You’ve got mail?

It started out as an ordinary night at the bar. A friend was in from out of town (New York, to be precise), and we had agreed to meet at a chic lounge near campus for drinks after I got out of class. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of weeks and had a lot to catch up on (I’d had quite an eventful week, myself), and both of us were looking forward to seeing each other.

Of course, since she was from New York, I got to the bar first. Meeting times for New Yorkers are not so much fixed deadlines as they are approximate targets, so I showed up fifteen minutes late with the anticipation of waiting at least another thirty. Needless to say, I ordered myself a drink.

As it turned out, my friend and I had gotten our wires crossed regarding meeting locations; she was at another restaurant nearby for nearly an hour before we realized that each of us were waiting for each other just blocks away. She had e-mailed me with the update, but I (dinosaur that I am) still don’t have e-mail on my cell phone, so had missed the message.

Ah, iPhone-lessness…

In any case, I was already well into my first beverage of the evening when a woman sitting next to me at the bar leaned over and tentatively asked, “Excuse me… By any chance, are you Paul?”

Sadly, of all the nicknames I’ve had, Paul is not one of them, so I had to respond in the negative. “No,” I said, “not Paul.” I was somewhat distracted by the Olympic speed-skating playing on the television above the bar, so perhaps I didn’t respond as attentively as I should have. She kept talking.

“You see,” she continued, “I was supposed to meet someone named Paul. But I don’t suppose you’re him.”

“No,” I said, “I’m afraid I can’t help. I’m not Paul, and I know who I’m meeting, and it’s not you.”

Looking back, this was (perhaps) a bit blunt. Not surprisingly, she looked a bit crestfallen at my response, so I decided to follow up with a question—just to demonstrate that I wasn’t so heartless that I really considered speed-skating more interesting than this woman’s predicament.

“So, this Paul…” I began. “Is he business? Or… pleasure?”

Way to go, customs officer James….

However, despite my slight faux pas, she ran with the joke and responded, “Pleasure. We’ve only talked online. He was supposed to meet me here tonight for the first time, but we agreed to meet here at 7:30, and…”

It was now 8:15.

What to say? Part of me wanted to give the woman a reality check: “Look. He’s 45 minutes late. Unless an elephant escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo, hitchhiked its way up the turnpike, and caused a massive traffic jam at Government Center, I don’t think your man has much of an excuse.”

However, she was only on her first glass of wine (she had resolved to finish it before throwing in the towel), so I decided that perhaps such advice would be premature. Instead, I decided to make conversation. I thought it might help make things less awkward, or at the very least help pass the time. If nothing else, I was still waiting for my friend, and this woman wouldn’t have to feel like the only one who was being stood up.

We talked about curling (the winter game, not the hair trick) and how it wasn’t really a sport, but this was such an obvious proposition that the conversation had nowhere to go from there. We finally brought it around to the topic of films, and I had the gall to mention You’ve Got Mail. Of course, with a woman clearly being stood up to my immediate left, it was the last film I should have mentioned, but hey… we were both onto our second drink by now.

In You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan’s character spends a painful amount of time waiting for her e-Romeo to show up at a local coffee shop, only to have Tom Hanks’ character (secretly the Romeo himself) show up and “ruin” the evening by plopping down in the seat of honor. So convinced that Hanks is not the man she’s been waiting for, Ryan sends him packing with a classic one-liner (“You’re nothing but a suit!”) that she later learns to regret. True identities are later revealed, and hilarity ensues.

Ah, romantic comedy.

Sadly for Rachel (the woman waiting here), no such Hollywood hijinks were in store last night. I was not the secret Romeo (sadly, my Juliet is much farther away than the nearest bar), and her man was not coming at all. It was actually quite sad to watch her set increasingly generous deadlines for him: first, she was only going to wait fifteen more minutes; then, she ordered some wine and would only wait until she finished her drink; finally, after sipping more and more slowly, she resolved to wait only fifteen more minutes  before finally asking for the check.

By then, my friend had shown up and had been clued in on the story. Even the waiter was in on it before long. All of us felt sorry for Rachel, the woman who should have been met there at the bar, and my friend and I even offered to pay for her drink. All of this was very nice, but Paul never showed.

The experience left me wondering: What kind of man leaves a woman at the bar that way?

Is it possible that he had a good excuse? Perhaps. Maybe that elephant really did escape from the Franklin Park Zoo. (Or, as I put it to Rachel, “The only good reason that man has for not being here is if he was run over by a bus.”) More likely, though, he chickened out—got cold feet, thought better of it, just didn’t feel right.

There may be any number of explanations, but there’s no excuse. There’s no reason to leave a woman in that position without at least a phone call attempting to explain why.

I’m all about keeping plans, but of course I understand that sometimes plans have to change. Sometimes things come up. Sometimes there are things that can’t be helped. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.

If that’s the case, though, guys, do the lady a favor and call.

After all, if it were your sister waiting at the bar, you’d kill a guy if he did any less.

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