A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a bright-eyed college graduate with one tortured, Mr. Big-esque relationship behind me and what I hoped was an immediate future filled with carefree dates that wouldn’t require too much emotional investment on my part.
(As an aside, like Carrie’s Mr. Big, my Mr. Big would pop in and out my life like a weed for years to come. That however is a different story to be fictionalized in one of my books one day. But I digress.)
It was during that lighthearted time that I met, oh, let’s call him, Neil. I was working at a bookstore and unbeknownst to me, Neil was a regular customer who’d developed a little crush on me. He finally struck up the nerve one day to approach me and shyly ask if he could call me some time. I was a little taken aback, but as I sized him up, I wasn’t horrified. While not tall, dark and handsome, Neil was nice looking and he seemed so earnest, I couldn’t help but be a little intrigued, so I gave him my number.
It wasn’t long before Neil and I were exclusive. I was totally swept off my feet. He would bring me lunch at work, call me when he said he would and make plans to take me out on a regular basis. Not to mention he was always showering me with compliments about everything from my sparking personality to my exotic beauty (okay, those weren’t his exact words. But he did tell me he thought I was sweet and really pretty). After Mr. Big, where disappearing acts were plentiful and compliments scarce, I was in heaven. While I wasn’t in love with Neil, I liked him a lot and if things kept going well, I could definitely see the possibilities for a nice future.
Well, of course, me being me, it didn’t exactly work out like that. My Spidey Sense did start to tingle a bit over certain things Neil said and did. Like when he let it slip that when his last girlfriend tried to break up with him, he refused to let her go because he to “convince her she was wrong,” waging a steady campaign designed to wear her down (didn’t work). Or when he flipped out at me for calling him twenty minutes later than I said I would because my dad had called me and I needed to talk to him. Or other little white lies that instead of copping to when caught, would turn into World War III.
It’s always the little things.
I also started to become uncomfortable of his near-worship of me. I mean, who can live up to being a Goddess all day long? Personally, most of the time I’m only good for about half a day. I was beginning to feel uneasy with the relationship and my gut told me it would be best to take a break. In my heart of hearts, I felt like we probably would get back together, but I really just needed some time.
Well, Neil didn’t see it that way. In fact, he went off the rails. He begged and pleaded with me to give him another chance, told me what a mistake I was making, so on and so on. Well, of course, that just convinced me I was making the right decision. Reluctantly, he said he would give me the space I asked for.
Didn’t exactly turn out that way.
First, he kept calling me. All the time. For every four times he called me, I’d return a call, but would always make our conversations brief. When that didn’t work, he would lurk around the bookstore. Couldn’t exactly ask him to leave, but when he didn’t get my attention that way, he started following me around the store. Eventually, that turned into him shouting about what an ass I was (because I was the one standing in the middle of a retail establishment screaming my head off for all the world to see). He did get thrown out that day.
After that particular episode, I was done. Cold turkey. Over and out. Stopped calling him back, put all my managers on alert that this guy might possibly come in to start trouble. Done and done.
I didn’t hear from him, so I thought it was over. Life could go on.
About a year passed when who should come strolling into the bookstore one day but Neil. By that point, I had fallen deeply in love with someone who’d been a friend for years and was quite happy. My heart stopped for a moment when I saw Neil; not because I was missing him, but because of the shock of seeing him after so much time had passed. We were awkward yet polite with each other. Then the inevitable came.
“So,” he looked down at his feet, his voice soft with shyness. “Are you seeing anybody?”
I nodded, the unavoidable smile spreading across my face. “Yeah, I am. It’s going really well.”
His face fell, but he tried to put on a good front. “Wow, that’s…that’s great. I’m happy for you.”
I thanked him and we chatted a bit more before I told him I needed to get back to work. I felt good. No drama, no meltdowns. This must have been what that “being an adult” thing I kept hearing about felt like.
Later that night, I walked out to my car and as I slid behind the wheel, I was annoyed to see a sheet of a paper flapping underneath the windshield. Annoyed, I got out and snatched it up, ready to crumple it in my hand when I noticed it was addressed to me.
It was from Neil. He poured his heart out about all the mistakes he made and even though I was with someone else, if I would consider giving him another chance, he would show me how different things could be.
As I stood in the dim light of that musty, noisy parking garage, reading those heartfelt words, I think my heart broke a little. While I was never in love with Neil, I had liked him a lot and knew the courage it must have taken for him to put his feelings down on paper and risk rejection.
Still, I had moved on, and I didn’t want or need to go backwards with Neil. Even though he went all macadamia ranch on me for a minute, Neil wasn’t a bad guy – maybe a little misguided. I waited a few days before I called him to let him know I received his note and while I appreciated the sentiment, I was going to keep things status quo. He was quiet. Sad. But he accepted my decision without argument. We wished each other the best and hung up.
That was the last time I spoke to him.
Since Neil was never a great love of mine and we only went out for like six months a million years ago, I never really think about him. Still, like every relationship, it was a learning experience; I learned I don’t want to be worshipped (well, not all the time anyway). Most importantly, I learned the importance of listening to my gut – it will never steer you wrong.