Dearest Rachel –
So. After two months since the last time, I’m on my way back to the local mega church for their monthly singles get together. This time, I’ll actually be able to meet Lisa, the woman who got me set up, both in terms of registering and doing a bit of volunteer work (because I had – and still have – the time, and it seemed like the right thing to do) after a whole series of emails and phone calls. She expressed so much enthusiasm when I talked about my trip to Israel, and insisted that I give her a thorough report when we finally met face-to-face – and that would be this evening. It sounds like what Bogart once called “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
And I’m trying desperately to talk myself down from it.
Don’t get me wrong, honey; I’m going, and I’m looking forward to meeting her all the same. It’s just that this mental picture I have is one that’s far too idealized, and I really should dial my expectations back considerably, rather than going there thinking something might develop between her and me. I realize that cultivating a more pessimistic attitude toward ‘what might be’ is the perfect path to a self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy, but I don’t think I can afford to assume things are going to work out right off the bat. I’ve been there before, and it’s not pretty.
The funny thing is, it’s so much easier to see it in other people than it is to recognize it in yourself; however, those other people can always serve as a role model of what not to do, if you take the time to observe the lessons of their experience, rather than having to go through it yourself.
I don’t know if you ever met Mike; like me, he was two grades ahead of you at university, and by the time you enrolled, I think he had transferred from my co-ed dorm to an all-male dorm on the opposite side of campus, so even I lost track of him by them. For all I recall, he might have dropped out or switched schools by then. I’ll just say that he seemed to think of himself as a ‘player,’ despite being no more socially adroit than myself. And if I could recognize this as a relatively inept college freshman, this was an egregious case of the Dunning-Krueger effect in action. Thankfully, he was relatively harmless, and not too aggressive in his attentions.
The school has long since ‘gone woke,’ like every other academic institution these days, but you’ll recall that the place had a fairly diverse collection of religious organizations operating on campus back then – after all, that’s how we met. And, as with all manner of extracurricular organizations, they recruited incoming freshmen, hard. My floor’s R.A. was the leader of InterVarsity on campus, and he and his roommate hyped it to those throughout the dorm – even going so far as to drive to my house a month or two before the school year began (he lived within the county, so that was a reasonable trip in his mind) in order to help me find everything I might need in terms of supplies for the school year. You’ll recall being inveigled into the Newman/Koinonia organization by your (later) roommate and eventual maid of honor.
And then, there was a relatively small group (at least, for our campus) called Chi Omega. This was the campus outreach arm of the Charismatic/Pentacostal churches, which at the time, I hardly considered different from a cult, given their manner of worship. Understand that I’ve since learned that most of their doctrine is relatively congruous with ours, apart from the whole ‘signs and wonders’ thing – which was (and still is) their main public schtick, which is why I still find it off-putting. But since they brought Dena to faith from hardcore atheism, I’m in no position to fault them, even if the healing service she brought me to once completely weirded me out (and amused her no end at the time, although she’s since admitted that the pastor leading it was a bit too ‘take no prisoners,’ even for her tastes). Still, it held no attraction to me, and given that Mike seemed to have a similar religious background, it shouldn’t have had any for him, either.
However, what Chi Omega did have… was Carol.
I could go on about the anachronistic nature of her name, but that’s hardly important for the story. For that matter, with her natural look and long straight hair, Carol herself would hardly have been out of place on a college campus two decades earlier, although she dressed like a typical college student of the day. In short, she had this unprepossessing beauty for which I really don’t blame Mike for falling for.
And to be fair, we sometimes choose our social and even religious affiliations for the strangest of reasons. I rarely made it to InterVarsity meetings, as they were held on Friday nights, when I might have an opportunity to visit home (although that was quashed for the better part of the first semester by an offhand comment from someone at church when I showed up there unexpectedly) or go out with friends. It was so much easier to attend B.A.S.I.C. regularly on Wednesday evenings, and I certainly don’t regret the decision. So it’s not unexpected to choose to join a group simply because a cute girl is the face of that group, and you might think you have a chance with that girl. That was Mike’s story, and he followed Carol around like an overgrown puppy dog.
If she was aware of the power she had to cloud men’s minds (or at least, this particular freshman’s), Carol gave absolutely no indication of it. She never seemed to either encourage or dissuade Mike of his pursuit of her, thanking him for his assistance with group activities and the like, but little else. Honestly, she seemed utterly oblivious to her effect upon him – perhaps because, as a senior, it didn’t so much as cross her mind that a relationship with him would even be worth considering. For my part, I thought he just looked foolish, trying to impress her with this action or that – and remember, this observation is coming from one who had given up on trying to make an impression on girls for this very reason – but he seemed convinced that he could win her over, until the year was over, she graduated… and he dropped out of Chi Omega the following year.
I want to believe that I know better than to be following in Mike’s footsteps here. The friendly series of interactions I’ve had thus far with Lisa may be no more than that; after all, the best way to attract others to one’s group is to be friendly (and when you consider their soul may be on the line, it behooves one to ramp up one’s efforts accordingly), and this may just be what she does to bring others in, much as Carol used to for Chi Omega. So, I can’t afford to think that I may have some inside track to actually starting something more between us simply because I’ve got an interesting collection of travel stories she wants to hear about. I can’t let myself think – especially sight unseen – that I might have a shot at finding ‘Megumi’ here.
And yet, there’s this little nagging bit of hope in the back of my mind, that says if I play my cards right, she might be able to be developed into Megumi. But I’ve heard that little voice before, and while I didn’t fall into the trap of embarrassing myself for a prolonged period of time, it was still a case of having to deal with unrequited… affection? Attraction? I can’t, and won’t, say ‘love,’ as that would mean I need to continue to focus only on this person who’s made it clear they aren’t interested; just as I can’t afford to believe in soulmate, otherwise I need to give up on looking for Megumi already insofar as I’ve met mine in you, and can’t expect a second to exist. Anyway, I know I need to be very careful going forward, and not get my hopes up too high.
So with that having been said, honey, I hope you’ll be willing to keep an eye on me tonight, and wish me luck. I’m definitely going to need it.