The first time I ever met Dan, I had a boyfriend.
We had just landed in London. There were 10 of us—a highly complicated group of friends and lovers who had flown half way around the world just to fuck everything up. If you did the math, cumulatively, it was probably the most financially draining emotional explosion to be created by a group of private individuals in the history of the world—that’s 10 Melbourne to London return airfares we’re talking about.
It was our second day in London and tensions were already high—a precursor to the mind bending cluster fuck that was soon to come. The day was preternaturally warm and sunny in the city; I’d never seen London like that before. I walked around town with 2 of my friends, bought a pretty dress and ate a Pret (mmmmm Pret), right before getting into one of the most emotionally awkward situations of my life.
When the sun was high in the sky and I was at my very sweatiest, the 3 of us stragglers were summoned to join the rest of the group (including my current boyfriend) for a pint. The catch was that my ex boyfriend was there. My ex boyfriend that I’d lived with in London for almost a year and a half. My ex boyfriend that I hadn’t seen in the year since we’d broken up. My ex boyfriend that I hadn’t so much as spoken to in over 6 months. My ex boyfriend that I still wasn’t entirely over.
On the way to the pub, I changed into my pretty new dress. There was nothing I could do about my sweaty scalp and melted makeup—I just had to face him. Just as I was about to have a pulmonary embolism in the middle of Tottenham Court Road, one of my friends, Hannah, stopped in her tracks, threw her arms in the air and shrieked, “DAN!”
And there he was—Dan.
We exchanged names. Shook hands. Right there in the middle of Tottenham Court Road. Later we would joke that on our anniversary we could go back and have a picnic in the middle of the street and tell passers by an inflated romantic story of how we met, but right then, right there in that moment, I was so distracted I barely noticed him. All I could think of was my ex boyfriend and my new boyfriend sitting together at the pub, and how many pints I’d have to have to make the situation manageable.
When we arrived at the pub my brain almost exploded at the sight before me. All the most important men in my life to date were sitting around the same table in the sunny patio area—my something old (the ex), my something new (Dan), my something borrowed (my male best friend with whom I’d shared some secret ‘almost’ lustful moments since breaking up with my ex) and my something blue (my stale, impotent, current boyfriend).
It was overwhelming at best. I rushed to the bar with Dan and (I think) he bought me a beer. I was in a daze—all I know is that he was there and I didn’t pay for my drink. I stood with him in the cool air conditioning sipping beer and exploding verbal diarrhea all over his face. Everything came out at once—about my ex, my boyfriend, all the drama, heartache and awkwardness.
He listened. He reassured me. And as I gradually began to realign with reality I became increasingly aware of one thing—Dan was a fucking babe, and he kept smiling at me in this winning way that made me want to say, “to hell with the rest of them, let’s elope to France and tell each other jokes and have filthy sex, baby.”
We went back outside to the table where everyone was sitting—there I was, wedged between Dan and my boyfriend, with my ex and my secret sexual fantasy sitting directly across from us. Dan and I talked. He showed me his Flip and being the giant nerd that I am I thought it was really cool and it made me like him more. We talked and we told jokes and we picked on each other and flirted inappropriately. I hoped that no one noticed. I laughed more than I had laughed in almost a year—since my ex boyfriend and I split—and I thought to myself “this is lovely, but it’s never going to be.”
I walked away wondering about Dan. I tried to ask Hannah subtle questions about him—they had been close friends when she had done her stint living in London. Luckily, she was completely forthcoming. Later in our trip, having a girls night at a cocktail bar on the beach in Greece while our boyfriends were elsewhere, sharing their own scandalous secrets (later I found out they’d been talking about tits), I admitted my feelings for Dan to her.
She giggled, “yeah, he’s pretty amazing!”
“Pretty amazing!” I sighed, “maybe there’s a parallel universe somewhere where Kat and Dan are crime fighting superheroes who get married on the moon.” We’d had one too many cocktails—half the evidence was stuck in my hair, a menagerie of miniature rainbow coloured umbrellas and tropical flowers.
I only saw Dan one more time in London before my boyfriend and I left for Portugal a few days later—at a bar on the same evening of the day we first met. We crowded into the ambient lounge, all 10 of us, and I took a table while the rest went to the bar for drinks. I shifted anxiously in my seat, hoping that Dan would finish first and take the seat next to me. He did.
My boyfriend and I, as always, were fighting and I was tense. I wanted to talk to Dan the way we had talked at the pub but the surly figure sitting on the other side of me was distracting my already divided attention. He knew I liked Dan; he could smell it on me. So eventually, like in all love stories, I had to chose my battle—and my battle at the time was a complex one, and it required all I had, my best tactics, my greatest patience, the concealment of all my addled insecurities and my hardest resolve. And that’s how I walked away from Dan.
I walked away hand-in-hand with a man I didn’t love and who I continued with, over the course of the next two months, down the Portuguese coast, up to Paris and from there across land all the way into Greece. But I was still thinking about Dan.