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Eric’s hand shook slightly as he brought a glass of overpriced scotch to his lips and took a careful sip. His phone lay face-up on the bar where he sat, perched on his stool, staring off into the middle distance. Hey glanced down as his screen lit up with a text, and felt his body dump adrenaline into his stomach as he read it.
“Sorry! I’m running a few minutes late. Excited for our fancy date :)”
“Get a hold of yourself, man.” He thought to himself, as he tried to calm his nerves with more scotch. “You’ve been seeing this girl for weeks, why do you feel like I’m about to go on a first date?” Even as he thought the question, however, he knew that answer. Tonight wasn’t just any date. He had been thinking about it for a while, and tonight, he was going to pop the question. Well, not that question, of course. He was going to ask the girl he had been seeing for a bit if she wanted to be official.
To be honest, he wasn’t even sure if that was a question people asked. “Did I ask Rachel when we started dating in college, or did we just hook up until eventually people started calling her my girlfriend?” The more he thought, the less sure he was. It had been so long ago, and anyway, a college relationship is not the standard he wanted to set for his first “adult” relationship.
He knew taking Kelsey on a fancy date and asking her to be his girlfriend was kind of lame, but he was hoping it was lame in a cute way, not in a “this guy has never felt the touch of a woman” way. He had wanted to ask the guys for their experiences in the matter, but didn’t feel like enduring a 40-text-message inquisition about why he was trying to throw away his freedom instead of being single. Also, if he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t sure if he truly had an answer to those questions.
He had kind of hoped Kelsey would be the one to bring up the topic of elevating their relationship, but as far as he could tell, she was completely unconcerned with labels or even on knowing whether they were exclusive. “Still, she is a girl,” he justified to himself, “she must be playing it cool and hoping the lack of commitment would make me more into her. I guess it worked.” Suddenly, a voice sounded behind him, interrupting his thoughts.
“Hey! Sorry I’m late. Glad to see you started without me though…” Kelsey said teasingly as she gave him a kiss. “Do we have a table?”
Eric greeted Kelsey warmly and assured her that it would be about twenty more minutes before their table was ready. Raising a finger to the bartender, he pulled her stool out for her as she ordered a glass of red wine. Looking around, she smiled coyly at him.
“Look at you, planning a romantic night for us. If you had taken me to a place this nice, I probably would have put on our first date. Way to screw that up and make me wait until date three.”
Eric laughed, all doubts erased, as he knew he wanted to pursue something more serious with this girl. She was funny, smart, kept him on his toes, and was working the hell out of the dress she was wearing. In fact, he didn’t even want to wait for dinner to broach this subject. “Better to get it out of the way early,” he thought.
“Hey Kels,” he said, interrupting their conversation about their respective days. “I actually wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Sure, whats up?” She responded airily.
“Well, I’ve been enjoying seeing you for the past few weeks, and I was actually wondering if you wanted to date officially? Like, be an exclusive, boyfriend-girlfriend type of thing. What do you think?”
Eric smiled at his date, hoping he had landed more on the “cute” side of the cheesy line, instead of the “awkward” side. However, his smile slowly fell as he realized that her face was not one of excitement, but rather, discomfort. She looked out the window as she slowly began to speak.
“Ohh. I, uh, I actually was kind of enjoying the casual thing we had going on. I mean, you’re great, and I like spending time with you, but I just feel like we’re both in our early twenties and shouldn’t get too tied down yet, you know? I’ve talked to you about my dream of living in Australia for a year, and how I’m not sure about my career path, and I just think now isn’t the time for me to get into something serious that could possibly derail my future plans. I’m so sorry Eric. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with timing, if that helps at all.
“Shiiiiiiiiit.” Eric thought. Externally, however, he remained cool and composed. He smiled and grabbed Kelsey’s hand as he back peddled like he was trying to set a Guinness World Record for reverse cycling.
“No, I totally get that. I really just meant that I’m enjoying hanging out with you and would like to keep doing that, you know. I’m not trying to get too serious, either, I uh, was really just wondering where your head was at.”
He knew he was faltering, and Kelsey’s face made it clear that she knew as well. She looked at him sadly and pulled her hand from his as she got up.
I’m sorry, but I think it’s probably best for us to not see each other, at least for a while. I don’t want to get tied down right now, and I think if we keep hanging out, that’s how I’ll end up. I’m sorry. I have- I have to go.
Eric’s brain sped frantically, trying to think of something to say, to salvage the conversation, to turn the clock back a few minutes before he had been dumb enough to ruin the great thing he had, but he couldn’t come up with anything. His mouth hung open as Kelsey gave him a hug and rushed out of the restaurant with tears in her eyes. He ran his hand slowly through his hair and leaned hard against the bar as he tried to process what had just happened and where he could go from here. Suddenly, behind him, he heard someone say his name.
“Eric? Party of two? Your table’s ready!”.