This is the story of three girls and the ever-elusive fourth. This is in no way a tale of realization or acceptance or anything within a hundred yards of the sublime, but rather one of extravagant half-attempts and ambivalent failures.
First there was The Toronto Girl...
I met The Toronto Girl in Shizuoka shortly after she returned from about a year in Toronto, and she went to work in Tokyo once she graduated university. She’s Japanese, but speaks nearly perfect English. We went on what might be called a date or two, but nothing ever happened between us due in equal part to my uncertainty of my feelings for her and my greater uncertainty of hers for me. The way I kept searching her for an emotional response reminded me more of the crushing end of a relationship than any possible beginning.
Whenever I ponder my future in Japan, The Toronto Girl recommends I move to Tokyo. I sometimes wonder if she’s secretly hoping we’ll get together and I’ll take her back to Toronto.This sounds a bit nuts, but it’s not uncommon for Japanese people to secretly pine over someone—Miki K. tells me she once did it for seven years—and while The Toronto Girl doesn’t strike me as the type, it’s very difficult to pick up on the intention behind what she says in her second language.
When we talked about my travel plans for Hokkaido in early December, she said she’d have liked to come along if she hadn’t already planned a trip to Toronto at the same time. When I told her I was leaving on a Monday morning and needed a place to stay the night before, she invited me to come up for the weekend.
Then there was Alicia...
Alicia is an ALT in P. Rock who attended my weekly Japanese classes for a while. She very nearly introduces herself by disclosing how uncomfortable she is with the way everyone in town automatically describes her as pretty. She seems to think her only options in relationships lie between her two ex-boyfriends: one controlling but fun, the other ambivalent but stable.
There’s an undeniable attraction between us, but I just don’t think we could last for long, while she really needs someone who can be stable for her while she deals with her own troubles. Alicia manages to create paralysing, stomach-twisting worries out of nearly every situation. She once called me to worry that she was bothering everyone by talking about her worries.
Then there was Danger Zone...
Danger Zone works at one of the shops in town, and she surprised me by being fairly comfortable with casual, non-textbook English. By way of explanation, she told me that her husband was from the US.
One Sunday while I was making a purchase, she asked if we could talk after she finished work that evening. I gave her my number and wondered what she might want to discuss. She called, said she hadn’t wanted to talk about anything in particular, and picked me up in her car to go for a drive.
We were about twenty minutes outside The Village by the time she clarified that she wasn’t exactly married. She and her husband were separated and soon to be divorced. Then we played the age-guessing game and I presumed I’d be safe when she realized I wasn’t as old as people in Japan tend to think I am. She guessed 24: the same as her nearly-ex-husband. I politely guessed 27 and was not at all surprised to hear 33.
I directed us to an excellent wood-fired pizza place in P. Rock, in no small part because I counted on the friendly owners to sit and talk and defend me from any possible moments of intimacy. Then we came back to my place, where, despite my better judgement, I decided it would be rude not invite her in after she’d driven me around for two hours. Danger Zone immediately closed the curtains. I made a point of sitting on a stool while she took the couch. She eventually excused herself and left.
The next day, I met Dimples...
Dimples works at the board of education, and though I’d likely seen her before, I hadn’t spoken to her until we went to the BOE year-end party ("bōnenkai"). After speaking politely to all the increasingly drunken old men who though themselves incredibly witty for repeating the same inane English phrases over and over again ("This is a pen"), I moved down to talk to one of my friends, who also happened to be sitting beside the only young girl in the room.
She’d been rather quiet, but once we started talking she turned out to be friendly, outgoing, funny… and 22. I decided that she was soul-meltingly attractive and quickly became unwilling to participate in any more reviews of half-remembered high-school English with anyone remotely less appealing. The drunk old men declared us married, and I handed her my engineering ring much to her amusement. I felt charged just talking to her. She was amazing.
I decided I absolutely had to ask her out as soon as possible.
I’d never asked anyone out before. I did ask The Toronto Girl on what might technically have been dates, but without clear direction or intent; I’d just wanted to get to know her better.
I filled my mind with Dimples all day Tuesday and (yes, I really am an engineer in some ways) I made notes in Outlook regarding what we could do together:
Tuesday December 17th: Taskpad
Ask Dimples out!!!
Options with Dimples:
Dinner at tonkatsu place
After school that day, I went straight to the BOE, where I was told with a wink and a grin that Dimples was working on her own in the library.
She and I talked briefly, I fumbled, we got interrupted by an old guy who wouldn’t go away until we agreed that the British were the source of all iniquity in the world, and then I asked if she had a boyfriend.
She said she had a lot of friends.
I said I had a lot of friends, too, and posed the question again.
She said yes.
"Oh,” I said. “That’s unfortunate, isn’t it."
She recommended we be friends. I agreed, and flashed a winning smile to hide the horrible clenching feeling that was quietly eating away the inside of my chest. I didn’t even think to get her phone number before I left.
All the unavailable people in town so consistently tell me how wonderful I am that I almost take it for granted that things will work out when I finally meet someone I like. It’s so easy to blame solitude on situation, but it’s really not the case.
The next day, Danger Zone came over and fell asleep on my couch while I watched Monsters Inc. on her somewhat-husband’s DVD player. We like similar movies, but I just don’t know what to do when someone her age visits my place alone while I’m constantly worried about avoiding the perception of intimacy.
All this happened right before I was going to spend a weekend with The Toronto Girl.
I decided that, this time, I wouldn't work to stop things before they happened.