We existed in the strange in-between of the possible and the probable. It was in the unsaid, in the expected, in the logical next steps. Our friends accepted it, anticipated it, shook their heads and said, “It’s only a matter of time.” They’d ask sly questions and accuse us outright, and all we ever managed were shy smiles and hopeful maybes. We were almost dating. We almost dated.
But almost doesn’t count for much. Almost doesn’t bridge the gap from “not quite” to “yes.”
When you almost date someone, it’s not because you’re only doing things by halves. Everything depends on the build and the anticipation in that gray area of maybe. You do not keep your secrets from them, do not laugh at half the volume, do not kiss them with only half the intensity. Maybe you’re shy about how you feel. Maybe you hold back there, but that’s human nature, isn’t it? We want to protect our hearts. We’re afraid of handing them over too readily and too soon. And so we take our time. But in that hesitation, something can fall through.
To almost date someone is to go back on a promise no one had to keep, because it was a promise no one made. You live in limbo for a little while, nothing more, but it’s okay because you grow drunk on possibility and giddy with potential. The almost relationship is everything that could happen, everything that could be.
And it’s not like you imagine it all, and take a marathon when you see a mile. The signs are all there. Everyone sees them. You do not mistake a common laugh for a laugh that is just for you, and don’t confuse friendship for feeling special because for a brief and fleeting and glorious moment, you are. To almost date isn’t to misinterpret someone’s intentions. They did like you, they do like you. But the fact that you’re right is little consolation when it doesn’t pull through.
But when you almost date someone, something will give. Somehow the ends don’t meet. Either they meet someone new while you’re biding your time, or they move, or they just disappear. It’s easier to do than you think, between no longer answering calls and disappearing from Facebook and finding a new coffee shop. You may never know quite why, and you will be left wondering what else you could have done, how you could have been more, what you did wrong.
The truth is, though, that chances are you didn’t do anything wrong. Chances are you weren’t wrong. Chances are you were fine just as you are, and you know this deep down. It’s just easier to blame yourself, to create closure and sew the wound shut rather than letting it heal on its own. People won’t understand, and will smile sympathetically and say they really thought it would happen, too, and at least you weren’t official. As if a title would make it hurt more, as if because you were only hedging on your hope, you shouldn’t have been hurt. You were trying not to put your heart on the line. You were protecting it by taking things so slowly. And in that hesitation, you became a sitting duck.
To almost date someone is to bet on a sure thing and to walk away with nothing. It happens in casinos all the time. That’s how you gamble, that’s how you win big. The game isn’t supposed to be rigged in love, though we know we’re not going to win all the time. And yet we try, anyway, to go big or go home, because we do not do things by halves. We love and we care and we give other people our hearts even though we know they might spit them back out not because we’re naive, but because we’re optimistic. Because we have hope.
To almost date someone is to take that risk, and to dedicate yourself to something that might not pan out. Because lots of things don’t. Not everyone can get rich quick, and it takes a thousand failures to make a success. But one yes makes up for a dozen almosts. One yes is why we keep pegging all of our hopes on one person at a time.
Heartbreak from almost dating someone is no less real just because you didn’t have a title, because you didn’t meet the parents, because you never said “I love you” out loud. Because you sensed it. Because you felt that it could be there, really and truly. Because we were, but we weren’t, but we could have been.