I found myself walking down the street to a bar - a bar out of all places. I shook my head and silently scolded myself as I walked in and took a seat at the counter. Thankfully, there weren’t that many people there. I looked at the clock on the wall; it was only eight. An older woman was sitting a few seats down from me. When I glanced at her, I found her studying me closely.
“How’s your night going so far?” she asked me with a gravelly voice.
I smiled politely at her. “It’s fine, how about yours?”
She chuckled to herself. “Oh, just great.”
I ordered a vodka soda from the bartender and picked at a bowl of pretzels in front of me. After he placed the drink in front of me, I took a sip and twisted my face slightly at the strength of it.
“Not a big drinker?” the woman asked.
I set the drink down and smiled again. “No, I guess not,” I said with a laugh.
“So what made you come here tonight? Alone, I might add.”
“I’m waiting for something and needed to pass the time.” I began fidgeting with my drink, spinning it around on the counter.
“Whatcha waiting for that needs alcohol?” she joked.
I looked away, then back at her, trying to think of a way to answer. “I’m - well, I’m waiting for my neighbor to leave.”
She leaned back in her stool and raised her eyebrows at me. “Who’s this neighbor of yours?”
How could I explain Josh to her without letting too much slip out in front of a complete stranger? I sat there for a moment deliberating.
“Well?” she pursued.
“He’s moving out of our apartment building today, and he told me he was in love with me a couple of days ago. I told him I didn’t know what to say, then he told me to think it over and that he would come over before he officially left.”
“So you don’t love him?”
“Well, no, I don’t think so.” I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, then took a big gulp of the vodka soda.
“Ah, I see,” the woman paused to sip her beer, “you don’t want to be in love with him.”
I looked at her quizzically. “No, that’s not it.”
“Well, then what’s the problem? Is he a good person?”
“Yes, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met actually.”
“Is he broke?”
“No, he’s moving because he got some sort of huge job promotion.”
She snorted. “Lucky him. Well, what does he look like? Is he just not attractive enough for you?”
“I don’t care about that kind of stuff, but he is quite handsome as a matter of fact. Tall, dark, you know the type.”
“Jeez, well, what’s the problem then? It sounds like you met the perfect man! And he loves you!” The woman moved down a stool so she was closer to me.
I felt my face begin to redden and the tears rushing to my eyes; I took a couple more sips of my drink and managed to hold them back. “I’m not ready. I like being alone. I’m happy alone.”
The woman shook her head. “Listen, how old are you? Twenty-three or something?”
“Okay, so you have all sorts of time left.”
“Exactly,” I said, nodding my head in agreement.
“Wait - you didn’t let me finish. You may be young and have lots of years left in your life, but you never know when the next time true love comes along. You could end up like me, fifty-something years old and alone. In fact, I’m here right now waiting for my sister. She’s getting married this weekend. Married. She says she’s in love with this man, so in love that she misses him even when they’re apart for only minutes. I’m fifteen years her senior, and I’ve never had that feeling.”
She looked away for a moment, then turned back and gave me a stern look. “When I was in college, the sweetest boy I had ever met was obsessed with me. Head-over-heels in love. And I let him get away. Why? The same reasons you gave. I told myself I wasn’t ready.”
“Well, maybe you weren’t,” I said.
She sighed. “No, that’s the thing. None of us are ready. I’m not ready now. But love - love doesn’t wait for you to be ready. I’ve had a good life: a stable job, family and friends that care about me, a beautiful house - but there has always been one thing missing.”
“What are you saying? That I won’t live up to my full potential happiness unless I have a man by my side?”
“Absolutely not. I know plenty of single, happy women who could not care less about relationships and getting married. This is different. You’re deliberately letting this man get away just because you’re too afraid to get out of your comfort zone and experience something real.”
“You don’t know me.” I was getting a bit irritated at this point. I finished my drink and motioned to the bartender for another one.
“I know you a lot better than you think I do. You’re me thirty years ago. Maybe I’m you from the future, here to warn you about the mistake you’re about to make.”
I was silent. I half expected her to continue and try to persuade me even more to go running into Josh’s arms, but she remained quiet too. As I downed more of the second drink, I started thinking about Josh - the first time we met, how he would bring me leftovers of his cooking, how he would always invite me to his holiday parties, and how when I would go to those parties, he would spend half the time talking to me and the other half introducing me to his friends. I remembered when he took me out to lunch for my birthday last year and brought me champagne for New Years’. He always asked about my family and my job and how I was doing. What did I ever do for him? What did he ever see in me?
“I’m not an insecure woman,” I heard myself say aloud.
I looked over at the woman. She was looking right back at me. “I never said you were.”
“My name is Rosie, by the way,” I said to her.
“Grace.” She reached her hand out to me, and I shook it.
We both turned away from each other again and continued drinking. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed in silence, but soon enough I heard her say “she’s here,” and I looked up to see a woman enter the bar. Grace got up and gave her a hug. I couldn’t help but notice a tinge of sadness in her eyes as she turned back to grab her purse. She paused for a moment beside me.
“Just think about it,” was all she said before she left with her sister.
I gulped down the rest of my drink and paid my tab. Walking out of the bar, I felt a little uneasy - and not from the drinks. Finding my way back to the apartment building, I stopped still in front of the main doors. What was I to do? What if he was already gone?
I took a deep breath and walked inside. I skipped the elevator and ran straight up the stairs to our floor. I rushed to his door, but couldn’t bring myself to knock. I stood there numbly for a full minute. When I heard a noise inside, I hurried next door to my place and locked myself inside. I leaned against the wall and sunk to the floor. The thing about Josh was that my heart skipped a beat when he spoke to me. I got butterflies when he smiled at me. I dreamt about him at night. The other thing about Josh was that I never brought him leftovers or champagne. I never invited him to any parties or took him out to eat. I never asked him about his family or job or how he was doing. I wasn’t meant to be with someone like him; I knew it deep down.
Then I thought about Grace. What if that was me thirty years from now? No, no, that won’t be me. I just couldn’t get that subtle look of sadness out of my mind. Her words rung in my head: “just think about it.” Maybe that was the problem - I was thinking about it too much. I rose and adjusted myself. Standing up straight, I walked out into the hall and to his door again. Just as I was about to knock, it opened. I felt the panic rush through me. What have I done?
“Hi, can I help you?”
I let out a huge sigh of relief when I saw it wasn’t Josh. “No, sorry,” I said while beginning to turn away.
“Are you looking for Josh? He left about twenty minutes ago. I was just getting the rest of the boxes, but I can give him a message for you or something. I’m a friend of his.”
I shook my head, “no, no, that’s alright. I just -”
“Hey! You’re Rosie, his neighbor. We met at the holiday party, remember? My name is Wesley.”
He did look a bit familiar. “Yes, of course, Wesley, hello.” Of course, he just had to know me; he was definitely going to tell Josh that I was looking for him. “Listen, can you please not tell Josh that I was here?”
He looked a little confused but shrugged and said “sure, you have some kind of surprise planned or something?”
“Yes, yes, a surprise. It’s a secret.” Before he could ask me anything else, I walked briskly back to my apartment and shut the door behind me immediately. I sat down on the sofa and felt a tear begin to stream down my face.
“Stop it now,” I told myself. I don’t want to be in love with Josh. I don’t want to date him and have to share my life with him. And don’t most relationships not even last? Why should I put myself through that just for it to end in heartbreak? Sure, it might be nice to feel what it’s like to be in love, but I know too many people that have gone through breakups. I know how broken and sad I’ll feel when it ends.
I think I’d rather feel nothing at all.