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Though I’d met him before and we didn’t live far from each other, I still called him my “camp crush.” At the same retreat in the mountains, we spent a lot of time together without the formality of a real date. He couldn’t help but stand out in a crowd—tall, handsome, and just-the-right-amount-of-dorky—but in a rare moment of crush magic, no one else seemed to notice him as much as I did. He was also fun to talk to; interesting and articulate, he had an opinion about everything. By the time the week was over, I was sunk.

We kept in touch over the next few months, while both of us were traveling. If I’m being honest, I mostly kept in touch. But I told myself that wasn’t a problem; he was just busy, and the absent-minded-professor air was part of what I found attractive in the first place. Still, I wondered if he thought about me as much as I thought about him.

When we reconnected after our travels, we mostly saw one another in large groups, but eye contact games and the occasional stammering awkward moments made me pretty sure that this will-we-won’t-we wouldn’t last long; surely he’d make his move at some point. I sent out feelers to my friends, and everything came back positive—great guy, liked by everyone, no red flags. I did notice, though, that the absent-minded professor thing was less an air than an identity. When I sat next to him, it was often like he was a thousand miles away—definitely not looking deep into my carefully-shadowed eyes.

Nothing was happening, and I just couldn’t work it out. We were great for each other—strong-willed, intelligent, and different enough for there to be some interest to the relationship. We had our core values in common, not to mention passions like reading and intense conversation. In groups, we were a dynamic duo, whether taking the same view or sparring back and forth with diametrically opposed opinions.

But somehow, when I sat down next to him and tried to strike up a conversation, I found time and time again that I couldn’t think of one single thing to say. Part of that was the crush, of course, but he couldn’t seem to do it either—once we got past the usual pleasantries, conversation died away, and interesting questions felt just beyond my grasp.

Men weren’t exactly queueing up to date me, however, so I told myself he was worth waiting for. He would notice me eventually, and we’d discover the key to great conversation at that point.

A few weeks later, after attending an event with a group of friends, we were hanging out again in a group—I was sitting next to him, ebullient with the fun of listening to music with friends and feeling like the best version of myself. If he was going to make a move, this was the time. Spirits were running high in the room, and we were having a fun conversation. At one point, I threw out a quip that left everyone laughing. Everyone, that is, except for one. When I looked over at him, he hadn’t moved—he was still staring into space with that familiar absent air.

It was a lightbulb moment. Of course. Everything made sense—we didn’t share a sense of humor! I thought back to moments when a friend’s joke would go right over his head, or I would look at him at a particularly funny moment but not be able to make eye contact. It was actually funny that I hadn’t seen it before.

It was a game changer. A man that didn’t share my sense of humor would be no fun to date, and, thinking long-term, had no place as my life partner. I knew that the stresses of finances, kids, and humdrum everyday life would be unbearable if I couldn’t laugh with someone through the days of my life, bad and good. For me, that’s non-negotiable, and I never fully knew it until that moment.

We had a nice little chat before he left, and this time I wasn’t looking for secret signals. Oddly enough, his instincts had been far better than mine on this—we just weren’t compatible. He closed the door behind him, and I haven’t seen him since.

In the inevitable post-crush fallout, I found that my heart hadn’t been broken—not even really bruised. As this little (partly imaginary) romance had begun to unfold, I had approached it with a great deal of trepidation, remembering the many ways that I’d been hurt in the past and anticipating the moment when my dream hit the ground with a thud.

But this wasn’t a thud—it was a laugh. I picked myself up and resolved to take my love life a little more lightly next time. Dating may not all be fun and games, but some of it is. 

Editors' Note: Dating Unscripted is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.

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