In 1989, I screwed up my first real adult-type relationship pretty badly. I had no idea of the complex raft of emotions I was going to experience. I was overwhelmed, and I ran away. Worse, I disappeared without a word of explanation to the other person, who thus had no idea what had happened and no way to find out. I wrecked that friendship forever.

One of the people I lost touch with when I dropped out of that social circle was M., so it was a pleasant surprise when, a few years later, I found her working at the Tower Books in Redmond. It was an even more pleasant surprise when she was willing to talk to me, since she'd had to help my ex deal with the fallout of my disappearance, and thus had all the reason in the world to cut me dead.

I ended up visiting Tower Books fairly frequently, because I was starting my career in software, and Tower had the best computer-books selection in town (thanks in part to M., who was in charge of ordering for that section). M. was frequently there, and we'd talk; we had a lot of shared experiences from college, and obviously a lot of the same friends. Somewhere in there I told her my side of the breakup story, and while an explanation is not an excuse (nor should it be), it's at least something.

Anyway, M. was without a vehicle at the time, so if I were at the store near the time her shift was ending, I'd give her a lift home. Occasionally, we'd stop for dinner and/or a movie on the way, which made us chuckle at the idea that outside observers might think we were dating. Because we couldn't possibly be dating, right? I mean from my side of things, I obviously can't handle that kind of relationship, and from her side, I obviously can't be trusted with another person's feelings.

We continued not dating for almost a year until one Friday evening when we were watching Star Wars at M.'s apartment on Capitol Hill (did I mention that driving her to her apartment was thirty miles out of my way? Nope, not dating at all, why would you think that?) when it occurred to me that she looked awfully damn kissable there next to me on the couch, so I leaned over and did so. She didn't shove me away. When we came up for air, one of us said something along the lines of, "I guess we'd better talk about this, huh?" I was already remembering the last time something like this happened and how badly I'd screwed it up and thinking that I don't have all that many really good friends and how awful it would be if I lost this one, not to mention also losing all our mutual friends who would correctly take her side because it would once again be all my fault because I'm an awful person and why would anybody want to associate with me? (I've never asked, but on her side, I think maybe there was at least a hint of "Geez, it's about freaking time", but she must also have been thinking about my history and wondering if I was about to disappear on her.) I asked for a couple of days to get my head straight, she said OK, we finished watching the movie (I think), and I left.

On the way home, I went over and over the previous relationship and how I'd messed it up and wondering whether there was any way to be sure I wouldn't mess this one up just as badly. I was almost home before it occurred to me that I had two choices in front of me, but only one of them was irreversible. If I walked away now, I'd never get another chance at this relationship--and I might never let anyone else close enough to try again--but if I went with it, I could always run away later if I couldn't handle it, and maybe she'd get tired of me first, and then it wouldn't be all my fault.

At some point over the weekend, I called M. up and told her how much I valued our friendship and how badly I didn't want to lose that. Then I said something like, "and so I think we should proceed with this relationship, but be wary of getting to a point where it's compromising the friendship." We arranged an official "first" date for the upcoming Monday.

That Monday was October 17, 1994. I haven't run away yet. It's starting to look like maybe I won't.
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