Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Great Dating Disasters (5)

As with comedy, the secret of great tragedy is mostly in the timing.

When I was working in Toronto a decade ago, I was introduced through a mutual friend to a young actress/singer. I wasn't exactly smitten at first sight: she was a bit short for me, and girl-next-door pretty rather than drop-dead beautiful. Also, I learned early on that she had a steady, live-in boyfriend who was on the brink of becoming a fiancé, so any nascent romantic ambitions I might have had were being firmly held in check.

But... well, I met her several times over the next few months, and we got on rather well. I found it puzzling that the boyfriend was never in evidence. She was part of the cast of a long-running musical comedy revue, which I went to see 4 or 5 times (I love the theatre; especially when I'm getting comped!). We would sometimes go out for dinner or a drink after the show (never quite a 'date' - the friend who'd introduced us, or another cast member was always riding shotgun). There was never any sign of the boyfriend. I gathered he hadn't been since the opening night - that's not very supportive; but... yes, maybe he hated the show, or theatre in general. But not meeting her after the show - EVER - that did seem very strange (particularly as the guy was apparently unemployed, and thus not having to worry about being in bed before midnight). I sensed that all was not well in this relationship.

Yes, she was starting - in slow, sneaky, almost imperceptible steps - to grow on me. She was girl-next-door pretty, and rather bright, and vivacious and talented (she had a monologue in that particular show that was just brilliant) and amusing and... well, she was quite a package. Reddish auburn hair, too - always a bit of a weakness of mine.

And then - surprising no-one except her - her worthless boyfriend did a runner. Very abruptly, with no real explanation. She was a bit of a mess for a while. This didn't seem an auspicious time to be making a declaration to her myself. I didn't want to be just her "rebound". In fact, I think I'd pretty much decided - perhaps even before the breakup - that I wasn't going to pursue this because I was running out of time, I only had a few months left in Canada.

But I wanted to be a supportive friend, so I asked her out for lunch one day, to see how she was doing (I had one of those wonderful non-job jobs where I could skive off for a day almost any time I chose). We wound up spending most of the afternoon together in the Queen Mother Café, a well-known eatery on Queen St. - starting early with a light lunch and then just hanging around chatting, ordering some tea, chatting some more, ordering more tea and cakes. The talk flowed surprisingly smoothly: I prompted her to examine her emotional state, without, I hope, being too intrusive; and she talked quite a bit about the arsehole ex, without getting obsessive or overwrought. We talked about a lot of other stuff too: her past acting career, new plans for the future, favourite places to eat around town, and so on.

When she finally had to leave, she said brightly, but with evident surprise and relief: "Well, that was easy!" I think she'd been concerned about how pushy I might be in pressing my affections on her. She'd probably also been worried about how she would feel going out with a man alone, about how she would adapt to the single life and dating again after being in quite a long relationship. Yep, I think she had regarded our little lunch meeting as, kind of, a date - potentially some sort of romantic reconnaissance. And perhaps I'd made it so "easy" for her by not treating it as one at all!

But if it had been a 'date', it would have been hands-down the best one of my life. It had gone amazingly well. There seemed to be a rapport, a coincidence of interests... and a comfortableness together that I've seldom achieved even after much longer and deeper acquaintance with someone.

So.... the hell with "Maybe it's still too early for her". Never mind "I only have two months to work on this". I was going to ask her out again. And this time, it would most definitely be a date - and, hopefully, a decisive step towards initiating a relationship.

Dinner and a movie was the plan. But this one didn't go nearly so well. She seemed tense and unhappy. I fretted that she was having doubts about whether she was ready to go out with anyone else yet. It was worse than that - it transpired that the ex-boyfriend had just walked back into her life. In the most devastating possible manner. I shouldn't go into too many details, but suffice it to say that he revealed himself as one of the most feckless, duplicitous, manipulative bastards you could ever imagine, and even if I hadn't had a personal interest in the matter I would have been strongly inclined to take a metal pipe to his shins. In fact, it was probably only my personal interest that deterred me from doing so; I didn't want there to be any risk that mere jealousy was playing a part in my righteous rage against the scumbag.

Unfortunately, she was still in love with him, and vulnerable to many of his conniving little tricks. She was tempted to take him back, but knew it was a very bad idea. She was in emotional turmoil. I knew I had to back out of the way a little, until she got her head straight about all of this. I tried to let her know how warmly I felt about her, that I was there for her if she needed me - whether just as a friend and confidante, or as something more.

Things were looking pretty hopeless for me, though. The mess just dragged on and on, and kept on getting worse and worse. It broke my heart to see her so unhappy, but there was nothing I could do. It was perfectly understandable that she collapsed into an "all men are BASTARDS!" frame of mind for a while; but I fear I caught rather more of the fallout from that than the ex. The last time I tried to speak to her, she slammed the phone down on me - twice (though, I think, without even realising it was me at the time; she subsequently told me - in an explanatory but not really apologetic e-mail - that she had been in the midst of a climactic row with the not-quite-ex and couldn't bear any distractions.... alas, that, perhaps, is all I'd been to her all along: a pleasant distraction at first; but at the end, through no fault of my own, an unpleasant distraction).

And it had all spiralled into disaster for me, the situation transformed in a trice from a very promising prospect to a raging shitstorm, during that wretched Sunday evening date. Even the title of the film we'd chosen seemed to be making mock of me, pouring salt on my wounds; as I observed in an e-mail home shortly afterwards, "It's probably not a good idea to take a girl you are falling - inappropriately - in love with to see a film called Deep Impact." (One of those comet-strike-about-to-destroy-the-Earth films. Actually, not too bad - much, much better than the Bruce Willis vehicle Armageddon, which came out about the same time. I like to think that it may have played an important part in paving the way for Barack Obama's election, since Morgan Freeman made the idea of a black President thinkable - and desirable! - for the first time in a major film.)

There was a final corollary to this unhappy story, a real "Do I hear the distant laughter of God?" moment. In my last few weeks in Toronto, they started running a TV ad for the provincial lottery in which she appeared. It was shown a lot: it seemed to be on almost every time I switched on the TV - I must have seen it dozens of times in just a couple of weeks. A girl on a trolley-bus was about to check her scratch-card ticket and started fantasising about what she would do if she won. My heartbreaker was not playing the girl on the bus. They had got a similar-looking but slightly dowdier young actress to play her; no, my girl was playing the fantasy - beautiful girl driving an open-topped Ferrari. We only saw her from behind, wind streaming through her gorgeous auburn hair.... as she drove away.

Yes, yes, I get the message.

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