“Let’s Not Get Lunch Sometime” or, Things We Never Say

Today is Tuesday, the day I am meant to go out to lunch with my very nice coworker, Terry. Which means I’ve packed frozen vegetable curry and will be limiting my usually frequent restroom breaks so as to decrease the likelihood of actually running into Terry.

I recognize this to be immature behavior. Our first platonic lunch date — the result of an embarrassing breakroom breakdown followed by a friendly email offering a sympathetic ear should I ever need one — was perfectly pleasant. We talked about our dogs, our families, our shared discontentment with our jobs. He took a genuine interest in my timid aspirations to travel; asked where I saw myself in ten years too earnestly to mock. Eventually I came round to sheepishly explaining why he’d found me sobbing while loading the dishwasher, a floundering attempt at describing my depression and anxiety and months of self-doubt which he met, once more, with empathy. We walked back with promises of a second date — Let me know how your training goes! Have fun with your wife this weekend! Tuesday or Wednesday work for you? — and parted ways knowing we both had a kind face to see around the office.

But the second date never came. Our email thread became a cycle of up in the air plans squandered by unexpected meetings, a correspondence content to taper out until our next accidental meeting in the hallway. I’d get up to refill my water bottle and bump into him on his way back to his cube, the time-biding “Let me check my schedule!” blurted almost in sync with the obligatory “Next week?” A few months ago I cancelled because I didn’t have it in me to catch him up on what had been going on in my life, and I feigned a long call with a client instead. Weeks later he cancelled, reason not given, and I saw him out to lunch with another coworker. With each excuse, we are apologetic. We make more loose plans. We are not surprised when they unravel.

Lately I’ve been trying really hard to be honest — with myself, with people I’m close to, with strangers I’ve just met. Though simple in its intent, it can be really fucking difficult. It forces me to constantly check in with my emotions and acknowledge those which don’t serve me while embracing those which do. I am slowly accepting I don’t have to force myself to do things I don’t want to do, and I don’t need to apologize for not wanting to do them. This has led to a lot of convoluted pep talks, a lot of interactions ending in questions like, “Wait… Am I a mean person?” but ultimately, past the initial discomfort, a lot more clarity. I’m starting to understand the balance between who I am and who I want to be, and how the relationships I choose to invest in can alter those perceptions.

I am not a spontaneous person. Never have been, don’t necessarily want to be. I derive no pleasure from the last minute, the que sera, sera. Telling me to “go with the flow” is basically like telling me to drown. On the mornings I wake up knowing I will once again cancel “maybe” plans with Terry (should he not first cancel on me), I am filled with debilitating guilt. I spend the hours leading up to noon not excited for a chance to stuff my face but rather fighting stomach knots knowing I will yet again continue this polite charade, too afraid to be upfront and find a way to reasonably explain why I don’t want to go out to lunch with a nice man who has only ever offered sincere friendship. On these days I lay low, leaving my desk only for necessities, and microwave my backup meal long after the midday rush, feeling like an asshole forevermore.

But after doing the new “Well, why do you think you’re feeling so awful about this, hmm?” check-in I’ve mandated in the name of honesty, I realize the guilt isn’t from not wanting to spend unnecessary money and leave my email unattended for over an hour. I feel guilty because instead of communicating my difficulty with non-concrete plans; my fickle urges to be social; my inexplicable I can’t stand sitting with someone who will be nice to me today mindset, I am lying to someone who can (and probably will graciously) accept the truth, no hard feelings. My guilt comes not from not wanting to do “the thing,” but from how I am handling not wanting to do “the thing.” I may not be spontaneous, but I am also not mean. I am not a liar. I am not the kind of person who likes making plans out of obligation, and I do not want to be the kind of person who strings someone else along because of it. Not knowing how to quite word these feelings isn’t a reason not to try.

Though I regret waiting so many tentative Tuesdays to get here, something tells me Terry will understand.

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