Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Working Relationship.

A few months ago I met Jack online. We went on one of the zillion coffee dates I've been on in past months. To my surprise, we had a delightful time. There was an awkward moment when I walked into the coffee shop Jack had chosen and smack into an ex, the subject of this post, who I haven't seen in years - since he unceremoniously dumped me after I dared to bring up the subject of commitment. Jack instantly won points when I whispered to him that the man sitting behind us, who I had greeted so awkwardly, was my ex, and he promptly took off his watch, tossed it on the floor, and casually bent down to pick it up, stealing a glance at the ex as he did so.

Jack was charming and fun and we seemed to have great conversational chemistry - much more so than I'd had with anyone in a long time. I left the coffee shop with butterflies in my stomach, the long-forgotten pangs of a developing crush. Almost immediately, we made plans to see each other again. This time, we went for sushi, and Jack was again charming, and take-charge, ordering various plates he thought I'd like, keeping up the stream of interesting and intelligent conversation the whole way.

After that, Jack had to go out of town for a few weeks. We stayed in sporadic text contact while he was gone, and the day he landed back in the city, he texted me to make plans. Date 3, I thought excitedly! This is it! Jack hadn't kissed me yet, nor had I kissed him - although we had both come close. I invited Jack to my house. I said I'd cook dinner.

The evening in question arrived. The house was immaculate. I was immaculate, for that matter. Casual but cute in my favourite cherry-print dress. Asian-inspired menu because I knew Jack had a preference for Asian food. Carefully selected playlist on the iPod. Clean sheets on the bed.

Jack arrived promptly, and looked a little ill at ease, so I told him I needed help in the kitchen, to give him something to do other than sit there and look awkward. He very obligingly took off his watch, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work. Our witty banter was there, as usual, but Jack seemed...distant. Uncomfortable. The food was good, we ate sitting on the couch, talking. We each told a few funny relationship stories, we talked about his recent trip. Nothing unusual. Jack also did a few magic tricks that were quite amazing, actually. We talked at length about his new business, and he casually mentioned that he might want to hire me (in my capacity as a freelancer) to assist him. I looked a little confused, and said something vague, like, "Yeah, sure, that would be cool."

And then, the clock struck 10 p.m. Jack started gazing anxiously at the clock on the wall as I was talking. I finally interrupted him. "Are you watching the clock?"

"Yeah," he said. "I should go. I should get to bed."

I was a little surprised.

"Uh, OK," I stammered. He got up quickly, and headed for the door, and was out the door without so much as a peck on the cheek.

The next day, a thank you email. A cute word about Rain City Kitty, and then again - the mention about hiring me as a freelancer.

A few days passed, and then Jack really started to talk to me in earnest about work stuff. So much so, in fact, that I decided he really wasn't interested in me at all, other than in my professional capacity. So I started to restrict our communication to work topics. I did some work for him, and he sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet up to talk about it, over dim sum. I said sure, as I would to any other client.

On the day, I arrived in full work mode, with my hair done, briefcase in hand.

"Don't you look all dolled up," he said admiringly.

"Well, it is a work day," I said.

"It's not a work date," he replied, mishearing me (deliberately or not, I don't know).

And just like that, charming flirty Jack was back, who wanted to hear all about me and my adventures. Not a single mention of his work, which was languishing in my briefcase. I was once again won over, so much so, in fact, that I asked him out to dinner and a theatre opening with me. He readily agreed.

On the night in question, I wore a fabulous dress. Jack was once again charming and polite during dinner. But when we got to the theatre, where we mingled with people I knew but he didn't, he shut down. He actually went and sat in a corner with his laptop, and did work, before the show and during intermission. All of the sparkle of earlier in the evening seem to have faded, and he seemed weary, and bored.

After that final little disaster, I decided to write Jack off. He was destined to be my client, not my lover, I guess, although I couldn't understand why he became so withdrawn and disinterested after such a promising start. And so, that's where we stand now - the man I met on a dating site is now my client, without us ever really speaking about how that evolution occurred.

The line is always blurry. We'll trade emails about work. He'll occasionally ask if we can meet to discuss the work, which we will, and occasionally he'll make a personal comment like, "Did you get your hair done? It looks great" or "Love the dress." But gradually, any personal conversation, at least from him, has receded into the background. Even if I try to move the conversation to a personal topic, asking how his holidays were, for example, he avoids the question. He's such a frustrating person to read, which I said to him one day.

"What do you mean," he said, laughing a little at me.

"I can't read you at all," I exclaimed. "You keep all your cards close to your chest. I never know what you're thinking."

"Then it's working," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I can't understand why you're so bothered by it."

I didn't know what to reply to that.

And so it continues. Today we met to discuss work, and he made some flip comment which I didn't respond to.

"Oh, we're not playful today?" he asked. "No jokes for RCC today?"

I didn't know what to say. Why joke when we're talking on a purely professional level, client to contractor?

Ah well. If he won't warm my bed, at least he'll pay my rent.

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