Work Function Date

—Saturday, November 19, 2011—

I was in Boston this weekend for my company’s holiday party, and on Friday night, I had gone out with Julie. It was the second time I’d seen her since she’d been my date to Comic Con a month earlier. Both such occurrences had been “off the books”.

This would have been great news if it weren’t for the fact that I had gone to Boston that weekend to go out with Carly, my date for Saturday night’s formal holiday party. I needed to remind myself of that because, although I was there to date Carly, I couldn’t control how much I liked Julie.

Once I was up and out the door on Saturday, I knew I needed to push that desire aside for the day and give my attention to Carly.

That night’s date had been on the books for months and, in some ways, it had been in the air since that Spring when Carly sent me a Facebook message out of the blue. She told me to call her the next time I was in Boston. She was direct, flirtatious and, as I had remembered her from college, still incredibly attractive.

One small thing though: she was one of my good friend’s ex-girlfriends.

I hadn’t given Carly’s initial offer much consideration until months later when she sent me another message, following the launch of OHD. Considering her history with my friend, it seemed to me that the project would be the one chance I would have to go out with Carly — a sort of free pass to do something uncouth.

So, I asked her to my company holiday party, which was held in Boston each year. Additionally, I told my friend that I’d be taking out his ex as my date and lucky for me, he didn’t mind at all. He even gave me his blessing, so to speak.

As would happen occasionally during this project, I wondered what I was getting myself into with this date. After all, I was bringing a friend’s ex-girlfriend out to meet all of my soon-to-be-drunk co-workers, during which, I would be consumed with guessing what Julie might be doing that night. Questionable.

I was rushing to dress myself as Carly texted me to say that she was on her way and that she felt nervous.

When she texted again to tell me that she was downstairs, I scolded myself for taking my time. I was not finished getting dressed, but I ran down to the lobby in what I had on.

I found Carly waiting near the front desk and she looked amazing. She was the same total babe I remembered from college, though I doubt we had crossed paths for two or three years at that point.

In that moment, I forgot all about Julie.

Taking the elevator upstairs, I apologized for not being ready on time, and back in my room, I tried on a tie, changed my shirt, tried on a new tie and asked Carly about her day. She was working as a teacher’s aide in Brookline and had to take a teacher’s certification test that morning. Otherwise, it had been a low key day.

When I changed my shirt, Carly asked to see my tattoo, which she had only seen in pictures online. She took my forearm in her hands, and moving her fingers over the ink, told me that she loved it. I hadn’t had anyone make me feel sexy for having a tattoo, but Carly had just done it in spades.

Julie…right…who was Julie?

Being that it was a company event, I provided Carly with some background information. That year was my fourth holiday party and I had worked at the company for almost three and half years. Boston was once my home office before they moved me to NYC and fortunately, there was a core of eight of us that had moved from one city to the other. Those were some of the many people Carly would meet that night.

Also, I made sure to warn her that beer and male fraternity were significant parts of our corporate culture.

All right! Shirt, check. Tie, check. Gorgeous date, check. Let’s go!

Work Function Date 1

It was almost too cold for Carly and I to walk to the restaurant I’d chosen in a cocktail dress and suit, respectively, but Les Zygomates was also almost definitely too close to warrant a taxi ride, so we tensed our muscles and endured the frigid winds for the seven minute walk.

Safely out of the cold, we were seated in the middle of no one by our waiter, a funny man from somewhere outside the US. He used a number of odd phrases and addressed us by our last names the entire meal. It was odd being referred to as Mr. Barden, but at least it maybe gave Carly the impression that I had chosen a classy spot to dine.

Over dinner, we caught up on life, work, living situations and our respective dating scenes. We both related about living at home after college and then moving into the city to start our lives in earnest. Typical post-grad trajectories, especially in the economy of that time, but relatable nonetheless.

In my post-grad life, I had been lucky enough to stay connected with many of my friends from Fairfield, much of which I owed to my relocation to New York City. For better or for worse, Carly did not see much of her Fairfield friends any longer. I would have been quick to say it was a shame, but it seemed that her college friends had all but abandoned her, including one woman with whom I had attended high school. The abandonment got me thinking that maybe they were not the truest of friends, or at the very least, perhaps Carly was better off without them. I hoped so.

By the time we finished eating, we had covered our recent relationships, their respective demises and a jazz trio had begun playing on the stage behind us.

As we finished our wine, Carly wanted to know about the project and how it affected the dates. I told her that the degree to which people talked about the project while on dates ranged quite a bit and sometimes it was indicative of what they were hoping for the date to be. If they were seemingly ignorant of OHD, it was more likely that they were hoping to treat it like a traditional date. The irony was that often times, the acknowledgment of the project usually made for a better date, as both parties tended to relax a bit and open up to one another. Since we were talking about OHD, I could only hope that the rest of the date followed that pattern of good dates.

On the cold walk back to the hotel, I told her to watch out for the UK guys, especially Toby. One could never be too safe when it came to good looking English men. I also told her about the previous year’s party — it was the one where I wore a co-worker’s dress for several hours and woke up the next morning in bed with a different (male) co-worker. It was a good holiday party.

The very first person we saw at the hotel entrance was Toby. Of course. He greeted me with a charming smile, I greeted him with an under-confident grin, and I wondered why God hated me.

Entering the ballroom, I felt like I was letting Carly in on a bit of a secret. Very few people from my life had been exposed to my co-workers and the environment my workplace fostered. Those people were the number one thing I liked about working where I did. They were not only friendly and intelligent, but they always knew how to have a good time.

Making our way to the bar, we were intercepted by several pockets of cheerful co-workers. Introductions and firm handshakes were flying around like beads at Mardi Gras.

Finally, we reached the bar and ordered beers after making small talk with a couple people in line. Drinks in hand, we talked to my friend Matt and his girlfriend Diana. Twenty minutes and four conversations later, we finally ventured further than 15 feet from the bar. I loved these kind of shoot-the-shit fests, maybe more than most, but I knew it could be daunting and eventually boring for guests who didn’t know everyone.

Once we were out in the open field, I was approached by Christine, who had purchased my “Teach Me How To Dougie“ service at that year’s charity Service Auction that we ran. I promised her that I would fulfill my duty by the end of the night, which was simply to teach her how to Dougie. We also ran into my good friend Brad, who I had been talking up all night to Carly. He was the one I had woken up next to the year before. Brad pulled out his usual Maryland charm and made a great impression, which by association, made me look great.

See! I wasn’t making it up. These were actually wonderful folks!

We wandered around some more to get the lay of the land and inevitably ran into more and more people. Boy howdy, I was slapping a lot of asses. That environment just put me in a high school sports mentality.

Many of my interactions were with people I had sold service auctions to, or at least, that was what people wanted to talk about. It seemed that was what people knew me for that year — I had offered more auction items than anyone else and most of them had an air of humor to them. Better to be known for that than my second year, when I had accidentally sent an adorable cat email around to roughly 850 people. “Cat Email Guy” wasn’t the best title.

Work Function Date 2

We circled the perimeter and ran into Toby again. He talked to us for a while, catching me up on his life and doing a great job of telling Carly how good I looked and how it was refreshing to see an American who knew how to wear a properly fitting suit (as opposed to all those other schlubs in the club). I appreciated the vote of confidence from Toby, which didn’t hurt in the least. My ever-present jealousy of British men faded for the rest of the night.

Speaking of letting go, I really didn’t preoccupy myself with thoughts of Julie at all, which was great news. I was out with Carly and I felt totally present with her, except for when I was hugging other grown men.

Which reminded me, I couldn’t find my good friend Phil anywhere, despite keeping an eye out the whole time.

Continuing on, Carly and I decided to tackle the photo booth in the far corner. We waited in line behind my old Boston buddy Andy and his girlfriend Tara, whom I had met the night before. I had played against Andy in high school baseball and he later sat next to me when he started working with us. Eastern Massachusetts just wasn’t very big.

Coincidentally, Carly whispered to me that the woman behind us in line used to be her sister’s best friend. However, they had a falling out, and it was awkward then, so she didn’t know if she should say hello. As stated, Eastern Mass just wasn’t big enough.

We got our pictures taken in the booth, fake moustaches and all.

I will admit slash brag to the world: We looked pretty damn good.

After about an hour of the DJ begging people to dance, some of the more adventurous (drunken) partygoers began to timidly bust a move.

Out of nowhere, my friend Laura bumped into me. Whoa — what a surprise — I was so glad to see her. She had told me she wouldn’t be there since she was on maternity leave, but said that after five weeks of being home, she needed to get out of the house for a couple drinks. Laura knew all about the project, so she helped me out by including Carly in the conversation straight away. They really seemed to get along, talking to each other without any intervention from me, which was great.

After a bit, Laura left us and I realized that I still hadn’t found Phil. Dammit. The more he was not there, the more I talked about him, and the more impressive he would need to be when Carly finally met him.

As we continued to check out the party, we laughed with each other at people dancing and enjoyed awkward little interactions with co-workers.

Finally, finally! We found Phil. (Phinally.) He met Carly and, like a good friend, immediately went to work talking me up. In fact, all my co-workers had been doing that all night. And I did the same for them because, that was what friends should do. You know, because we actually liked each other and wanted each other to succeed. Maybe this was how men often behaved, but I had so many friends outside of the work bubble who just didn’t do that. It was such a different dynamic. I wondered how much of the praise Carly perceived as bullshit and how much as sincere. Truth be told, it was always at least a little bit of both.

Although she had been warned that there would be a good deal of bromance that night, all the ass slapping and wingmanning made for a heavy dose of the stuff. I hoped it didn’t entirely skew her opinion of me in only a matter of hours.

For a couple minutes, Phil and I were dragged away from Carly to partake in a group photo booth session with a number of our former Boston co-workers.

Once back with Carly, there was only more drifting and more repetitive conversations. More telling my friends how great their suits looked. Eventually though, I became worried that the DJ would not play “Teach Me How To Dougie” that night and I would not be able to fulfill my service auction duty. It was frustrating because I had already requested the song twice, and it seemed as though I would just have to do with what I was given.

Dragging Carly behind me, ever so apologetically, I found Christine. As soon as the next mid-tempo song began, I laid out the lesson at hand and taught Christine how to Dougie. I was not very good at it, but I got the job done and fulfilled my obligation. I could add Dougie Teacher to my resume.

We managed to escape from the dance floor and ran into Alexis, a co-worker from San Francisco. She said hello to Carly and I and then discretely leaned in and told me that she had heard about the project. She guessed, correctly, that I was on a OHD date that night. While Carly’s attention was elsewhere, I asked Alexis for help finding a date in December, when I would be in the Bay Area. She said that she would lend a hand and we parted ways. I did not slap her on the ass.

Our drinks were nearly empty when I heard a song with a distinctly Indian beat come on over the sound system. I knew for a fact that my manager Preetam had requested it. I left Carly and ran to find him, grabbing my other Indian co-worker, Varun, on the way. We got up on the stage to dance our best Bollywood dances before the DJ decided that it was time to get back to Rihanna, et al.

Jogging back to Carly, I caught my breath, and asked if she wanted to make an Irish exit. She had never heard the term, so as we left the party without saying goodbye to anyone and disappeared, I explained that an Irish Exit was when you left the party without saying goodbye to anyone and disappeared.

Upstairs, in my room again, I expressed my love for my co-workers. Although they were all in rare form that night, they were a really excellent bunch. I asked Carly what she though about this side of my life and she said, “If I didn’t already know you, I would think you were kind of bro-y.”  I explained that the bromance developed easily when you worked with so few women. And because some of those guys were kind of bro-y, myself included. I remembered my Cocktail Date saying something similar. Better keep that in check.

In my defense though, my very best friends there were the least aggressive and testosterone driven of the bunch. I explained to Carly how Brad and Phil had both been there for me when I really needed them. They weren’t just work friends. They were real life, count-on-them-when-I-am-down friends.

Hell, I’d even written a song for Phil, when I learned about his experience with the sudden death of a loved one. I had played the song at Open Mic Date and I happened to still have the recording on my phone.

I walked over to the bed that Carly was sitting on, pressed play and laid it down between us.

Having Carly hear the song was the perfect way to wrap up an evening out with my co-workers. More than my constant blabbing could get across, that song reinforced what I had been saying all night: These people were so much more than just the folks I worked with.

—Sunday, November 20, 2011—

I awoke to a missed call and a text message from Carly. She was at her place in Southie and wanted to know if I would like to have breakfast, or if she could bring me breakfast in bed. When I relayed this information to Bradley, via text message, all he could say was “wow”. I agreed wholeheartedly — anyone willing to bring me breakfast in bed was an incredible date. I roused myself, took a shower and packed most of my things for the journey back to NYC.

Carly arrived at my door with a kiss, two coffees and a pair of delicious muffins.

We sat on my bed and watched two hours of Friends. When I was nearly done with my coffee, and I knew my mouth tasted like a trash can, I leaned over and kissed Carly, which continued for a bit before she lay back down with her head on my chest. I settled in and laughed at the gang’s antics.

Raising her head off my chest to look at me, Carly asked, “Do you miss this?”

Yes. Of course I did. I think I missed these kinds of moments more than anything else.

In my recent collection of sleepovers and the like, I almost always had someplace to be in the morning. No time to sleep in, lay about or relax. So that moment, reclined with her head on my chest and in no hurry of any kind, was incredible. It was so nice to just lie in bed with someone and not be rushed — to feel grounded for a moment.

Eventually though, the clock wore on and though I called the front desk to see if I could have my checkout pushed back to noon, I had no luck. The 11 a.m. check out was upon us and unfortunately so, since I had hours to burn before my 3:50 p.m. flight.

“Well, you can just come to Southie and I can drive you. It’s right there,” Carly said, upon hearing that I had extra time.

There I was, thinking that Carly couldn’t have possibly improved upon the wonderful night prior and that morning’s breakfast delivery, and she went and offered me a place to hang out and a ride to the airport. I mean, damn.

I packed the rest of my things and we finished one last episode of Friends before taking off.

Carly drove me to her apartment in Southie and we took up residence on her bed for a couple hours, talking mostly. During that time, I had the pleasure of meeting her incredible roommate, Lily. It was suggested to me that I describe her as incredible, and so I have.

We talked about our families and the struggles therein. We talked about dating again and the difficulties that came with it.  And we talked about careers and how they were not always easy. Not the most fun stuff, to be sure, but it was all the typical banter for two single twenty-somethings.

She told me that the night before had felt real — like a true date — and that she was already comfortable around me. That was great to hear, because it had felt like a real date to me as well and I felt relaxed with her. Maybe it was because we’d known each other for so long, however sparse our interactions, or maybe we simply got along well. Either way, it had been a welcomed change from the “date tonight, gone tomorrow” feeling I had grown used to.

For all the energy expensed over the previous few weeks thinking about Julie, she had never made me feel so comfortable. Maybe I was just a glutton for hurt.

Around 2:15 p.m., Carly shuttled me to the airport and dropped me off with one last kiss.

Between the night before, that morning and my departure that afternoon, I don’t think I could have asked for a better date to a holiday party.