When I was still working for The Man, slaving away in my no-privacy cubicle in the converted warehouse in the part of town where people were carjacked at stoplights and we were supposed to call security if we had to go to the parking lot after dark, a colleague, Billy, asked me to lunch. Although I usually ate lunch at my desk* and then ran to the JCC gym for a quick workout,** I agreed to go. I had known Billy for five years - since his starting at the company right out of college. We had worked on several projects together and he was a great kid. Going out to lunch with him sounded like a lot more fun than going to the gym.
When we got to the restaurant, Billy told me this was his treat. I protested, but he insisted. I stopped arguing and accepted graciously, although I think lunch between colleagues should be dutch treat. But it’s ungracious to argue when someone makes a generous offer like that. When I offer to buy lunch for someone, I mean it, and find it insulting to have the person make more than a token protest.
We had a nice conversation. On the one big project we had worked on together, I frequently made brownies for the team. “No brownies for you!” became a mantra when I was teasing someone. Billy told me there was a guy on his team now who was always bringing elaborate desserts to work and that he – Billy – wanted to make something even better. (Men are so competitive. I would never try to outbake anyone for say, book club.) Did I give dessert-making lessons?
No, I told him, but I would send him some recipes. And, I said, he might want to consider taking some cooking classes – that would be a great way to meet girls! Then I got nosy. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, not right now,” he said, blushing. He was a quiet, reserved guy – not the sort who would be out on the town all the time, I would think.
“We’ll have to figure out a way for you to meet a nice girl,” said yenta me.
Then he told me that he had gotten a cat and we compared kitten and cat stories. “You need to come over and meet my cat,” he suggested.
“OK, sure,” I said. I didn't mean it. I wasn't interested in going to his place. But what do you say to something like that? No, I don't want to come over to your place to see your cat? I spend enough time at work and spending non-work time with co-workers is just like work?
He told me about the vacation had taken to Milan. I was interested to hear about it. “I have photos,” he offered. “You can come over and see them if you want.”
“Email me some!” I said. Enough with the making me go to his place! He was a tech guy. Did he not understand the wonders of the interweb?
But then I started to wonder. No! I was THIRTEEN YEARS OLDER than he was! I was completely misreading things.
I suppressed my thoughts. Crazy, crazy, crazy. What would a 26 year old guy want with a 39 year old woman? I'm not Demi Moore, you know. It's not like I can pay for a perfect body (OK, she was starting with a decent canvas to begin with) or help his career. I was imagining things, letting my ego get in the way of reality. Who wouldn't want a man 13 years her junior to be attracted to her, even unrequitedly? I was seeing things that weren't there that I sort of wanted to see but then really didn't want to because that gets messy.
We returned to the office. I emailed a few friends and asked their opinion. I asked my brother. They all said that given the facts as I had stated them (not that I have ever been known to exaggerate), it sounded like Billy thought I was One Hot Mama, and I use the word "Mama" on purpose, although I have no children.
There was a new young woman in accounting. I called her. "I know a really nice guy," I said. "Do you want to be set up?"
Nope, she told me. She had a boyfriend.
Oh. Like she shouldn't do a capital analysis of all the available investments to see which is the best one? Serial dating is really bad for evaluating options. She should date a lot of guys at once.
But she was unconvinced.
It didn't matter, because I had emailed Billy first to ask him if I should ask Accounting Girl if she wanted to meet him.
“I’d really be more interested in getting to know you better,” he replied.
How was I supposed to respond to that, impressed as I was that he was willing to put himself out there and flattered as I was that he was attracted to me?
1. I wasn't interested in him, age or not.
2. I had to keep working with him.
Hadn't my responses to his bait about cooking, cats and photos been enough to put him off, even though I hadn't thought that he was flirting at first? Could I tell him I had to wash my hair? Why was I being forced into this awkward position? MEN! If you throw out hints inviting a woman to your place and she pushes back and she also offers to set you up WITH SOMEONE ELSE, that means she DOES NOT WANT TO DATE YOU.
Sigh. I had to deal with this.
The meanest thing to do is to string someone along.
So I lied instead.
I emailed him, telling him how very flattered I was, but that I was involved with someone else, which was sort of - OK, not really - true. The flattered part was totally true.
He must have been OK with what I said because not only did we not have a problem in our working relationship after that, but he continued to email me for a good two years after I was laid off (a few months after his proposition) to check in on me. Or maybe to see if I had changed my mind.
* Take that, the four men (and my only peers in the office) who went out to lunch without me my first day of work at this company. I had taken the train the 60 miles to work. (Don't move to Boca! they told me. We're moving the office to Miami any day now!) I did not have a car with me or any other means to get to a place where food was sold, other than my feet, and considering I was 1. wearing high heels and 2. did not know the area at all, that wasn't a good option. I had not brought lunch with me. There was a small snack bar in the office building that sold junk food. The man who hired me plus all my new colleagues walked past my office. We're going out to lunch, they said. See you in an hour or so. Yeah. I felt welcome. I ate pretzels for lunch. The next day, I brought my lunch. Jerks.
** And to watch the hot, hot, hot Israeli cop who finally asked me out - OK, he told me I could ride around in the cop car with him and asked for my contact info, but that was a request for a date as far as I was concerned - but then told me that he was married but only for a green card, which, as you know, is a deal breaker for me. I don't do immigration cheating. Why are these guys so attracted to me? Cheaters, I mean? Even if he was lying about his marriage and it was a real marriage and not a green card marriage, then he was sort of cheating on his wife with his flirting with me.