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Learning the Lessons of Life, On and Off That Lonely Road
My friend Rachel, for example, has had men fly across the country to meet her. So, in a similar vein, could a four-hour drive from Syracuse to Montreal be considered insane? Maybe. But you only live once.
Allie, the girl I met a couple of weeks earlier in New York, was going to be in Montreal. After ironing out logistical and scheduling issues, we set a date: Friday of Labor Day weekend. She was leaving Montreal the next day to visit family members in Ottawa.
We had a narrow window. So I drove fast, and told her I would be there by 1 p.m., and got there at 12:50. My hotel was a short walk from hers.
She greeted me in the lobby with a big smile, a hug and a kiss on the cheek. (Foreign women are warmer than the American girls I usually meet.) She introduced me to her father, and the three of us went to lunch.
It was a bit on the awkward side, but pleasant and interesting.
After lunch, Allie and I rented bikes and spent more than two hours riding around Montreal, chatting and sightseeing in the warm sun.
A sap might call it romantic. But I had a subtle sense of something askew. My instincts crystallized when we stopped for a photo at a famous cathedral. She wanted separate photos -- not one of the two of us together.
After returning the bikes, we went for a drink and a snack. Sitting at an outdoor cafe in the Old City overlooking a street performer on a unicycle, our conversation covered the traditional topics of family, work, hobbies and so forth. I seemed to be doing the bulk of the questioning, which isn't unusual.
I asked the question, but already sensed the answer, "Do you have a boyfriend?"
The answer: "Yes."
My response was a raised eyebrow and a polite, "That's interesting."
She responded with the requisite question about my relationship status.
"I'm single. I haven't had a girlfriend in more than a year," I replied.
I could only question how I could have misread everything leading up to this. Did I misinterpret the signals? I feel rather skilled at reading between the lines, and well-versed in the techniques women use to tell men they're already attached or not interested.
I have met women who've jumped through hoops and taken wild digressions to squeeze boyfriends or spouses into conversations, just to make sure that there was no misunderstanding. I read subtext like normal people read billboards.
Allie certainly had her opportunities to make sure I knew she was in a relationship. But she chose to sit next to me that night, and then followed me to the back of the synagogue. She engaged me in a conversation outside and exchanged info. She e-mailed me and told me she looked forward to seeing me. It was a four-hour drive for me. She had to know I was interested -- and available.
The obvious question for me: What did I think this trip north would generate? I wasn't sure.
Maybe it would be a start to something romantic, or perhaps it would wind up a friendship. Before the trip, I didn't know what lay ahead. But as Allie wiped up cheese with the last nacho chip, I was pretty sure this was the end of the road.
I never gave her the opportunity or the satisfaction of asking her why she did not tell me before that she had a boyfriend.
Later in the evening, Saint Catherine Street in downtown Montreal was literally jumping with loud music and shoulder-to-shoulder bar-hoppers.
For dinner, Allie picked a pub-style restaurant where an 1980s cover band drowned out our conversation with songs made famous by Blondie, Queen and the Cars. At that point, I was just fine with not talking. Between driving four hours and biking for two -- coupled with the newfound knowledge that Allie had a beau waiting for her back in Buenos Aires, where she's originally from -- I was ready to pack it in.
We strolled back to her hotel, making tentative plans to meet Sunday night when she returned from Ottawa. As we parted, she stood on her tip toes, and I leaned down for a peck on the cheek.
"Too bad that you have a boyfriend," I said.
She gave me a little shrug and a plaintive smile.
I went home Sunday morning. The four-hour drive gave me ample time to analyze things. My friend who gave me that pep talk, inspiring me to take the leap, empathized, and said he would have interpreted her signals the same way I did.
As deflating as the weekend was, it was not a lost cause.
I did get to see a new city, and, in the process, I learned a rather important lesson: Before traveling 500 miles to meet a girl, make sure to ask if she's already off the market.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.