The logical thing to do was start dating.
We'd gone out numerous times, from drinks to movies to dinner and back again. On a physical level, she was very much my type. And she seemed to like me, at least enough to occasionally get naked in my presence.
For a while, in that nebulous period between college and true adulthood -- when you're underpaid and overworked and just trying to cover the cable and Internet bill every month -- it seemed like that might be enough.
But of course, it wasn't. This is not to slight her in the least; she was a very enjoyable and attractive young woman. But she wasn't what I was looking for; nor was I anything close to her soul mate. And in the back of our minds, where sweet logic that we didn't want to hear was whispered, we both knew this.
But it's easy to shut those little lingering voices up with wine, or mild drug use, or by closing yourselves off to reality and keeping busy. So that's what we did. We saw each other a few times a week, every outing as mildly pleasant as the last, and eventually forged a bond built on acceptance that this all was fine for now.
And it's not that dating for fun's sake is wrong; every relationship doesn't need to have the long haul as its end game. But to ignore this, or to realize the truth with great clarity but refuse to address it, can bring about a lot of strange and lonesome days.
I remember one happy hour with her work friends; it was clear from the moment we walked in the door that I didn't really feel like meeting them (and she didn't really feel like introducing me). But we went through the motions, smiling and sipping beers as if it were the most enjoyable evening in the world.
At the end of the night, she turned to me and said, "So I guess we should be a couple."
"I guess so," I responded. And there it was.
Fast forward a few weeks, and all my college friends are planning a night on the town. They want to meet my new lady, and I find this plan to be acceptable. I'm not sure if I want to show her off, but there doesn't seem to be much wiggle room.
So we head to my friend's place, and then to a bar. Drinks and witty banter are flowing freely, at least between some of us. She was clearly uncomfortable, and that made me unhappy. I recall trying to include her in the conversation, but I'm sure my efforts were transparent and forced. I drank heavily to compensate, and ended up extremely intoxicated.
Eventually, we left a bit early to head home. She made the very reasonable suggestion to get a cab; I disagreed. She pointed out that we were miles from our apartments and she was in very uncomfortable shoes; I demanded that we walk for at least a few minutes.
She rightly accused me of being a jerk. I wrongly, and loudly, accused her of being an idiot. She turned her back, got in the next cab, and left without me. I walked home at 2 AM, fully convinced I was in the right.
I woke up at about 11 AM, fully convinced I was in the wrong. I brought her flowers and apologized for being an asshole. She accepted my apology, politely asked me to leave a few minutes later, and broke up with me over Gchat the next day.
I never saw her again. Additional text message and email apologies, mostly delivered out of lingering guilt, were accepted but unremarked upon.
I was the bad guy; this is undeniable. I don't think I've ever been that directly responsible for the end of a relationship, before or since. But no less than two months later, I met the girl that I would end up dating for over three years. And I remembered that it's OK to aim high; that being young and confused about where you'll end up doesn't mean it's wise to ground yourself with any sort of unsatisfying anchor.
Every relationship is a learning experience, especially when they end with you screaming in the street.