Mark Radcliffe reveals how breaking off a short-lived romance can hurt just as much as a long relationship.
First, be sure to have recently gone through a tough breakup. That way you’ll have no interest in meeting anyone new, which of course women can sniff a mile away and are insanely attracted to, especially women who are rising actresses and used to having men chasing them like rabid dogs.
Then, be on your way to meet an old friend for dinner to talk about said breakup. Better yet—make this friend a gay man, so your friend won’t be on the prowl either (at least not for women).
As you walk up to the restaurant, receive a text from your friend that he’s running 20 minutes late. Fail to notice that a young woman happens to see you approaching through the windows.
Being new to this restaurant, ask the hostess where you can grab a drink while you wait for your friend. She points you to the outside lounge off to the side. Walk in.
Notice immediately that the lounge area is empty. Except for one woman. Sitting alone. Reading a magazine. Casually note that she is annoyingly beautiful.
Grab a seat at the bar nearby her. Peruse the drink menu while trying not to notice her to the side. Admire her now not just for her beauty, but for the fact that she’s confident enough to sit alone in a restaurant—something you almost never see women do. And then you look at the magazine and realize she’s reading The New Yorker. In LA. Accord her another 10 points.
Finally succumb to the need to break the silence and ask what she’s drinking. It’s an off-menu drink, she replies, since the bartender’s a friend. (Another 10 points.) Try to get witty for a second, offering, “By the way—reading The New Yorker in LA? I think you can get arrested for that. You’re not supposed to be developing your mind out here, you know.” She’ll laugh, and will then turn fully around to engage in a conversation. She’ll acknowledge she’s from New York. Mention that you lived there once, too. When she asks about it, mention your brief stint in acting. When she asks why you quit, be honest and say the uncertainty was driving you mad, that you realized you cared more about the writing than the performance. Then realize you haven’t asked her what she does yet. When she tells you she’s an actor, turn an appropriate shade of red.
Ask her if there’s anything you’ve seen her in. She’ll like that you have no idea who she is—because frankly, you’ll later realize, you should have. She’ll cop to a few small roles, but completely hide the fact that she’s been the lead in major motion pictures, one of which was number one at the box office.
Resist the urge to ask her about her career and keep the conversation to New York vs LA, of which she has a lot to say. Let it finally occur to you that she might be waiting for her boyfriend to show up. But be OK with that, too. You’re not on the hunt, after all.
When your friend finally shows up and says our table is ready, be a little upset. But quickly try to figure out some way to stay in touch with her. Since it’s too soon to ask for a phone number, ask if she’s got a MySpace page or something (it’s 2007). She’ll laugh and insist no. Say it was nice meeting her anyway.
Your friend will soon ask who the hell that was and why you didn’t get her number. Insist it’s because your friend has lousy timing. But no worries: five minutes later a waiter will approach your table holding something in his hand, asking, “which one of you is Mark?” Raise your hand and receive a folded-up piece of paper. Let your jaw hit the floor when you realize she’s written her name and number and had it hand-delivered to you. Affirm aloud that you love LA.
A day later give her a call. End up talking for nearly an hour filled with more laughter and flirtatious energy than you’ve had since college. Agree to meet for a date soon. Decide on an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica.
Casually mention to your friends that you met an actress. Resist the urge to IMDB her. But you don’t have to, because your friends all know who she is, have seen all her films, and can’t believe you don’t know her. And by the way, can they come along on the date?
Try not to get nervous. Try to stay you. Try not to be yet another guy in awe of her success. Do not DVR any of her shows or watch her movies. Remember she’s just a person. Whose name just happens to fetch over two million hits on Google.
Go on the date. Have incredibly easy chemistry. Marvel at how well it’s going. Be even more impressed with her passion, her vivacity for life. Also note her amazing ass. Try not to get ahead of yourself.
Hear about her training at a school for the arts. Learn that she owes her genetic code to a combination of Latin and European DNA. Try not to drool when she speaks Italian with the waiter.
Listen to her gloss over a tough breakup six months ago. Go for a walk on the Santa Monica beach after dinner. Talk off your shoes and stroll by the water under the moonlight. Get into a playful fight where you throw seaweed at each other. Find yourselves strangely close and deliriously connected. Go ahead and kiss her. Nice and long. Even though it’s way too soon and you know it.
Wonder when the lights are going to go on and Ashton Kutcher is going to come out from behind a tree and tell you, “You’ve been punked.” (Again, it’s 2007.)
On the way to her car, walk across the grass. That way, when the sprinkler system comes on, you can pick her up and carry her across the wet grass while she laughs hysterically. Have more extended kisses at her car. Agree to do this again sometime soon. Walk home approximately 15 feet off the ground.
Have a second date a week later and laugh and smile just as much. A little less kissing this time—just to pace yourself.
Pick her up a week later at her house for your next date. Marvel at her house as she shows you around. Let her take you to her favorite restaurant this time. Raise your martini together to toast to her signing with a new manager. Take a first sip and marvel about how lucky you feel. Then it happens. Look across to her and see she’s suddenly turned to stone. She’s staring blankly at the door of the restaurant as if she’s just seen a ghost.
“Everything OK?” you ask her, when you know it’s not.
“Not really,” she’ll confirm. Wait a second for her to elucidate as she keeps staring.
“Someone you don’t want to see?” you’ll ask. But she’s gone now. Totally silent. You don’t want to look too, to avoid drawing more attention. Surely it can’t be the ex-boyfriend, you think. That’s too obvious.
But soon you realize it can’t be anyone else. It’s her favorite restaurant after all, where they probably once ate. Just as you defied all odds by even meeting her, you’re defying all odds again when her ex walks in. With the girl she caught him cheating on her with, you’ll later learn. The waiter will then sit them at the booth next to you.
Swing into action. Quickly get the check, pay for it and get her out of there, like rescuing a child from a burning house. You figure out a new place to go and get the car. (You’ll see a ’65 Mustang next to your car and comment “nice car.” It will turn out to be the ex-boyfriend’s, of course.)
On the way to new restaurant, she’ll have a minor breakdown as she confesses the whole story of how he broke her heart, betrayed her, and this was her first time seeing him again. Go into charm overdrive. Whip out all the chops. Offer to go back and challenge him to a duel. Offer to also drive back there, escort her in, stand at their table and make out for 20 minutes and then pretend to just notice him.
You will rescue the evening. She will soon be past the tears and be laughing again. Order her two martinis this time. Offer to call up your recent ex and have her show up at this restaurant just to even it out. Have a fantastic meal and fill her with happiness.
Find a nearby dive bar afterwards and fill up the jukebox with ten 80’s songs. Make out in a corner booth until she mentions she wants to go dancing. Dance with her right there. To Billy Idol. Decide that keeping this girl smiling is something you want to devote your life to.
Drive her home with the sunroof open, stopping at every light in downtown LA for far too long, making out under the moonlight once again.
Drop her off and silently congratulate yourself on a miraculous save. You did it, you think. You’ve pulled off the unthinkable. Receive a grateful text from her and a promise for a less dramatic date the next time.
Email a few days later about the next date. There are tentative plans, but she has to check her schedule. Try to avoid being nervous when suddenly she’s taking a little too long to get back to you.
After another few days, try her again.
Two days later she’ll call you back. There is something different about her voice this time. She’s more serious now—like a soldier who’s just returned from war, no longer viewing the world as a lighthearted place. She’ll tell you about the four days after the date, the 20 phone calls the ex made to her to apologize (yes, he saw you). She’ll tell you about her decision to change her number and file a restraining order against him. It will all seem pretty overwhelming.
And then she’ll tell you what couldn’t have seemed possible days earlier: that it’s all brought up a lot of anger for her, and made her realize she’s not ready to date just yet. And how she’s going to have to ask you to let her go. So she can finish processing it all. Maybe down the road she’ll be ready. But not now.
Swallow hard for a second. Then tell her how you feel sorry she’s had to go through this. And offer to just keep things mellow, that this doesn’t have to be a “relationship,” that there doesn’t have to be any pressure. You just got out of something yourself, after all.
But it won’t do much good. She’s already written the next act, has learned her lines by heart. Nothing about her sounds like she could be talked out of it. And you admire her even more for her conviction. You liked her because she was strong and independent when you met her. You can’t ask her to change now.
She’ll say she’ll get in touch when she gets back from a shoot in three weeks.
But she won’t. You’ll email her. Call her once or twice. But you’ll refrain from desperation. Barely.
A few months later, when she still hasn’t gotten in touch, she’ll suddenly be appearing on billboards all over the country for a new project she’s starring in. Friends you told about her will all be asking if you’re still dating her. You’ll fail to get back to them. Multiply this times six months as her show lights up the ratings.
You’ll think to yourself, it shouldn’t hurt this much. After all, it was just a few dates. But you’ll know that that kind of chemistry doesn’t come around too often. And while everyone talks about the heartbreak of long-term relationships that don’t make it, the short-lived ones can hurt just as much. A relationship that never gets to really spread its wings is not unlike a child who dies young; it’s the thought of what could have been that breaks our hearts the most—much more so than the relationships we actually got to take a good swing at. You can’t help but film out in your head how your lives together might have gone. Because at the time of parting—not a single bad thing had happened yet. It was all still perfect. And you’ll make the mistake of thinking it could stay that way forever. For a while you’ll swear that there must have been something else you could have done or said to bring her back. But in time, you’ll chalk it up to a really unsatisfying but ultimately appropriate answer: it was just bad timing.
And you’ll do the only thing you can: write a song about it. You’ll call it “Santa Monica Daze,” about the first night you spent together on the beach. Friends and fans will call it their favorite track.
A year later you’ll get back in touch. She’s engaged to be married now. You try to be happy. And sort of are, given that familiar passion you hear from her. You tell her about the song you wrote. She listens to it and replies back simply with:
And while it’s not much of a souvenir for something that once seemed so unending, you’ll take it. At least you know it was once real.
Originally appeared at Essays by Mark Radcliffe.