I was pretty sure I had a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face, or at least some sort of pasted-on smile.
Dan and I had been pouring our hearts out to each other. Oddly, how our hearts were broken because we'd irresponsibly shattered the heart of our respective dating partners. We were comrades in bad-dating-arms.
Dan had broken his engagement to the great Katy, his girlfriend of a few years, because he was c-h-i-c-k-e-n. Concurrently, I'd paid no heed to the cruelty of involving a wonderful non-Jew in my quest to build a nice Jewish home. So, in addition to our mutual grief over the dissolution of relationships, we were both struggling with the guilt of hurting another person. Worse yet, another person we cared for.
But the pathos had cleared a bit and now, suddenly, I was feeling fatigued. I probably should have eaten more of the stale tortilla chips on the table.
I realized that Dan was buzzed and, frankly, I was too, even though I'd only had one of the electric blue concoctions. I probably should have eaten more of the stale tortilla chips on the table.
"It's times like this that I hate the fact that Phoenix has no public transportation," I said, my mouth and brain working in concerted autopilot. "I don't think I should try to drive myself home."
I craned my head out the window to see the traffic on Seventh Street below.
"Are there even cabs in this city?" I asked sarcastically.
Dan looked at the not-even-empty drink in front of me and laughed.
"You look like you've shifted into neutral," Dan said, "at least in terms of our conversation."
I looked at him and realized that, at this point, the conversation could go either way.
In all the years we'd known each other, we'd never been "involved" and I didn't think there was much of a spark between us that way. When we first got back in touch, I surmised he might be asking me out -- not knowing about Katy, his then quite-steady girlfriend. And though I had never really given him much thought as a prospect, I felt myself drawn to the idea in some subconscious, certainly sub-intellectual way.
What is it about rebounding that is so appealing, so comforting?
At the end of every relationship, there is a kernel of fear that you'll never meet anyone again, that your recently departed darling is the last person on earth who will find you attractive, understand and care about you. Rationally, it makes little sense, but emotionally, it's there, even if it's well-hidden.
Along comes some human and the kernel takes over. It is the rejoinder to that inevitable bleak moment after a breakup in which you melodramatically think, "Will I ever love again? Can I ever love again...?"
At the end of every relationship, there is a kernel of fear that you'll never love again.
"Yes!" you tell yourself. "I can! I will!"
So into the rebound you hop, a relationship you realize later was the bridge back to your emotional equilibrium: the Get-Over-Guy. It has nothing to do with the person with whom you rebound. You essentially use them for reassurance and then, once reassured, move on.
It is a very selfish thing.
Let me repeat: a VERY selfish thing.
For this reason, Alison had a rule: no dating recent breakup-ees unless they've dated at least two people in between you and the dead relationship. She'd been hurt more than once after dating someone who really had no business getting involved with anyone.
Two years ago, she'd met some systems analyst she was crushed when he ended it swiftly and suddenly, all apologies, explaining that he'd gotten in way over his head and his feelings hadn't even caught up. It all made sense when she found out later that he'd been dumped out of long-term relationship just before they met.
So sitting there with a tortilla chip in my hand, I had enough presence of mind to ask myself if I really wanted to get together with Dan. Was I really interested in pursuing some sort of long-term relationship? In getting involved? NOW?
No, absolutely not.
I'd always liked him enthusiastically because he was such a solid, nice guy. But now after hearing about what he did to Katy, he seemed more like a Greg Kinnear character -- Mr. Nice Guy at the beginning of the movie, and then you find out that he really is a creep.
Your need to rebound has little or nothing to do with the needs of the person you rebound with.
"Look, Jessica," Dan interrupted my reverie, seeming to come out of deep thought himself. "I, uh, don't know if this is untoward, but I think we should call a cab for you or something.
I looked up, surprised that he was actually speaking aloud what I'd been thinking.
"A lot of responsibility comes with being involved with someone," he continued. "I am not about to get anyone tangled up in my mess right now."
Dan was right. When it comes to dating, every emotional investment -- no matter how brief -- stays with you for a lifetime. They create some kind of eternal bond that never fully departs, and has the nasty habit of popping into one's head at the least opportune time.
The more of those eternal dating moments that a person accumulates, the more diffused their emotional self will be when it comes time to invest in the true lifetime relationship of marriage.
I decided I would call Rina to come pick me up since she didn't live far from here. Dan was back to looking a touch morose, but I felt better. His decency had restored my faith in men. But that kernel was back a bit. Would I ever love again? And where, oh where, would I find him?