When I ran into “Vanessa” - a name designation made only for the alliteration of “Vanessa the Vixen” - a few weeks ago, I hadn’t seen her in years. The last time I thought of her was probably two years before and only because her younger sister posted something on Facebook tagging her.
Growing up, Vanessa always existed in the periphery of my universe. She was the older, popular, valley girl-esque blonde who lived in my neighborhood and always seemed to be attached to some faceless jock. We went to the same elementary, middle, and high school and then even college, but I don’t think we ever ran into each other there. We may have 160 mutual friends on social media, but that hardly denotes being part of the same friendship circle.
I think Vanessa started our conversation. It would make sense giving where this tale is headed. She said something about how long had it been (decades) and how was I. I, authentically, expressed surprise that she lived in the area. In my mind, she surely dwelled and thrived in our hometown like most of my high school peers. No, she lived here now, she had for a couple of years now, and she worked in healthcare. She also wanted to get involved in the nonprofit scene and would love to chat with me about that. We said we’d get coffee.
Three weeks later, I arrived at the cafe expecting a networking chat. Of course, I dressed presentably, but I expected this to be a one and done. We didn’t have anything in common when we rode the school bus together. Why would that change 12 years later?
The vibe came to be something much different. Twice - maybe three times! - Vanessa dropped she was single. “Very single.” She emphasized the affliction. I was, too, by most definitions.
She asked when we could see each other again. We made plans for lunch two days later. She also touched my arm to compliment my watch.
I tried to pay for the lunch. I chose the location and set the time. She declined the offer, but we sat for two hours winding through myriad topics before I said I had to get back to work. I would have said it was a quasi date, but she ordered a salad, and in the course of the lunch, she mentioned she would never order a salad on a date. “It’s so unbecoming to eat,” she explained.
At our parting, we seemed to hesitate in a way that challenged friendliness and suggested other ideas.
The next time we saw each other was a one-on-one happy hour. This was definitely a date - but was it? We went to the movies afterward where we ran into my friends. During the showing, our shoulders rested against each other and we joked how we would judge the other if we spilled the popcorn. We hugged goodbye at the film’s ending.
Her first flake came a week later when I invited her to a party. She initially said yes, but hours before the party announced she was sick. I couldn’t challenge that. I wished her the best and we made plans for the following week. She included a smiley face that extended some optimism.
Over the course of all these interactions, I learned Vanessa was a bad texter. She always responded to my messages, but she could take hours if not a sunrise to respond. She did not engage in banter unless it was for making immediate plans. I almost liked it - we planned, showed up, and nothing in between. I also observed she did not check direct messages on other social media platforms often. I sent her a few memes and the “Seen” receipt took waxing moons to appear.
Our next meet-up involved a two hour stroll through a park. While I have done this with platonic female friends, I don’t normally dress up or feel eager nor do my friends and I typically discuss the mating habits of goats or ducks with the shadow of a metaphor. She also agreed to be my date to a gala at the end of the week.
I still wasn’t confident what Vanessa’s vibes were by the time the gala arrived, but I intended to make mine clear - either by a kiss or just asking her on a date.
At the gala, people naturally asked how we knew each other. Vanessa narrated our shared history of two decades, which rarely if ever overlapped until the last three weeks, though neither of us disclosed that skeleton. From the gala, she suggested we visit her favorite neighborhood bar where she introduced me to her favorite bartender and two girlfriends before we decided to grab pizza and ended up in her loft at 1 am. She told her friends I was her friend, which confused me (though I’ve polled my friends who say this is a normal descriptor given to a romantic intention; for what it’s worth, I prefer to call dates by their name and add no qualifier, neither “friend” nor “date”). She wouldn’t let me pay for the Uber or pizza. So I said aloud, “I’ve enjoyed hanging out these last few weeks, and I’d like to take you on a date next week.”
She laughed, cutely. “I thought that’s what we’re doing.”
“I just wanted to make sure,” I laughed back. “When are you free?”
“Have I given you my work schedule? Here it is. I’m free Friday.”
“Awesome, let’s do Friday.”
And here’s the mystery: I haven’t seen Vanessa since. She gave me her work schedule and we made plans, but when I followed up, she flaked and said she needed to go home for the weekend. My hometown, too, mind you.
If you’re wondering if I reached out before this, of course I did. I tried to make some conversation, found a blank wall, and only when the date’s date actually approached did I try again.
At first I blamed the bad texting, but people, if you want something, you want something. I couldn’t write off hours of non-response when I could see her watching my Instagram story by the minute. I also wondered if I had somehow liked some photo from 2008 when I social media stalked her. Oops? I don’t think I did?
When I expressed my frustration to friends - some of whom had met her - they warned me not to reach out again. I didn’t need that warning; I had struck out enough times not to wander back.
My roommate cautioned, “She did seem basic.” My other friend offered, “She seemed spacey.” And lastly, a high school peer reminded me, “Wasn’t she sort of like this in high school?”
I took no offense because it’s exactly true. This characterization matched the portrait I had painted of her junior year in chemistry class - the laughing, non-cheerleader, sorority-destined flake, forged before “basic” would inundate millennial jargon.
I partially tried to defend myself: “One on one, she seemed to have a bit more depth.”
“A bit more?” my friend cackled.
This isn’t meant to be a mean-spirited blogpost nor is it supposed to be sad. It’s more one of confusion and a reminder that our high school peers rarely grow up if they didn’t grow up back then. I’m glad to be reminded before my high school reunion is upon me next year.