Observations in a Coffee Shop: The Post-Break Up Hangout

The other day I overheard this questioning statement:

“So, this isn’t so bad, is it? The whole hanging out thing?”

Here is a beautiful cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” by Birdy (the original is great, too!):

The scene: A coffee shop on St. Clair Avenue West, late afternoon shifting subtly into that post-5 o’clock darkness. I am sitting a few tables away from the couple in the throes of this awkward encounter, apparently intent on becoming a creepy observer who writes about what strangers might be thinking.

The characters: the pair has that timeless (ha) hipster look, but they aren’t being overly pretentious about it. They are both good looking, but in that way that suggests they were self-conscious in high school and are still not quite over that.

The Girl: bulky black glasses that may or may not be needed to correct flawed vision, and a single feather earring in her right ear. Wearing a grey long-sleeved shirt and matching jeans – a vision in smoky grey. A slim wisp of a girl with a bun piled neatly on top of her head (hence the “Skinny Love”).

The Boy: A bit of a ginger. Also thin, angular but not arrestingly so. Looks a little like the rogue Prince Harry, if I’m letting my imagination get away with me (and, at 4:45 on a December afternoon in a charming-despite-being-a-chain coffee shop I have been holed up in all afternoon, why not?). I like his old-timey boots, so I find myself rooting for him.

I can’t hear much of their conversation – haven’t been trying, really, until I hear the boy pipe up hopefully, “So, this isn’t so bad, is it? The whole hanging out thing?” And then I know the situation instantly.

The post-break up coffee date.

Most of us have been there before. It’s a painful, if necessary, part of the healing process if you have any intention of remaining friends with your ex-significant other. However, there is nothing really fun about this. The best you can hope for is that, at the end of it, it looks like you’re doing okay. (True state of mind irrelevant until you get home and replay the event, moment by moment, to overanalyze your presentation of friendly nonchalance.)

I gather their conversation in brief snatches. It wafts over occasionally on the cinnamon-bun-scented air of the café. Audibly, they seem to be at ease. The break up must have happened a while ago, because their interaction doesn’t seem raw and intensely vulnerable – the heart’s scar tissue acts as armour in these situations. There are few awkward pauses, and they both speak enthusiastically about the projects they have on the go, give updates on friends they have in common, outline their Christmas plans with family.

Infinitely more interesting, of course, is their body language, that dual conversation that echoes the thoughts we dare not speak during the post-break up hangout.

The boy is antsy, and uncrosses and recrosses his legs.

Are you seeing someone else already? That guy that commented on your profile picture – who is that douchebag “Colin,” anyway?

The girl stares out the window for a few seconds.

You don’t really want to hear the truth.

The boy scans the room restlessly, mentioning that his band is really taking off these days.

I probably don’t really want to hear the truth.

The girl leans her head towards him, laughing.

The nights are getting colder, and you were always so warm.

Now he is making her listen to a song on his phone – on speakerphone – maybe it’s his band, or some early album previously unreleased by that random band they went see long ago and they both love? He seems really into it. Now the boy is singing harmony, slightly off-key. He is air-drumming the solos enthusiastically and everything. Everyone else in the vicinity looks away, either embarrassed on his behalf or annoyed at the interruption.

He stops, nervously scuffs the table with a finger, an inch away from her elbow.

I miss when it was easy between us.

She is still intent on the song, head cocked and facing out the window.

The distance between us is so much greater than the span of this table.

The song ends, and something else has shifted subtly in their conversation along with its final notes.

“I guess I should get going,” she hedges after a few moments of silent eye contact.

I wonder what Colin’s doing tonight?

“Yeah, for sure, I won’t keep you. I’ve got something tonight, too,” he responds quickly.

I forgot how cute you look in giant glasses. Can’t we start over?

“This was nice, we should do it again sometime,” she offers, smiling absently and looking out into the gathering dusk.

They take their time putting on their coats and saying warm goodbyes, but she is already gone.


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