15. Bowled Over

15. Bowled Over

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

Bowled Over

“I know it’s the last minute,” Carl said timidly when I answered the phone, “but I, um, need a date for tonight.” A date? Carl had never once mentioned the “D” word to me before, and it left me speechless. “I hope you’re available,” he added.

I glanced at the clock. It was after four. How many other numbers had he dialed first? He probably thought, maybe I’ll try ol’ reliable Jan. She’s usually home on a Saturday night.

“It’s my company party — a bowling party,” he said. He needs a date for bowling? “Okay, sure,” I replied.

When I hung up the phone my thoughts drifted back to two years ago when Carl first joined our church singles group. He wasn’t what you’d call a hunk and didn’t have a sparkling personality, but there was an instant tug at my heart. It wasn’t his steel blue eyes, the premature gray hair or warm smile that attracted me, but an obvious strength of character. I wanted to know this man.

After the singles meetings, a few of us would meander over to the coffee shop. I’d linger, making sure I found myself alone with Carl. One night we talked until the late hours, conferring about everything from childhoods to politics to the Bible.

“You have firm opinions, and you’re not afraid to state them,” he told me. “I like that.” Feeling as flimsy as a soggy piece of toast, I gazed longingly at him, but I received only congenial smiles in return.

Every week my heart fluttered at his warm “Hello.” I knew he must be attracted to me, too, but this guy guarded his heart like a sentry over the crown jewels.

A few months later at our group’s annual country hoedown, Carl and I square-danced together most of the night, twirling, tripping and laughing like teenagers.

He offered to drive me home after we cleaned up. “I have a view of the valley from my deck,” I said, nudging Carl through the front door to the backyard. “Come and see.” As we stood close together, watching the city lights flicker, I thought my anxious heart was about to explode like a pan of sizzling popcorn. This is the perfect moment to sweep me into his arms. Then, abruptly, he said, “I’ve really got to go now.”

“He’s driving me crazy,” I later told my best friend, Jeanne.

“Could you be misinterpreting his attentions, just a bit, Jan? He’s still healing from a recent divorce. He’s got to test the single waters and see which way to steer his boat.”

“But, but...” I was about to counter with “He likes to be with me, and we have so much in common, and doesn’t he realize I’m perfect for him?” What was the matter with me? I’d been single again for ten years. A mature, professional woman, a singles group leader, not a schoolgirl dizzy with her first crush.

Jeanne piped in. “Earth to Jan — remember that seminar on dating and healthy relationships? The tricky little ‘I’ word?”

Infatuation, the chemistry that turns the sensible into silly. Yes, and it’s the mystery, the uncertainty that keeps the fires of infatuation going.

“I must be imagining things that just aren’t there.”

“You’re in love with the idea of falling in love.”

I suppressed some tears. “I feel like a fool.”

“Let it go, Jan. The timing is wrong,” Jeanne urged.

Yes, and if Carl were the right man for me, it would happen in God’s time with no plotting on my part. I asked myself, do I care about Carl enough to want the best for him, even if it is never me? I wrestled with it all night. How is it possible to have a platonic relationship while a medley of feelings dances on my heart?

“Give it to God,” Jeanne said. She was right, but why do fantasies feel so comfortable, like a soft, cuddly lamb’s-wool rug in front of a warm fire? It was hard to let go, but even harder to spark a romance with only one flame.

Carl was a popular guy in our group, friendly with everybody, and in the next year he had his share of women chasing him. He did have some dates, but none with me. He was like a cat with a dish of cream, lapping up strokes to his self-esteem. He was in his single heyday. Finally content to be his pal and cheerleader, life went back to normal.

But then came the telephone call, and that “D” word. I raked over my closet trying to find the perfect bowling outfit. Oh, here I go again, feeling all giddy. After all this time? Get a grip, girl.

We met for dinner at Garcia’s, a Mexican restaurant near the bowling lanes, and before the fajitas stopped sizzling, the atmosphere shifted. This was not our usual “Let’s grab a bite to eat.” This was a lingering-over-the-meal, his-eyes-riveted-on-me, soaking-in-my-every-word-as-if-I-hadn’t-existed-before kind of thing. This was a real date! And to cinch it, he paid for my dinner! While I didn’t make any strikes later at the bowling alley, there was a telltale twinkle in his eyes that showed me I’d made a big strike with him. Bowled over, my emotional alarm clock started to go off.

Jeanne was half asleep when she picked up the phone at midnight. “What are you so afraid of?”

“That old floating-on-a-cloud feeling. I don’t want to go back there.”

“I like you better sane, myself.”

Three weeks went by and no telephone call from Carl. It figures. He’s probably back at Garcia’s sampling the chili rellenos with somebody else. That’s fine. At least I got a nice dinner out of it.

It was time for our singles Saturday social: a trip to San Francisco, a bike ride in Golden Gate Park and an optional dinner cruise on the bay. We rendezvoused at the grocery store parking lot.

“Lover Boy just showed up,” Jeanne announced as Carl began to unload his bike from the back of his car. I bolstered myself. Be mildly sociable, but aloof. Let him come to you. After biking along the beachfront, ten of us changed into dinner clothes and boarded a blue-and-gold double-decker boat. As it headed out in the choppy waters, we all stood on the lower deck, watching the blazing sun slip under the Golden Gate Bridge, coloring the sky like a dream. I was spellbound by the lights emerging from the bridge. I barely noticed the music starting to signal dinner being served. I saw Jeanne and the group go below, and suddenly the deck was empty. Except for me and Carl.

As the boat began to circle, a cold blast of sea breeze made me shiver. Carl slid his long arms around my shoulders. This was no benign hug. Suddenly, I froze like a petrified tree.

Gently, he lifted my chin and looked down at me. He’s going to kiss me. In the most romantic place in the world he’s going to kiss me. Wait a minute. I have a few questions.... But I closed my eyes, slipped my arms around his neck and just let it happen.

“I knew you wanted me to do that long ago,” he finally said, “But I couldn’t. I was nowhere near ready for a committed relationship, and it wouldn’t have been fair. I needed time — to become the right man for a woman like you.”

Eleven months later we were married. During our wedding vows, Carl said, “Thank you for waiting for me, Jan.” When it was my turn, I shared something I’d tucked away in my heart. It was from one of those dating seminars: “Love is a friendship that has caught fire.”

 

~Jan Coleman
Chicken Soup for the Single’s Soul

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