Coming out over coffee

I arrive at the café five minutes early. He’s already seated and obviously in deep thought as he doesn’t see me enter.

I sit opposite him and immediately say:

“Look mate, whatever it is you want to tell me, I want you to know it doesn’t change anything between us.”

“Very funny.” he says.

I continue, “I mean, don’t get me wrong… I like you, but not in that way.”

I first got to know Cam* in a professional capacity, but over the years we became friends. We have a lot in common, given we both run a small business. And he has a good sense of humour, so we rib each other a lot.

When he called to ask if we could meet, he wasn’t his normal chirpy self. He said he needed to tell me something important, something personal. So here we are.

We order a drink and something light to eat, before I delicately try to initiate a discussion.

“Okay, so spit it out, what do you want to talk about? You know I’m not your wife, right?”

“Yeah, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.”

“So what is it? Are you having problems with the fella downstairs? Don’t worry, there are pills you can take.”

“No, it’s not him, he’s still the supreme athlete he always was… even though he doesn’t get much game-time anymore.”

“He needs to find a hobby… so what’s the issue then?”

“I just can’t take it anymore,” he declares. “It’s the business… customers are constantly squeezing me on price and always complaining about the smallest things. I’m not enjoying it anymore. I need to get out.”

I feel for him. It’s been a tough couple of years. He tells me he wants to sell the business and try something completely different. Start a new career. But naturally he’s torn between what he wants to do and what he has to do to support his wife and kids. He hasn’t even told his wife yet, as he doesn’t want to disappoint her or make her worry.

He’s not alone. Countless men and women are doing a job they don’t enjoy for the benefit of their loved ones. It’s called being an adult, I guess. But it’s a shame, nonetheless.

Yes, we can change careers. We can chart a new course, whatever our age. But there are plenty of reasons not to.

In fact, the system seems geared to lock us in. We’re forced to make career choices when we’re too young to even know our own selves. We spend years and thousands of dollars studying for jobs that sound exciting at age twenty but meaningless at forty. We lock ourselves into long-term financial obligations and quickly become accustomed to a certain lifestyle.

The truth is, we don’t change because we’re scared. Scared to fail. Scared about starting again. Starting at the bottom.

I talk with Cam about his situation, tell him it’s not too late to make a change. But I’m not sure I believe my own words. I’m glad he has confided in me, he must really value my wisdom and counsel.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I suggest.

“Actually, I did want to ask you something. I need a favour.” he admits.

He wants me to pass on the details of a few business contacts, to see if he can get his foot in the door. Of course, I’ll help out as much as I can.

Not long after we finish our drinks, much to Cam’s surprise, his wife walks through the door of the café—picking up a takeaway lunch. She immediately spots us and heads towards our table.

He’s shifting uncomfortably in his seat and for some reason I feel incredibly guilty, like we’ve been caught cheating or something.

I suddenly regret the salmon-coloured shirt I’m wearing.

“You didn’t tell me you were coming here, we could have grabbed lunch together,” she says to him.

Jokingly, I reply, “I bet you never expected to catch him with someone like me.”

She laughs, but they both look a bit uncomfortable. I hope I haven’t touched a nerve.

He explains to her that we’ve just been discussing a few business opportunities, downplaying the occasion.

“We shared a danish,” I add, knowing it probably won’t help.

“Sounds lovely,” she says with a smile. “You’re lucky, he’s always too busy to take me out.”

I take the cue to leave, pulling out my wallet to pay for my share of the meal.

I say my goodbyes, but I can’t leave it there—I need to make sure he talks to his wife about the situation. It’s too important.

So, I gesture for her to sit down and offer him some parting words of advice.

“Mate,  just tell her. I know you guys will work it out together. And trust me, she won’t be disappointed…”

“… I mean, she’s seen you naked hundreds of times, so how much more disappointed can she possibly be?”



*Name changed to protect privacy.