Thursday, January 27, 2005

Privileged Information

I work in customer service. I sit at a desk in a bank, available to any customer who wishes to ask me questions about his or her account, back products and rates. I call my customers by name, and I know only what they've chosen to tell me about their lives. But for whatever reason, these same people think it's perfectly acceptable to press me for details of my life.

Before my boyfriend, Tom, and I broke up, we had been dating for three and a half years. Whenever a customer of mine found out how long we'd been dating, they would invariably ask me "So, when are you guys going to get married?" As if I didn't wonder the same thing myself. I'd usually give them some story about how we're just waiting, there's no hurry, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Which would be followed by "Don't you want to get married?" Of course I did, I wanted it more than anything in the world. But I just told them "Sure I do. When the time is right."

"Well, do you guys live together?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Oh, it's just not my style."

"But why not? This isn't 1950. It's okay to live together."

As though I need their permission to move in with someone. What am I supposed to tell them? That I knew if I lived with him, he'd be getting exactly what he wanted? That he'd never marry me if I was there already? That it was the one decision I made that I could stick to?

Whenever a holiday approached, I'd get the inevitable "Maybe he'll propose!" But I was always thinking that already. I didn't need anyone else, especially virtual strangers, to reinforce my wishful thinking. I would try my hardest to not get my hopes up before a holiday, and they weren't making it any easier.

Then, when the holiday passed, they'd come into the bank, looking at me and my left hand with expectant eyes. "So did he? Did he propose?" And I'd always have to answer "No," and try to hide the fact that I was crushed, once again.

"What's wrong with him? Can't he see what he's got?" They'd say, incredulous that I was still far from betrothed.

"I don't know," I'd respond, with a smile and a shrug. But inside, I just wanted to cry. I'd asked myself that same question over and over. To hear it coming from the mouth of someone I barely knew seemed to make it real. Worse.

Tom and I broke up and reunited four times over the course of our relationship. The last time, when I knew it was for real, it was all I could do to keep the tears at bay. Someone would ask me how Tom was, and I'd feel the sting behind my eyes, the corners of my mouth quivering. I'd do my best to say a simple "We broke up," but it was never allowed to be just that.

"Why?"

"Oh, it's a long story."

"Well, you guys always get back together."

"No. I don't think so. Not this time."

"How do you know?"

I JUST DO, I wanted to scream. I can feel it in my body, in my heart. I know it's the end. Because if I go back now, knowing he doesn't want what I want out of life, then I'd just be with him for the sake of being with somebody, and that's just as good as wasting time.

"I just do," I'd say, with the same smile and shrug I delivered each time he didn't propose.

"Don't worry. There's a guy out there for you. You'll find him."

Well, I'm glad you can tell the future. "Yeah. Thanks."

I appreciate that they're interested enough to ask, and even interested enough to care, but it was always so personal. And, in many instances, painful. These were questions I would expect from friends, not customers. And it baffled me how they expected an answer.

Now that the end of my relationship with Tom is old news, they've moved onto other things. I've been pretty vocal about the fact that I'm moving. I can't help it. I'm excited. So when someone asks what I've been up to, I just say "Moving."

"Oh really? Where?"

"In town."

"Where?"

"This side of Broad Street."

"Which road?"

"Oh, I'm not sure." Honestly, shouldn't this be a hint to stop asking? How could I not be sure where I live?

"You living with your boyfriend?"

"No. We broke up."

"Oh, that's right. So are you living alone?"

"No."

"With a friend?"

"Yes."

"Is it a guy?"

Hesitantly, I answer "yes."

"Oooooh," they say, eyeing me suspiciously. "A new boyfriend."

"No. We're just friends."

"Sure. Sure you are." The wink and smile, and laugh to themselves as they walk away, as if they've just uncovered some huge secret I was keeping.

Little do they know, the "new boyfriend" is a gay man. But it's not my place to announce his homosexuality to whomever sits at my desk. So I let them think whatever they like. Because God knows they'll just keep on asking questions if I don't.

1 comment:

NJ said...

Very entertaining post, my wife and I dated for a long time and we got asked all those same questions. We never lived together either, but that's a really long story. I'm sure you've heard this a million times before, but you're probably better off that you didn't get married.