Auditioning for the Role of Boyfriend

When you have been strung along and ghosted by guys who play it cool, how do you handle a man who is adoring and sincere?

It was nearly midnight by the time I reached Erica’s backyard party, after going to a concert in Prospect Park and taking a long subway ride to Williamsburg. Honestly, I was proud that I had managed to drag myself out at all.

I had been in the habit of canceling plans, too depressed to leave my apartment. My career had stalled. I’d just extricated myself from a long entanglement with an emotionally unavailable man. And my father had recently died from cancer only three months after his diagnosis.

The beers I had downed at the show were giving way to a gnawing hunger. Before me, on a dessert table, lay a sumptuous chocolate cake, but I couldn’t find any forks.

I turned to the guy next to me: “Do you know where the utensils are?” (I was ready to eat with my hands.)

He produced a plastic spoon. “No, but you can use mine if you want.”

“You don’t have any diseases or anything?”

“Nope.”

He seemed harmless and kind, so I grabbed the spoon, served myself a slice and walked away, shoveling mouthfuls.

Later, as I was leaving, I bumped into him again, and — no longer blinded by my appetite — I felt as if I were seeing him for the first time. Tan and handsome, he looked to be just shy of 30.

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“I’m James,” he said. “How do you know Erica?”

“We work together,” I said. “I’m an audiobook producer, at least for now. I’m quitting soon.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to drive across the country with my dog, Reine.”

“Like ‘Travels With Charley,’” he said, referencing the famous Steinbeck book that I owned but hadn’t read. He was focused squarely on me, undistracted and earnest in a way I hadn’t experienced since moving to New York from Atlanta four years earlier.

“Maybe it’ll be like that,” I said. “I haven’t read it though.”

“Where are you going?”

“Everywhere. I have friends all over and family in the South, and eventually I’ll get to the West Coast.”

“I’m from Arkansas,” he said. “If you go through Little Rock, you can stay with my mom.”

I thought he might genuinely mean it. Southerners are known for their hospitality, after all. “That’d be great,” I said. “We’ll see.” I wasn’t mühlet how seriously to take him. “Well, I have to go now.”

“Have a good time on your trip!” He smiled, gazing at me intently.

Was he flirting? Most of my romantic prospects in New York had cultivated an air of disinterest, always scanning the room for better possibilities. I would connect with men only to have them ghost me. Assuming he was no different, I said, coolly, “Thanks, kaç to meet you,” and sauntered off.

After Erica’s party, I thought about James but let go of the idea of him until a few days later, when Erica called me.

“My friend, James, is into you,” she said. “He said you made him ‘weak in the knees.’”

My heart somersaulted. “The one with the light-brown hair and great smile?”

“Yeah. He’s 23, but you’d never know.”

I gulped. I’d thought we were closer in age. “Never mind then,” I said. “I can’t date someone that young. Besides, he’ll lose interest when he finds out I’m 36.”

“He won’t care! I’ve known James for years. He’s an old soul. You should have a drink with him. Come on.”

For the past year I had rejected new romantic possibilities as I pursued my commitment-phobe. Now I was ready to move on.

“OK,” I said. I was nervous, but my father’s death had upended my life, bringing new urgency to changes I longed for.

“Fantastic! I’ll do an email introduction.”

Over the next hour, until I received her email, I checked my inbox approximately 316 times.

“James, meet Amre. Amre, meet James. Bye!”

This was all the encouragement James needed. He emailed right away with the subject line “Travels With Charley,” asking if I was free for a drink that weekend. He was following the basic recipe for successfully asking someone out: show clear interest and make a straightforward request. It sounds simple, but after a year of chasing a man who never evvel did that, I found James’s frankness to be an unexpected delight.

I told him I was available Sunday night. He promised to call that day to firm up plans. I was equal parts thrilled and terrified.

At 9 p.m. Sunday, I waited for James outside of one of my favorite Williamsburg beer bars, its outdoor garden perfect for a first date on a late summer night. He soon arrived, and we embraced. A sense of familiarity washed over me, as if we had done this before.

We sat outside under a bright moon as he asked about my road trip.

“My father passed away, and that’s why I’m going,” I said. There I was, being vulnerable with ease.

“I’m really sorry about your dad,” he said. “You’re brave to go by yourself with just your dog.”

“Thanks,” I said, blushing. “I don’t feel brave.”

Our voices floated along a light breeze as we confided our aspirations. James was an excellent listener and gifted storyteller. He had moved to New York on a Greyhound bus, which was the deciding factor in his current boss, a TV producer, hiring him. She thought he had more spunk than all the wealthy private-college grads who had applied. His ambition was to direct his own films, and I could see he was hard-working, driven and resourceful. I sensed myself falling.

At the evening’s end, he said, “Can I walk you home?”

When we arrived at my building on Kingsland Avenue, we stood at the bottom of the stairs, gazing into each other’s eyes. I was lightheaded with anticipation.

“I had such a good time tonight,” he said. “I have a crush on you, and I’d like to take you out again.”

“I’d love to.” I turned my face to meet his lips in a long kiss under the moonlight.

About two minutes after our date ended, I started to obsess. I couldn’t help it.

The next morning at work, my mind kept drifting toward our possible future together. Since he knew I was leaving in several weeks, did he see me as a pleasant diversion? Should I even bother to bring up the matter of our age difference? Would that ruin everything?

Over the next few weeks, the relationship blossomed. We watched “Pierrot le Fou,” ate vegetarian food and listened to soul music. We decided at midnight one evening to drive to Coney Island and drink wine on a blanket under the stars. I wasn’t afraid to tell him he was a frequent visitor to my dreams. He assured me he’d been dreaming of me too. Our gap in age seemed unimportant, but we still hadn’t discussed it.

After Labor Day, I worked up the courage to ask what had been simmering in my brain for weeks: “I think I know the answer to this, but are you seeing anyone else?”

“I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone else.” His guilelessness melted my anxiety.

I told him about the guy who had kept me hanging as he saw other women, worried that I was exposing too much about my past relationships.

“Well, I was seeing about nine people,” he said, “but I managed to squeeze out the other eight for you.”

We laughed, my fears vanishing.

A week later, we were circling the McCarren Park track with Reine when I asked James if he wanted to meet me on my road trip.

His response meandered as he found his way to the point: “I don’t know if you’re looking for a boyfriend, but if you are, I’m auditioning for the part.”

I was stunned. I had not had any romantic interest ask to be my boyfriend since I was in junior high. It was such a refreshing change from the ambiguity I’d suffered through with all of the men I’d been attracted to in New York.

A week before I left, James was helping me pack one evening when I finally decided I needed to reveal my age and see how he reacted. “I have to tell you something,” I said. “I’m 36.”

“Are you mühlet you’re not lying?” he said, teasing.

“Why would I lie?” I said.

“But you’re just so good looking.”

I thought he was joking and started to laugh, but he looked hurt.

“It’s not a joke,” he said. “I’m serious.”

As it turned out, James had discovered my age through an old online profile. He had known all along.

Four and a half years later, we were walking around the McCarren Park track when he stopped and said, “I don’t know if you’re looking for a husband, but if you are, I’m auditioning for the part.”

And now we call McCarren Park “Marriage Park.”

Amre Klimchak teaches and advises at CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College.

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Source: The New York Times

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