Red Light

For what it’s worth, I text her, I love you.

That’s a huge milestone for us. We’ve been together for about four months now, and that entire time I struggled to decide if those words were the right words to use. I didn’t want to say them until I was certain I had gotten over everything that happened when we were teenagers. She was using them right out of the gate.

She texts back a single word: Don’t.

Okay. That’s fair, I text back, defeated.

I head over to The Ram In the Rye, a Ryerson University pub I’ve been invited to by my friend. Tonight they’re hosting a traffic light party. Party goers wear red if they’re in a relationship, green if they’re single, or yellow if it’s “complicated” (in other words, if they want to seem interesting). I’m wearing a maroon shirt, the closest thing I have to red clothing. I think about how I have so many green shirts and sweaters I look way better in. I meet up with my friend who’s standing in line to get in, wearing a white and green striped shirt.

I’ve known this guy since high school. So has my girlfriend; she actually had bit of a crush on him before we dated. While my first instinct when I reflect on that is to be upset, I’m not. As another friend of mine puts it, this guy has nerd muscle. He has a combination of computer-science-major geekiness, theatre-kid humour, and health-nut fitness that I wouldn’t blame anyone for being into. Although, I still made a mental note long ago to not introduce new girls to him if I like them.

We get inside the pub. Surrounded by an equal amount of reds, yellows, and greens, I realize how much those colours clash. I also realize that my friend and I are the odd ones out, as everyone else has really dressed up for this event. Most of the greens have recycled St. Patrick’s Day gear to wear tonight. I can see some yellows in headbands and full tights, like Power Rangers who work part-time as fitness instructors. The only people who aren’t imbued with the spirit of the party are, as expected, the people donning plain articles of red clothing.

Other than the traffic light theme, it’s a standard university party at a university bar. As in, it takes forever for us to get our drinks. While we wait a group of lanky “bros” loudly sing the melody — not the lyrics, but the actual synth melody — from Avicii’s “Levels”. My friend and I struggle to not laugh aloud. We joke about how everyone else is weird and hopped up on their own youth. Our pretentiousness means we’re putting no effort into actually meeting anyone like we always tell ourselves we will, but, we’re having fun.

I wonder if she’s having fun in Halifax. She’s out on her own, surrounded by people her age who I’m sure are excited to also be on their own. Is she excited?

I want to text her and tell her that I’m sorry I waited until we were stuck in this shitty long distance relationship before saying I loved her. I want to ask her to not be mad at me for only saying it via text after a stilted conversation on Skype. I want to tell her we can work things through because I feel less lonely in places like this when I know I still have her, even if she’s hours away.

I keep my phone in my pocket, not bothering to check it or to text her. My friend and I head out to the dance floor. Looking at the crowd I decide, hey, these people are here to meet other people. I might be spoken for (although, for how much longer I can’t be sure), but I can try my hand at playing wingman for my buff nerdy friend.

I spot a blonde in a green dress dancing near us. Without explaining anything to my friend, I approach her.

“Hey,” I start to ask, “I know this is weird, but would you mind –”

She looks me up and down. She thinks I’m asking her to dance. She starts shaking her head “no” in a way that’s borderline aggressive, like she’s mad I even bothered to ask. I’m taken aback. Am I that off-putting? I expect a girl to say no when I ask her to dance, but not to look at me like I asked her to join me in drop-kicking puppies.

I forgot that I’m wearing my maroon shirt.

“… uh, would you mind dancing with my friend over there?” I finish my question and point over to my friend. She looks him up and down and smiles wide. She nods enthusiastically, giving me a look as if to say, Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Of course I’ll dance with him! She goes over to my friend and pleasantly surprises him by proceeding to turn around and grind on him.

I stay off to the side, dancing and taking sips of my pint while trying to shake off the weird feeling of unexpected rejection.

Way It Was is a writing project and ongoing attempt to work through a lot of relationship related shit. Find out more about it here.

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