It's always weird to run into someone else's ex, especially on a date or a quasi-date.
Over the summer, while home in New Jersey, I ran into a female friend at services. I'll call her "Becky," a smart, professional, beautiful young woman, who invited me to join her at a private social club on a Saturday night. It was an elite club for elite clientele and quite a nice place to spend an evening, if you traveled in those circles. For the record, I don't.
A warm breeze drifted over the rooftop bar, with its illuminated pool. Then my date stood stock-still and whispered in my ear that a guy she'd dated had just entered. She never actually elaborated on how long they'd been together, but she hinted that there was an ugly ending, and the guy was particularly mean and hot-headed.
He was with a small group of friends and an exotic-looking woman, whose outfit suited the poolside bar, even though it was nighttime. On our walk-through of the bar, we strolled past, and there was no reaction. In fact, he did not even raise his eyes.
"I can't believe he's here. Can you believe it?" Becky said.
"Well, I really don't know anything about him," I said, trying to maintain a certain measure of levity.
Becky was not quite obsessed with the encounter, but she was certainly distracted — and it certainly dominated the conversation for the rest of the evening, at least until we met another couple. Later that night, as I drove her uptown, she kept on talking about him, but revealed very little about their relationship.
The World Is Indeed Small
I was not particularly shocked, since the world is a small place, and it's not entirely unusual or impossible to run into an ex here or there, especially in the even-smaller world of the Jewish community.
The most shocking element, perhaps, was that she even went out with the guy in the first place. He did not seem to be the type that a woman of Becky's stature would even give the time of day.
The guy — I'll call him "Shifty" — was short, with a mop of hair, thick-rimmed glasses and shifty eyes. He looked like one of those guys who has trouble making eye contact with people. Personally, I could not see them as a couple. Sometimes, people look like they fit together. Becky and this guy certainly did not.
She was clearly distracted by his presence. I told her that he didn't look like the kind of guy I pictured her with. But she kept looking in his direction and commenting about his appearance.
We sat on a patio lounge chair, and I sensed her discomfort. So I shifted my body language and put my arm around her, resting it on the back of the chair. It wasn't quite putting my arm around her, but it was just enough of a physical statement.
I whispered in her ear, "We can really make him jealous, if you want." She giggled and, girlishly, brushed her hair back. We enjoyed the summer night and the drinks. Actually, I only had a club soda, but it looked like an actual cocktail.
My subtle shift in body language was enough to make her feel at ease, even if my offer was only half-joking. Becky and I occasionally run into each other when I'm down in the city. We even had lunch once. But that has been it.
Another Interesting Occurrence
The night proved even stranger when the man in the couple we ended up with turned out to be the son of a close friend of my grandparents and great-grandparents. I only realized this the following day, when I showed my dad the guy's business card, since they're both in the insurance business.
This guy I'll call "Bud," and he was the grandson of the man who insured my great-grandfather's shirt company about 70 years ago. When I e-mailed him on Monday to recount the story, I did not mention it to Bud, but his grandfather's insurance business contributed to a family rift over the business.
As lessons go, the "interesting" encounters of that night reiterate that the world is a small place.
Though I've seen Becky since that night, I have not asked whether she has had further encounters with "Shifty." But my offer still stands.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.