By the time I graduated college and had my first “big girl job” you would think I would have figured out the game of love, but that’s a big capital NOPE. I was just as clueless as ever and that’s how I wound up in a relationship with the International Man of Mystery. Let’s call him 0040 for short.
I was still green as can be in my new fancy office job when I found out I was going to have a new task added to my job description: Meeting with outside vendors who were working on projects for the company. Not only that, but I had a whole six days to review years worth of data before a series of week long 8-hour daily meetings with representatives from one of our vendors in a room employees not so lovingly called “the dungeon” for it’s grey walls and lack of windows. And when I say series, let me clarify. This would be happening bi-weekly for the next two months. To say I wasn’t pleased, is about as close to the definition of understatement as one can get.
Since I never have a lack of bad luck, the morning this is all supposed to start I knock over an entire cup of coffee on my desk drenching both my research and my lap. Awesome. I scurry to clean up the mess, wondering just how much coffee was in that cup as I feebly sop it up with a mini pack of tissues from my purse, because it looks like a waterfall streaming off the side of my desk. Was it a trick glass? Was it sculpted by Mary Poppins out of whatever magic crap she made that bag out of? A co-worker whom I’m friends with, we’ll call her Mary, takes pity on me as she heads down the dungeon, dropping paper towels at my desk and promising to save me a seat downstairs. I finish with my desk and do my best to fix myself, before heading downstairs as well
I open the door to the dungeon and everyone turns to look at the late entry, who looks like she peed her pants before arriving. I keep my head down in response and sneak over to my seat, glad Mary has kept her promise. Still avoiding eye contact with anyone, I start to power up the workstation and organize my notes on the table, barely listening to whoever is presenting at the front of the room. I mumble under my breath to Mary how I’m not looking forward to this. She smiles, writing, “could be worse” on my notepad before poking me with her pen and motioning to the front of her room with her eyes. And that’s when I noticed the guy speaking.
He’s tall and handsome, with a muscular build and a silvery voice. I nod back to Mary because she has a point, but it’s not enough to make this torture livable. Then he points at something and his fitted dress shirt hugs his built frame and Mary pokes me with her pen again. Ok, maybe I’ll survive this, but I won’t enjoy it. Then he makes a joke about coding and I laugh a little too loud, mostly because only two other people in the room get it. He looks at me smiles. I am going to like this assignment… and 0040.
Over the next week Mary and I admire 0040 as he presents concepts for our team, and takes a stern stance when people who don’t know what they’re talking about try to demand changes. We really like his stern voice. We write notes back and forth debating if he gets his shirts custom tailored to fit the way they do and giggle over the charismatic way he commands the room during the one hour we get to all sit and have lunch together outside of the dungeon. I barely say a word to him the entire week because I see myself as a barely 20-something, unsuccessful worker drone.
It’s not until two days into the alternating week without meetings that I start to feel a little brazen. A conversation about the project between Mary and I quickly turns to gossiping about 0040. Mary thinks it’s amusing the way another of our older co-workers flirts with him. I noticed it, too, and it gets me thinking. I ask Mary how old she thinks he is and after bopping her head back and forth like she’s weighing the facts, she says “probably mid- to late- thirties. And he doesn’t have a ring.” She raises her eyebrows up and down suggestively before laughing. I laugh too. I know she’s kidding, and we’re not supposed to collude with vendors, but as you may have already figured out, I’m a sucker for a guy with a brilliant mind and a dose of charm. If he also has pretty eyes and a hot body, I’m a lost cause. 0040 has got it all and I decide what’s the harm in emailing him. Turns out lots, but we’ll get there.
I sit down at my computer that night with a glass of wine and type up an email telling 0040 how great his presentation was, including a few points I found interesting, and adding that I look forward to next week’s meetings. I hit send and then freak out at myself for doing it… even though I just spent an hour and a half composing it like it was the flippin Gettysburg Address. Before I’m even done with my panic attack, a response pops through and I get an even worse what have I done feeling. I look at my inbox for a good minute before opening the email. It’s a polite thank you for actually paying attention, and noticing the benefits of the points I mentioned in my email. He jokes that he thought he was boring me the first day and says he looks forward to next week as well. And then the kicker, he suggests we chat more about one of the topics over lunch that Monday or I can write him back about to discuss more. Now lunch is communal, so this isn’t an invitation to anything private, but it makes me jump out of my seat. Which option do I choose? Do I continue emailing, or hope he wants to sit next to me at lunch on Monday and smile at me again?
I have no patience (or self-control) so I email him back. And he emails me back. With each email of the course of the next few days there’s less talk about work and more sharing of personal information. He asks about what I majored in, and is shocked on grasp of what we’re working on since I don’t come from a programming background. I ask about his background and he shares in return. We talk about books and how we spend our time when we’re not slaves to our work. Two days out from our next week of meetings, we’re emailing about how much pressure there is presenting in front of a group. I’m surprised to find out that it makes him nervous since he seems so natural at it, and I share an embarrassing story about my first presentation at the company. I end it with the statement, “I’m sure I looked like a right fool.” He replies simply with, “I doubt that. I bet you looked adorable.”
I don’t reply right away, unsure of what to do. Do I say thank you? Do I go the factual route and argue I was in fact not adorable while about to vomit in front of a room full of people? Or do I flirt back? Because that was clearly flirting, right? Another email pops through, apologizing if he said something wrong and asking if he can call me. I look around my empty apartment like the furniture is going to tell me what to do, then reply sure with my phone number.
The ring startles me even though I’m expecting it, and it’s weird to hear him speaking directly to me. He immediately begins rambling an apology if what he said was inappropriate, then back tracks mid way and says, “I do think you’re very pretty that’s all.” I am dumbfounded, and being the ridiculous person I am I ask, “Are you sure you know which one I am?” He laughs and says, “Yes, the girl who came in with something spilled all over her the first day. Short, big brown eyes, crazy hair, and a sweet smile. You sit next to the lady that’s always pointing at me.” I die a little of embarrassment for Mary and her pointing, but only for a second because I need to process this conversation. “Still there?” he asks as my silence gets awkward, and never one to not makes things even more awkward the best response I can come up with is, “You’re not so bad yourself.”
We spend the next two hours on the phone talking about anything and everything that wasn’t covered in our emails, then do the same the following night. I find out he’s actually 20 years my senior, but it doesn’t phase me. He seems mildly concerned, but then that passes and we’re on to our common interest in Faulkner. When he hang up he says, “I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.” I feel the same way.
All week long, I enjoy having a secret from the others we spend all day in the dungeon with. No one seems to notice that he smiles at me a little more, that we’re suddenly talking at lunch, and that I keep biting my lip, my very cliche unconscious habit when I’m attracted to someone (and I almost didn’t share that fact because it’s THAT cliche). Each night we continue our marathon phone calls, and him being in the next town over talking to me from a hotel instead of from states away makes it even more exciting.
I’m legitimately sad at the end of Friday’s meeting knowing it’ll be a full week before he returns. I know I won’t be able to talk to him that night ’til he gets all the way back home, which makes it even worse. I also know that the way I’m feeling is irrational given that I barely know this guy, but not much I do is rational, so I accept it. When he finally calls me that night, he tells me he misses me already and I don’t find it weird or too soon, replying the same in return. He asks me if he can take me out to dinner the Monday he returns to town and I say yes giddly, ignoring the fact that dating someone from a vendor company is strictly against the rules. And the part where I barely know this guy. Did I mention that? I cannot mention it enough because it becomes very important to how things play out. But that’s a story for another day.
As Rebecca Wells so brilliantly put it, “There is the truth of history, and there is the truth of what a person remembers.” I’ll try to bridge that gap as I tell you the story of how I eventually figured out I suck at love. Come back weekly for new installments.