I was absolutely certain that I remembered what happened. It was eight years ago, but it was important enough to me that I had a clear picture in my mind of what was said — and what wasn’t said.
But now I’m confused. My head is spinning just a bit, to be honest. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you the story.
Almost 16 years ago, I met a woman who I was crazy about, but nothing came of it at the time. About six years later, we reconnected on Facebook, but she was dating somebody else by then. It seemed serious, so I didn’t express any interest. Still, she took my breath away every time I paid attention to her. She was beautiful and smart and lots of other things that mattered to me.
Eventually, I noticed that her relationship with the other guy seemed to have ended. Every mention of him and every photo of him disappeared. But I hesitated. How in the world could I say, “I’m crazy about you; would you let me get to know you better?”
I finally found an excuse to send her a Facebook message. Here’s where it gets interesting. For eight years, I have believed with all my heart that her response didn’t give me any encouragement. For all this time, I have believed that I didn’t pursue it any further because I didn’t see any reason to think I should.
I have believed — with all my heart — that her reply was a quick thanks that offered no encouragement. And I’ve believed that’s why I never pursued her.
Tonight, I found out that my memory was completely wrong. I happened to be deep in old Facebook messages looking for the date something happened, and I ran across our conversation.
The narrative that was so clear in my mind was mistaken in every way. And I’m left sitting here on a cold winter night at 2 a.m. wondering how I could possibly have gotten something so wrong — about something which I wanted that much.
She didn’t brush me off. In fact, it was just the opposite.
She thanked me for what I had sent to her and she asked me some questions about myself. It was five days after Christmas and she asked me to send her some pictures from my Christmas. She asked me whether I spent time with my nieces. She asked me what I was doing for New Year’s Eve.
And she even said, “What else is new with you? I feel as though we haven’t spoken in a long time.”
Sitting here and staring at those words, I’m honestly confused. How could I have had this so wrong in my memory for so long? How could I have convinced myself that she brushed me off and didn’t encourage me to talk with her any further? And why in the world did I do this?
I know other people have had warped memories, too. I know it’s not just me. Psychology research is filled with evidence that people’s memories are wrong about a lot of things. I’m a big fan of work by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus which proves we fool ourselves quite often about what happened and that false memories are easy to plant.
So if I know all this, why in the world did I do this to myself?
First, let’s look at the evidence. When this woman asked me these questions about myself and invited me to tell her what’s new with me, how did I respond?
Looking at the log of the conversation tonight, I see that I never even responded to her. I simply ignored her questions. I ignored the chance to continue a conversation which she was inviting me to have.
I have a couple of thoughts about this, but I’d rather not tell you, because I don’t like what they have to say about my mental state at the time. But it’s the middle of the night and nobody is around but Lucy and the cats, so I’ll tell you anyway — since nobody is here to listen.
My gut feeling is that I simply got scared.
Just saying that makes me feel sick in the pit of my stomach. You see, I knew enough about this woman to know that she was my ideal. I had gotten accustomed to believing that nothing was going to work out with her. She hadn’t wanted to pursue anything when we had first met. I know that much is true, but I’m wondering now how much I might have been looking for an excuse even then.
Here’s what I’m going around the world to say. This woman seemed like my ideal woman. I had been very disappointed years before when she hadn’t wanted to pursue something romantic with me. (She thought we had too big an age gap at the time.)
So when she at least encouraged me to talk with her further — eight years ago — I didn’t hear what she really said. I heard the worst of my fears instead. I somehow interpreted what she said as a polite brush-off. And doing that gave me a rational reason to walk away instead of pursuing someone I wanted — because something in me was scared I might lose. I didn’t want to be hurt.
That’s the obvious answer, isn’t it?
I had felt rebuffed by this woman one time. When she encouraged me to talk with her again, I was remembering that. I was thinking, “Oh, she’ll still feel the same way, so there’s no use trying.” I was taking “no” for an answer to a question which I hadn’t even given her the chance to hear.
What if we had started talking eight years ago? What if we had gotten to know one another better? What if we had dated? I suspect we would have fallen in love. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ll never know for sure.
What if you woke up one day and found out that your narrative about something major in your life that had happened close to a decade ago was completely wrong? Would you feel confused? Would you feel upset with yourself?
That’s the way I feel. I’m upset that I didn’t pursue the opening she gave me that day. I’m annoyed that I let my fear stop me from pursuing someone I was pretty sure I wanted. And I’m embarrassed that I didn’t let her make the choice for herself. It wasn’t fair to either one of us.
I know we get things wrong in our memory. I know we all mess up. I know that in theory. I didn’t believe I could have made this big a mistake in my narrative, not in real life. But I did.
And now — in the stillness of a cold winter night — I can’t help sitting here in the silence and wonder whether my life might have been very different if I had simply continued the conversation that my “dream girl” was offering to have that day eight years ago.
And there’s something else I feel. Even though I might be crazy — and I might be wrong — it makes me happy to believe she might have chosen me — if I’d just given her the chance.