by Jennifer Livingstone
We call it the accidentedate (ack-suh-DEN-ti-date). We’ve all done it – accidentally been on a date. It happens to the best of us. These blips, these lapses of judgement become the subjects of our Saturday evening conversations. The amount of sympathy we give each other depends on the circumstances. As the story is recounted, we listen for the signs. ‘There!’ we shout, spotting one. ‘Now why would he mention anything about a surprise if it was just platonic? You should have known, really.’ Some of us just seem naïve and are accidentedated frequently. But sometimes, even we are stunned. Pouring over the thread of messages, we wonder if perhaps she should have read more into the smaller details, the one-too-many smiley faces in his texts, the general eagerness. Should that have given it away?
Because you boys, you can be a mystery, you know. I mean, how are we to tell? Boys and girls can also be friends. And friends can go for dinner or coffee or drinks. And you and I are friends, so it would be normal, perfectly normal I thought, to hang out. You didn’t ask me like it was a date, at all. And then all of a sudden, it is. You’re there, dressed a little more nicely than usual – warning sign number one. And then all of a sudden, you want to help hang my coat and open the door and all these things you never do. My senses are now officially heightened. And then the conversation seems to be going okay, as in, normally. I am able to calm down some. But then I notice I’m rambling. I think I’ve been making a conscious effort ever since we sat down to control the direction of the conversation, steering it within safe waters like work and your new niece. I think perhaps I’m smiling too much. Maybe I’m even speaking too loudly. I’m just trying, very very hard, to be normal.
“I think perhaps I’m smiling too much. Maybe I’m even speaking too loudly. I’m just trying, very very hard, to be normal.”
But you don’t play ball. You ignore the signs I try to give you. In the conversation topics I pick and in the way I am speaking, I try to tell you, Hey, I’m sorry. I think perhaps I misunderstood. I realise now that this was supposed to be a date. But I’m not actually comfortable with that. So let’s both pretend we’re just here for a regular, friendly dinner. Yes, agree? But you miss my message.
At some point, I lose grip of the conversation, or rather, you wrestle it from me. ‘What do you mean you’ve never been to Spain?’ You take a swig of your wine. ‘I know – what’re you doing in June? I’m going in June. Come for a weekend.’
‘Uh, I don’t know.’
I wonder how this will end. Should I at some point interrupt you or tell you? Or just half-heartedly continue, evasive but polite until I can slip away without dessert?
And I wonder – how did I get myself into this mess? What signs did I miss? But I’m terrible at signs, I know. People just want to be friends or people want to be more than friends and the signals cross and I get them wrong.
As we get the check, you ask, ‘Hey, want to get a drink somewhere nearby?’
Deep breath. ‘No,’ and I stumble for a good excuse, it’s only 8 o’clock. I think you can notice me faltering, I see it in your eyes. ‘I have an early yoga class tomorrow, and I drank a lot yesterday anyways?’ It comes out like a question, weak and pathetic.
After a few moments, you say, ‘So I guess you weren’t really into this, huh?’
I sigh and attempt a smile. ‘No, it was nice. I just . . . can’t, is all.’
You say as I get on my bike, ‘Well, we’re still friends, right?’
‘Yes, of course.’
As I cycle back, I try to recount the signs. I try to remember what I missed.