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What I Should Have Said

Jimmy and I kissed last night. A lot. And it was good. But that’s a story for another time.

This is the story for the next day, when we were both at work and spending all our time messaging each other via Google Chat (remember that?) from our respective offices, rather than doing our jobs. And I guess it says something about our jobs that it genuinely didn’t matter whether we were doing them or not.

When I arrived early to work, I was running on the kind of adrenaline that flows like electricity through your veins, leaving you painfully and gloriously aware of every inch of your own body. I’m sure I drifted off to sleep throughout the night, but only briefly in the moments between reliving the evening, start to finish, over and over like a short film until it was burned into my brain. It actually happened, the moment of mutually debilitating passion that I had been waiting for since I started sneaking romance novels out of my grandmother’s house in middle school. Finally, the rest of my life was about to start.

He was excited about it, too. I know that much for sure. We texted after he left, and he gave every impression that he was as giddy as I was. I had wanted him to kiss me for so long, and even though the signals had been conspicuous as hell, I never let myself fully believe that he had wanted it too. Last night he told me - showed me - how wrong I was.

All of that is to say, a lot of our conversation that morning was just sexy small talk, the specifics blurred in my memory over time until all I really know for sure is how it made me feel. 

What I do remember clearly is when we started talking about what it meant, and what our next steps should be. (Would more mature adults have had this conversation in person, outside of the office? Absolutely. But if we open the door to all the “what ifs,” I’ll die before I finish telling this story.) He had just ended a long-term relationship, he reminded me, and he wasn’t ready to jump into another one or start calling me his girlfriend. Of course, that makes perfect sense. I have no desire to rush into anything. I just like being with you. Any time, anywhere. 

He also didn’t think we should tell anyone at the office about it, at least not right now. His career was really important to him, and everyone at MOA was so gossipy and in each others’ business (the unintended effect of hiring thirty young professionals purely based on their youth and sociability). Of course, that makes sense too. I didn’t need to be answering questions from coworkers about something that just started, and as a twenty-six year old in her first real job, I wouldn’t even know how to begin disclosing it to our superiors.

Well, I confessed, I do think Ryan already knows. He’s been around us enough to see what’s been going on. And when he asked me this morning how the rest of my night was…well, let’s just say I have a terrible poker face. (It’s important to know that he laughed at that. Or more accurately, he “haha”d at that. My terrible poker face even became a running joke between the two of us.)

So we agreed.


that’s not actually what he said. From a decade and seven hundred miles away, I can see it all more clearly. What he said was, I don’t want to be in a relationship with you, and I don’t want anyone to know that we’re spending time alone together. I just want to talk and flirt and fuck, in secret. I want to act like your boyfriend and get all the benefits of being your boyfriend, but I’m adding a clause to the boyfriend agreement that says you can’t acknowledge its existence, and I can void it at any moment. When that happens, you’re not allowed to be upset about it, and you’re not allowed to share that experience or any of your feelings with our friends. If you do, I get to call you crazy, and everyone will agree.

Tragically, what I said in response looks exactly the same from over here as it did in the moment. Of course, that makes complete sense. I just want to be with you. Any time, anywhere.

Here’s what I should have said: Absolutely the fuck not. I am falling in love with you, you are falling in love with me, and this is not how adults in love behave. I am ready to give my whole self to you, risk my heart to build something real, and I will accept nothing less in return. Dating a coworker can be tricky, but I am brave and confident enough to know that I can manage a relationship and continue to kick ass at my job. If you’re not, then you have a tough choice to make. And you need to make it today.

But the young are often hard of hearing, and I didn’t quite catch what he said, so I didn’t give the correct response. And what followed was a relationship in which the people involved had irreconcilable definitions of what they were getting into. He was flirting with something deep without the risk of complication, and I was handing over my heart. He was scratching an itch, and I was losing my virginity. He was rebounding, and I was taking my shot.

It was one of hundreds of times when I responded to what I heard him say, rather than what he actually meant. So much time has passed that I probably shouldn’t be angry about it anymore, but I am. I probably shouldn’t blame him, but I do. I snuggle up with that resentment like a warm blanket, comforted by the evidence of my own growth while wallowing in the cozy sorrow of what could have been.

And I do wonder. If I had said the right thing, in the right moment, how things would have turned out. If I could have subbed in 36-year-old Carolyn, seeing that 26-year-old Carolyn was in over her head, could she have saved it? Would it have ended before it began? Or would it have been everything? 

More to the point, I guess, what am I mishearing now?


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