Every single day, for the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been asked why I haven’t posted an update about Jake aka White Truck Hottie and me. I suppose I was finding reasons to avoid talking about it, because I was battling so many of my own thoughts since that day I walked into Starbucks for our first ever date.
I had been battling an awful case of bronchitis since running out of the house without a jacket on in -3 degree weather, here in Chicago, so my ceiling, and a box of Kleenex, was all I had looked at for days. When I started feeling better, I agreed to accept Jake’s coffee date invitation. I hadn’t been on a date since agreeing to go on a coffee date with an ex friend’s cousin in November of 2015. She had insisted we would get along and he would undoubtedly help me get over my ex, Pan. We went to Starbucks. It wasn’t a great first date; I even started crying when he went up to grab our coffees. Ugh. Exactly the reason I say NO DATING the first month after a heartbreak. Sure, the date held great conversation, but nothing more than that, so we never saw each other again. Fast forward to a little over a year later, and there I was walking, yet again, into another Starbucks to, yet again, have a coffee; but with a very different man.
Jake was there, right on time, as he sat confidentially with his back straight, one leg crossed over the other, like the Mad Men poster, a book in hand.
“Hey!” I said as I approached him.
“You’re late,” he said a smile on his face as he put his book down before standing. He seemed almost to lean in to try and get a hug, which was when I extended my hand. I mean hugging is a huge deal ladies. Think about it. Two bodies, wrapped in each other in a warm embrace. That’s pretty intimate and therefore a huge deal. I learned a lot since my last relationship ended, and one of those things is, value what you give. A hug is valuable to me and so I wasn’t ready to give that to a man just yet. The moment got briefly awkward for me, and my extended hand, but Jake came in to just offer a, “Well, okay, nice to see you,” with a hearty laugh, if only to comfort me.
“Can I take your coat?” he said. Like I said, a very, very different man.
“Sure,” I said acting as if it were something I was used to. I wasn’t. I’d only ever had one man remove my coat and that was the coat check attendant at RL Restaurant nine years ago.
“What are you driving,” he said. “I mean drinking,” he corrected.
I laughed. His shyness is one of the things that is most attractive about him. I think a man with a level of shyness around a woman shows that he’s humbled by her, which means he’s not cocky – I’ve already dealt with cocky. I want humble and kind, and Jake seem to be every bit of that.
“I’m currently driving a Volkswagen Jetta and I’ll have a Grande Iced Caramel Macchiato.”
Jake’s laugh was just so adorable. Dammit!
“One grande iced caramel macchiato coming right up.”
As I took my seat, I could see that he was reading the “Thinking Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman. I have no idea what it’s about, but the fact that he was reading it, made me want to. If only to know a little more about who he is, and perhaps even where his mind is at. I mean you can learn a lot about who a person is, based on the books they read.
As Jake came walking back towards the table, two drinks in hand, he took his seat, but not before placing my drink directly in front of me as if I were a little girl.
“Thank you,” I said with a giggle almost befitting his actions.
“How are you feeling?” he asked before taking a sip of whatever the hell he was drinking. All I could see was this tall Americano with a whole lot of class and a sexiness that was confident, but reserved. He didn’t move his hands much when he spoke, which only made me feel a bit aggressive with my inability to just keep my hands at my side. It’s impossible quite frankly. I’m Arab and Italian. Enough said!
The conversation, like my caramel macchiato, went down smoothly. It was delicious, intriguing, and made you want to come back for more. I didn’t want it to end. I had never met a man I could speak to about the Classics and have him actually be interested. Not brush me off with a, “I don’t care about that kind of stuff!” like Pan would often say. Jake was sincerely intoxicated by learning, and teaching, as I myself felt as if I was speaking to a well of knowledge; except… instead of the Gandalf beard, he was sporting the most perfect line up that framed his cheekbones, and instead of the grey robe, he had on a velvet burgundy sports coat a black turtleneck and grey slacks. The man has a lot more style than I would expect to find up in that big white truck.
Jake was intrigued by my job. Somehow he seemed to think that my being a relationship advisor meant I knew everything about EVERYTHING.
“Hardly,” I said. “I do feel, I have a very innate understanding of human beings and the way that we interact with each other.”
“I would definitely pay to talk and get your advice. You’re really well rounded for such a young woman.”
It’s weird to hear a man think thirty-one is young in my culture. But Jake wasn’t from my culture, and in some ways, that was sort of what I liked most about him. I didn’t have to bypass all the insecure, entitled, and degrading ways that many Arab men have – based on their cultural expectations of a woman. I had a man who was looking at me for me. Not where I come from. Whose family I belong to. Investigating my past to try and figure out who knows me and what kind of girl I am, like Pan did with me. I remember feeling so disrespected when Pan, only a week into knowing me, not only had his cousin pretend to ask me out to test if I would accept, so he could determine if I was “a good girl,” or not, but also his attempts to ask the “men” in his circle, if any of them had ever heard “my name on the streets,” or dated me, and quite frankly if I was a virgin. When the test came back and I had passed, A.K.A. I was a “good girl,” he could then proceed with getting to know me with a little more ease. But Jake didn’t need friends or tests, he needed what was sitting right in front of him. That was enough and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I love that about him.
“So when was your last relationship?” he asked.
“A little over a year ago,” I replied no longer feeling the sting of it all.
“How long were you in that relationship for?”
“Almost three years.”
“Oh wow! If you don’t mind my asking, why did it end?”
“It wasn’t destined,” I answered. There was a time I didn’t believe that. I would have sworn that Pan was my soul mate and that despite everything we were destined to be together. But that was at a time when I was still looking through that relationship with rose colored glasses. Today I see things crystal clear.
“Destiny is a funny thing. Takes us away from the wrong people and puts us in place for the right ones.”
“I believe that wholeheartedly,” I said with a smile.
Our tongues were tired and instead we just shared a smile.
“I really like you,” he admitted.
I froze. I literally froze. Not only because it was unexpected, but also very soon. Or maybe not. Maybe this is the new normal.
“So I really don’t wanna lie to you,” he continued. I was almost at ease that he got me off the hook, but then uncomfortable because of the word lie.
“I don’t even know how to say this because I feel really immature. It was really stupid of me to do this and I really do apologize in advance.”
“Just say it,” I said with laugh that was really just anxious.
“I’m not Muslim.”
“What do you mean you’re not Muslim.”
“I’m an agnostic.”
I couldn’t help but wish that someone could grab me a bucket so I could regurgitate the entire caramel macchiato I had just ingested.
“So that whole story about your family living in Turkey was…”
“That was all true. I’m not someone to make up stories like that. We did move to Turkey and I did learn a lot about the culture and religion and so I’m very familiar with a lot of your practices.”
“So it was easier to fool me?” I said with a hint of sarcasm.
“I never wanted to fool you,” he said before combing his hair back with his hand. “It’s just that I saw you and then we started talking and I wanted this opportunity that we’re having right now. To get to know you and have you get to know me. Not my religion. Or lack thereof, in my case.”
I was so confused. I felt as if I were in the twilight zone or some really un-funny comedy skit like, “Gotcha!”
“I wanted you to give me a chance,” he added simply because the table was quiet.
“A lie is a lie,” I said.
“I’m really sorry.”
A lie. An “I’m sorry,” so fucking early.
“This is so weird,” I added to the now awkward moment that fell over the table that once had so much sparkle. If it weren’t for that moment, it would have gone down in the history of my life as one of the best first dates. And yet there we were.
“I’m sorry too,” I said feeling so disappointed. “Because I can’t be with a man who isn’t Muslim. It’s not only about what’s mandated for me, it’s about what I personally believe. I’ve seen to many cases where it doesn’t work, and it just gets really messy. I spent almost three years of my life in messy.”
“I would never get in between you and your faith. I would completely respect that. I’m never gonna ask you to eat pork,” he said still charming, but less so received by me.
“I just know myself,” I said. “I know myself and this will not be something that I can be comfortable with.”
“Because it doesn’t work?” he asked.
“There are cases where it absolutely can. Don’t get me wrong. But it takes time and it’s a very eye opening adjustment in many respects and it’s just not what I’m looking to get into.”
I don’t know what was harder for me sitting there. Saying those words, or how well he received them. He’s so understanding. So compassionate. So respectful. Goddamit!
We lingered a while longer. He was obviously disappointed, but no more so than I. It’s not that I started envisioning a future with him, rather, I was beginning to enjoy the company of a man who seemed so different from any other I have ever known. I started feeling a sparkle. GODDAMIT!
“I’m really sorry,” he said again. “It was very immature and not the right approach.”
“Not exactly!” I said wishing there was an eject button in my seat. I didn’t want to sit across the table from a man I couldn’t be with for another minute.
“I would really like if we could still be friends?”
“I don’t have male friends anymore.”
“Anymore? So you used to, but now you don’t?”
“Sorta. I just learned it’s better off. One of the best decisions of my life.”
“Today might be one of the worst in mine.”
“No! I’m glad you were honest. I wouldn’t have appreciated if we started a relationship and feelings form and then it’s burned like that.”
“For sure. I understand.”
Silence fell over the table. I didn’t know what to look at. The barrista, my coffee, or Jake who was just sitting there massaging his beard obviously feeling perplexed.
“I’m sorry again,” he said.
“I’m disappointed. I’m not gonna lie.”
“It was really stupid and not thought out completely and I’m sorry. I really am sorry, but I think if you really try and I’m willing to, it can work.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the gleam of hope in his eyes. The romance. The idea that two people from two very different belief systems can find Happily Ever After together. How perfect and magical. But the reality is that it’s not that easy. It presents a lot of problems, maybe not for the couple themselves, but when kids come into the picture, everything gets messy. I can’t do messy. I won’t do messy.
I shook my head and Jake understood completely. He was trying. I wanted to try as-well. But a huge red light just kept flashing and telling me “STOP!” and so I listened.
“I understand,” he said although I’m sure he really didn’t. He just didn’t have another choice but to. “You’re an amazing woman Faiza.”
It was now my turn to be shy.
“I’ve never met anyone like you. I swear. Never! And I’m not saying this to try and change your mind, unless you want to,” he added his charm working once again. “I won’t argue it if you want to take a leap, but I respect your decision.”
“You’re a great guy Jake, despite the lie.”
He just smiled that smile. That smile.
Enough silence fell over us that I knew it was time to go. This door was closed and there was no reason to sit staring at it.
“I don’t want to make this awkward,” I said.
“I think I already did that,” he added. I laughed.
“But I really should head out. I have a lot of things I need to catch up on.”
“I understand,” he said. “I’m gonna stay behind and catch up on the rest of my reading,” his shyness went up a few notches at this point. He was uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable. But mostly, we were both disappointed.
We said our goodbyes. No handshake. Just a smile and a quick gaze.
Every bit of it.
I drove home feeling a bit angry with the man upstairs. I mean what was the point behind that. Why bring a man into my life that I can never be with? Why? I asked over and over.
It wasn’t until Christmas Day, befittingly, that it magically dawned on me. I suppose the reason God brought Jake into my life was to prove that not all men are dicks (even if he did lie about his religion). That a man doesn’t need to show up at your door on a white horse for it to give you butterflies. Sometimes he shows up at a Shell gas station in a white truck.
But mostly to remind me of one thing, that even when I think my heart can’t open for another, I’m reminded of the reasons it’s magical to try.