The last time I went for a night out with Steve, he sent me a text afterwards saying, “I had the funniest time,” which I thought was absolutely lovely. Except then I read it again, and what he actually said was, “I had the funnest time,” and that was when I realised I could never see him again.
I am reminded of Steve only because I have had a text from someone who is not Steve, which I am reading as I pace about the kitchen.
“We should meet up soon!” it says, and I harrumph.
Meet up soon indeed! Oh, should we?!
“What’s the matter?” says my wife, and I explain to her I have received a highly offensive text.
I mean, look at the words.
“There is nothing to recommend this text!” I say, which I agree does not make much sense, until you look at the context. This text is from a credit-taker: a man always keen to suggest you meet up, but never keen to say when. A man who pops up and says, “We should meet up,” and then disappears like a thief in the night, taking with him all hopes and dreams of a meet-up, his pockets stuffed with the self-worth he gets from suggesting meet-ups he has no intention of arranging.
Just look at the state of that text.
“We should” – this is not a commitment!
“Meet up” – this is not an activity!
“Soon!” – that is not a time!
And the exclamation mark. Turns the sentiment into one of mere hope. Ends the conversation. It is like a conversational hit and run.
“He never comes back to me!” I say, and this is the nub of it: “He just wants credit for getting in touch! It is like he is doing friendship maintenance.”
I scroll up on my phone. It’s just vague suggestion after vague suggestion, broken up by responses from me like, “Sure! When’s good?” or, “Love to! You around next week?”
“It’s pretty much a real-world Facebook poke,” I spit, disgusted.
“Do people still poke?” asks
“Oh, people poke,” I say. “But you can ignore a poke. How am I supposed to respond to this text?”
I’ve got to write something back, because the suggestion is essentially a positive one. If I don’t reply, he will maintain the moral high ground. He’ll be able to be annoyed at me for not responding. “I suggested meeting up,” he’ll whine. “But you never came back to me!”
Oh, well, I’m coming back to you, all right.
“Yes,” I start to type, before my fingers bow to the pressure and I delete it.
Perhaps, I consider, he is afraid of specificity. Of being pinned down to a date. He likes to flirt with danger, darting over a calendar, dancing into phones, but always getting away just in time.
“You should reply in block capitals,” says my wife. “Just write: WHEN EXACTLY SHALL WE DO THIS?”
I frown at her.
“Have you gone insane?” I say. “Block capitals will suggest I’ve got a problem with him.”
I mean, I do. But I can’t tell him that. It would ruin our friendship. In essence, I would rather never see him again than tell him I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again. It’s the only way to stay friends.
“Or write something like ‘Sure’,” she says.
“Just ‘sure’?” I say. “It seems both lazy and passive-aggressive. And could be taken as sarcastic. Like I am saying, ‘Oh, sure we will meet.’”
Actually – it’s perfect!
“It puts the ball back in his court,” she adds, “but makes you seem distant, cool, unreachable.”
This is exactly my self-image!
Oh, this is going to be incredible. This is the lesson I should have been teaching him all along. By giving him a slight cold shoulder, I will intrigue him again. Perhaps excite him the way I used to. I will seem mysterious, aloof, desirable.
“Sure,” I reply, and I hit send.
Man, when I woke up this morning I did not think I’d be playing with fire this way!
And it works! Five minutes later, he replies!
“It’s him!” I say. “He says, ‘When’s good for you?’”
Could it have been this simple all along? Was I merely being too keen before? Was I crowding him, cramping his style, putting too much pressure on him?
“Next week?” I say, excited that finally – finally! – we are back on track!
Anyway, he didn’t reply.