Like a thief in the night, Carson quietly disappeared from my life.
He pulled what I call “a fade.” Little by little, he decreased all phases of contact. And then he was gone. Sitting in an office only two floors away, yet altogether outside of my reach.
At least I’ve amassed enough bad experiences with men by now to recognize the fade before it’s too late. I’ve lost track of how many guys have pulled this particular rejection tactic on me, but suffice to say, I’ve developed perfectly calibrated “fade-dar” as a result. Which is fantastic because I would rather suffer through the pain of heartbreak without the added humiliation of being ignored after a last-ditch, desperate-but-I-convinced-myself-it-was-clever-and-reasonable attempt at contact.
I sensed the oncoming fade in its earliest stages, and I withdrew immediately. In other words, I stopped calling, texting, and emailing him. I refrained from popping by his office. Oh, and of course, I now take the (ten billion) stairs to and from the 29th floor to prevent any chance of a lame Grey’s Anatomy-style elevator meeting. Perhaps it goes without saying, but my skinniest jeans fit again. However, I’ve got no one to wear them for.
Now I just sit and wait for the pain to subside. For it to stop hurting so much that I can barely breathe, which is no small feat when I’m climbing double-digit flights of stairs a minimum of twice a day.
In my expert opinion, focusing on developing crushes on other men is the best distraction from break-up depression. And since a big law firm doesn’t necessarily constitute a target-rich environment (far, far from it), an overworked, office-dwelling girl like me has to get creative.
So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce “The Irrationals.”
The Irrationals are men at work, mainly litigators, on whom I develop absolutely unreasonable crushes. Unreasonable because: (i) they’re usually pretty old; (ii) they’re married, with children almost as old as me; and (iii) I would never, ever act on these crushes.
But in the wake of the Carson disappearance, I’ve started to develop a new Irrational. And this one is different. Troubling. Because my level of interest has been manifesting itself in odd ways. So much, in fact, I’m almost led to believe that somewhere deep inside myself, I might actually wish I could act on this feeling.
The guy isn’t exactly the stuff of fantasy. Rather, he is quite possibly the least attractive man I have ever seen. His skin looks as if it has not seen sun in years. He has these little grayish-blue pouches under his eyes. Oh, plus he has facial hair in the form of the most horrendous goatee ever. And he wears really weird dress shirts, which seem to fall into two categories: (i) those that look like they’re from Express for Men; and (ii) those that look like they’re from Tommy Bahama. The former tend to be black or maroon and very “bridge-and-tunnel.” The latter come in various shades of pale pastel. Nothing sets off a sickly pallor like a pale yellow shirt, let me tell you.
Yet ever since I ended up working on a small case with him, I’ve been noticing the increasing signs of a crush within myself. First off, I am very territorial about him (inside my own head, of course). If I’m on a coffee break with another female associate and she mentions work she’s doing for him, I glare at her (inwardly). I do not erase emails from him. Perhaps most tellingly, I blush quite a bit when he comes into my office or when I run into him unexpectedly in the hall.
And there’s more. I find myself anxiously awaiting further assignments from him. I come up with all manner of excuses to report to him on potentially relevant legal research. I make totally unnecessary visits to my secretary’s desk because it requires walking past his office. And I always ask to accompany him to court when our case comes up for anything, even if I can’t bill for it. It’s the closest I will probably ever come to going on a date with him.
The first time we went to court together, he wore creepy sunglasses. Oakley knock-offs from BP. I was momentarily crippled with embarrassment on his behalf, but he semi-recovered with a very nice navy pinstriped suit and a modern-looking tie. It’s worth noting that he looks even paler in blinding sunlight. But I noticed he moved out of the way instinctively so I wouldn’t have to walk over the subway grates in my heels.
It gets worse.
As a release for my bottled-up passion, I permitted myself to engage in two of the least offensive forms of online stalking: scouring his firm bio and a cursory Google search. Then I graduated into the moderately bizarre: “Attorney” searches on Westlaw, search term: “AT (his first name & his last name)” to read opinions from cases he’s worked on.
And then it got weird(er). The firm Westlaw rep gave me 24 hours of free access, which I promptly abused by doing public records searches on him. From that, I discerned his age (almost 40), the year he married (2007), his wife’s name (WTF?), and the value of his condo ($400,000).
I’m only a few steps away from a padded room—or worse yet, a visit with Gloria Allred—but I can’t help myself. I’m compulsive. And lonely.
OF COURSE I’m aware my behavior isn’t appropriate. I tell myself I’m not flirting with him when I tease him for his nerdy overuse of e-moticons—I’m just joking around. You know, the way I do with all of my guy friends. Except my other guy friends aren’t as old as my uncles and married.
Up until this week, I was mildly disturbed by all this. But there wasn’t anything too crucial about it. No one knew except for me—and any IT guys who happen to monitor my browser history. I was positive he had no idea.
. . . Until he said something in an e-mail.
It stemmed from the time we were in my office debating a damages calculation from a Northern District of Illinois decision that would likely apply to the case we’re working on. He offered an impromptu hypo to illustrate his interpretation of the calculation and was struggling to come up with a business activity for the hypothetical commercial lessee. Suddenly he said, “Okay, uh, let’s say the lessee uses the space to sell Barbies.” I looked at him strangely, but we continued the discussion without missing a beat.
After he left, I felt a little flush of excitement and e-mailed him.
After an eternity of two minutes, he responded.
“Certain people remind me of Barbies.”
Blatantly flirtatious and suggestive? A tentative invitation to escalate our banter into a more suggestive realm? Never before had he outright complimented my looks. My stomach started flipping around. God, I’m a sucker for compliments. After all, I was a late bloomer. I recently lost 4.5 pounds. And Carson’s rejection was still eating at me.
I couldn’t suppress the smile spreading across my face as I concocted a reply.
“I suppose I could pretend that was somehow some sort of a strange compliment.”
Seconds later: “You do not have to pretend.”
Et voilà! Here I stand on the edge of a dangerous cliff. One I’m not altogether unfamiliar with. But this time, I actually kind of like the flirtation.
It’s not like I’m considering having illicit trysts with this guy. I mean, I wouldn’t mind if something other than me wrecked his home, thereby leaving him free to take me on dates to places more exciting than the Dirksen Federal Building. But until then, I’m just going to enjoy the tiny thrills of my new workplace friendship.
If nothing else, it beats crying over Carson. Doesn’t it? DOESN’T IT??