Thursday, October 05, 2006

To the men out there...

I thought I'd copy this week's article from Christianity Today's Singles email. I've seen too many people hurt because of this kind of thing and... well, Carmen states it well. Read away, if you care to.

Lead Me On
by Camerin Courtney
October 4, 2006

I tried to stop the disaster, really I did. It was like watching a movie and stage-whispering to the main character, "Don't go down to the basement." But the scene unfolds and the predictable carnage ensues. Unfortunately, I was the carnage. Or at least my heart was.

Of course there's a guy involved. His name was "Stan" and we met at a singles conference when he attended a workshop I was leading and stuck around afterward to chat more about all things single and Christian. We had similar opinions, and I liked what he had to say about faith and church.

In a surprise turn in the conversation, he mentioned that instead of attending the "official" conference social activity that night he was going to a hockey game—and he invited me to join him. I wasn't sure if this was a date or if he was just looking for someone to hang out with for the evening, but either way it sounded like fun, so I accepted. We met in the hotel lobby that night and enjoyed a nice night of frosty violence and dinner (both of which Stan paid for). The conversation flowed easily. Both being involved in singles ministry, we had a lot to discuss.

He called my cell the next morning and asked if I wanted to see a movie with him that night. I felt a small surge of giddiness as I told him that sounded like fun. More easy conversation followed on the way to the movie that night and at dinner afterward. We found more common ground in the fact that both our moms teach second grade and that we both love to travel and write.

When the conference concluded the next day, we parted ways by exchanging hugs and e-mail addresses. Stan mentioned driving from his home in Texas to visit me in Chicagoland sometime soon. Any question about his motives (were they friendly or more than friendly?) seemed erased. Surely two dates in two nights and plans to get together again soon meant I wasn't just this guy's newest buddy.

Within the next week, Stan e-mailed me to say hello and float out a possible weekend for his visit. His favorite football team, of which he's a rabid fan, was playing the Bears that weekend. Coincidentally, it was my birthday weekend. It seemed the perfect time for a visit, and we began plotting a whole Chicago adventure. Stan suggested getting dressed up and going into the city to see a show, and even offered to take me dancing on my birthday.

In the months leading up to his visit, we chatted on the phone about once a week, usually for an hour or two at a time. In between these chats Stan sent me occasional e-mails complimenting my book as he read through it chapter by chapter. In our communication, I found him to be intelligent, thoughtful, funny, and just the right level of snarky. I admired his high level of education and his heart for ministry.

Still, as his visit neared, I felt a twinge of doubt in my gut. What if I was reading the signs all wrong? The weekend he was visiting wasn't just my birthday weekend, it was a milestone birthday. My mind began swimming with a worst-case scenario of waking in an odd birthday funk, only to find my companion for the day—for whom I'd been pining for months—considered me a good pal. Afraid that might do me in, I sent Stan an e-mail asking about his motives for the visit. Was Chicago just a fun new road-trip destination or was this trip a smidge more relationally motivated? I told him "just friends" was okay if that's what he was thinking, but it would be good to know that before he came to visit.

I hit send on the e-mail and held my breath—only to exhale gladly when he called to say this was an intentional trip to see me, that meeting me had been a highlight of that conference weekend. He mentioned he wasn't sure how to date someone in another state, but I resonated with that uncertainty. I hung up reassured that we both viewed the weekend as testing the waters to see if it was worth trying to figure out how to inter-state date. I liked that it wasn't a sure thing (I mean, we'd spent only three days in the same state) but that we both seemed inclined toward romance.

After two days of driving, Stan arrived on my doorstep bearing gifts—a hug and a hat and t-shirt from "his" team. We grabbed dinner out, then I took him to the friend's house where he'd be staying during his visit. The next day we ventured into the city for Chicago-style pizza, a popular new museum exhibit, and my birthday dinner. The next day contained more sightseeing and our dressed-up night on the town.

As I'd found at the conference, Stan was uber-easy to hang out with. I felt comfortable in his presence, enjoying the conversation that was at turns intelligent, irreverent, and inspiring. But by Sunday's big game, I'd noticed a conspicuous absence in our interactions. Stan didn't flirt, he offered a curt "you look nice" when we got dressed up, and he didn't ever seem to stand near me when we were out in public. I felt like we were at the same place at the same time, but that we weren't there "together." And the first picture he took of me and of us was when I was decked out in full team regalia before we headed to the game. I'd known "just friends" was a possible outcome of the weekend, but I was getting the impression he'd already come to that conclusion before arriving.

Wanting to clear up my growing confusion while we were in the same state, I broached the topic at dinner after the football game. "So, did the weekend go the way you thought it would?" I asked as neutrally as possible as we dug into more Chicago-style pizza. "Yeah, it was great," Stan responded between bites. "I had a blast hanging out with you." Okay …

"Did it go the way you thought it would?" he asked in return, no doubt sensing my confused expression.

"Well, it went one way I thought it could," I replied, then proceeded to explain my confusion that he seemed to have already deemed us "just friends" when I thought this was more of an exploratory weekend. As we chatted, it became clear there was more than just a table full of food between us—there was a grand canyon of misunderstanding. Apparently Stan didn't believe in long-distance relationships and had seen this as a friendship from day one. "I told you I had no agenda," Stan repeated several times as we talked about our earlier phone conversation clarifying his motivation for the visit. I told him I honestly didn't remember him using those words—and wasn't that a bit vague anyway? Couldn't "no agenda" also mean he wasn't coming with a set "we're dating" or "we're friends" in mind, but that he was coming to explore where we were—which is what I thought we'd agreed upon.

After a bit more talking in circles, "you said" this and "but I thought" that, I sat there feeling foolish, realizing my worst fears had been realized. I'd just spent months of anticipation and planning … for a pal. A pal who was willing to drive two days to come see me, who wanted to share his favorite sport with me, who brought gifts, and suggested dancing and getting dressed up—but who didn't want to date me. And a pal who didn't seem to understand at all why I might find some disconnect between his actions and the words of friendship-only he was saying to me now.

Before we left the restaurant, I excused myself into the ladies room. I stared at myself in the mirror, dabbing a few frustrated tears with a rough paper towel, feeling a bit humiliated and more than a little led on. As I'd just told Stan, despite his surprise at my confusion, I don't think any woman in America would have interpreted his actions any differently that I had. I knew that on a head-level, but on an emotional level I felt foolish.

Stan and I paid for our dinner, then said an awkward goodbye as I dropped him off at my friend's house for the evening. He took off the next morning, and we haven't spoken since. In the days following his departure, my foolish feelings turned to anger. I replayed my interactions with Stan over the previous months and marveled at how this could all fall under the "just friends" definition in his mind. And I felt sad thinking we could have been good friends if he'd just communicated his thoughts on the matter from the get-go. I'm a forgiving person, but I wasn't sure how to move forward in friendship with someone who didn't understand what had been hurtful, and with whom I'd already shared at a deeper level than what I would with most opposite-gender friends. Mostly I felt sad that I was walking away from the whole situation a tad more jaded and distrusting of men—and that bothered me most of all.

As angry as I wanted to be with Stan, I honestly don't think he meant me any harm. Not that that lets him off the hook, but the realization did ease some of my anger. I was struck when I relayed the story to a few friends afterward and several of them shared similar stories of being led on—and usually by someone who didn't get it, and who was baffled that my friends had taken any sort of romantic implication from their actions. I'm beginning to suspect there's a whole genre of people who honestly don't understand that the rest of us ascribe meaning to certain gestures and actions, people who think if they don't feel and don't mention romance that we aren't supposed to infer it.

I'm hoping a few of those folk will read this and perhaps better understand what it feels like on this end of the equation. That they'll see that actions have meaning and that male-female interactions take clear and upfront communication. That if you're spending hours at a time discussing life, faith, singleness, family, and the future with someone of the opposite gender (especially if that person is female) and you haven't discussed being "just friends," I can almost guarantee you the person is thinking romance. And if you aren't, it's time for a talk.

I was also struck when a couple of my friends called me "so brave" for asking Stan where he was coming from—both in the e-mail before his visit and during dinner before he left town. In hearing them and in thinking back to how I've handled other situations, I realized it's tempting at times to live with ambiguity. Because let's face it, if you ask the "what does this mean to you?" question, you might hear a "I see us as friends." Sometimes it's tempting to live with a confusing status quo rather than risk a rejection. But I'm realizing that's just as deceptive and irresponsible as leading someone on. When we have romantic feelings and don't ever communicate them, we're also being deceptive and irresponsible with ourselves.

In walking through this little fiasco, I've learned that as disappointing as a "no" is, at least it's honest and real. And I can move forward from it. Which is exactly what I've done—by sharing this story in hopes of sparing others some similar pain and by walking into my next relationship that much wiser. And I know when that "yes" comes, from a man who approaches me honestly and with clear intentions, it will be that much sweeter.

Copyright © 2006

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