It was a Thursday morning in the caf at my university, and shortly after sitting down with my bowl of oatmeal and scrambled eggs, two friends sat down to join me. Alyssa sat next to me, and my breakfast buddy sat across from us. I considered him my breakfast buddy because breakfast was our thing—as was, you know, flirting. As I was just starting my cup of coffee, I decided to stay out of the conversation for the time being.

“Yeah, I was just staring at the ceiling thinking until like two in the morning, you know?” he said.

Alyssa replied with a coy glance toward me, “Well, what were you thinking about for so long that kept you awake?”

“I don’t know, just thinking about maybe watching the sunset with this one girl sometime . . .”

My eggs became extremely interesting all of a sudden.

“Oh? I wonder who that ‘one girl’ could be?”

She didn’t wonder. She and I both knew that the “one girl” he was referring to was, in fact, me. And by the silence that hung in the air after that question, I could tell it was clearly time for me to say something and stop staring at my now-empty plate.

I felt that I had two options.

My preferred response would be something clever—something like, “Come to think of it, I actually know a girl who enjoys a good sunset, and I even have her number . . . Would you like it so you could ask her to join you for a real sunset so you can get some rest and stop thinking about it at all hours? You know, for your health and well-being.” He would respond with some sort of “yes please,” I would finally give him my number, and my breakfast buddy would evolve into my cuddle buddy. Boom. Perfect plan.

Or, in my second response, I could be honest. I had just gone through a messy breakup and was still hurting in some vulnerable places.

But how do you casually say at breakfast, in front of the guy you like, that you really want to go on a date with him, but you also really don’t want to go on a date with him, because your heart is still healing from some deep wounds?

Option number one: giving him my number could be interpreted as a green light for a date, but unfortunately, for me at the time, single did not mean ready to mingle.

I could, of course, say “no” if he did ask me out, but I didn’t want him to take that as a rejection. I was genuinely interested in him, and I couldn’t just give this incredible guy a red light.

So that left me with the yellow light. Is that even a thing in dating? How could I say that I did really like him and would be interested in a date but just not at the moment without him taking that as a rejection? Would he be okay with waiting, or would he move on right away since I wasn’t available?

These are the questions that had me up at night. This wasn’t the first time my breakfast buddy had tried testing the waters, and I had been thinking about how I might respond over the past week or so.

When my friend Alyssa inquired who “that girl” might be, I found my entry into the conversation. I decided to respond with “Hmm, I wonder who that could be . . . but since I’m currently off the market, I’ll keep an eye out for her and let you know when I find her.”

I had found the yellow light.

And, although I was worried about the outcome of that multi-layered response, not much changed in the next few months. My breakfast buddy and I kept meeting for breakfast, and together we would thank God for the food in front of us, laugh when telling stories about friends, and talk about the struggles in our studies.

But although seemingly not much changed, I found that learning to grow in friendship with a guy I really hoped would become more than just a buddy healed many of my old wounds. Where my past relationship had been painful because it was so rushed, this friendship was patient. When I mentioned that I was off the market, he took the hint. He understood that one day I would really enjoy watching the sunset with him, but for the meantime I was at work preparing my heart.

Over some time, I did some interior remodeling, deep cleaning, rearranging, and even some decorating in order to prepare a place in my heart to share with another person, and eventually I became that girl I had been looking out for. My wounds slowly healed, and I found that I no longer needed to be off the market.

Yes, that morning I could’ve let my breakfast buddy know that I was single. But there would’ve been no room in my heart for him, and the fact that he didn’t walk away when I asked him to wait proved to me that he was worthy of the heart that I was preparing—the heart that is now his.