Mr. Nice GuyBy Roy L. Pickering Jr. Daniel paced determinedly around his coffee table.
Getting the girl was supposed to be the difficult part, not getting rid of her. Why was he allowing himself to become so worked up? It wasn't healthy to be this tense. He felt the beginning of one of those jackhammer headaches which used to precede college exams.
Maybe it would be best to forget about this for now.
No, he had put it off long enough. Why allow himself to be unhappy when he could easily do something about it?
Easily? Well, technically it was. All Daniel had to do was open his mouth and speak the truth. Maybe not the whole truth and nothing but. No need hurting her feelings. He must be sensitively and sensibly honest. "Honey, you're a wonderful person who's going to make some guy real happy one day, but I don't think I was meant to be that guy. What I'm saying here is, this isn't working out."
Sounded simple enough. But every time he tried to say the words, something much different would come out. Usually along the lines of - "So what do you want to do tonight?"
Today would be different. This decision had not been made lightly. Scores of hours had been spent trying to determine if there was anything about the relationship worth salvaging, and Daniel kept coming up with the same answer. No, No, No, No, No!
He did not want to be with Esther. The reasons were more than compelling. They had few common interests, for one. This he could live with. What bothered him more than their lack of compatibility was her absolute refusal to compromise. He would endure her avocations, no matter how mind numbing, if for no better reason than to be polite. But Esther rarely bothered to return the favor. When she was around, his life stopped and his life with her took over.
And she certainly was around enough. Esther believed that relationships blossomed due to heavy investments in quality time. She didn't seem to understand the concept of spending time apart, giving your partner room to breathe and a chance to miss you. Esther felt that air was best when shared, no matter how stale it grew.
As for the sex, it was okay. Daniel always figured he would meet a woman with whom the sex was incredible, marry her, and watch it slowly dwindle down to decent as the years passed by. With Esther it had started out at merely decent (sex by nature couldn't be much less), primarily due to her lack of interest in variation. Daniel would never turn down vanilla ice cream. This didn't mean that other flavors, even ones he found inferior, would not be welcomed changes of pace on occasion.
Then there was his dog. Esther couldn't stand Koko, and Koko hated her in return. There was no cause and effect at play, the animosity between them had been immediate and instantaneous. Daniel wasn't sure which bothered him more, but neither situation was tolerable. He didn't want to be with a woman who couldn't appreciate what a great dog Koko was. And if the friendliest dog on the face of the earth actually didn't like someone, chances were this was a person best to be avoided.
Nevertheless, Daniel had spent the last eight months doing everything but avoiding Esther. She had become an all consuming passion, except for the passion part. How did he get himself into this mess?
He had been between relationships, as had she. There was a mutual attraction, he went for it, she did not discourage him too strenuously. So far, no different than any of his previous liaisons. They started dating, then sleeping together, and for the first several weeks he had been on cloud nine. Or at least cloud eight.
Daniel was excessively proud to have Esther on his arm in the early days. Not merely due to her physical appeal, for he had dated equally attractive women. Well one anyway. She had more going for her than mere beauty, though. From the way she dressed to how she moved or simply stood still, there was something about Esther that placed her a notch above the women he was used to being around. She was part Audrey Hepburn, part Ingrid Bergman, and part Queen of England. Being a blue collar working stiff, it was only natural that Daniel be impressed, and frankly, grateful for her luminous presence in his commonplace world. His friends told him jealously that he was out of his league, and he ate it up. When a lifetime minor leaguer suddenly finds himself playing in the Bigs, he relishes every moment. For a while.
But once he had grown used to Esther's glamorous exterior, Daniel discovered that he wasn't so crazy about what lay underneath. She had this way, which showed itself in a multitude of fashions, of making him feel that he wasn't good enough for her. This led him to conclude, not terribly forlornly, that she would surely tire of slumming and hand him his walking papers. He needed only to continue being himself and patiently await the inevitable. Yet days turned to weeks, then months, a year was just around the corner, and the axe had yet to fall. Esther seemed perfectly content to be in a relationship where the other person was growing increasingly miserable.
After five months, Daniel made his first attempt to extricate himself from the one sided affair. That was when it hit him. He had never broken up with a woman before. He had earned merit badges for his consistent performances as the one to be dumped. But the shoe which did the kicking had never been on his foot, and he was not quite sure how to make it fit.
He denied his first impulse, which was to duplicate one of the numerous techniques used on him. "It was actually the idea of being in love that I was in love with, so let's cut out the sex and just be friends." "I was using you as a surrogate for my ex, but now I realize that isn't fair to you." "It's come to my attention that I am a lesbian." Or his personal favorite - "I'm going to hike up the Himalayas to search for my mental G spot." All of these being not particularly well veiled ways of saying either, "you no longer get me off", or, "I've found someone who gets me off better".
Now that it was his turn to do the disappointing, and if he be so bold, the heart breaking, Daniel found himself unable to mimic the words which had wounded him in the past. He felt that after investing heavily into an involvement, the very least a person deserved as parting gift was honesty. Daniel decided to give what he should have received.
With this humanitarian spirit guiding him, he had no problem sitting Esther down, looking into her eyes and saying - "Do you want to order Chinese or Italian?" Maybe his ex-girlfriends were sparing his feelings after all. Or more likely, weaseling out of a rather difficult and uncomfortable situation. The weasel suddenly seemed like a fine beast to emulate. But it wasn't right. Esther deserved to be treated with respect, and he deserved a clean conscience.
Daniel concluded that the root of his problem was the fact that he was just too nice. Everyone described him as such. "You'll like Daniel, he's a real nice guy." A disguised insult if ever there was one. They may as well have said what they really meant, obvious as it was. "You'll like Daniel, he's as soft as ice cream on a summer day. Borrow money from him and don't worry about paying him back. Ask him to do you really annoying favors, he won't say no. He can't say no. And women, feel free to use him at your leisure, then break things off when he no longer suits your purposes. Don't worry about trashing his heart. It's disposable." Now in a brand new twist of fickle fate, here he was trapped in a relationship he wanted out of because he was too nice to be honest about his feelings, and too nice to advantageously lie about them. And as for the standard alternative, being a jerk until Esther tired of the mistreatment and ended the relationship herself, Daniel simply didn't have it in him.
He had had enough of being pushed over, stepped on, and then having to apologize for getting the bottom of the bully's shoes dirty. Unfortunately, of all the people he could have chosen to take a stand against, Esther was the one who would make this most difficult. She had an uncanny power over him, exercised by subtly expressing not anger, but merely disappointment at his choices. She silently communicated displeasure with looks and gestures, but the message was conveyed louder than any heavy metal band might have screamed it. Daniel would then scurry to accommodate her wishes.
Today she could glare however much she wanted. She could throw a sign language temper tantrum, unleash a torrent of crocodile tears, hold her breath until she passed out. Nothing would work. For once it would be Daniel who got his way.
That had to be her. This was it.
"Esther, there's something I have to tell you which is quite difficult, so I'd just as soon say it now and say it fast, before I lose my nerve and don't say it at all. You're a wonderful woman and the last thing I want to do is hurt you, but ..."
"You didn't get the theater tickets, did you?"
"No, that's not it."
"Well thank goodness, because you know how badly I want to see this play."
"Esther please, don't interrupt me. I need to get this off my chest."
"Sure darling, do continue."
"We've been together for quite awhile, and though it's been great, I feel as if ... Esther, I don't love you."
"And I don't love you."
"Huh? You don't?" Daniel thought he had been prepared for any reaction, but total apathy never entered his mind.
"No, not yet anyway. These things take time. What matters is that we're good together. We make sense. Love will come along in due course. Just trust me on this one, Daniel dear. I know what I'm talking about. There are much more important, and certainly more solid things to base a relationship on than love. Now you better grab your umbrella, because it looks like rain. And please hurry. We don't want to be late."
Esther ran a hand down Daniel's tie, a quizzical expression on her face as if she were trying to determine precisely how the silkworm had gone about his business.
"No we don't." Daniel dashed into the bedroom. He returned two minutes later with coat and umbrella in hand, and a different tie around his neck.
"Much better selection, don't you agree?"
"That's why I made it, Esther."
They exited the apartment, the perfect couple headed out for a posh evening on the town, never mind that there was a heavyweight title fight on HBO tonight. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. He was almost starting to acquire a taste for caviar. Koko barked them goodnight.
"When are you going to get rid of that mongrel?"
"Any day now, honey."
Daniel held the door open, but did not follow Esther through it. When she realized that she was unaccompanied, she turned back to find Daniel still clutching the doorknob.
"What's the matter now?"
"I have something to say. You're not going to like it."
Esther put her hands on her hips, her traditional pose of exasperation. "Well spit it out."