Caught In That Space Between
Well, here we go. My first installment in a series of blog posts I've been mulling for... probably since the second I was born. Kidding. But definitely for a few months now. And with each letter and word that piles on, the colder my feet get both literally (it's two days before Christmas in Maine) and figuratively.
I'm generally guarded about my inner-world. I've worked hard to exude what some might see as extroversion, confidence, and resilience. But really I'm soft and squishy on the inside. I wear my heart tucked just under the sleeve and slightly out of sight.
And I'm sure many introverts, especially fellow INFJs, feel this way. In many ways, we want to be understood. But in many ways, we don't. Being understood brings with it some level of comfort. But being understood also brings some level of discomfort.
Every cheesy or soppy or sentimental thought. Some whimsical urge or impulse. A well-crafted haiku or pleasantly composed tune. These simplest of things are under lock-and-key and hidden away in the vaults of ones heart; guarded like life-and-death secrets.
So imagine how guarded I would be about more complex and intricate matters like that of the heart. In fact, as I continue to write this preface, the probability of my ending this increases as this intro of sorts becomes a means by which I put off writing about how my dating life sucks.
But to modify the sage wisdom of Dory in Finding Nemo, "Just keep [typing]."
MY DATING LIFE SUCKS, CHAPTER ONE: CAUGHT IN THAT SPACE BETWEEN
Was that a date? Or was it a platonic outing?
Those were the thoughts rolling through my head as I settled into bed on a Saturday night a few weeks ago. The unsurety (the annoying red underline says this is a typo, but I assure you, I just googled it and it is indeed a word and not my brain making up stuff) of it all weighed heavily on my mind.
That all-too-human sense of something new but uncertain was pulsing through my mind, through thoughts, and body, by blood.
He's cute. Duh. And crap. It's getting harder to write this because there's a chance he'll see this. But channeling my inner-Dory, I must power on and keep typing.
But as I sat in the table by the window of Sichuan Kitchen, half-steeped in contemplation of the snow and passersby on the street, my heart seized as I noticed that he was just arriving and probably noticed me with resting seemingly-bored-but-just-thinking face (or RSBBJTF for short).
The entrance was immediately to my right, shielded by a heavy curtain that mitigated any cold drafts coming from the door, so I stood and prepared to greet this new soul in the flesh - as is custom.
Thinking of it now, it seems sort of theatrical the way I parted the heavy curtains and unwittingly and simultaneously greeted him with open arms. He pressed in for a short hug, which seems to be standard for gay men but, nonetheless, I took it as a good first sign. No awkward handshake? Check.
We proceeded to sit down and we chit-chatted about the snowy weather and how it made the commute slightly treacherous. Then I turned to the menu and launched into a soapbox about how Sichuan Kitchen was a unique asset to Portland's foodie scene, offering up authentic Sichuan-Chinese cuisine with only a touch of trying to appeal to the American palette. And as I explained the nuance of the Sichuan peppercorn and its mouth-and-mind numbing effects, we both discovered our mutual love of spicy food. Another good sign.
Despite being an introvert, I'd say I'm formidable one-on-one. And proof of that is my nagging habit of doing too much talking and not enough looking at the menu and deciding what I want. As evidenced by the number of times the waitress had to give me more time to look the menu over again.
As the meal progressed, we talked about how we both had recently come back to Maine. And I relished in having that connection as we dove into what drew us back here. We talked of traveling to other places and seeing new things. We talked about our mutual interest in politics and doing good in the world.
We talked about what cities we had visited as well, which had weaved out of our discussion of the pros and cons of living in Portland, Maine. And he had mentioned that despite living and visiting in a lot of these cities, he hadn't found what made him happy. Of course I knew he meant "happy" in terms of what a city offered in terms of quality of life.
"Do you have an idea of what will make you happy?" I asked, immediately regretting my choice of words. I had meant to ask what in a city or place could make him happy. But the way I had phrased the question made it sound like I perceived him as not being happy... which, to an introvert (he is an introvert), is an unsettling question. I know because, again, I'm an introvert.
I could see how the question was unsettling to him and I regretted my poor choice of words again. I just hope to God that he didn't have a checkbox next to "Chooses Words Unwisely" and had slashed a big red X over it.
But fortunately I recovered and dove into what pastimes or hobbies we have to help tone down after a long day. Luckily, both of us like gaming. Another good sign. Albeit, different games but games nonetheless.
All in all, the first... encounter left me wanting to know more. Which, in my book, is a good sign. As I am sure is the case for every other human being. Who would want to know more about a horrible date?
After dinner, we walked out and toward his car across the street. He had mentioned that he and his roommate had plans that night so I didn't press him to see if he wanted to accompany me to the bar. Surprisingly, he had asked what my evening plans were and I divulged him of this, which seemed to pique his interest and I SOOOOO wanted to ask if he wanted to come with but I also wanted to respect that he had mentioned he already had plans with his roommate.
I'm not entirely sure if that sentiment gave off a vibe of "I don't want you to come with me" or not but I followed-up with an olive branch.
"My friend and I are going to see Star Wars next Friday if you want to come with us," I threw out.
His eyes flickered. Or maybe that was just the headlights of the cars passing by. Or both. Regardless, he expressed interest and we sketched out some rough plans to see the Last Jedi.
Flash forward a few days and I had texted him to alert him that my friend had flaked out and asked him if it was OK that it would be just the two of us. Not sure why I asked, but I did. To which he said yes but that another night was better. So I bought tickets for the both of us at the Nickelodeon.
Was this a date? Or is this a platonic outing? I wondered as I walked into the Nick and loitered for a few seconds before a voice cracked through my thoughts.
"How can I help you?", the clerk asked.
"Oh, I already bought my tickets online," I replied.
"We still need to print you tickets. What's your name so I can look you up?"
Once I had the two tickets in hand, I waited like a lost little boy. And that's when he walked in all fresh-looking in a trendy jean jacket with a white crew-neck underneath and maroon chinos. Damn.
He flashed a quick smile. Again, adorably kind-of timid and shy sort. Maybe a little geekish. Definitely cute. We hugged out a greeting and sauntered off to the seats I had preemptively reserved in that Goldilocks zone of near-smack dab in the middle of the movie theater.
The theater was cold and I had my coat draped over me like a blanket. I noticed he wasn't quite dressed for the cold and saw his poor hands. I offered him my gloves a few times during the movie. But the offer was kindly rejected.
The movie was great. But the company was even greater. Especially when we softly squealed and ooh-ed and awed nearly in-sync. Another good sign.
After the movies he drove me home and on the ride home I insisted that he wear my gloves, since he didn't have a proper coat or anything to keep his hands warm. Pretty gentlemanly, right? When we pulled into my driveway, we sat for a split-second before we went for a goodbye hug. One arm would have done just fine. Especially if you're in a car. But awkward me wrapped a second arm around him, noticed this, and awkwardly patted him on the back as if that would make it less awkward.
Suffice it to say, I was kicking myself in the butt internally as I walked into the house and went to bed.
Our third... outing, I had invited him to attend a fundraiser with me since he expressed interest in community events and getting involved. Again, another thing we shared in common. Another good sign
Before we headed off, I showed up early and we hung out a little at his place. I had brought a little card and scribbled that I thought he was awesome and looked forward to getting to know him more and I about died a little inside seeing his reaction as he opened it. I felt a little braver in that moment, so I asked if he wanted to cuddle a little before we went to the fundraiser. He said yes, and my body and soul ate it up as we lay there talking about life or about 10 to 15 minutes. Then it was off to the fundraiser.
By now, I've grown very much into being an extroverted introvert. So going to events like these were quite natural for me. But I was ever-cognizant that he is an introvert and I fretted slightly about thrusting him into such a situation like a house party fundraiser. But my worrying was brief since I remembered that I almost instinctively like to pull people into conversations and introduce people to people. All the years prior to becoming an extroverted introvert had taught me to try and involve everyone around me, to pull people in, and to not exclude anyone.
And so in my conversations with folks at the fundraiser, I reminded myself of this and weaved him into the conversations I had with folks. Throughout the night, I made sure to touch him lightly on the elbow a few times to reassure him and let him know I was there or him. At one point, I could've have sworn he intentionally leaned into me for what, in that moment, seemed like an eternity. My body and soul ate up and devoured that moment.
After the fundraiser, I drove him home. And we debriefed about how we felt about the fundraiser. Out of the blue, I asked, "Can I hold your hand?" And after getting his consent, I took a hold of his hand and held it as I drove him home.
When we pulled into his driveway, I got out of the car and we both walked in front of the headlights. We both went in or a hug and I lifted him just slightly off the ground in a tight squeeze. What happened next took me completely off-guard as we started to loosen our grips.
His face inched forward and I could sense what was coming. But awkward me inched forward as well but paused and briefly rested my face against his. I wasn't thinking about anything. Nothing. Time seemed to freeze in that moment. Then our lips met and we kissed. Three times before I let him go and we said our goodbyes and he walked down those steps toward his apartment.
As I drove home, I texted, "I'm iffy on surprises but I didn't mind that one."
He responded, "Hahah I'm glad!"
Those kisses have weighed heavily on my heart since. Despite the positive signs, there's still uncertainty. A tension of sorts. Like I'm caught in a space between kind of knowing, but not really knowing.