CHAPEL HILL, NC—An initially promising date between University of North Carolina seniors Mike Rafelson and Jill Zehme veered disastrously off course Monday night, when the two skipped directly to intense emotional bonding, tragically bypassing the physical intimacy that usually precedes it.
"It's not what you think—unfortunately," Rafelson told his roommates Tuesday morning after they watched him send Zehme off with a long, tight goodbye hug and an affectionate kiss on the forehead. "The date was going great—I could feel us getting closer and closer all night. I was totally psyched when she came home with me. But somehow I screwed up, and we ended up sharing our most personal thoughts and feelings without even making out first."
Rafelson said he and Zehme met two weeks ago at Raleigh's Schoolkids Records, where they spent 20 minutes wandering past each other while pretending to look at vintage LPs, self-consciously brushing bangs back from their foreheads, and stealing glances at each other over the display racks.
Rafelson said he "finally made a move" and asked Zehme about the album she was holding, Talking Heads: 77. In the 20-minute discussion that followed, Zehme not only told Rafelson how important the album had been to her during a troubling time in her adolescence, but that she worked at a local coffeehouse.
"She went out of her way to describe the location of the Buzz Café and the hours she usually works," Rafelson said. "I was, like, 'Yeah! This is it, man—she totally likes me and I'm gonna get some action.' Unfortunately, I was only half right—and it was the wrong half."
After he "happened to swing by" Buzz Café, Rafelson asked Zehme if she would like to see his friend's band, Chat!, thus launching the pair's ill-fated journey to non-physical intimacy.
"When I picked her up, she looked really hot," Rafelson said. "After the show, we went to get some pizza, and our feet were touching under the table the whole time we ate. We talked for a long time about the trouble she was having finishing up her major, and I could totally relate. Everything seemed to be progressing so nicely. Well, I didn't know it at the time, but the feet thing was the closest physical contact we were going to share."
At 12:30 a.m., as the couple walked to Rafelson's place, their conversation grew more personal. Rafelson talked about his last girlfriend, and Zehme discussed her financial problems. At his door, Rafelson said his roommates would not be home until later, and to his delight, Zehme agreed to come inside. Rafelson opened a bottle of wine, and the two sat talking and drinking in the living room for an hour before relocating to the bedroom.
The bedroom, Zehme later told friends, is where she and Rafelson "started to open up about just everything."
"From the moment I laid eyes on Mike, he seemed like the kind of guy I could really get close to," Zehme said. "He had such a sincere way about him—a face I could totally trust."
Rafelson said it seemed that, given the circumstances, some form of sexual bonding was assured. As he and Zehme continued to talk, they spoke more passionately, their faces got closer together, and they began to stare intently into each other's eyes.
"The intimacy in the room had worked its way to a fever pitch," Rafelson said. "But before I realized what was happening, disaster struck."
Instead of stroking her date's thigh or taking off her shirt, Zehme began to tell Rafelson things she'd "never told anyone outside of [her] closest confidants."
"I told Mike all my innermost feelings about my parents' traumatic divorce, my brother's drug problem, and my best friend's attempted suicide," Zehme said. "He was so sweet—he took my hand and told me to let it all out. And I did. I just let it all go. I was totally uninhibited that night. I've never been like that with anyone before."
Two and a half hours later, the couple was firmly in the area that couples therapist Gus French described as "that awful horse latitude of male-female relations, the Sargasso Sea of non-sexual pair-bonding known to unhappy males the world over as 'the friend zone.'"
"My heart really goes out to this poor kid," French said. "We've all been there, thinking, 'Gee, this is really special that you're opening up to me about your childhood, but I've got to admit I'd rather be going down on you right now.' Unfortunately, once the emotional barrier has been crossed, there's no going back. By allowing the conversation to swerve into serious-talking territory before physical contact was established, Rafelson virtually guaranteed that he would not get into Zehme's pants."
Rafelson corroborated French's prediction.
"Jill said our date was one of the most special nights of her life," Rafelson said. "We talked long into the night until we fell asleep side by side—fully dressed. In the morning, before leaving, she gave me a huge, sincere, and utterly asexual hug—exactly the kind of hug someone would give her brother."