Message to wrong person starts a romance

In the United States, people play dating games. But Laura was from Spain and we were in her territory - Madrid.

What games was she playing?

Her texts would include the smiley, wink and kiss faces.

In the US, these are flirtatious but did the Spanish use a different playbook?

She would double text. Triple text. Quadruple text. Memes. GIFs.

I had met Laura two years earlier, through mutual friends, during a trip to Madrid. When I moved there to be an English teacher last August, she was the only Madrilena I knew, so I reached out.

For the first three months, I did not feel drawn to her. I had put her in my friend zone.

But I had never met someone so comfortable in his or her own skin. She did not wear make-up.

Once, after eating a big Caesar salad, she unbuttoned her jeans to make room for her stomach. "Ya esta (That's better)," she said.

I felt at ease around her. There was no pressure to be "on". We would go out for churros and crack jokes about their phallic shape.

We would have marathon texting sessions filled with raunchy jokes.

One night, I found myself day-dreaming about kissing her. Soon after, it was clear - I wanted her to be my girlfriend.

But was I in her friend zone?

I was not sure. There was only one way to know - ask her out in person. I did not want to be the timid American boy who did not have the guts to ask her out face-to- face. Only I did not have the guts.

If I messed this up, I could lose my only Spanish friend in Madrid.

I decided to hold off.

The day after the election of Donald Trump as United States President last year, I was sitting on the metro on my way to work, on the verge of tears.

Like most on the left, I had been sure Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would win.

When I returned home to my flat, there was a WhatsApp message from my best friend, Alex, in the US.

I had not heard from him in months. "I can't believe it," he wrote. "Neither can I."

"Well, other than that, how is your love life over there. Have you met any Spanish girls?"

"Well, there is this girl Laura. We've become good friends over the past three months and I definitely like her, but I don't know if she likes me."

I sent the text and prepared dinner. My eyes were glassy and bloodshot from staying up to watch the election results.

Thirty minutes later, I checked my phone. No response. I scrolled through our string of messages.

There was no text sent to Alex.

My face turned ghost white.

Alex was not at the top of my text queue - Laura was.

Alex never responded to my text because it was not sent to him. It was sent to Laura - I was just so used to opening up her messages on WhatsApp and replying to her immediately.

Because of my despondent state, I had been on autopilot.

The horror. My limbs tingled with anxiety. I told my two roommates, Greg and Estevan.

They erupted in laughter. "What are you going to do?" they asked.

My first thought was to play it off as a joke. But instead, I just wrote: "This is so embarrassing, but at least now you know how I feel (face palm emoji)."

Despite my adrenaline, I felt a sense of relief. I checked my phone every 15 seconds. No response.

Almost an hour later, my phone lit up. "Guys, she responded."

There we were, three grown men huddled around a smartphone like a band of giddy schoolboys.

My roommate read it aloud: "(three cry-laughing emojis) Cam this is hilarious. Well I feel you're sooo nice and I think we get along really good but at the moment Im so busy with exams Im afraid I would mess it up."

I took the phone from him and texted back. "Yes, we should wait. I completely understand you."

I understood nothing. Only somehow I had been exiled into some sort of dating purgatory.

"Hey, I have a reward for you having the balls to say that," she wrote later. She sent me a GIF of Trump and his hair being blown back by the wind of a trumpet.

"What a day. First Trump gets elected and now this?" I wrote.

"Hey relax it could be worst. At least I didn't total friend-zoned you." I read the last message to my roommates. "Savage," they both said in bro-unison.

I was left to sweat it out until her exams were over. Two days later, I received a text. "After class I am free if you want to do something this Friday (smiley face emoji)."

We started going on dates. Over the next few months, our chemistry proved to be just as effortless as when we were "just friends".

Now, I have renewed my teaching contract in Madrid for the coming year and Laura will be coming with me to visit my family in Boston for the first time.

She admitted she had friend-zoned me in those first three months, just as I had her. But by not being interested in each other, we were free to express our real selves.

Or maybe it was just Trump. Because if Clinton had been elected, I would have been thinking more clearly.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Message to wrong person starts a romance'. Print Edition | Subscribe