In the little group of cool people I've been hanging out with for a couple months, there was this guy and this girl who acted like they were kind of dating and kind of not. Like they were always standing next to each other at events, but took separate vehicles to get there. That sort of thing. The girl rarely spoke, but she smiled at all my jokes, so I liked having her around. But recently, she wasn't around and the guy was and I overheard the guy discussing his intention to break things off with her to avoid leading her on. He said she was too quiet. I interjected, "You got something against quiet people?" as a way of sort of sticking up for her while kind of playing it off as a joke to minimize the offensiveness of butting into this conversation that was none of my business, the joke being that I'm pretty quiet too. He said it's just that she's hard to have conversations with. I guess he's never heard of texting or Facebook chats.
Those are awful moments, when you're privy to these discussions and you know what someone is in for and can't do anything but send thoughts and prayers, which it turns out are just as effective at preventing breakups as they are at solving the United States' mass shooting epidemic. I could have tried to warn her, of course, but that didn't seem like it would help anything.
As I thought about it, I realized that this girl, both as a person and because of her ambiguous and ill-fated dating situation, reminded me of somebody that I used to know. She's twenty and I was twenty back then and this other somebody was probably around the same age too. And she was quiet.
I met Claire in late 2013 when her roommate Krista told me how much she, Claire, enjoyed my blog. At this time my blog was hosted by the godawful hosting company Webs, which experienced crippling technical difficulties at least once a month. That's not an exaggeration. In my four plus years with Weebly I've experienced problems of that magnitude maybe one time; I can't even remember. In those days I had no regular updating schedule and just posted whenever something in the news or at church made me particularly angry. And most of those posts sucked so much that when I switched web hosting companies, I happily consigned most of them to the dustbin of cyberspace, only bothering to preserve a few gems for posterity here, like this story. I played "Truth or Dare" with Claire and her roommates once and Krista asked if that story was true and of course it is.
Claire and her roommates were in my home evening group, and when the other twenty-one people in our group didn't bother to show up one week, I ended up talking to her a lot. And then we just ended up talking a lot and spending a lot of time together in general. She readily listened to everything I had to say about organic evolution, blacks and the priesthood, and other topics that she didn't have much to say about. We took walks and swung on the park swings and went to events and things. Often it was dark by the time I dropped her off at her apartment and we both just stood there looking at each other. She always looked as awkward as I felt. Because she was so shy, I tried to enrich her life by letting her read "Quiet" by Susan Cain, but the copy my parents gave me for my birthday had mysteriously disappeared.
We sometimes had unresolved philosophical discussions about whether our activities constituted dates. These things are so difficult to quantify scientifically. We could have been on anywhere between zero and two dozen dates. Once during the awkward eye contact when I dropped her off after she accompanied me to a free concert on campus that filled a requirement for my music class, she said, "I don't really know much about dating," implying perhaps that she had regarded this as a date, but by her own admission she wasn't really qualified to evaluate that. Everything happened so organically, and at first that scared me because I felt like Claire was interested in me - back then I believed that some women were - but I wasn't really interested in her. So I felt like we were on this slippery slope to a relationship that I wasn't convinced I wanted. As I enjoyed spending time with her, though, I relaxed.
One evening I was Facebook chatting with Krista and said something to the effect of, "If Claire doesn't like me, she must be a real idiot to not realize how bad she's leading me on."
Krista said something to the effect of, "I just laughed real loud at that, and my roommates asked what's so funny, but I won't tell."
Krista had her own maybe sort of boyfriend, and I was privy to some of his ambitions of fun date activities they could do together, but the next time I saw her I became privy to her saying that she didn't want to date him, and like I said, those are awful moments. They got married a while later, but in the meantime I felt terrible for him and also started to think. There but for the grace of God go I? Was my own slippery slope also headed toward a brick wall?
For some reason it felt like the beginning of the end when I showed Claire my favorite musical, "Evita". We borrowed it from the library and watched it at her house. Right at the end, we discovered that the disc was dirty and/or scratched, and the playback got all choppy and completely ruined the musical's haunting final moments. I was mortified. Claire said it wasn't really her sort of thing, but it was interesting and worth watching. Maybe if I had grabbed the library's other copy of it, things would have turned out differently. Who knows?
One night not long after, when I asked Claire if we could hang out in the park, she said, "We've been hanging out in the park a lot lately. I think we should take a break."
Then a few hours later she said, “Hey, can we meet in the park? I need to talk to you.”
At this point, not counting Claire, I had been on two dates in my entire life. But somehow I knew as surely as I knew of my own existence that this was going to be a "Let's just be friends" talk. With considerable trepidation I showed up and we sat on the swings and talked for half an hour about stuff so forgettable that I've forgotten it.
Just as I was beginning to relax and feel relieved, she said, “So, is this a date?”
I hesitated. "Well," I said cautiously, "I think I want it to be a date, if that's all right with you."
She was silent for a long moment.
Then she said, "I think I want it not to be a date."
As we discussed what had happened over the course of our friendship, then and later on Facebook, I was relieved that I wasn't the only one who didn't know what was going on. She didn't expect it any more than I did because why would I be interested in her? I listed some reasons and she said it was a rhetorical question but thanks. She became too busy for me and dated and married someone else, coincidentally also named Chris, a few months later.
I have no profound conclusions to draw from this, but I feel nostalgic and wistful about the whole thing, especially now that this other person and situation reminded me of it. Claire was probably the closest thing I ever had to a girlfriend. Or maybe it was Nadia, the young lady in Ecuador that I Skyped almost every day of my freshman year until I pushed her away because she deserved better. Or maybe it was my roommate Joey's female cat who came into my room and rubbed my legs every chance she got. These things are so difficult to quantify scientifically.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.