Bryan left for Paris on Friday. He’ll be in Europe for the next two weeks, and he called me on Thursday night to talk one more time before he left.
Although I broke up with Bryan three weeks ago, he has called me three times since then. The first two times, we just caught up on each other’s lives. “How was your weekend?” & “How are things at the office?”
Each time, I let him lead the conversation, thinking he had finished “processing” and might need to talk things out for closure. But Bryan initiated no closure conversations or even a re-evaluation of our status. Those first two phone calls, he seemingly just called to catch up on my life like we were old friends, which I guess is what we are now. But it felt strange that he acted as if our break up conversation never happened.
Then again, all we do now is talk on the phone once a week instead of casually hanging out once a week, so not much has changed except my expectations for our pseudo-non-relationship. And, as Bryan used to tell me, “Uncommunicated expectations are premeditated disappointment.” He disappoints me less now that I don’t expect him to behave like a boyfriend.
I’ve been perplexed by our casual phone calls, but Thursday night’s conversation finally dug a bit deeper and addressed the reality of our situation. I was glad. I don’t do well with ambiguity or inauthenticity.
Bryan had sent me a text during the day asking if I’d be interested in going for drinks after work. I knew it was his last day in the States for a while, so I agreed, but I let him know I had bible study at 7pm, so it would need to be an early Happy Hour (yes, on occasion I drink alcohol before bible study). I hung around downtown after work, waiting on his call, and Bryan called me around 5:15.
“Hey, I just left work,” he told me. “I thought we could meet near your place and grab a drink out west of town.”
“Um, I’m still downtown… near your place. Both work and my bible study are downtown, and I thought we’d be meeting over here since you always head straight home after work.”
“No, I actually have a retirement reception for a colleague at 7 out near where you live, so I thought we’d meet over there.” Classic Bryan. Typical failure to plan and epic lack of communication.
With rush hour traffic, there was no way we could make the logistics work, but had I known the time and location in advance, I could have driven to him. Or, you know, he could have for once made a sacrifice and driven to me. I ended up getting frustrated and telling him to just forget it – I’d go to my bible study, and he should just go to his retirement party.
I felt guilty for snapping at him and didn’t want him to leave for Europe with a rift between us, so I called him later that night after bible study. No answer. I was near his place, so I drove the five minutes to his house and rang the doorbell. His truck was in the driveway, but he didn’t come to the door. I called again and left a voice message saying that I was trying to apologize and it would be nice if he would stop avoiding my calls.
Twenty minutes later, as I was pulling into my apartment complex, Bryan’s name lit up the screen of my cell phone. I answered, and he sounded amused. “So… I got your message. I was in the shower… not avoiding your calls. If I’d known you were planning to stop by, I would have timed my shower differently.”
“Oh. Well, you know, I was trying out this whole ‘spontaneity’ thing you like so much.” I felt foolish, but I tried to match the playful tone in his voice. I could tell he was pleased I’d stopped by but sorry to have missed me.
“Why would you think I was avoiding your calls? Why is that the first place your mind went, woman?!” The teasing tone in his voice was more obvious now.
I laughed and said, “If I have to tell you, there’s no reason to try explaining.”
We moved on to catching up on each other’s day. I’d had a hard day at work, so we talked about that for a while. Bryan was actually a really good listener and uncharacteristically encouraging.
I’d been told I am very self-oriented at work and need to engage others more if I am going to learn to be effective. Since I care deeply about people and am also a self-critical perfectionist, this feedback was intensely hurtful to me.
Bryan asked if I believe it to be true that I am overly self-oriented. “Maybe at work… but not in my personal life.”
“I haven’t seen you at work,” Bryan said gently, “So maybe you are self-oriented there, but in your personal life, I can affirm for you that you are definitely others-oriented, giving and selfless. You love helping people and meeting their needs. You know that about yourself, so believe it about yourself.”
His kind words shocked me. When did he decide to start being so sweet and encouraging? After a few more thoughtful comments from him, I asked tentatively, “Why are you investing in me?”
He answered immediately. “Because I don’t like you to be down on yourself. I care for you.”
“Of course I do. You’re a smart girl. I would have thought you’d have figured that out by now.” He paused. “There are other ways to let a girl know you care for her than sending her flowers and picking her up at her apartment. I communicate my affection in other ways.”
My heart fluttered, but I raised one eyebrow incredulously as I mentally ticked through the five love languages and didn’t find a single one that registered with how Bryan had treated me the past few months. “How do you think you communicate affection?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe by returning people’s calls even after they’ve accused me of avoiding their calls.” He was teasing again.
“You do have a pattern of being patient and long-suffering when you care for someone,” I thought out loud, alluding to his multi-year relationship with a girl he’d seen potential in and invested in for years, holding out hope and waiting for change in her.
“I’m not sure if that’s a rabbit trail I want to go down.”
“We don’t have to. I’m just glad to hear that you actually do care for me.”
“Of course I care for you. You broke my heart.”
His words stunned me. “…I did?” I’d never heard anything so vulnerable from him. Ever.
“Yes. You broke my heart. I care for you, even though you apparently couldn’t ever see it. I know we never put a label on our relationship, but I wasn’t seeing anyone else, and you hurt my heart when you ended things.”
I was speechless. Where had this outpouring of vulnerability come from? “Well, if it makes you feel better, it hurt my heart, too. I wanted us to work, but I just never believed you were invested.”
“It has been 9 months since I was in Europe,” Bryan told me. “That’s the longest stretch in 13 years.”
“Hm, you must have been dating a pretty awesome girl who was the reason you stuck around.”
“Yes, that’s exactly the reason.” His voice was serious; intense; adamant.
More shock on my end at his openness about his feelings. “…are you serious?”
“Yes. That’s exactly the reason. You’re the reason.”
“I didn’t know…”
“Well you were.” He shifted the conversation. “You should come to Paris. It’s supposed to rain all weekend, but Paris in the rain is still more beautiful than most other places year-round. I would be equally happy doing touristy or local stuff. I could show you local cafes off the beaten path, and the parks are beautiful…”
“Who is this man?” I thought to myself. “During this call, Bryan has encouraged me, been open about his feelings, and now he is being positively romantic. He took my feedback to heart. He is showing that he is teachable.”
But I knew I couldn’t go. I had no way of getting off work so last-minute, plus I’m nearly out of vacation for the year. I wanted to be free-spirited and just go, but (on top of my responsibilities back home) this was the first time Bryan had shown this gentler side, and one instance wasn’t enough to convince me it would stick.
Nevertheless, I missed him already. “When you come back, it will have been a month since we’ve seen each other,” I mused out loud.
“Maybe by then, you’ll be less frustrated with me.” I could just imagine his rueful sideways smile.
He couldn’t see my returning smile over the phone. “…Maybe.”