Is there anything better than sitting at a coffee shop wearing a warm fuzzy sweater on a cold winter day? As I sip my coffee which doesn’t taste like coffee at all, but instead tastes like a sweet decadent dessert, I feel I am in heaven. I have a book I’m dying to continue but cannot get myself to open because my eyes and ears are being distracted by the couple in front of me. This couple has been arguing for the past 20 minutes. At first I could ignore them but their tone is starting to reach new heights. Thankfully, there is another table free behind me, I pick up my things and move to that table instead. The couple turn and look at me but I don’t pay them any attention. Perhaps they will realize what a nuisance they are being, why not go argue in your car or your home. Finally, at the new table I open my book and continue to read. By the time I am done with my coffee I look up and realize the couple finally stopped arguing and by the looks of it the woman had left the man alone. The man suddenly turned my way and looked at me looking at him. I tried to look away and get back to my book.
“I’m sorry we bothered you and you had to move to another table” the man said this to me from across other tables. Part of me wanted to tell him that he should be sorry, I hate public arguments but instead I went with:
“It’s all right” I went back to my book and wondered whether I should get some more coffee.
“I really do feel bad. I’m going to get some coffee because I didn’t even get to order anything before world war three started, could I get you some more coffee too?” The man got up from his chair and walked closer to me. Under normal circumstances accepting a drink from strangers would be a big no-no but I could see my drink through the coffee shop windows the whole time and I did really want to order another so I decided to accept the drink. I gave him my order and watched as another beautiful drink was made. After a few minutes the man carried my drink and his back to my table. I smiled at him as he got closer, he smiled back.
“Here you are. I love that you’re reading a book at a coffee shop. That’s what coffee shops are for you know, not petty arguments which only ruin your saturday plans” I took a sip of my coffee and looked back at the man. As much as I wanted this man to leave so I could continue reading my book, he looked like he needed to talk and today I had nothing planned but reading so I decided to leave it up to him.
“Would you like to sit down and talk for a bit?” I pointed at the chair across from me and the man immediately sat down. I closed my book and decided today I would give another human being a chance to entertain me as much as my book had been doing for the past few days.
“Thanks, I know we don’t know each other but you got to see and obviously hear what I just went through so in a way we have a shared experience. That woman was someone I have been seeing for the past 2 weeks. It was going great, amazing even, then all of a sudden she just turned on me. She said I was too clingy and that I called her too much. She said she likes me but she wants to have some time for herself without me. I don’t get it, honestly I feel like this whole conversation could have been done over the phone or even not at all. She could have just said she wanted to stop seeing me and that would have been enough. But inviting me for coffee just to insult me and dump me publicly, I don’t get it.” The man took a sip of his coffee and looked down at the table. I couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy. Rejection is never easy, no matter the reason why. I also agreed that things could have been handled differently, the kind of conversation they had should have been more private.
“I agree it could have been handled differently, but that is the risk we take when we are in the dating world. We never really know how someone will react or what they will decide to do with the relationship. I’m sorry this happened to you but it is behind you now, it’s best not to dwell on it too much” I surprised myself with the words I just said. I was unsure if it came out of me or maybe some novel I had read in the past. Anyway, I hoped it would help this poor soul.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. If I want to keep looking for love I guess things like this will happen. You’re a smart lady. Are you in the dating world as well?” This was a question I was not prepared for. Over the years I had made sure not to make any new friends so that questions like these did not come up. I took a sip of my coffee and thought about lying to this stranger. A lie was so much easier than the truth. I could tell him with a straight face that I was in a serious relationship for a few years now and he wouldn’t know the difference. For whatever the reason I suddenly decided to be honest with this man even though I knew he would have more questions for me.
“I’m not in the dating world. I have left that world behind for years now” After answering his question I waited for his response.
“So does that mean that you are already seeing someone?” Here was another chance to lie and tell him I was taken, part of a couple, off the market, anything but the truth. But again some part of me wanted to be honest with him.
“No, I’m just not part of the dating world. A few years ago, well more than a few I was like you. No, actually, I was more like her, the woman who just left you. I got tired of not knowing what it was that I really wanted. I got tired of hurting both the men I dated and myself for reasons I still cannot explain. So I decided to leave the dating world behind me. I don’t date anyone anymore and life has been so much more peaceful since then” I took another sip of my coffee. It felt really good to speak my truth and put it out there, it felt even better that the man I was telling this to was a stranger who did not really know me. I guess that is why I had decided to be honest, because he was a stranger. I really did not care what he would think of what I just told him, unlike my family and close friends. In fact, I was rather curious to see what he would say.
“So you are celibate? You don’t want to be with anyone?” The stranger said this with a confused look on his face. I could tell he was trying to be understanding but at the same time he was confused about the whole thing.
“Yes” As I sat there across from this stranger I was fascinated by the facial expressions he was making. He almost seemed uncomfortable, as if he didn’t know what to do with this information. I also felt as if he was trying to figure me out. I drank more of my coffee, it tasted so good.
“But what about love? A partner? Someone to spend the rest of your life with?” There were the questions I have heard so many times before. It seemed even perfect strangers cared when someone told them their plans to stay alone. I guess it’s normal, we are all brought up to believe that we must live paired up. It’s a hard idea to get rid of. People get uncomfortable when you tell them you are not looking for love because they believe everyone should. For a minute, I regretted being honest with this stranger. A lie would have been so much easier for him to deal with.
“I tried to find love and a partner. I actually found many good men in my life that would have made me quite happy. But by the time I was thirty I realized that I followed a certain pattern. A pattern in which I dated happy, healthy young men and somehow turned them into sad, sick and frustrated men because of my behaviors. That woman that left you reminded me a lot of me. Sooner or later I would find some reason to hurt the men I was with. I would pick fights, I would annoy them with stupid little games I would play, I was a terrible girlfriend. But I couldn't help myself. I could not stop myself from doing those things. I later realized the reason I was acting that way was because I wanted them to leave me alone. I wanted the relationship to end, every single time without fail, no matter what kind of a man it was or woman for that matter. No, for me, that search for the soulmate ended a long time ago. Now, I enjoy my weekends at a coffee shop reading a book and talking to strangers” I had no idea why I was being so honest with this stranger but again it felt good to let it all out.
“Wow, I appreciate your honesty. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say something like that” I smiled at the stranger and expected him to leave since there was not much more to say, but he wasn’t leaving. Instead, he sat there across from me staring at me, and so I stared back.
“What are you doing?” I finally asked.
“What do you mean?” He said back as he caressed the sides of his coffee cup.
“Why are you staring at me like that and not saying anything?” I wondered what on earth he could be thinking.
“Oh, I’m sorry if I was staring, it’s just that you’re so young and beautiful and so I can’t believe that you are not going to allow someone to come into your life, ever? It seems to me like perhaps you just need to meet the right kind of man, right? Someone that is understanding and patient” There it was, the predictable and boring answer I had heard so many times before. Part of me was ready to shred him to pieces by responding in a bitter and harsh way but I knew from experience that this did not do any good. In fact, it only left the other person with the misconception that I was simply a bitter old maid. I wanted this stranger to understand this was not the case, I wanted for him to believe me when I said my life was a peaceful one, it was important not only for me but for the many others that chose to live like me. I decided to calm myself down and have a longer chat with this young man.
“Thanks for calling me young and beautiful, I appreciate that, especially because I’m not that young anymore, I just look like it for some reason. I understand what you’re saying about your disbelief. You’re not the only person to say that to me. But can I ask you something? If you knew that each person you dated would have been hurt by you in the end, would you keep dating? Would you keep hurting good women that showed up in your life, knowing full well that the problem was you? I know we don’t know each other well enough, but I'm really curious to know what you think” Once again the stranger smiled at me then furrowed his eyebrows thinking about the questions. I was impressed he was actually thinking about what to say.
“I guess I never think that far ahead. I’ve never really questioned whether I’m the problem in the relationship or not. It seems like you have. On one hand you are being noble by sacrificing yourself and not hurting people around you, but on the other hand what if you miss out on the perfect man, a man who won’t make you want to hurt them?” He didn’t actually answer my question and had instead come up with the same wild theory most of my friends had come up with.
“I thought that way too for a while. I kept dating and waiting for the right man to come along. But there’s only so many heartbreaks a person can take before realizing that they cannot take anymore. When I realized that it was something in me that was unable to accept love and as a result ended up hurting those that gave love to me, that was it. I decided that until I could resolve my little problem finding love was off the table. As time passed by I realized that being on my own brought some sense of peace to me, I no longer felt that desperation to be paired up. There was no rush to settle down or find someone to present to my family and friends. Choosing to live this way felt more normal to me than what I had been doing, but for some reason I was resisting” As I finished talking I could not help but feel proud of myself. I was being truthful with my words and it felt good to say it out loud and proud, I had not gotten a chance to say it in quite a while and I wondered if this is why I had wanted to talk to this stranger in the first place. As I finished my drink I decided it no longer mattered what this stranger thought of me and my life decisions. I think this whole afternoon was just intended for me to reaffirm out loud to myself why I live the way that I do. This young man in front of me had served his purpose and as I looked at him I wondered if he knew that.
“I still think that you will meet someone someday. Well, I think I should leave you to it, you probably haven’t been able to read one page since I’ve been here. It was nice meeting you, I’m sorry I never got your name” The man reached out his hand and I shook it.
“Why don’t we call each other perfect strangers?” We smiled at each other once more and the perfect stranger took off. Now, I could continue my beautiful cold Saturday at the coffee shop and finish reading my book.