It will be mid-September when your friend says, “I have a guy I think you might like.’’ Tall, smart, athletic. Great family. She’ll tell you he looks like Kevin Costner in “The Bodyguard.’’ Costner, you’ll think. “Give him my number.’’

When he calls, you’ll like his voice. His easy laugh. There won’t be any gaping pauses. He’ll suggest dinner on Wednesday. You’ll say, “Sounds great.’’

You’ll be nervous when the doorbell rings. Relieved when you answer it. He’ll smile and you’ll be even more pleased because you love a man with good teeth. He’ll point to the farmhouse print above your mantel and tell you he likes it. “It’s a Georgia O’Keefe,’’ you’ll say. He’ll know who she is.

Dinner will be wood-fired pizza at a table for two in a well-lit restaurant with brick walls. He’ll rest his elbows on the table, his chin in his palm, and you’ll think, “nice forearms.’’ There will be conversation. Conversation good enough that you will order coffee even though you don’t want any. As you stir in the half-and-half, you’ll imagine him in a pair of baggy 501s and a crisp white shirt. His hair a little longer maybe. He’ll invite you to a jazz festival that weekend.

On your third date you’ll stop at a ski shop before dinner. He’ll try on a gray fleece Patagonia jacket and, because it does, you’ll tell him it looks great. He’ll flash you a grin and ask, “Do you think I’d ever get to wear it?’’ Your stomach will flip-flop. He has made a reference to The Future.

Between your third and fourth dates, you’ll run the Sacramento Marathon and think about him the whole way. At mile 18, you’ll pass up two burly buzz-cut Marines who will grunt in reply to your cheery hello and you will feel like you can run forever. You’ll run 16 minutes faster than you’ve ever run a marathon before. Take home a mug that says Third Place.

A sense of belonging

In mid-October, he’ll invite you to his family’s cabin at Tahoe for the weekend — with his dad. You’ll wonder about the sleeping arrangements. About how he explained your presence. But you won’t say anything. You don’t want to jinx it.

You and his dad will hit it off right away, and before you know it, the photo albums will be out. In every picture, you’ll look for him. That night, the three of you will curl up in overstuffed chairs in front of a roaring fire and watch a movie before going to bed. You will feel like you belong there.

The room on the left will be yours, the one on the right will be his. You’ll think about going into his room but you won’t because his dad is a wall away and because it would be the first time. You’ll fall asleep hoping he inches open your door.

The next morning, you’ll get up before he does and take his golden retriever for a run in the pine-scented, snow-dusted meadows. His dad will cook French toast and serve it on oven-warmed plates with soft butter, powdered sugar and warm maple syrup. You’ll think to yourself how easily you could fit into this picture.

You will start to wonder if he is The One.

Things will progress for a month. You’ll have him over to your sister’s for dinner and she’ll call the next day to say she liked him. He’ll mention that his mom and sisters want to meet you and you’ll be careful not to ask when. After a day of sailing with your friends, he’ll rub the back of your neck the whole drive home and you will try to stay on the road.

You will get to know each other better. Things will not be perfect. When you hang out with him and his roommates at his house, you’ll try to ignore that you don’t fit in there. That you feel older, somehow. They will tune their TV to “The Simpsons’’ with the same zeal you tune yours to “ER.’’ They’ll know the names and statistics of every Warriors player. Never miss a game. You’ll ask a friend, “Warriors are basketball, right?’’

At your house one Sunday, he’ll be grumpy and silent. When he backs his truck out of your driveway you’ll tell yourself the emotion you’re feeling is sadness. It won’t be. It will be relief. Another night, he’ll joke to a friend that he felt trapped at the dinner table at your sister’s house. You’ll smile. Pretend you’re fine. For three days you’ll let it stew, because you don’t want to face the possibility of him not liking the most important thing in your life — your family. When you finally bring it up, he’ll say he was only joking. That he thinks your family is great. You will vow not to wait three days next time.

Then . . . ‘Nothing’

In mid-November you’ll arrive at his house and he won’t hug or kiss you hello. Don’t over-analyze it, you’ll think. An hour later, you’ll be sitting beside him in a movie theater. His arms will be crossed. So will yours. You’ll stare at the 70mm screen and wonder what’s going on. After the movie, you’ll ask him. He’ll say, “Nothing,’’ and you’ll let it pass because you want it to be Nothing.

Your gut will know you and he are in different places. Want different things. But you’ll ignore your gut because you want to be in the same place as him. As someone. Because it has been a year-and-a-half since you broke up with a man with whom you shared your life for four years. Because you’ve dated a dozen men since then. Slept with two you did not love. Because you miss being able to finish someone else’s sentences. Stealing the covers.

On the drive back to his house, you’ll tell yourself, “We’re both just tired. Things will be better in the morning.’’

They won’t be.

The drive to the coffee house will be packed with silence. You’ll stare out the window the whole way. Finally, with lattes and no other choice before you, you’ll talk. He’ll say, “Things are going too fast for me,’’ and you’ll flinch when he says it because a little voice in the back of your head will be whispering, “You’re being dumped.’’

Out loud, you’ll say you’re looking for a serious relationship. He’ll say he isn’t sure what he’s looking for. It won’t be news to either of you.

You’ll agree to keep dating — whatever that means — but to stop acting like a married couple — whatever that means. You’ll think maybe you shouldn’t have gone back on The Pill that morning. Walking back to the car, you’ll hold hands and chat even though you’re pretty sure you just broke up.

In mid-December you’ll be at his house and you will take your duffel bag and the Christmas present he gave you the night before out to your car and put them in the trunk. Because he’s going to his family’s cabin for the holidays, he’ll say, “See you in a few weeks.’’ And you will know you won’t.

You’ll give him a hug, a quick kiss, and you’ll leave.

A need to be alone

Driving home in the rain, you’ll think about calling your sister and telling her everything, but you won’t. You need to be alone with it before you can share it and make it real.

Another part of you — the part that balances the checkbook — will tell you it’s a good thing it only took three months to figure it out. It took a lot longer last time. You’ll think maybe that means you’re getting better at knowing what you want, at admitting when things aren’t working, at listening to your inner voice.

And even though it won’t make you feel better, you’ll be right.

published sunday, march 9, 1997, in the san jose mercury news
copyright 1997 jessa vartanian . all rights reserved
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