“We need to talk.”
He sounded like it was taking every ounce of his strength to tell me what was on his mind. I simply felt like I was going to throw up. Before he said another word, I began to pace. Thoughts were racing through my mind at a mile a minute. What did I do wrong? Is he going to break up with me? Have I been so stupid all along to think that this was more? I didn’t know where this was heading and I was already on the verge of tears before he uttered another word.
“Look, the thing is, I can’t give you everything … I already told you that. I’m getting the impression that you want a whole lot more than I am able to give. I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve decided that we need to be just friends. I will always view you as just a friend.”
I completely fell apart. I didn’t cry. I didn’t complain. I didn’t argue. I went completely and totally numb. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t think. Most of all, I couldn’t speak. I completely forgot about his insecurities and focused on the fact that my fears had come to be reality. He didn’t want me. The man who gave me the best first date of my life didn’t want me. Numb doesn’t even begin to accurately describe how I felt.
“Talk to me, please,” he said.
“Uh huh,” was all I could manage.
“Well, am I wrong? Do you want more?” he asked.
I said nothing.
His whole demeanor suddenly changed. He asked again, “Do you want more? Please tell me.”
I offered nothing but heavy silence.
I could sense the panic in his voice. I had my wits around me enough to realize that this was not going completely according to whatever plan he had before he called.
“Oh God,” he said in a blatant panic.
He began to reach for an explanation, “Look, here’s the deal. You know me and I know you. In fact, you know me better than anyone I’ve ever known. Please don’t be upset. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t in my life.”
This is crap, I thought. These are the same lines used by my ex-husband and I was dumb enough to accept them then. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Still, I said nothing. I sat in hushed awe at what I was hearing. Please don’t be upset? Is he kidding?
“You’re angry. Please don’t be angry,” his voice quivered. I found myself a little bit shocked to realize that he was actually crying a bit on the other end. This was not like my ex husband. I was able to mutter one thing.
“Did you sleep with someone else? Is that what this is about?” I already knew the answer before I asked.
“God no! You know me. I told you, you know me.” He was right; I did know him. He wouldn’t do that. His entire life was family. All free time was with me and/or his kids. In whatever other time he had he was either at work or taking care of his ailing mother. I knew he was doing both because he’d call and talk to me during everything. He didn’t have time for an affair.
“I would never do that to you,” he repeated through his tears, obviously hurt.
“I know you’re angry, but please don’t leave me,” he said. This time he was begging. Flat out begging. Had I missed something? Don’t leave him? How had this phone call started again? What was happening here?
“I’ve messed this up. I’ve messed everything up. I’ve messed us up,” by this time he was crying flat out. I knew he meant he had messed things up by the way he handled the conversation. He was right. I knew him.
“I need you to understand. If we tried to have a relationship and it didn’t work out …” he paused, carefullly picking his words. “…if it didn’t work out, you’d leave and like I said, I don’t know how to live without you anymore. I can’t risk you leaving,” I could sense the unspoken words, ‘like she left’ before he continued, “so that’s why I mentioned just being friends. I can’t risk losing you.”
The numbness began to wear off a bit. I was aware enough to understand a little that he was scared. He was really scared that I would leave if we didn’t work out. Being friends was his safe way of keeping me in the picture without losing me. I understood his fear, but my terror had a firm grasp on my psyche by this point. I understood, but was unsure of what I should do. What do I say when both of us are terrified?
Without thinking, I mumbled, “I understand.” Wait. I didn’t mean that. What was I saying?
Even though it wasn’t what I meant to say, he seemed to relax. He calmed down and his voice stopped shaking. He asked if I was angry. I told him the truth: I didn’t know what I was. He pleaded with me to not be angry. I made no promises. He started talking about everyday things. He talked about what we were going to do this summer and more. I finally broke. My courage wasn’t up to par, so I didn’t tell him everything on my mind … like that I loved him and I would never leave him if we didn’t work out. That he was my best friend and I would always be there for him. I couldn’t tell him what I was most upset about, but I was able to express myself some.
“You know, its okay,” I started. “I should have never expected anything different. You know, just the other day I went to the zoo with my brother. His first comment was that I looked thinner. Not that it was good to see me. I showed my father a picture from that zoo trip and he told me that I needed to work on slimming my thighs, but the rest of me looks great. Why should I expect anyone outside of my family to think any different?”
By this time, I was crying. I was angry. I was furious. I was all of these things, but I still couldn’t tell him everything.
“No, that isn’t what this is about,” he stammered. I cut him off.
“Back in September, you stopped talking to me for six weeks. You disappeared without a reason.” I knew his reason and after talking to his friends and family, it was a legitimate medical reason that he didn’t want me to worry about. Still, I had never forgiven him for just cutting me out so I wouldn’t worry during his medical procedures. “Then suddenly you were back, like nothing had happened.” To him, nothing had happened. He had ‘spared’ me the trauma of his condition. I would have done anything to have been allowed to be there and nurse him back to health, but he assumed I wouldn’t have wanted to. He had reappeared after healing in early November.
“You were back and it didn’t take long before you were back in my bed. And I let you! Who knows how stupid I’ve been? That’s what you wanted? And I let you back into my life,” I was sobbing now. More because I knew why he disappeared and what I was saying was completely wrong. It was just all I could muster.
“No … please tell me you really don’t think that,” he whispered, voice shaking again. “I came back because I was better. I missed you. I needed you. There were so many reasons why I came back. I never left in the first place, but I should have told you. Is that really what you think? I came back for sex?”
I ignored his question and continued.
“If friendship is really what you want, then we need to change how we work things. I’m setting up these rules now, but know that I haven’t decided what I want yet,” I said in my most authoritative voice. “Three things will change. 1) I don’t want you around my daughter anymore. She doesn’t need false hope that you are my boyfriend any longer. 2) You will not pay for anything anymore when we go out. That’s what a guy does in relationship, which we don’t have, according to you. 3) No more sex. End of story. That won’t happen.”
His protest was immediate, but surprisingly not about number 3. He was okay with that. He understood that one. The other two he had issues with. He said my daughter was not in this and she was used to him and his boys being around. He knew her father was not a good father and was afraid to remove my daughter from his life. I would not let up.
He was really at odds with number 2. He said it was ridiculous. I was unemployed and he had the money. There was no reason he couldn’t pay for food, tickets, movies, gas for trips, etc. I held steadfast. Then, I went silent.
I was completely broken hearted. He rambled on and on about anything. He wanted me to stay on the phone and not hang up. He knew he might never hear from me again. On and on he went … kids, summer, reunions, baseball, hiking, and so much more. I sat silently through over forty-five minutes trying to decide what to do.
Finally, I cut him off mid-sentence. “I have to go,” I told him. He stopped and was completely quiet.
“I don’t want to hang up. Are you ever going to talk to me again? I’m so sorry. Will I talk to you tomorrow?”
I sighed, “Frankly, I don’t know. I can’t think. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. Good night.”
And I hung up, unsure of what tomorrow would bring for my now-friend and me.
“We need to talk.”