Never have I ever: Confessions of an unofficial Protestant nun
I must have read and reread The Text a jillion — or eight — times.
Was I really about to send this?
This is stupid.
I need clarity.
Ignorance is bliss.
As soon as my inner dialogue starts pulling out clichés, there is only one thing to do. Seek out wise counsel. I texted my accountability partner.
How you be? I’m good but pondering something probably stupid. Tell me no!!!
I awaited her, “Kim, think this through.” Or at least a, “Could you please clarify?”
Nope, three hours later she texted back, “Hey sorry — had my late acting class tonight. But, I’m saying ‘yes.’ ”
YES? Did she not see the three — count them one, two, three — exclamation points after the “no”? I felt the blood drain from my head and my pulse race. She had yet to let me down, and we had talked enough that I figured she had an inkling of the cause of my stupidity.
It was after midnight so The Text would have to wait.
The next day I read it again, checking for grammar, adding caveats, praying to be struck by lightning. When I was sure it was as sound as I could make it, I took a deep breath and touched the send icon.
I saw the text balloon pop up on my phone and about died. I couldn’t take it back now.
For the first time in my life, I asked a guy out. And in a text no less. I’m so Twenty-Sixteen.
I ran every response I could think of through my head. The text notification knocked. My breathing stopped, my heartbeat pounded in my head. It turned out it was a group text asking about joining the gang for lunch on the weekend. I couldn’t tell them that it was possible I would be dead from heart failure before then, so I texted back, “Sounds great.”
As the lunacy of the situation began to settle on me, I wondered, how did I get here?
* * * *
There are several amazing things that happened during my childhood. There are a few not so great. And then some that shaped me as a person.
Moving eleven times before the eleventh grade did a couple of things for me. It kept me at the top of my game when it came to making quick friendships. It put me at the bottom of the social ladder every time. This wouldn’t have been too bad if three of those moves didn’t include three different high schools.
While many people say that junior high was extremely awkward, I didn’t do too badly. It was the longest I’d been at any one school, and the cute boy on the bus asked me to be his girlfriend. We were the lone four-foot-eleven-inch eighth-graders on our thirty-minute school bus ride, so it was mitigating factors (not so much the urge to date) that saw us sitting together. He asked me to the winter dance — my parents drove us there, his brother brought us home.
After Christmas break, we decided we could sit with other people on the bus. There were no tears because there had been no emotional investment. I was focused on playing sports, and although boys were cute and all, I was twelve-years old and had all the time in the world.
My freshman year was full of highs and lows on the basketball court. And thanks to my dad, I suddenly found myself being “one of the boys” as the wrestling team adopted me as its mascot. During wrestling season, the team took Home Ec to ensure a high enough grade-point average to be eligible to compete. I was in the class because I was a freshman girl. During the lesson on various cuts of meat — yes, this was a section in my book — my dad, who was a butcher at our grocery store, brought a quarter section of a cow to class and cut it into various types of steak. The wrestlers were super impressed, and when they found out he was my dad, I was suddenly one of the guys.
This gave me insight into male behavior and odors, neither of which were really exciting to this now thirteen-year-old. I learned how to hold my own in conversation and a handful of curse words and anatomical expressions.
Being in with the wrestlers in a small Midwest town where grapplers were king, put me near the top of the social ladder. Granted as a freshman, I was the lowest of the upper-rungs, but it was a nice view.
We moved my sophomore year, and not only was I suddenly back down at the bottom of the ladder but also I was going through physical therapy and unable to play sports. I saw no way for upward mobility. I had older cousins at the school who provided me some traction, but I felt out of sorts. I was noticing boys more and starting to be attracted to some. However, a large number of the boys chewed tobacco, which was disgusting on so many levels.
My junior year we moved back to California, and I attended a small private Christian school in San Jose. It didn’t take long to realize the reason I hadn’t fallen for any guy yet was because I was waiting to return to my home state of young, tan and handsome. It was very good to be home.
Although I was back to the bottom of the ladder, I made friends quickly and soon had made a niche for myself. Like most small schools, everyone is pigeon-holed — the smart one, the cute one, the sporty one. It was not hard for me to figure out who was who and where I fit in to the mix. Making the adjustment from a public to a private school can be a bit tricky. Add to that that I suddenly found myself developing my first real crush, and I was in unchartered waters.
As the Funny One, I should have known that the Cute One was off limits. But he was also the Sporty One, and the one who was easiest for me to talk to about life. We had great talks about a lot of things. It usually started out with the Dodgers, transitioned to TV or film and then settled on relationships. I shared things with him that I’d never told anyone else. He shared some of his secrets and dreams with me. Those eyes, that smile and those stories made me like him more.
Then one day as we transitioned from movies to relationships, he told me that he had been wanting to ask a certain girl out for a long time. She was my best friend. He wanted to know if I’d be willing to help him and put in a good word with her. I was hurt but reminded myself that the Cute One doesn’t go with the Funny One.
They got together. We all stayed friends. It wasn’t a bad junior year. We saved that for the end of our senior year.
When our final year began, all seemed OK. I had worked my way up the social ladder. In a twelve-person class, it’s not really much of a climb. I also learned that people who are in relationships either ignore everyone else or feel compelled to fix up everyone they know. There were other very nice guys in my class, but I wasn’t attracted to any of them, and I didn’t want to go out with someone just for the sake of going out. That seemed odd and a waste of time and money. My friends tried to set me up. I kept my time and money.
As our senior year came to a close, a lot of craziness came to a head. To this day I don’t know exactly what happened — I don’t really want to know — but I know that it caused a lot of pain to my friends. There was a breakup, but I was able to keep both my friends in the separation. Whatever the drama, it was quickly forgotten by my seventeen-year-old brain as summer rolled through and found the Cute One and me spending more time together.
It was similar in that we talked sports, entertainment and relationships, but the tone seemed much more serious. After all, we weren’t in high school anymore. Our topics of conversation sometimes included far-flung fantasies of running off together to Vegas or were filled with large amounts of innuendo. If I had dated a guy before and put my heart on the line, I may have started to put my guard up about now, but I hadn’t, so I didn’t.
As California kids do, one weekend we headed to the beach with a bunch of our friends, swam in the ocean, had a bonfire, and sang songs. There was a moment — like in the movies — when the sun was setting and we were alone. Talk again turned to running away together, and this time instead of just laughing it off, I countered with, “OK, let’s do it.” This time he laughed, but it started The Talk. What the heck are we doing? Basically, we settled on the status quo. While I don’t remember a lot of the conversation, I remember he said he wasn’t ready to have another girlfriend, he needed time. This only stuck with me because when I saw him at another function a week later, he was introducing an amazingly beautiful tall, slender woman as his girlfriend.
Granted it is highly possible that in those seven days he had a massive change of heart. However, my take away was much different. It wasn’t that he wasn’t ready to date, he just wasn’t ready to date me. I was too short, too plain, too fat, too boyish. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. The one guy I had shared my heart with. I had told him things no one else knew. If he couldn’t see me as dateable, no one could.
I threw myself into my work and college, which was good because college required me to actually open textbooks. I started wearing extra baggy clothes. I was happy to talk sports and action films with guys but nothing much else. I gained weight, which became my mental excuse as to why guys didn’t ask me out. While the weight didn’t help, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend time with me either. I had lost my confidence.
With each passing New Year’s and Valentine’s where friends talked about first dates and first kisses, I slunk further down the ladder. For a while I was burrowing a rather neat hole under it. I was the worst John Hughes film never made. I had two Never Have I Ever aces in my pocket that I never played because I’d rather lose the game than admit my lack of experience.
As I started my career as a sports reporter, I found myself in an odd situation. I was literally surrounded by guys of all ages and types. There were only a handful of women in the newsroom and that number dropped even more as you made your way back to the sports section. I learned a lot about reporting from my male counterparts and gained insight into what they thought about women during our after-hours debriefings at Denny’s at two in the morning. In addition, it became clear that the long hours and weekends full of games made it hard to have a life outside of reporting. There were plenty of examples of success and failure in our newsroom. Coworkers and dating seemed questionable, the payoff didn’t seem worth the risk.
On the other hand, my chosen profession caused a few raised eyebrows at church — the one place I know my parents were hoping I was looking. The problem was that no “good church-goer” wanted to date some “liberal do-good” journalist. Guys would typically tell me they thought I had a great job and then wonder about the condition of my soul.
I threw myself into the one thing that I seemed good at, writing. I slowly moved up the ladder until I landed as the sports editor for The Davis Enterprise. Being a female sports editor put me in some very rare air and opened doors for me in a national organization which allowed me to travel all around the United States and meet some very amazing people. I had finally found a perk to being female.
Although I loved being a reporter, being an editor slowly wore on me, and I left the newspaper business. (Since I’ve returned to the desk twice, I now think of this first leaving as a sabbatical.) I found myself charting a very different course as I signed up to teach in China. The move was more than physical, it was emotional, spiritual and mental. I was in a new place surrounded by people who didn’t know me from Adam. I took this opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone, to challenge myself on who I thought I was versus who I wanted to be. These strangers quickly became a safe haven as I grew and regained my confidence. I lost weight. I learned to dance. I performed in front of thousands of people. I traveled by myself. I started flirting. Guys flirted back. Fear started to creep back into my thoughts. It’s one thing to flirt; it’s another to take the next step. A step that continued to elude me and my two left feet. I stuck with my unofficial: no dating co-workers policy. (Which no one was asking, but it seemed important to have in place.)
After five years overseas, I returned to California and journalism. I was once again surrounded by amazing people who encouraged me and supported me. But this time, I had an extra confidence all my own. I did my best to ensure the life lessons I learned in China would carry over in the States. Once I got over my reverse culture shock, I moved to Los Angeles — the perfect place for me to see how confident I really was in myself. (So far I’m doing well.) I found old friends, made new friends, found work, secured an apartment, and had a co-worker make unwanted advances. After years of guys ignoring me, this threw me for a major loop. I explained his actions to a couple of my trusted girl friends, who confirmed this was beyond the normal co-worker interactions. After I started Heisman-ing his attempted moves, he seemed to get the idea that this was not cool, and we have settled on fist-bumps.
When talking to one of my friends, she asked me if there was any way I would go out with him. I told her, “No.” He seemed like a nice guy but not really what I was looking for. She asked me what I was looking for in a man, and I proceeded to rattle off a list and randomly at the end added, “like my friend, so-and-so.” And then it hit me, I had fallen for my friend. I had known him for years, but since I had returned to the States was able to see other sides of him, to talk with him more and learn his story. His character, integrity, loyalty and sense of humor were all top notch, and it didn’t hurt that he was cute.
I didn’t think too much of it because in my mind he was an eight, and I maxed out at a five on a good day. But feelings are tricky things, especially if you haven’t dealt with them a lot. It was similar to when my hand was in a cast for more than a month. When my digits were finally free, they were suffering from atrophy and it took a few days to get them back up to speed. I was going to need more than a few days for my heart and head to work things out. So, I shoved the feelings back and moved forward like always.
Fast-forward to July 4. I was sitting with friends on the roof of an apartment watching fireworks at the Rose Bowl. A friend brought up seeing fireworks in New York City, and I commented that I’d never been to NYC, but it was on my bucket list. This apparently was unfathomable to one of my friends who had pretty much booked our entire trip before the smoke cleared. It all happened so fast and was much easier and way more painless than I expected.
On the drive home, I started to ponder other things on my bucket list: visit all the continents (two down, five to go), visit the fifty states (Alaska, you’re next), scuba dive… I purposely avoided the top two because having a first date and first kiss were funny — perhaps cute — when you’re in your late twenties but they seemed ridiculous — perhaps pathetic — when you’re closing in on fifty. They popped back into my head. I shoved them down. He popped into my head. I shoved him down.
I can live without a lot of things in my life but clarity is not one of them. My brain will latch onto a thought and won’t let it go until I act on it. As a writer, this helps me hit my deadlines. As a person, this just causes a lot of confusion as I slowly lose the ability to focus. I found myself wondering if he would actually go out with me. I found myself in cold sweats at the idea. It seemed safer to sign up to be one of the first to move to Mars.
In all of my wondering, two thoughts landed in my brain: What if he was involved with someone? What if he said no? In all our conversations, I had never asked him about his dating life or possible lack thereof. I also figured if I — who am amazingly socially stunted — could see his qualities, certainly others had and therefore, more than likely, he was dating someone. On the other hand, based on our conversations and watching him interact with others, I calculated that even if he wasn’t interested he would be kind in the rejection.
I had been successfully painted into a corner by my own brain, which now had to know the answer to the questions it posed. My need for clarity and the slight hope of a yes, overrode my fear, and I started to formulate The Text. I did my best to keep the tone light, explaining the Fourth of July bucket list moment, and that I had two things on the list that I was wondering if he’d be willing to help me mark off. Before going forward, I gave him an out — if you’re involved you can stop reading and just text back, sorry I’m taken. I continued to then explain how I didn’t think my eighth-grade dance encounter counted as a first date and was wondering if he’d like to go out with me. I proposed a few options and then added I hoped this wasn’t too weird and that no matter what I wanted us to still be able to chill as friends. As a final addendum, I noted that if his answer to the above was “no” it would render my second item moot and therefore remained unnamed.
I read and reread for clarity, for grammar, for time. My accountability partner said, go for it. My brain said, send it. My heart said, nothing to lose. I hit send.
* * * *
It felt like eons before my text message alarm knocked. My breath caught. It’s possible my heart stopped. It wasn’t him, but I now had lunch plans for the weekend.
A few minutes later, the text alarm sounded again. I could see his name at the top of my phone. I wanted to read it. I didn’t want to read it. It was very much like when my final grades came in from Sacramento State. I needed a C in my American history class to fulfill my minor and graduate. The class had been kicking my butt, and although I worked weeks on my forty-plus-page final, my professor was known for being extra critical. I remember pulling the paper out of the envelope. I slipped another paper on top and slowly slid it down to read class by class. It was the third class listed, and I was ecstatic as I moved the paper to reveal a B. It felt like an A. I jumped for joy and felt an overwhelming pride in my accomplishment.
There was no jumping for joy after I read the text. He was involved with someone. He added that while that meant he could have stopped reading, he read the whole thing. He was extra kind in his let down, even acknowledging my courage for writing it in the first place. I had put my heart out there and he treated it with kindness and handed it back intact. While I wasn’t overwhelmed with pride, I knew I had accomplished something. I had taken a step that I never saw myself taking. Sure it was shaky, but it was a step forward.
I’m concentrating on bucket list items I can accomplish on my own for awhile. I had a great time in October with my friends exploring NYC for the first time. I saw the Statue of Liberty, “mastered” the subway system, took in a Broadway play, and fell in love with the Chrysler Building. I walked in the footsteps of immigrants at Ellis Island and stood silently next to the gaping 9/11 Memorial. It was an amazing whirlwind of four-and-a-half days.
I haven’t given up on the idea of dating, but right now there isn’t anyone on my radar. (If for some reason, he were to be free in the future and ask me out, I’m ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure I’d say, yes.) Then again maybe this step will speed up my next encounter. Based on my previous timeline, I should be ready for my second try when I’m sixty-five, eighty at the latest.