with, but possibly not high on the scale of alluring young females to date. It’s OK; a decade later I’ve gotten over it, I promise. Seriously.
I say all of that so that you will have the background for the story I am about to tell. It involves the weirdest thing anyone has ever said to me and the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. At the same time.
It was late at night in a Starbucks parking lot. At least in my college years, Starbucks parking lots were kind of the place where things went down. It was hot in that thick summer night way, the type of heat that you kind of swim through, the type that catches at smells and magnifies them. In this case, coffee hung in the air, sweet and nutty. Voices and laughter came in waves as the Starbucks’ door opened and closed. I stood outside my car after a long evening of chatting with friends and waited.
See, it was the last time I was meeting with a group of twenty-somethings that was organized through a local church. We met weekly at Starbucks but took summers off, which meant that I would be unlikely to cross paths with any of the other members until September. They were friends, but only in the sense that our friendships were rooted in our weekly meetings. The catch was, as these things tend to go, there was “this guy.” This particular one was cute, had an accent, and was just the right amount of goofy to make me think I might have a shot with him. We got along great, and I had begun to get the vibe that he might be into me. Here’s where I let you know that my “vibes” at the time were pretty undependable.
Right. So I was standing at my car. He was parked one spot over, and we stood there semi-awkwardly as I tried to give him enough time to ask me out. If it was ever going to happen, he and I both knew it had to be now. We trickled through the last possible stream of small talk, unlocked our cars, started to climb into our driver’s seats, and just when the proverbial and literal door was closing, he turned to me.
“Kiss a lot of boys this summer!”
And he was gone. Door shut, engine started, parking lot vacated. What. Just. Happened.
I drove home in a moderate fury. What did he mean by that? Kiss a lot of boys this summer? How did he think that was even remotely the right thing to say? Even if he wasn’t going to ask me out, at least he could not say that! What was his problem? What was mine for liking him in the first place?
I stewed on his parting words for a good long time. But as the summer heat rose, I slowly cooled down. Everyone knows that falling in love involves two people, somehow miraculously sharing the same feelings about each other. Clearly, we did not. There was nothing I could do about that.
But what still irked me was the fact that I had spent several years crushing on this guy. We would float in and out of each other’s lives, and every time we reconnected, I would think, maybe. Yet there was never a maybe on his end, not even close. I promised myself that the next time I met a guy and started investing my feelings in him, I wouldn’t waste years hoping he would make a move.
June burned off and my other friends returned from college. I had graduated a semester earlier in the winter, but now the whole crew had caught up. One of my best friends from high school came home and invited me to go to a BBQ with her. That’s where I met Jim. My initial attraction to him was purely physical. He was c-u-t-e. Then, our circle of friends suddenly began to intersect constantly. The more I ran into this Jim guy, the more I liked him. Maybe he would ask me out. Maybe. Wait. No. No, no, no, no.
There is a moment in life when you have to decide if you’re going to jump off the cliff. For some people, that means taking a risk at work, or quitting college, or moving cross country. My cliff was Jim, and when I jumped, I made myself extremely emotionally vulnerable. These quotes perfectly capture what it feels like to fall in love.
Jim was pretty shy and liked to do things the right way. That meant taking his time before he asked a girl out. That didn’t really fit my vision of our relationship, though, so I asked for his phone number one night. He obliged, and while we began to text and got along great, he still didn’t ask me out. A month passed. Then one night, we were hanging out with friends and went through the usual dance of talking and flirting until we said goodbye. Still not even a hint of a date invitation. So, I jumped off the cliff. I drove to a Starbucks (a different one than back in June … like I said, a lot went down at Starbucks in those days), ordered a coffee, and composed a text.
“So, I’m just curious … are you thinking we’re friend material or more than friend?”
I waited. And waited. An hour ticked by. Only then did I realize I had no signal in the Starbucks and the message had not even sent. Smooth operator. I moved outside, the text sent, and a reply followed a few minutes later. He didn’t feel this was something we should text about. Could we meet sometime that week to talk?
I’ll spare you the long beautiful love story that follows. In short, we met in a park and took a long walk. He said he thought we should develop a stronger friendship before we dated. I said I was chock full of friends and wasn’t particularly interested in climbing into the beloved friend-zone with him. He didn’t commit to anything that day, but the next day, he asked me out. He proposed less than a year later. Six years into our marriage, I remind him often that I single-handedly dragged him into the best marriage either of us could have ever dreamed up. You’re welcome, Jim.
And that brings us back around to the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. Back in the Starbucks parking lot, as a guy with a cute accent told me to “kiss a lot of boys this summer,” it felt like lowest point of my life. Not because he meant to hurt me, but because he didn’t want me. What I didn’t realize was that in that moment, I would develop the resolve I needed to refuse anything less than a deep relationship with my next crush.
I learned an important lesson that night. That sometimes, if you’re not willing to take a risk, you don’t get the reward. So, thanks, Starbucks guy. And by the way, I did kiss one boy that summer. Still kissing him today.