Woody, flashed a broad smile and asked me, “So, how did things go?” It was confirmed. I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.
It was 1994. 1995, maybe? Early Spring, I believe. Well, the cold weather was mild, that much I know. I had been working at a big, trendy restaurant downtown next door to the city’s biggest stadium, still called The SkyDome back then, and the famous CN Tower. Barely 20-something, I would soon be elevated (in title only) to the position of maître d’ but in reality I was still the manager of both the host and cash departments. You didn’t get in or out of the restaurant without dealing with my people. Big important man! With a fancy title! And so young!
What was there about the world that I didn’t know? Well, as it turns out, pretty much everything.
I had been in a relationship with a young woman for almost four years by then. We had been one of those summer-job relationships (Canada’s Wonderland) that weren’t supposed to last but we had stayed together despite expectations. However, things had hit a snag along the way. The drama of that isn’t important except to say that, for me, the thrill was gone.
Still, I was a gentlemen and on my way to being well-heeled at that. We couldn’t go any further because this was not to be the woman I would marry. I felt our relationship had become cold and lifeless after the drama. It wasn’t about forgiveness. I just didn’t feel the heat anymore and I was done pretending. Were any of those feelings appropriate? Who knows? I was a young punk who thought he knew the way of the world.
Including the right way to end a relationship.
I’d heard enough stories of the way jerks break up: a cold phone call, a Post-it note, unexpectedly moving out while she’s at work, or simply doing it while she’s there with little more than an “It’s over.” I didn’t want to be that guy. That guy is a jerk and I was so much better than that, right?
So, I made the arrangements to do it in a kinder way. A fellow glorified door manager who could be counted on for some extra professional courtesy, was contacted and special reservations were made. I had an entire small section of another trendy downtown spot, the Lone Star Texas Grill, reserved on a slow night. I took the young lady out to a nice dinner. You know, like a gentleman.
It was, of course, a no limit meal. “Order anything you want.” The waitress was efficient but she was only around when needed. Woody, the Lone Star’s door manager (‘stagename’) (I think), had obviously given her the message that privacy was important. We were all on the same page. Things were going well.
THE MEAT OF THE MATTER
The dinner conversation was polite and non-threatening but I could tell she knew something was up. So, once the main course was done I broached the topic of the night’s raison d’être. I don’t remember exactly what was said but it went something like this: “So, how do you feel about our relationship?” After hearing her answer (did she sound nervous?), I pursued the task at hand with as much compassion as possible. “Because I think we should take a break. Maybe … move on.”
The colour drained from her face and within moments, came back ten-fold. Her eyes got wet and she excused herself to the washroom. This happened twice before we finally left. I was expecting this, as she was an emotional person with free-flowing tears. That’s why I got the private section, being a nice guy and all that.
During one of her absences, the waitress stopped by with the cheque and asked me how things went. I told her they went as best as could be expected under the circumstances. She looked at me in some puzzlement but before I could explain, the lady-in-question returned. At first, I chalked it up to her surprise at seeing such a fine, young gentleman as myself taking such great pains to deal with the matter properly. As the waitress left, however, she gave me one more look of confusion. That was the first moment I had any clue about what had really happened.
If it was a movie, that scene would end in slow motion with the final look between the waitress and I. She, walking away, would furrow her brow trying to make sense of this strange man and he would have the smug self-satisfaction of his shining propriety crack and start to crumble.
On the way to the car, I found a moment alone with my fellow door manager of overstated repute. Woody, flashed a broad smile and asked me, “So, how did things go?” It was confirmed. I had made a terrible, terrible mistake. His next question was the nail in my Nice Guy’s coffin.
“Did she say yes?”
Before I could explain, I had to excuse myself as the young lady returned from the washroom as composed as she could be. I won’t detail the bevy of exchanged looks between her, me, Woody, and the nearby waitress. You can imagine that all on your own.
An awkward thank you and goodbye later and we were on the sidewalk. The night was sure to end in emotion, I had known, but this … this was not part of the plan. At least, it wasn’t part of the plan I had expected but it definitely was a direct result of the plans I’d made. The outing on a normally stay-in night, the private section, the whole aura of calling in favors to get it all done…
There were tears a-plenty, her fists pounding on my chest, awkward hugs and push-aways, and all the fireworks you’d expect when someone — a girl who had thought we’d weathered our roughest patch years before and come out stronger for it — spent an entire evening feeling The Big Question was finally upon her only to have her hopes smashed. Without warning. In a public place. Where the jerk had conspired with his industry colleagues. Did I mention public place?
In my great effort to craft the most civilized and considerate break-up I had, instead, stupidly and most unwittingly created the single-worst emotional ambush I can, to this day, ever imagine. I know it is always the wrong place and the wrong time — bad news is like that — but there is such a thing as degrees of hurt.
YEAH, SO, ABOUT THAT NIGHT…
It’s been fifteen years since and I still have days when I want to find her and apologize for being a total idiot. Sure, best intentions and all that but it was still one of the worst things I have ever done to another person. Every time someone calls me a nice guy or somesuch I won’t let it get to my head because, you know, even nice guys can be complete, giant, shining assholes under the right circumstances.
And, that night, I was the CN Tower of assholes.