"So you're dating?"
I looked at my reflection in the mirror and started laughing.
Alison and I were on side-by-side stairmasters at the gym.
Alison looked like she was effortlessly climbing a Swiss peak, about to belt out "The Hills are alive..." And me? I looked, well, sort of red and puffy. The ponytail in which I'd caught my hair had shifted to the side, like a demonic "Chrissy" from "Three's Company." It was quite a contrast.
I couldn't laugh and keep my balance at the same time, and slalomed off the stairmaster, trying to look as if it was an intentional, insouciant hop. I landed on a bench in front of Alison, who was shaking her head.
"Will you answer me already? Are you and Harris officially dating or not?" she chided.
"I suppose so," I said. "I think."
"Well, he did call me from his business trip to Seattle," I said.
Alison brightened. "Go girl, go!"
"No pressure, Alison, please," I said, wearily. "Why can't we just spend time getting to know each other first?"
She pressed her lips together and looked at me hard. "Jess, you're a grown-up now. You don't want to just hang out with someone forever!"
You're a grown-up now. You don't want to just hang out forever.
I laughed. Alison and I had always approached relationships differently.
She'd go from one boyfriend to the next in rapid succession, the ghosts of exes past expected to disappear -- except for occasional mortifying run-ins at parties or bagel shops.
Now, five years out of college, Alison's pace of escort switching had slowed, but the pattern remained the same.
I'd approached dating differently. I'd always hung out in groups, and within the social groups, couples would sort of spontaneously appear. I thought it was a much more civilized system. It began with friendship, after all.
That's how it happened with Andy, my commitment-reticent ex-boyfriend of nearly three years. We'd been friendly for months before we got together. By the time I started thinking long-term half-way through our relationship, I was too wrapped up to see that what we wanted from life was totally different.
I was too wrapped up to see that what we wanted from life was totally different.
I was crazy about him, enjoyed being with him, but he was all wrong as my "partner in life." We were great friends, but the chemistry made me think there was more there. In the end, I found out the hard way that you can be crazy about someone who's all wrong for you.
Alison had dismounted the stairmaster just as I snapped out of my little flashback.
"Alison, what's the difference between 'hanging out' and 'dating'?" I queried.
She thought for a second. "Well, 'dating' is exclusive," she said.
She sighed heavily. "What are you trying to deconstruct here, Jessica?"
"I'm really trying to keep my emotions in check with Harris. I don't want to get involved until I intellectually know this is right for me."
I don't want to get involved until I intellectually know this is right for me.
She looked at me quizzically. "What do you need to know? He's gorgeous, successful, charming, everyone loves him... What do you want? Medical records?"
"I know, I know, but those are all external things. I have no idea what he's really like," I said, stumbling for words a bit, "you know, on the inside. I want to find out -- is he kind and loyal? And are our goals compatible in a lifelong sense, not just that we both like sushi?"
Alison snorted and let me have her sarcastic best. "Wow! With all that evaluation and analysis, you sure have a lot of work ahead, Professor Shaeffer."
Jessica Shaeffer (not her real name, sorry) lives in Phoenix and is the producer of a TV fashion program.