Dating Dilemma: Red Flag, or White Lie?
Mama and other sensitive loved ones: though this is ultimately a post about ethics and honesty, it contains sexual content.
November 16, 2015 – The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, La Cienega and 3rd Street, Los Angeles
Renee and I haven’t seen each other for four years.
We’ve known each other, though, for a decade -- since 2005, when we were the only two students who showed up for an advanced Pilates class.
After that class, I had walked Renee out to her car. It was a cool night, and we each pulled our hoodies out of our bags. Hers said Stanford, mine said Cal. We teased each other about the rivalry, and talked about how much we didn’t miss living in the Bay Area.
I was married. Renee had a girlfriend. There wasn’t much of a spark, but the chat was fun. We were workout and casual conversation partners for years.
We lost touch around 2011, only to reconnect in summer 2015. Renee was now a writer on a TV show, and starting to date men for the first time in 15 years. I was rebuilding my life after the Catastrophe of 2013. At the time that she friended me on Facebook, I was two years into my personal celibacy project. I had been so shattered by what had happened and by what I had done, I had sworn off sex and dating in all forms.
Though we started chatting in August 2015, it was November before we could make our schedules mesh. By that time, our exchanges had taken on a more flirtatious undertone than they had in the past. And by that time, I’d also ended my long period of abstinence.
It’s not a date, I told myself, but you never know. When I got home from work that Monday afternoon, I changed out of casual office attire – Wranglers and a polo – and into a Brooks Brothers blazer, slacks and a blue button-down. This was a dating outfit, as much for the confidence it always gave me as for how it made me look to others.
When Renee walked into the Coffee Bean, she was dressed much more casually than I was: black sweater over jeans, dark hair tied back. She looked stunning.
“You look great,” she said, practically the first words out of her mouth. “Did you come from work?”
“Yup. Met with a big client today.” A very small lie.
Renee talks fast when she’s excited, and I tend to take my cues from the person across from me, so we machine-gunned through topics in the first 15 minutes: politics, terrorism, screenwriting; more seriously, the lingering pain of the death of a parent. (Since we first met, we’ve each lost our dads.) We talk about our exes, and a little about our own mental health issues.
Renee has panic disorder. I tell her my diagnosis.
The conversation is more light-hearted and flirtatious than the subjects would imply. I ask her if I can buy her a real drink. Her eyes sparkle. “God, yes.”
We take my car from the coffee shop.
The Abbey in West Hollywood is a queer institution, and for two out bisexual people on a windy, drizzly Monday night, it’s just the place. Renee has a vodka and tonic. I order a diet Coke, and she shakes her head. “Come on,” she says. She knows I’m not supposed to drink. I think for a second.
“Make it a Roy Rogers,” I announce. Renee laughs. “Much better!” The bartender doesn’t smirk, but his eyes gleam with something between approval and ridicule.
We sit on a couch. We lean into each other. The signs seem there, but I’m still new at this after so long out of the game. I could be misreading everything.
I recite in my head the same Shakespeare line I’ve used to twist up my courage since I was a teenager. From Macbeth: “Here on this bank and shoal of time, we jump’d the life to come.”
In other words, don’t paralyze yourself with thought of consequences. That line has led me into so much joy and adventure. And so much disaster.
I kiss Renee, softly. A second’s hesitation, and then oh my goodness, there is chemistry. We make out on the couch in the bar until she pushes me back, laughing.
“We should probably go,” she says.
I know what she means. It’s generally bad form for a straight couple to engage in too much public affection in a gay bar, even one as receptive and welcoming as The Abbey.
The drizzle has stopped. We walk on Robertson and then Melrose, stopping every few yards to kiss in doorways or against telephone poles.
I’m turned on, surprised, and happy. She seems the same.
She’s so damn smart, I think. There’s so much heat. This could be something. This could really turn into something.
Driving from the Abbey back to the coffee shop, I pull over to make out with her some more. Clothes get unbuttoned, windows get fogged. I’m getting ready to suggest something.
Renee squeezes my erection through my pants. I grunt, she growls.
“I’m not going to sleep with you tonight,” she says.
“So drive me back to my car before I change my mind.”
In the Coffee Bean parking lot, I walk her to her Chevy Sonic. Renee leans back against her own car door. The drizzle has returned. We kiss, promise each other we’ll do this again soon.
And then, I say it, a sheepish grin on my face.
“I have to tell you something. I didn’t wear this outfit for a client. I put these on because I was excited to see you.”
Renee grins. “That’s so awesome,” she says.
We pull at each other a moment longer, and then she pushes me away.
“Text me when you get home?” I ask.
She runs her thumb over my mouth. “Okay. But I want you to go home and touch yourself and think of me.”
Oh girl, yes.
“I expect the same from you,” I tell her. She nods, slowly, and climbs into her car.
Before I can do as was requested, a text comes in. “Home safe. I couldn’t wait. Made myself cum in the car for you. Good night.”
I text her the next day. I had such a good time. What are you up to on Saturday night? Can I take you to dinner?
She doesn’t reply. I don’t want to double text, and I wait – increasingly anxious and confused. I decide I’ll call on Friday.
Thursday night, an email comes instead.
It is kind, but formal. Renee says she had a great time. Renee says she’s interested. But, she says, she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about my lie about the clothes.
I know it’s probably silly to you, but I feel really bad that you didn’t tell me the truth about what you were wearing Monday night. I know you have a history of being dishonest with women, and I’m worried that if we see each other more, you will repeat that pattern with me. I can’t afford that in my life. I’m happy to talk about this more if you’d like, but I’d like to go forward as friends only.
Since this is Los Angeles, my first call is to my therapist. I then show Renee’s email to half a dozen friends. Is she overreacting? Was this a sign I’m not ready to date?
I do what I usually do, which is call a referendum in the hopes of getting clarity.
My friends are divided between those who think Renee is making a big deal out of a small white lie and those who think it is a sign of my continued troubled relationship with the truth. In time, I settle on the middle ground: She has every right to respond to the red flags she sees, I have every right to decide that little mistruths like this one are compatible with being a healthy dater.
And yeah, Renee sure was smart, and she was pretty, but she did go to Stanford. We were doomed from the start.
(An earlier and shorter version of this story appeared on Medium in 2016)