Sam and the Magic Pants

I like shopping for pants as much as I like first dates: there is the hope of something new and good, but I usually find myself knee-deep in self-pity seeking comfort in a box of Fig Newtons. Sizes are slippery fish in most stores, but to my chagrin, I’ve always sat comfortably in a size 16. Not that a size 16 is bad in and of itself–it just means that I’m on the cusp of being able to purchase clothes at major retail chains or having to shop in the plus-size section. I usually can ignore the extra poundage I drag around on a daily basis, but there is no way to sustain denial under the harsh fluorescent lighting of a GAP dressing room. On an impulse, I decide to deviate from my usual “Long and Lean” cut denim and grab a pair of straight-leg, ankle-cut corduroys in a bold shade of red. The straight-leg pants at this store never fit. I’m preparing myself for disappointment, but much to my surprise, I zip them up to perfection. I stand, fluorescent light be damned, as I celebrate a shopping victory. Thrilled to be able to wear a new style, I grab 5 pairs of other colors and pull them back to the fitting room. Despite them being labeled in precisely the same manner, only the red ones fit. I cut my losses and happily walk out with my purchase, my very own magical pants. I was wearing those red pants when I met Sam.

Sam and I had been emailing for three months. I broke my rule against befriending strangers on Facebook after multiple prompts of “Do you know Sam” in that little toolbar on the right-hand side of my screen. No, I don’t know Sam. Should I? I glanced at his profile to discover we know many of the same people. He was very handsome, perhaps a little more clean-cut than I was normally attracted to (short blond hair, suited wardrobe and no tattoos), but what drew me in was his “About Me” section, more specifically, that he took the time to write a five-paragraph Facebook auto-biography. I made mental notes of all the things that piqued my interest and sent a friendly message introducing myself. Introductory emails gave way to hours of clever banter revealing a quirky sense of humor that matches closely with my own. We joked about politics, and we swapped a lot of popular Internet memes. We were both big fans of Grumpy Cat.  Beyond that, we shared many of the same interests and philosophies on life, a rare occurrence for me. Sam worked long hours as a copywriter for a boutique advertising company, so the messages usually didn’t ramp up until after midnight. I noticed that I would stay up later and later each night looking forward to our next exchange. Because he lived in the suburbs of New Jersey and worked so much, it took three months of failed attempts before we made solid plans to meet in person, but finally, at Sam’s suggestion, we scheduled a Saturday night dinner.

Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with the nervousness and anticipation of discovering whether or not the real Sam would match the version of him I conjured in my imagination. As worried as I am that he will not match my expectations, I am even more stressed that I will somehow disappoint the version of me he has envisioned. My anxiety peaks as I obsessively comb through our emails to look for clues as to whether this dinner was a friendly meal or a date.  There are no discernable signs to be found, so I decide to wear my magic pants and a full face of make-up to be on the safe side. As I’m mulling over the weekend’s possibilities, the ping of a new messages breaks my concentration:

“I am really craving Mexican . Let’s do Tortilla Flats in the Meatpacking district. I’ll pick you up at your place at 8.”

He’ll pick me up!?! At my place!?! This is unheard of behavior in New York. I am used to meeting men at bars and saying awkward goodbyes outside of subway stations, but this guy was going to pick me up?! A date, this is definitely a date. Saturday arrives, my doorbell buzzes, and my stomach flips. I open the door and am greeted with a warm “Hey you!” I walk towards him and we hug, not as strangers, but as people who’ve known each other forever. I sigh and am immediately at ease. At dinner, our banter is as rapid-fire and easy as it is in print, but there is so much more to explore when you add in facial expressions and body language. Sam’s eyes blink hyperactively as we frenetically switch from topic to topic. I am too charmed for my own good. Dinner ends, and he suggests a second location for drinks. So far, he has opened every single door and paid for everything. The scale is tipping heavily on the “date” end, but everything is riding on the goodbye. I stand on my stoop trying to telepathically convey the message of “kiss me, you fool!” but the night ends with a hug. I float up to my 4th floor walk-up, not letting the vague nature of the evening detract me from the joy of connecting with an interesting man. It’s not even a day later that I hear that familiar ping on my phone:

“I had such a great time last night. It was so nice to finally meet you. Let’s do it again soon.”

I take a page out of the movie Swingers’ playbook and determine that a 24-hour follow-up means he is interested (Vince Vaughn would suggest that waiting three days is “money, baby”). A quick post-mortem leads me to finally settle on the opinion that our night out had romantic undertones.

Our friendship continued over the course of a couple of months when I offer my photography assistance on a side web-project he’s developing. It is not a ploy to spend more time together, but inevitably that is what happens. Ok, it might have been a ploy. I realize as we’re working together that our once playful banter has transitioned into a less-flirtatious buddy rapport, and all we ever talk about anymore is this photography project. After a boost of self-confidence, and perhaps an Ambien, I compose an email to say what I’ve been too scared to say since we met: “I’m interested in you, Sam, and I want more than good friendship.” I ended the message with the latest YouTube clip of Randall, the Honey Badger. I wait 18 torturous hours for his reply, the lowlight of which was the following:

“I don’t even know what to say. I think we are on different pages. I’ve been approaching things                           from a ‘friendly’ perspective. I’m pretty picky when it comes to dating, and I’m not sure I’ll ever find what I’m looking for. But I’ve had a great time getting to know you, and if you are ok with this, I’d be happy to continue just being friends.”

He seals the message with the latest Chuck Norris meme. We are both desperately trying to diffuse the awkwardness of this conversation. In the list of possible scenarios I had imagined, all of them operated under the assumption that he had at least thought about me as a romantic prospect. I was prepared for “he’s just not into me,” but I was completely unprepared for “I was never worthy of being considered.” I’m embarrassed to say how deeply this hurt me, but I was crushed. Lucky for me, this was not an in-person conversation. Since he is not witnessing my devastation over the computer screen, I have options here: cut my losses and walk away, or take him up on his offer for friendship and hope my feelings subside. I foolishly chose the latter. In an effort to save face, I pack my feelings for him in a little box and hide it under my mattress. Compartmentalizing is easy for me as I’ve never been very good at handling my emotions. I find it’s always more comfortable to trust my cerebral instincts and completely ignore what my pesky heart might have to say about the matter.  I prefer a robot’s life.

Six months passed after that gut-wrenching rejection, and neither of us ever mentioned the conversation.  We carried on as old chums happy to be in a platonic relationship. I helped him with photography. He helped talk me off countless ledges after heated arguments with my mother. We gave each other encouraging career pep talks (neither of us was happy with the distance between our corporate jobs and our artistic dreams). He made me laugh all the time, and we messaged almost daily. I’d spent most of my life relying on self-sufficiency and independence, but for the first time, I needed someone, not in the sense that I was needy, but in the sense that my friendship with Sam was necessary. Most days, I convinced myself I was happy with the arrangement, that his friendship was worth the tiny twangs of discomfort I felt when I realized we both wanted different things. Those twangs often erupted from suspicions that he was interested in someone else, a girl who lives in his building. Jealousy is an evil gremlin that can seriously harsh your buzz. My robot wiring short-circuits when rogue emotions pop up, and I did my best to ignore the feelings that emerged every time I heard him mention her name, or worse, when he would pause mid-conversation to send her a text message. I tried to keep my feelings for him sealed in that hidden box separate from our actual friendship, but I was eventually faced with the reality that my emotions were spilling over. It was difficult to come to grips with the fact that our friendship might only be this special to me. By agreeing to be “just friends” with Sam, I wrote a check my heart could not cash, and our platonic relationship hurt more than I thought it would. It’s not that I thought his feelings would change; actually, on the contrary, I was so certain my feelings would. They never did.

Recently, I had an “a-ha” moment. Sometimes, my imagination gets the best of me, and I ponder a life where Sam does return my feelings. I was walking down Broadway after work with my IPod cranked full-blast on a list of 80’s power ballads, lost in a day-dream where I imagine that first night ending with a passionate kiss. My thoughts were quickly interrupted–

Zzttt. zzzzztttt. ZZZZTTTTT.

I literally blew my IPod speakers while listening to Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love.”

“So this is what rock-bottom feels like,” I thought to myself. I looked down in my moment of self-pity, and I realized that I was wearing those same red corduroy pants, only they didn’t fit anymore. After a come-to-Jesus moment with poor-eating habits around Thanksgiving, I lost several pounds on a low-carb diet, and my once-magic pants now looked baggy and unflattering.  It’s funny, they had probably been that way for a while, but in my mind, they still looked as amazing as they did in that dressing room. I should probably have thrown them away, but I liked them too much. Too stubborn to embrace change, time went by and I was still using my broken headphones and wearing my baggy pants. A coworker compared my red corduroys to a pair of broken-in sweatpants, which prompted an emergency shopping trip. I walked right by the GAP and decided to instead try my hand at Urban Outfitters, a store I previously had not had the pleasure of perusing because they did not carry my size. I grabbed a pair of plain boot-cut jeans and head towards the dressing room. I nearly cried as I zipped up the smallest pair of pants I have worn in my entire adult life. These jeans are not magic, but they fit perfectly. I stared in the mirror long enough to annoy the sales associates who wanted to fill the dressing room with the next customer.

This is precisely what pants should feel like.

I’m noticing that Sam and I don’t email me as much as we used to. Maybe we’ve exhausted the pool of Internet memes, or maybe I’ve finally allowed the proper balance to be restored to the relationship. No matter what, I’ve slowly learned the risk you take by opening yourself up to another person is worth the potential rewards. Sometimes, you are met with the same emotions, and sometimes you are emotionally out on a limb, but it sure beats the lonely, isolated existence of a robot. I scroll through my Facebook feed to see a witty exchange between Sam and a new woman friend. I am relieved to discover that evil jealousy gremlin is nowhere to be found. I have a habit of waiting a long time to fix things that are broken. It’s taken me over a year, but I am finally beginning to reconcile my heart with reality, and yesterday, I finally tossed those headphones in the trash with my size-16, red corduroy pants.