I hadn’t been alone for a long time until this most recent stretch. I was always connected to someone or pining for someone or lost in someone until the idea of me by myself felt as impractical as expecting the heart to survive outside of the body. I make a great girlfriend. I am flexible in personality and easy to get along with and funny in a way that’s memorable enough to be referenced but not memorable enough to be annoying.
I can trace the roadmap of relationships and failed relationships and never-could-have-been relationships like the lines on the palm of my left hand. I can see how they connect to one another, the first leading swiftly to the second and then the third and so on and so on.
I’m not sure if any of them would have survived on their own. I have never been one to leave partners when I want to but rather when I physically cannot be around them any longer, so there always seems to be someone else in the back of my brain who I am waiting for. Who I am thinking of. Who I am using as a reason to leave the person I’m with.
The first boy I loved was named Matt*. He was a year younger than me in high school. He carried the title ‘troubled young man’ long before Brock Turner and I remember adults looking at him and saying “do yourself a favor and don’t date a boy like that.” Naturally, I did for most of high school.
Matt was very mean. He was frightening and cruel and angry. He had more problems and more rage laying on his 5’5” body than I had ever carried and he weaponized them against people any chance he could. When I was with him I felt like a mouse in a lab and he was a scientist towering over me, filling my body with poison and electricity and toxic waste and promising he loved me as I flailed and stumbled around my cage.
At the beginning he was kind and funny and charming and to many people he stays that way. But to me and a small room of women he is a devil and a criminal and a monster who I actively wish I never see again.
The man who sustained me through Matt was named Issac*. Issac was smart and tall and rich. He drove a deep green Jeep and lived in the town I grew up in. He used words like ‘coloquial’ and ‘incandescent’. He had pressed shirts and fancy shoes and a small dog that he spoke about like it was his child. Issac and I pined for each other for years. We met at a public pool one summer when we were kids and I remember seeing him across the misty water and thinking ‘that is the kind of person you never stop thinking about.’
There was a brief period of time when Matt and I were broken up that I was able to go take the 3 hour drive and visit Issac. We rode around in his car and hung up a hammock in the woods of northern Virginia and kissed for hours. He skipped school and I let my phone fall in the dirt and we laid in the bright red nylon and covered each other in sweat. It was sexy and lovely and completely unsustainable.
Over the years Issac and I kept in distant contact. We met up every once in a while to get coffee or lunch. He was the focal point of my longing in many long term relationships, so when I found out he was getting married I was relived and sad. Relieved to finally be able to let go of the ‘what if’ and sad that I never got to see what it was. The wedding photos looked beautiful. I was obviously not invited.
After Matt and Issac there was Adam*. The man I moved to New York for. That was long and bad and shouldn’t have ever happened. Adam and I were perfect companions for each others misery. We would stay up until 6 am drinking and smoking weed and fighting and then sleeping until the sun was setting again. I’ve written about Adam before. He is a part of my life that I have to accept simply because there’s no alternative to that. I suppose I could deny it but that’s boring and ultimately pointless.
Sandwiched in-between Adam was Mikey*. A 32 year old lawyer living in the penthouse apartment of a Chelsea building. I had downloaded tinder at the age of 19 at the behest of Adam who decided we should open our relationship and Mickey was the first person I matched with. He was unlike anything I had ever seen. I remember taking 2 trains down to his neighborhood and feeling completely out of place and absolutely exhilarated. Mickey was a prominent lawyer in Manhattan and owned two $1,000 guitars and had heated floors. He poured me cold Chardonnay that tasted like melted butter and we sat on his Persian rug and he played me some of his original music. It was terrible, but at the time it sounded life changing.
Once when I was on my way over he asked me to pick up cigarettes and when I called to let him know the bodega owner told me I wasn’t of age yet he paused before deciding it wasn’t too morally compromising to still sleep with me. Mickey said the thing about New York is at any moment there’s a hundred 20 year old girls who are ready to come over so if the person he’s with irritates him he knows there’s a line of women waiting in the wings for him. I remember feeling so lucky that I was his pick of the week.
I left his apartment one morning and he told me he loved me and then never texted me again which felt really awful at the time but now just seems completely unhinged.
After Mickey was Nathan*, an old friend from summer camp who had just moved to New York. I went to drinks with him after I got my nose pierced and I remember he looked at me across the table and said ‘I can tell you’re not wearing a bra.’ Nathan was childish and randomly lovely and confusing. He made me homemade whipped cream for Thanksgiving and then answered a FaceTime from another girl he was seeing when we were laying in bed. He talked to my roommate about his zodiac sign and had an incredible ability to make everything about himself.
Nathan and I ended very abruptly when he was arrested for something I don’t know if I can talk about, so I won’t. But it was jarring and telling and very quickly ended whatever was going on between us and whatever perception I had of him in my mind.
Eventually Adam and I broke up, years later than we should have, and I was truly single. I started dating a good friends cousin, Dan*, far too quickly then I should have and that went just as well as you could imagine. I was obsessed with telling him I would never be his girlfriend. I’d tell him at breakfast or between commercials or after we had sex. It was as native as a phrase in my mouth as ‘hello’. I wasn’t trying to be cruel I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t leading him on. I didn’t want to wake up one morning and realize I had people pleased myself into another relationship that would go on 3 years longer than it should have.
Dan was an artist and drank too much diet coke and lived 4 hours away from me so sometimes on weekends I’d make the drive to see him. We went on long walks and he’d draw pictures of my body while I laid awake in bed when he thought I was sleeping. He was a nice person until he couldn’t be anymore. He thought every time I told him I wouldn’t be his girlfriend I was daring him to change my mind. We ended things in a car ride back from his home town when he dropped me off at a train station and never talked to me again.
After Dan was maybe my most foolish and cliched fixations. A friend of a friend who I met at a holiday party. He was handsome and divorced and much smarter than me and twice my age. I know the most easy explanation for my desire to be with men much older than me can be easily traced back to the frayed and tattered relationship with my father, but I think I would’ve loved Michael* no matter what had happened to me. I was so taken aback by his intelligence and his wit and our ability to talk to eachother like we’d known each other for years. That first night we met we ended up sitting on a mustard yellow couch in the living room for hours absolutely transfixed in conversation.
Ultimately nothing happened between Michael and I. It was always verging on something and resulting in nothing. I would pine and pine. Lay awake in my bed and think about going out of town together and staying in cute hotels. I wrote songs and poems about him. I’d stare at my ceiling and say his name over and over again. I am my best and most unsustainable when I am longing for someone, especially when that someone can never be mine.
Jumbled in the middle of all of this was someone I loved in a very pure and beautiful way. The way I think you’re supposed to care for someone. I can’t even begin to explain him or the effect loving him had on my ability to love myself. He made me feel a kind of newness and freedom I’ve never felt before.
Obviously there were others. Little one off dates or quick entanglements that died on the vine. The skydiving instructor who was obsessed with nike sneakers. The paralegal who brought me chicken tenders when I was sick. The captain of the track team who gave me his lucky necklace before I moved away for college.
All making up a tangled mess that you can read like a subway map on.
All that to say - I went on a date so wonderful this weekend that I came home and ate 4 pieces of buttered toast. I fell asleep with the plate next to my bed and the skirt I wore haphazardly tossed in the corner of my room. I slept for hours like a child after a long day at an amusement park. My face flushed red and my throat sore from talking and laughing and walking very late at night through central park. I woke up with smudged eyeliner and crumbs around the nape of my neck. Little tiny reminders of the night before. I felt nervous and excited and scared and my feet hurt from walking 30 blocks with a new stranger from one bar to another and then another and then the train. Im not sure what will happen, but I feel excited and light and relieved that I could laugh and kiss someone new who has chilly hands and long hair.
*names have been changed