“I’m not saying it didn’t mean anything. I am saying why does it have to mean everything?”
“Because it does, and you should know that better than anybody….”
That’s the crux of the scene between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan after they spend the night together in “When Harry Met Sally.” Therein lies a problem that I never addressed in a relationship I had. I dated someone who LITERALLY warned me that the nice things he did didn’t mean anything. And that I shouldn’t attach so much meaning to what he deemed common gestures.
I was given this speech initially after he deftly maneuvered to make sure I was walking on the sidewalk and he was walking closer to the street. It was lightly raining and he put an umbrella over my head and kissed me on the corner while the light was changing. Upon arriving home a few minutes later, he turned to me while I was still glowing from the kiss and our fun afternoon in the rain.
“I saw how you looked at me when I traded places with you on the street. It’s something I would do for anyone, but you looked at me like I had just given you the world. It’s not that big of a deal.”
First of all, I don’t think smiling at a classic gentlemanly gesture puts me in the same category as swooning dead away, I had thought to myself in irritation at the time. But as taken aback as I was by his overreaction, I let it slide. Things were still new. I was seeing other people — as was he — I didn’t see a need to make it an issue since I wasn’t overly invested. But things progressed (don’t yell at me). I stopped seeing other people. As did he. Gifts were exchanged on noteworthy dates. He surprised me with a bouquet of flowers in an airport when I flew to meet him on a work trip. He would call me to make sure I hadn’t slept through my alarm when he knew I was really exhausted. He would ask me about random things I’d never done and then we’d do them together. We were together on the “important” couple holidays.
“He really loves you,” my mom kept saying. With a certain authority I’d never heard her use about any of my boyfriends. It was true that I did feel like we had progressed from that phase where we hadn’t been serious about each other plus he had not ever repeated that statement. And yet his original disclaimer still circulated in the back of my mind and made me uneasy. I couldn’t be sure if maybe just my personal insecurity was at play, but his earlier words still resonated in a way as if he had really said, “I’m going to treat you like a girlfriend in every possible way but don’t you dare actually think you are my girlfriend, this way you can never accuse me of being a jerk. Even if I buy you flowers, tell you I love you, and plan surprises for you. It’s not a big deal.”
Looking back, I guess I should have asked. Broached the subject. But it feels a little awkward to say, “So when you had me paged at the airport and were waiting with a dozen red roses, looking genuinely excited to see me, how should I take that? Just as a casual meeting between friends? You just happened to have a credit to use at 1-800-Flowers?”
Back in high school I went to a couple proms and dances but I never got to go with a guy I really liked. You know “like liked.” No offense to the lovely guy friends who were wonderful dates and fun for dancing and hanging out and so gracious to say yes when I asked them to be my dates. But I can remember looking at the couples slow dancing and sometimes kissing on the dance floor and feel pangs of envy deep down that I was there with someone who was only going to high five me at the end of the night. I wanted to have that feeling like I was there with the only person I could imagine being there with and feel as content as those couples looked.