Three Days in New York: Part III
“I am someone who is looking for love. REAL love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love. And I don’t think that love is here.” ~Sex & the City
I know how unbelievable this whole story sounds. Smalltown girl takes off for the big city to meet the mysterious man she’s loved for five years, only to be courted and romanced and pampered and ultimately taken to a closed diamond store and have dozens of sparkling engagement rings laid out before her, a la “Sweet Home Alabama”? Some of you are probably saying: “Get outta here!” To that, I say with the utmost sincerity: Though I can’t swear every conversation that I write here was said exactly as it is written (although it’s pretty darn close), I can assure you that every event took place just as I have detailed. And that brings us up to…
“WHAT?!” I exclaimed in shock and disbelief as Mr. E’s friend Tony brought out ring after ring after ring for my review. Eight carats, one carat, five carats, princess cut, teardrop, canary yellow, pink, platinum, silver, gold, Titanic-sized boulders…they were all there, sitting in front of me, just waiting for me to place on my unpolished finger (yes, my lack of a proper manicure to try on engagement rings caused me much anxiety that day.)
Yet there was Mr. E…sitting there with a huge grin on his face, very much looking like the cat who swallowed the canary yellow diamond. “Try them on,” he said, pulling out his phone and snapping a picture of the stunned look on my face.
I had so many questions, my head was spinning…but I wasn’t sure if it was from my confusion or the array of bling laid out before me. With shaking hands, I tried on one ring…then another…then another, as Mr. E snapped photo after photo. He noted the ones that I liked the best, taking careful pictures, even texting a shot of me holding up my ring-laden hand to his best friend. Finally, I reached the end and looked over at him with questions in my eyes, wondering what could be coming next.
“Let me go out and talk to Tony for a moment,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He left the room and I could hear him and Tony out in the hall, whispering back and forth. I scooped up my Blackberry and tapped out a frantic text message to my friend Alli. “Alli, we’re at a diamond store, looking at engagement rings. THIS is my surprise!” She responded within seconds. “OMG! What does this mean?! Did he PROPOSE???”
I was just starting to respond when E and Tony came back into the room.
“Hey, there’s a great restaurant with a rooftop bar near my apartment,” Tony said. “You guys should check it out.”
Mr. E looked at me. “Do you wanna go there, and talk about everything?”
I hadn’t seen a money exchange or a ring handover, so I was more confused than ever.
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” I replied. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful evening. “Let’s go there.”
We said goodbye to Tony and walked almost silently the few blocks to the bar. It was a beautiful, very Sex & the City-esque rooftop lounge overlooking the city and filled with young professionals who were obviously there for after-work happy hour. We both got a cocktail and found a seat near the ledge so I could stare out at the lights surrounding us. It was then that my feelings of elation from the past two days started to settle into something very close to sadness. I had just experienced one of the most important moments in a woman’s life…hadn’t I? Yet I had walked away without a ring on my finger. What did it all mean?
I turned to him and posed the question. “What does this all mean?” I asked. “I mean, it was SO exciting and I appreciate SO MUCH that you went to all the trouble that you did to make this day special…but I’m not sure I understand…”
“Mandy, I wanted to see how it felt to look at rings with you,” he explained. “I needed to know if it felt right.”
“I liked it,” he said with a smile. “I think it felt right.”
“You think.” I paused. “So…does this mean…we’re in a relationship?” I asked hesitantly. We had never really been “In a Relationship,” at least not one that was worthy of a Facebook status update, so this would be a really huge, and a really welcome change for us.
He looked away without responding. I waited. He wouldn’t meet my gaze. His silence said everything that his words wouldn’t.
“Does it mean we’re in a relationship?” I asked again, “Like boyfriend, girlfriend?”
“Mandy, I see what we are as so far beyond boyfriend and girlfriend,” he finally responded, shifting in his seat. “I already told you I want to put a ring on your finger in March. Can’t we just leave things as they are til then?”
I looked at him in astonishment. “Wait a minute.” I sat down my drink. “Wait a minute! You mean you’re telling me you want to be my husband…but you still don’t want to be my BOYFRIEND?!”
“Mandy, I don’t know what more I can do. You told me to make the grand gesture…I made the grand gesture! Why is this not enough for you?”
I sat back in my seat, the realization that absolutely nothing between us had changed finally hitting me. “Why is this not enough for me? Because I deserve more than someone who’s going to show me a fancy ring. I deserve someone who’s going to actually put it on my finger! Do you know what this feels like? This is the moment that every girl dreams about her entire life. It feels like you just handed me the most beautifully wrapped package in the ENTIRE world, and I opened the box, and it’s empty!”
He just sat there in silence, as though he couldn’t comprehend what I was saying or why I was frustrated.
“I’m just not sure I understand what we’re supposed to do until March if we’re not committed to one another. I know you’re going to be busy and we might not get to see each other and you can’t promise me anything til then…I get it. But am I supposed to go into hibernation? What am I supposed to do if another guy asks me out?”
Still, he sat there. Never has so much been said without saying a word.
I tried another approach. “Okay, well…since we don’t have a resolution to this and given the fact that we just looked at engagement rings together, I don’t know that it’s still appropriate for me to go to Philly tomorrow night,” I said. “I think I should just stay in New York and we should figure this thing out.”
Finally he seemed to snap out of his haze. “Mandy, I can’t hang out with you tomorrow. I have meetings all day.”
“On a Saturday?!”
“Well, you know how the news business is. It doesn’t stop on the weekends.”
“Okay…I understand if you can’t spend all day long with me, but you’re telling me you have no time whatsoever to spare for me tomorrow? Even an hour? We haven’t seen each other in a year and a half and we just looked at engagement rings together and you’re telling me 24 hours is all you have to give?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”
I couldn’t believe it. Gone was the sweet, open, romantic guy from the night before…even from an hour ago. It was as though an invisible wall had dropped down between us, and he had frozen me out of his heart and his life like he had done so many times before when things got too intense.
As a side note, I should say: I didn’t know it at that moment, but Mr. E did me a HUGE favor by refusing to make time for me the next day and leaving my Philly plans in tact. When I look back on it now, the thought of all my life would be missing now had I NOT gone on that crazy adventure and NOT opened new doors to new places…it is unimaginable. Mr. E’s inability to open himself up to me gave me the courage to open myself up to new adventures. Let this be a lesson next time someone breaks your heart. It could be God is about to introduce you to the very people, experiences, and magical moments that are meant to heal it.
As we left the bar, it began to rain. First little sprinkles and then suddenly big, fat, heavy raindrops…like the ones that were threatening to fall from my eyes. I didn’t have an umbrella, and I didn’t care. My salon-styled hair that had just hours earlier been so shiny and perfectly curled started to droop around my face; the perfect metaphor for how I was feeling. Mr. E and I didn’t even walk together. Instead we walked in single file line; two people who had been on the same page for the first time, perhaps ever, now like two strangers reading completely different books.
We made our way to Grand Central Station, as he wanted to show it to me. We’re both huge movie buffs, and since so many films have been shot there, he knew I would enjoy seeing it. The gesture meant something to me…but the irony of finding ourselves in the place where so many final scenes of movies have played out…the guy always chasing the girl to catch her and tell her his true feelings before she gets on the train and speeds out of his life forever…was almost too much for me to bear.
It was late, almost midnight by that time, and surprisingly, Grand Central Station was fairly quiet, none of the usual hustle and bustle that you see in the movies. A few people wandered here and there, but we were largely alone. We sat on the empty marble steps and shared a hot chocolate and a divinely rich éclair, a moment that in another life, could have been very romantic…but for me, it fell flat. I was starting to realize that as beautiful as our moments together could be, it was all a smokescreen. Just like the movies, our love was one dimensional. There was a lot of glitter but very little gold.
“You’re never gonna be that guy at the end of the movie who chases me, are you?” I asked him quietly.
He just sat and stared straight ahead, a sad look on his face…a brick wall surrounding his heart.
His silence told me all I needed to know. No answer is very much an answer…if you’re willing to listen with your heart instead of your ears.
Since it was so rainy and stormy, I wound up just going back to his place, where I lay awake all night that night, silent teardrops landing on my pillow. He stayed up all night, too, watching movies in the other room. I guess the nice little 90-minute version of life and romance is easier for him to deal with than the real thing. In the movies, the beginning of the relationship is usually the end of the movie…and he was too scared to ever take a chance and see what happens after the screen fades to black.
He walked me to the subway the next morning, a distant look in his eyes, his mind already far away from me and onto his next project for work. He explained to me in great detail which stop I needed to get off at and tucked money into my pocket for a cab once I got off the subway that would take me the rest of the way to the Manhattan apartment. He gave me a big hug, a quick kiss…and then it was time to say goodbye.
“So this is it?” I asked, a tear sliding down my cheek. “This is really how we’re ending things? This is breaking my heart.”
He looked at me, pulled me into one more hug, and held on for a long moment. “I do love you, Mandy. I’m just…confused. I need some time to think.” With that, he pulled away, quickly swiped his subway card for me, and gave me a little nudge through the gate.
“You need the N Train. If you don’t see it, ask someone where it is.”
With that, he was gone, taking my heart with him.
We had lost each other again.
I boarded my first-ever solo subway ride (after I asked someone which one the N Train was), replaying the events of the past two days in my head. I couldn’t believe we had come so far, both geographically and emotionally, only to go our separate ways again. How many times could two people lose each other?
But…we hadn’t really “lost” each other. Technically, he had given me up. And without even so much as a fight! A man who truly wants to commit to a woman doesn’t ALMOST put a ring on her finger. He actually does it! And I deserved more than an ALMOST proposal. I deserved a REAL one. I suddenly realized that Mr. E’s “grand gesture” wasn’t so grand after all…and THAT made me realize that perhaps his BIG feelings for me…were really quite small.
Somewhere on that N Train between Queens and Manhattan, I found my gumption again. And a different girl emerged from that subway than the one who had traveled across the Queensboro Bridge just 48 hours before. One with a heart that was a little more battered, a little more bruised, but also a little more BRAVE.
To Be Continued…