"We had an amazing time," my friend said of her first date with B, a successful dermatologist in New York. "We spent the whole day together and then, well, I stayed at his place. The best sex I've had in years!"
"Don't you think that's moving pretty fast," I said. "You don't know this guy at all."
"Isn't that point? How am I going to get to know him unless I spend time with him? Letting him see me naked (and seeing him naked)-that's just a bonus."
And so it went. The morning after, my friend and B left his downtown loft and walked out to the street, neither one mentioning the previous day's events. When they parted, my friend watched him go, a blue shirt and pressed slacks, the back of his head receding in the distance. She went home, the endorphins kicking through her, happier than she'd been in ages. And why not? She'd just spent an entire day and night with a man she found charming, sexy, intelligent, witty, attentive, sweet, in all, a damn great catch. Her type, he was tall and dark-haired, an ivy-league graduate twice over, dedicated to his profession, his friends; and in the sack, dedicated to making her feel extraordinary. Why wouldn't she spend as much time with him as possible?
In her mind, my friend hadn't only met her match intellectually, but also a potential soul mate, though as the day progressed and she hadn't heard from him, she began to wonder (and worry) if she'd made a mistake, if she'd something contrary (she was known to be contrary) that had put him off. She sat at her computer, staring at the screen, vacillating between calling him and calling her therapist.
When she called me, she was close to tears. It was evening and I could hear the cars and sirens and honking in the background.
"He isn't going to call," she said. "It's over before it began."
But then, her computer chimed, announcing a message. She read me his email, which was nice and sweet and said everything that a man ought to say to someone he'd just spent the previous night with. Even his attempt to make another date seemed charming: he asked if she was interested in seeing a play on Broadway. The email, in and of itself, was perfect, except for one small detail-his choice of the phrase, "Let's see each other soon."
"Soon just means soon," she said, coming to his defense. "You read too much into things."
"If he really wanted to see you, he would've made explicit plans," I said. "He would've given you dates and times. He would've . . . not been unclear."
It was hard to tell my friend that her new beau might not be as perfect as she thought he was, that there was a clear distinction between setting aside a specific day and leaving it wide open. And then, when I really got to thinking about it, I thought about the way he'd contacted her: email. How hard would it have been to tell her the same thing on the phone or even better, in person? Not hard, if he were really thinking about her. Hard, of course, if he weren't.
And yet, to say that B didn't want to see her again wasn't so cut and dry, because they did end up getting together later in the week. On a sticky Sunday afternoon, they met up for brunch and afterward, strolled around the West Village, though at a certain point, toward late afternoon, B bowed out and went home to ostensibly "clean his apartment." Before he left, he asked her if she wanted to catch a movie later that night. She agreed and went on about her own day, still enthralled by him and what he'd whispered into her ear: "You're the sexiest woman I've ever met."
In the sweet wake of his words, my friend prepared herself for the evening, happy and oblivious. If she'd been more alert, really alert, she might've been able to see what was coming next, but my friend, like many of us, held on to a hopeful naivete that she'd met a man truly interested in her. I wasn't surprised when she called me, then, in tears that night or when she told me the date ended abruptly when he turned to her after sex and said, "I'm just not feeling this." I don't want to say his first email to her tipped me off, that I endowed his use of "soon" with too much weight, but that's exactly what I did.
"Soon" has a million different meanings, but in the end, when we use it, the tone tends to imply distance and unavailability: "I like you, but I'm not ready for this yet." It places an immediate expiration on romance and slows down momentum. More than any other word in our romantic vernacular, "soon" may just be the ultimate deal breaker. It's lazy and insensitive, a way of keeping the scales of amour tilted in our favor.
I'm not saying we shouldn't pursue people who prefer to let things develop at their own pace or that if someone uses "soon" we should cut them out of our lives. What I am saying is to pay better attention to how and what your date says, ask for clarification if something seems vague and don't be uncomfortable if you put him on the spot. It's better to know sooner than later where he stands. It's just practical. Get the definitions of words then and there to make sure you're on the same page. If not, you'll spend a great deal of time with your nose in a dictionary, trying to figure out exactly what went wrong.