- Michael Thompson
“What are you up to this weekend? Maybe we can hang out?”
What do normal people do in situations like this? Blink? I tried to keep blinking. But as I wrote down the number of the woman standing in front of me, my visibly shaking hands made it pretty clear that I was a 10 out of 10 on the frazzled scale.
“Sorry about that. I haven’t had a drink yet today,” I joked.
“Don’t worry,” she replied with a smile. “I’m nervous also. I never thought the first person I’d ever ask out would be an American giving a seminar at my office. But my friends told me I needed to be more proactive when meeting guys I think are interesting.”
On a Monday?
Was this for real?
I’d moved to Barcelona six months earlier with the hopes that being the opposite of the tall, dark, and flipping ripped men around me would help me to stand out.
Up until that point, however, that strategy hadn’t worked out very well as my eighth-grade height and easily burned skin hadn’t won many eyes.
But this was my chance. And if you had asked me to draw my dream, the woman standing in front of me checked a lot of boxes.
Dark wavy hair. Check.
Dark eyes. Check.
Doesn’t seem to mind that I’m uncool. Check.
After we gave each other a surprisingly smooth kiss on each cheek in typical Catalan fashion — and caught each other turning around to get one last glimpse of each other as I walked away from her office — I thought for sure I’d have to screw up pretty badly to mess up this gorgeous opportunity.
So after getting some well-deserved shit for waiting until Thursday afternoon to reach out to her to make plans, we set a date for that Saturday at 9pm at a place I’d been a few times before with friends.
The rest of that evening, after getting confirmation that this wasn’t a cruel joke, for one of the few times in my life I stood taller than six feet.
But this feeling of invincibility didn’t last long. By the time of our date, my excitement had officially made the turn to massives nerves and I’d run out of ideas for how to get my left leg to stop twitching so god damn much.
“What do Catalan women like?”
“What if I’m not it?”
“Oh God! I have to go back to her office Monday for work! What if I make a fool of myself?”
These questions flooded my head.
To make matters worse, when it came time to get ready, my roommate, Josh, in his sometimes charming but otherwise annoying Mississippi drawl, said over and over again with each outfit I tried on— “Dude, it’s going to take more than a clean shirt to make you pretty!”
“Best not be late, pretty boy!” Josh said with a smirk. “Death is waiting.”
And with that tremendous pep-talk, I gave myself one last look in the mirror, adjusted the safe solid black T-shirt I had decided to go with, and stepped outside to make the 100 meters walk to either meet — or destroy — my destiny.
As she made her way up the steps from the train station, a rare sense of pride washed over me when watching her walk towards me.
My eyes lit up.
We did the double-kiss cheek thing again without tripping over each other.
“You’re beautiful,” I said as my arm moved down her back after our embrace. “I’d wanted to ask you out since our first conversation. But since this is one of my first jobs I was worried I’d be fired for hitting on a client.”
She looked up at me — still smiling — I thought for sure the look in her eyes meant that she was just as happy to see me as I was to see her.
But just as my hopes began to touch the clouds, they were smacked down onto the pavement when she said the words that shatter more men’s dreams than any other — “But we’re just friends, right?”
Just friends? Did I really just hear that?
My mind raced trying to make sense of what had just happened.
What was with the all “interesting” talk?
What about the look back?
Not to mention the fact that she asked me if I wanted to hang out?
I stood there outside the metro station as cars whipped by completely and utterly stoned.
How did I get all of her signals so wrong?
So terribly wrong?
I’m an idiot.
My friends were going to love this one.
Oblivious to my confusion, the beautiful woman was still staring at me — smiling — and just as nonchalantly as she crushed my heart, she said, “What’s the plan? I’m starving!”
“Excuse me?” I stumbled, trying to give myself a bit of a buffer to better recover after being run over by the 5 foot 1-inch Catalan woman standing in front of me.
“What’s the plan? I’m starving!” she said again. “You said on the phone the reservation was for 9, right?”
After letting out what can only be described as a grunt, I did what I could to pull myself together and pointed in the direction of the restaurant.
Thank God I followed the advice of a friend and made plans to meet at the metro station instead of being trapped inside a restaurant in case we had an awkward moment.
As we walked down the shadowy streets we both laughed a little while I loosened up a lot.
By the time we got to the restaurant, something about knowing that I had lost the game before it had even started had put me at ease and I stopped being the “me” I thought she wanted me to be — and I started to act like myself.
I asked her about her life and was in awe of all the places she had been.
She told me about a breakup that happened a few years prior that she hadn’t seen coming.
She told me that she too felt alone in the big city despite it being an hour from her home.
When it came to talk about me, and what I was doing in Barcelona, instead of trying to be cool and telling her I wanted to see the world, I told her the truth.
I told her about how I had lost everything I had when my business partner’s dad stole $250,000 from me.
I told her that I had been in a bad place.
I told her I moved to Catalunya on a whim to try and find my smile again.
It felt good.
Talking to someone.
Letting someone in.
At times, I even thought that we’d made a connection. But with the thought of “We’re just friends” still beating through my head, I let it pass.
I continued to smile.
She continued to laugh.
Five hours passed.
After closing down the restaurant and having a drink at a dive bar next door, we made our way to the metro for her to go one way and me another.
The night had been perfect.
She was perfect.
I felt the biting urge to kiss her again as we stood next to the steps that led down to her train. But I didn’t dare. The last thing I wanted to do with whatever we had going on was risk being friends with this beautiful person.
The next thing I knew, just when I was about to walk away, she grabbed my hand, looked up at me, and with people shuffling past us on the corner of Passeig de Gracia and Corsega — she made the first move again by giving me a kiss that I can still taste today.
“I thought we were just friends?” I said, after coming back down from the clouds and tucking a loose strand of her wavy black hair behind her ear.
“Oh, No!” she laughed. “You thought I was serious? I was just saying that in case someone from the office saw us out together.”
In a few weeks, that beautiful woman and I will celebrate our ninth year of marriage.
I’m convinced — with every ounce of my being — that our magical lives together never would have existed if she hadn’t said that we were just friends when we started our date.
It shifted my thinking from looking for play to not thinking about anything else but having a good time together.
Just like men, different women are attracted to different things.
But from my experience, even if you’re lost and desperately trying to make ends meet, your best chance at getting who you want is by being yourself.
It’s who you’re going to be anyway.
So what’s the point in delaying the inevitable?