“I need to hear you say something,” Sarah said, her eyes nervously darting from the hands on her lap up to John’s face.
He looked back at her expectantly. “Okay…?”
“Tell me no.” John looked confused. “Please say, in as many words, that you do not want to date me–now, next week, next month. Say no. Period.” Sarah looked away towards the street.
John opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He tried again, “But, that…that’s not true,” he stammered. “I like you a lot and normally would want to date you. Now is just not–”
“No, none of that rationalization stuff,” Sarah interrupted. “Your answer now is not a yes, which means it’s a no, regardless of how you feel about me.” She paused for emphasis. “I know the answer is no, but I cannot accept it as fact until I hear you say so. Please close the door 100% of the way on us, in this moment and moving forward. It is the only true thing to do.”
“I don’t understand,” John countered. “You know this isn’t about you at all. It’s about me and where I am in my life right now…”
“John, look, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but it’s not helping. Trust me. I do not need you to understand why or to try to make me feel better. I just need you to say it like it is.”
John took a deep breath and held it in for a moment. “Okay,” he exhaled, “what do you want me to say?”
“Thanks. Please answer this question with a simple yes or no. Nothing else.” Sarah paused and looked over at him for moment to make sure he understood. Whey she say him nod his head slightly, she continued. “Do you want to date me right now?”
There was a long awkward pause. “No,” John finally answered with resignation, “but–”
“A-ah,” Sarah interjected. Yes or no only.” John sighed and shook his head a little. “Now,” Sarah pressed on, ” I know you like me–a lot–but that the timing’s ‘not right’ for you at the moment. Tell me, can you say with any amount of surety that the timing will be ‘right’ at some point in the future?” John leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. “Well,” Sarah prodded, “can you say ‘I will for sure want to date you in one month’?”
“No.” John said quietly.
“How about in two months?”
A head shake.
“Three months? Five months?”
Another slight and reluctant head shake.
John lowered his head into his hands and ran his fingers through his hair. “No Sarah, I’m sorry. I can’t.”
They sat in silence on the porch step, not looking at one another. The dog across the street started barking at a passing pedestrian. The wind rustled through the trees, blowing Sarah’s hair around.
Slowly, Sarah reached over and gave John a hug, which he returned. “Thanks,” she said, forcing a slight smile and holding back a few gentle tears. “I needed to hear you say it.”
Sarah slowly stood up, draping her purse over her shoulder. She turned and walked down the steps to her car. She opened the driver’s side door and took one last look up at John on the porch. She wved a small wave and gave him a pinched smile before climbing in the car and driving off.