(Non-explicit sexual content, mentions of suicide, a racist character)
As far as first impressions go, he struck me as incredibly kind. I was a barista; he was a barista. A romance waiting to happen. We worked at the same shop. I hadn’t considered him as a romantic interest until my manager, Geraldine (who goes by Gerry), suggested that we might make a good couple. She didn’t even like him as a person. He’s the kind of person who preps food with one hand and goes really slow to milk the clock, and that’s something a manager notices before an employee. Needless to say, by the time I figured it out, I was in a little deep.
I was lied to about who he was, and I lied to myself about my own expectations. I fell in love with a man’s potential, and not with the boy I was actually dating.
The first date we went on was, in my opinion, magical. I asked him out (I know—red flag number one). And he asked me,
“Do you mean as friends, or as a date?”
“Well, I was actually rather hoping for a date…”
“Oh. Yeah okay.”
Red flag number two.
He had a way about him, though. He smiled a lot, showed me his sketchbook, told me all about the stories he was going to write. I was seduced by his creativity—I am a writer and an artist as well. I remember being really excited about the date because I’d been brave enough to ask because he had said yes, and because I was already naming the dogs we were going to adopt and planning out a future that didn’t exist.
We went to the local art museum and took those rental scooters that have popped up around every urban center in America. It was a warm day, because its Florida, but it was fall, so I dressed the part. I looked at the essence of a fall-sweatered bohemian. I hadn’t started rock climbing yet, so I still had acrylic nails, too. He complimented those, and my shoes (I later found out he has a thing about shoes). Then, on our way back, he gave me a tour of the neighborhood that we both grew up in.
“I bet you played little league with the rest of the little kids that grew up on the island.”
“Yeah, and I bet you played softball.”
“No, I was never big on sports. I was forced into the YMCA swim team a few times, but it never stuck. Turns out kicking and screaming all the way to practice actually does discourage parents from taking you places.”
He laughed, and next to the ballpark we lounged around an empty playground, too cool to play on it now, with our age and wisdom, but young enough to do some kind of approximation at play, hanging off monkey bars despite our feet touching the ground.
It was a miracle my path had never crossed his before this, and I remarked so. Something flashed in his eyes, I think, but he masked it with what I believed to be a sincere smile. Then he kissed me, and I actually felt sparks fly. He walked me home, thanked me for the date, and then he didn’t text me back for three days.
I was working when he finally approached me again. He wanted to say something in person, but he said, “never mind.” He ducked out the front door and my brain was reeling at a hundred miles a minute. What did it all mean? Why hadn’t he texted me back?
He sent me a really long text later. A text about too many expectations, not being able to be his authentic self, and feeling nervous the whole time. Basically, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
For the sake of coping and being around my coworker, I pretended it never happened and continued to be kind to him, and he continued to be kind to me for about a year.
A few months later, I hopped on Bumble and located a man. We went on seven dates, and right as we were about to hop in bed, he asked me to go steady. Held hostage by my lust, and unable to say no, for fear of not getting laid, I agreed. I had no real attachment to this man. He was older than me by 9 years, placing him a week away from 31 at the time.
I brought him to the coffee shop while Christian was working, and suddenly he was interested again. Funny how that works. Anyway, I broke it off from the Bumble guy. He was cool, and a decent person, too, but I felt disconnected from him because we had no friendship as a basis for our relationship, and I ended it because you can’t experience something authentic from a dating app. Also, I didn’t understand any of the conversations his friends were having. They were talking about bands that I had never heard of, and it felt like they were purposefully trying to isolate me from the conversation.
After the breakup, Christian followed me to a local kava bar I frequented and met me there Strictly As Friends a few times before he confessed he had feelings for me. It had been three weeks since I split off from the Bumble man. I will say, I’m proud that I didn’t immediately launch into a relationship again.
“Yeah… In my experience, guys don’t just meet you at the place you’re a regular at if they’re not actively trying to court you.” I teased.
“Well, to be fair I know you just got out of a relationship, and I didn’t want to put any expectations on you.”
I had been hanging out with my best friend Jenny, at the time. Jenny was my first gay crush, but it died somewhere along the way in high school. I went to a local art school; she went to the same school everyone else went to. Jenny had just split off from an abusive on and off relationship of 3 years in length., She’s the sort who cannot be alone for even a minute, or her self-esteem will drop lower than the Mariana Trench. She clung to me for dear life, and every conversation we had revolved around her ex doing her dirty, and how she has a natural tendency to, “hold other people’s pain for them, because she’s so strong.” It’s been a long time since Jenny’s been mad at me, but I remember what it was like, and despite her being my best friend (because what else do you call someone who you’ve known that long?), I knew she wasn’t a good person. More than half that breakup was a direct consequence of her own actions. I don’t think I’ve ever done so many back-to-back tarot card readings in my life.
I read Christian’s cards, too, in that murky little kava bar. I remember in three readings I did about him, or about our relationship, The Tower kept getting pulled. For those of you who don’t read tarot cards, The Tower almost always translates to certain doom. The cards were right.
Jenny had been hanging out with us, and they’d crossed paths and interacted a few times. I had told Jenny, after my breakup with Bumble Aaron, that I wanted a relationship based on authenticity. I told her that I am ready for Endgame because I am an Endgame Girl, not a Practice Girl. I told her that I want someone who’s done working on themselves alone and wants to grow with me. We drove out to the end of the island, me in the passenger's side of her car.
“…Well, I’ll tell you right now, that’s not Christian. He’s a nice guy but he has no idea what he wants.”
“I know. All I need to do is not have any expectations, and we’ll be okay. He hasn’t asked me to be his girlfriend and I haven’t agreed to it yet.”
And I, so in love with the idea of love, did not heed her advice. There was so little downtime between relationships that the absence of a partner itched and burned my skin. I wanted Aaron, not because I really wanted him, but because I just really didn’t want to be alone.
One day, inevitably, Jenny and Christian go and hang out without me. She’s looking proud and smug because she told him of all my secret, hidden, and uncommunicated expectations. The next I see them, he’s white as a sheet. Guys don’t like words like “growth”, “expectations”, or “endgame”. They certainly don’t like words like “marriage” and “weddings”. I end up lying to Christian’s face. This is how our conversation went,
“Jenny was saying how you are done growing, and that you’re ready to grow with someone else, but I am still working on me and I am not ready for growing together with someone yet. I was talking to my therapist about how I am not really interested in anyone else, and how I consider myself to be monogamous and I don’t really want anyone but you. But that’s different than what Jenny is saying. I don’t know who I am, and I’m not done cooking. So if you can just understand that, then I think we should date.”
And I, a fool, replied,
“I don’t know why she said all that to you. I can date without expectations. I don’t really find anyone else interesting, and if you’re asking if we should go steady I guess the answer is yes. I’ve mostly been taking things at your pace and waiting for you to ask. So, thanks for being brave enough to ask.”
We were seated in our coffee shop at a table, after closing hours. It was dark outside. He smiled. I did, too. At the beginning of a relationship, you believe you can do anything for them, be anything for them. I thought I could be patient. I thought he could be the man of my dreams. Later I told Jenny that I loved her, but didn’t think she was a good person, and we didn’t talk for a year. I meant to not talk to her forever but some people are more addictive than heroin.
The first month in the relationship was a whirlwind. A true romance. He showed me his mom’s home, where he lived (red flag). Played me some clips of his voice acting, which I thought was really cool but discovered that I suffered a great deal of secondhand embarrassment. He showed me all the rough drafts of the books he planned to write, and I really believed I could be the coach to motivate him into actually cranking out a manuscript. He added me to his DnD group, and we were showing off our creativity together.
One night, we met at the end of the island on a full moon.
“Sometimes, I think about jumping in,” I told him. The water was black, except for the white stripe of the moon reflecting in it, turning the ocean into a mystical, energized thing. The sailboats nearby echoed sloshing noises, but we were alone.
We talked about magic, possibilities, and new beginnings. To be or not to be, to act or not to act, the difference between action and inaction.
And then, he kissed me, and said,
“There’s something I want to do.”
And then, he jumped in. I didn’t follow. But I remember being inexplicably angry with him. I never voiced it. I couldn’t understand my anger at the time. I think it had to do with showing him a sacred place, and him being the first to jump in. I didn’t want to be second in my own space. I was jealous. Still, this moment convinced me, somehow, that he was a man of action, and not one of unrealized potential.
There were no fights. Just kissing in the rain. I met his mother. Christian’s father committed suicide. He doesn’t really experience that as loss anymore, but I feel like somehow this affected his psyche in a way that it made him so brilliantly kind that it rubs most people the wrong way because it has to be a fabrication.
The month went by in a blur. The first time I slept with him, it was his birthday (red flag). He invited me back for tea. His mom wasn’t home. We never had tea. We must have gone at it for three hours. I was sore by the time it was over. I barely registered that it was on a twin-sized mattress (red flag), bed unmade (red flag). I barely registered that he wasn’t saying, “I love you” like I wanted him to. Like I wanted to say.
I never said it. There’s a loss of power that happens when someone says it for the first time. So, I never said it. I am so glad I didn’t. There were a few times, lying naked in his bed, where I would say, “I really, really like you.” And I think he knew what I meant. At one point I made a playlist on Spotify called “You Know”, and he liked it after our breakup. I forgot he followed me on there.
My birthday happened. He made us dinner. I was talking about something I was passionate about. Psychology, or maybe eastern philosophy. He just said,
“Wow, you’re so hot. I’m really hard right now. Keep talking.”
At this point, the honeymoon phase abruptly ended (curled up and died like a bug under illegal pesticide). I noticed the rug I swept all his dirty flaws under and started to lift it. He told me a month before, how his honeymoon phase had ended. I was deeply insecure about this and had lost Jenny, the one person I confided with. I went out of my way to spoil him rotten, trying to get him back to passion, showed him what trying at a relationship meant. I hoped he would take note—maybe start trying himself. Leading by example doesn’t work.
He was lazy at work. Instead of applying for jobs and beginning his climb up the career ladder, he spent his time on video games. Instead of getting excited about a future with me, he got excited about a new game release. I tried not to be resentful.
I returned to The Bhagavad Gita (a text I try to live by). I attempted to tell him, as politely as I could that he wasn’t being intentional with his time on earth. As it turns out, the Gita also says, “those who understand these truths should not unsettle the ignorant.”
My dad suggested I invite him to the family Christmas. I didn’t want to. It was too big a step for a relationship less than three months old. My dad really pressured me into it. So I did. He did not invite me to his family Christmas.
I got him a Christmas present. He didn’t get me one.
He sat in the back of the car with me. My divorced parents sat in the front seat. It’s somehow not an unpleasant car ride.
My dad snuck off with him at the party, and they spoke. I was most explicitly not invited. I think my white, high-school educated, not-politically-correct father must have dropped the 'N-word' to unsettle him. Later on, Christian made it clear he didn’t really agree with my father.
After we dropped Christian off, my dad gave me his assessment.
“He’s force sensitive, but he’s no Jedi.” At some point in my high school days, my dad and I began speaking in Star Wars metaphors and similes. It’s one of the ways we relate to each other.
“He knows how to take control of a conversation. He knows how to get people to like him. I was on a list of ‘to-do’s’. ‘Get Brooke’s dad to like me: Check.’ He was manipulating me to get me to like him. He doesn’t actually like to be around me, he just wanted me to think he did.” I thought, that’s fair. After all, my dad is a loud midwestern Ohio man, who only attracts Republicans and right-wing libertarians on a good day. Still, this conversation planted a seed. Was my boyfriend a Sith Lord?
On New Year's Eve, he cuddled up to me at work. I don’t like to be publicly affectionate. He never cared. I was waiting for an invite all week, but it never came. I had a hard day at work because the prep person (Christian) didn’t do his job. When I finally got off, he pulled out of his parking spot, rolled down the window, and offered to drive me home.
“No thanks, I feel like walking today.”
“That’s alright! Do you want to come over for New Year's Eve?”
I kept walking. My feet hurt from eight hours with no break.
We broke up a few hours before midnight.
I didn’t want to go over there for New Year's if I was the last thing on his mind, not the first. He wasted his time with himself, and with me.
I hated that I let myself fall in love with his potential. Sorry, I thought I could sit around waiting for that potential to be realized. But who am I sorrier for? Him? Me?
It could have gone on for a while, but it doesn’t take a long time for me to learn a lesson. If he’s ever going to grow, he needs to do it alone. I want the best for him.
I want the best for him, and I hate him. Hate him for not being ready for me.
Hate isn’t the opposite of love. Really, I’d like to feel indifferent. Mostly, I just want him to call me and say he’s ready now.
After all, third time’s the charm, right?