“People have a habit of underestimating you, don’t they?”
I took a sip of my white wine, my facial expression not changing. “How do you mean?”
Tanner laughed as he flipped over the chicken on the barbecue. “Well, when I first met you, you came across as pretty put together. Confident, smart, like you have a lot of friends.”
I nodded, smiling. “I like to think those are true statements.”
“But there is a lot more too you, isn’t there? People see this guy who loves his kids and reads a lot but they don’t often get much past that, do they?”
I shrugged. “It takes a bit to get to know me, just like anyone. But yes, I would say that that is a mistake people make often. I have a blog, I write poetry, I’m working on a book, I read voraciously. None of those things make me any more or less special than anyone else, though. Everyone is deeper than what they appear on the surface.”
Tanner looked at me, narrowing his gaze. “Do you do it on purpose?”
I laughed out loud this time. “Do I do what on purpose?”
“Let people underestimate you. Is it on purpose?”
I shrugged again. “I don’t know. I guess to a certain extent. It’s not like I’m willfully hiding. I’m just comfortable in my own skin and I’m careful who I share my vulnerability with. That’s like a healthy human survival tip, though.”
This time he spoke without even turning around, cooking the chicken more. “So why are you single, then? I’ve got a husband, why don’t you have a husband?”
I laughed, giving a coy answer, but really the only answer there is to give. “I’m single because I’m not in a relationship.”
“Oh, come on! That answer is a copout!”
“No, really. First off, I’m pretty okay not being in a relationship. If it happens, and it’s right, I’ll give it a shot. Second, I don’t date much. Some, but not much. And when I do give it a shot, it turns out lame. I’m very clear about my communication and I feel like I have my shit together. I’m raising my kids, I’ve got a good relationship with my ex-wife, I like my job, I do what I love, and I travel by myself often. I’m not opposed to finding someone to share that with, but it has to be healthy.”
Tanner stayed quiet and I kept talking.
“I’ve been out five years. I started that with an infant and a toddler. That’s a lot for anyone to sign on for. And the relationships I’ve tried out since then just haven’t lasted, for their own reasons.”
Tanner turned off the stove and moved the chicken into the dish. “Want to know why I think you’re single?”
I rolled my eyes and laughed. “Yes, tell me, please.”
“I think you intimidate people.”
I laughed again, sharply. “Oh my god, I’ve been told that before like five times!”
“See? You’re intimidating!”
“How am I intimidating!”
“Well, what were you told before?”
I set my glass down and ticked off on my fingers what I’d been told in the past. “I’ve been told that I’m intimidating because I’m a good father and my kids come first. One guy told me it’s because I have big arms, but come on, you are in way better shape than me. Oh, two friends told me it’s because I’m a therapist and I make people feel uncomfortable because they feel like I can see through them emotionally. Um, um, oh! Kurt, my best friend, told me that it’s because I am direct with what I say and I don’t play games. And I can’t remember the fifth one. Oh, yeah! One guy told me I’m intimidating because I make eye contact and I compliment people too much.”
Tanner sat down with his plate of food and thought a moment. “Well, all of those reasons are ridiculous. You compliment too much?”
“Yes! I told a guy I had dinner with, on a date a few years ago, that he was handsome. And he told me he didn’t like being complimented, that he found it intimidating.”
“Ugh, that’s terrible. Seriously, I think some of the best looking people have the worst self-esteems sometimes.”
I laughed. “I know! So, what am I supposed to do to be less intimidating? Not be a good dad? Be a shitty communicator?”
“Well clearly not.”
“Honestly, I think a big reason I’m single is because my priorities are different than a lot of single gay guys, at least the ones I seem to meet. I like sex, but it isn’t my primary motivation. I like having a drink, but I don’t stay out and get trashed. I mean, I’m getting close to 40 and I’ve got kids.”
And then we were both laughing.
We stayed silent for a bit, then made small talk, two friends chatting and laughing over dinner, talking about movies and funny stories and life in our 30s. We talked about our families and jobs.
After dinner was cleaned up, Tanner slapped my shoulder once. “Well, when the time and person are right, you’ll make a great husband.”
“Ha, thank you very much, my friend. And thanks for the company tonight. And dinner! That was fantastic.”
I gave Tanner a hug goodbye. As he left, he stood in the doorway, turned back toward me one last time, and gave a ‘tsk-tsk’ sound.
“Yup. Completely underestimated.” Then he closed the door behind him.