It’s just after midnight when your phone chimes with the noise of a new text message, that gratifying sound that lets you know someone out there is thinking of you. However, the moment you open the message to read its contents, your phone suddenly feels as though it weighs about a hundred pounds, so loaded is the combination of the four words you’re reading.
“What are we doing?”
Were this message from a roommate, coworker, or relative, the question might have a simple answer, like: “Going to one more bar!” or “Let’s just meet them there tomorrow at noon.” This, however, is not the case. The name at the top of your phone, the inquisitive message sender, is a person who doesn’t fit so neatly into the usual categories of people in your life; rather, he exists in a gray in-between area, in a category all of his own.
You’ve been calling each other friends for the sake of convenience, of simplicity, but you know it’s a little different (a little more?) than that. Your other friends make you laugh, but they don’t make you giggle like a little kid; they care about how you’re doing, but they don’t check in with you every day. Your other friends don’t put butterflies in your stomach when they give you a hug hello, and they certainly don’t feel the need to ask, “What are we doing?” because they already know what they are. The fact that the question is being asked at all shows that he’s aware you’re not exactly friends, too.
So, what the hell are you doing exactly? It’s a fair enough question, but it’s one you don’t really know the answer to either. Maybe an easier subject to tackle would be: “What’s been happening so far?”
Well, I guess it boils down to you met a guy, you exchanged smiles, then hellos, then names and numbers. You shared schedules, made plans, and met somewhere between your place and his. You talked about the weather, then work, then each other’s families, and soon enough, each other’s aspirations. He impressed you, and apparently you impressed him as well. Coffees became dinners, dinners became days at the park, and days at the park turned into evenings at his apartment. On one such evening, you two played cards and emptied two bottles of wine in the process. “Go fish!” you both giggled back and forth to each other, even though you were playing poker. You started kissing moments later, drunkenly pushing each other around the kitchen as you fumbled for any sort of direction. You kissed a little more, sober, the next morning, lying next to him in bed. And now he wants to know what it all means.
Up until this moment, it’s like you’ve been on a pleasant walk through the forest together, straying off the trail and wandering aimlessly amongst the natural beauty for hours. It’s been so joyous and peaceful, but when your companion turns to look at you and says, “I think we might be lost,” it’s impossible to go back to thinking about anything else. You’d love to be able to whip out your compass and steer you both out of the woods so you could be happy and carefree again, but your sense of direction is even worse than his. Why has all of the pressure been put on you to figure this out, why can’t he be the one to tell you what it is you’re both doing, and where you should go from here?
I think even when two people are really into each other and both of them know it, can feel it even, there are still moments of panic and confusion when you go along the road of transitioning from strangers, to friends, to more-than-friends. We doubt ourselves and we doubt the intentions of the other person; we want someone to give us a game plan and a guarantee that we’re not about to do something stupid. We want to know for sure this isn’t going to end badly before we start getting too attached. It’s why we get a little drunk one night and text this new guy, “What are we doing?” because we just want someone to fucking tell us already!
Unfortunately, relationships don’t come with a road map, and every once and a while we have to take blind leaps of faith (and usually more than once). E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving a car at night: you can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way… I think the same can be true of relationships. Sometimes, the light that shines from the knowledge that you want to see someone again tomorrow is enough to guide you through an entire lifetime together. You can’t plan for the bumps in the road, the missed exits and near collisions, but you can still get where you hope to be. It’s a nerve-wracking ride sometimes, but a worthwhile one.
So when you get the late-night text message that demands clarity where there isn’t any, here is what you do: you tell them exactly what they mean to you, how and why you want to be them, and that while you don’t have one goddamn clue about what you’re doing exactly, you know you want to keep doing it with them for the foreseeable future. This is how the journey begins.