“We dated for four years, Chad.”
“I thought we were more like, you know, friends-with-benefits, or whatever.”
“For four years, you thought we were just one prolonged casual fling? No strings attached? Jesus that explains a lot. I wish I could go back and see just how shallow you really are. Shallow as a cheap Walmart inflatable kittie pool; the kind toddlers relieve themselves in.”
“Bro, don’t you think that’s a little harsh?”
“Bro? Bro?? Don’t you bro… Oh, Hell no. Do. Not. Bro. Me. Chad.”
“Jeez, relax, woman, I call everyone ‘bro.”
“Oh, okay. So maybe instead of your rather committed and loyal girlfriend, I was just your ‘bro’-with-benefits? Again, it would’ve been nice if I knew that then.”
“Nah, I just call people bro. You weren’t like one of the bros or anything.”
“Oh, so I couldn’t even be considered a close friend? An actual ‘bro,’ so to speak? What exactly did that make me, then?”
“I guess you could say you were more than that, Kelsey.”
“My name is Chelsea, for the five billionth time!”
At that, I stormed out of the brewery, tears running down my eyes hysterically. So much for being the strong, independent 30-year-old woman I thought I was. At that moment, I looked like a high schooler who got dumped for her best friend on prom night. Chad still sat there, staring at the ball game on the TV, sipping the closest thing to a Natty Light he could find on the rotating draft menu. I figured since I only had around three sips of my pale ale, I was more than good to drive myself home.
I was talked into downloading Sparkle by one of my colleagues. She said it would be better than a lot of the sleazy dating apps out there because the woman has to make the first move. That feature weeds out a lot of potential creeps. It’s simple. You just upload some pictures of yourself either directly off of your phone or off of a social media account. You then add a quick, witty bio, and voilà, you have yourself an online dating profile. You then spend your evening thumbing through the profiles of various men. Swipe their picture to the right if you might be interested. Swipe it to the left to reject. If both you and a guy swipe right for each other, then *ping* it’s a match! Little sparkles light up the screen and show your profile pics together for a brief moment. You, the woman, are then invited to send the first message. If you hesitate too long, the app encourages you by sending messages such as “This could be your Romeo! What are you waiting for? Send a message to make things sparkly!”
Corny, I know. But what did I have to lose? I hadn’t dated in three and a half years. I couldn’t decide which pictures of myself to use.
“Oh, here’s a good one, Chelsea.”
“A bikini pic? Really Vicky? Why would I want that one on my profile?”
“What can I say? The more skin, the more matches.”
“That seems awfully objectifying coming from a feminist academic such as yourself.”
“You’re trying to play into the psychology of men, Chelsea. Do you really think mentioning your post-doctorate will get you laid quickly?”
“Who said anything about quick sex? I just want to shop around for a potential date.”
“Everyone below the age of 50 just uses those apps for sex, Chels. I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“Vicki, I’m using it because dating in a college town when you’re 30 is a nightmare. I’m too old to be hanging out with a bunch of screaming post-adolescents at a dingy sports bar.”
My colleague had been married for 15 years this month and wanted to live vicariously through my single life. I’m not sure how she knew about Sparkle, considering there was no way such an app existed back when she was still single. Way back during the lame-duck years of the Bush Administration, when people still had flip phones.
She’s always quick to give dating advice. Always.
I flipped through the profiles of about a dozen men. There sure are a lot of men holding up fish on here. There are also a lot of bathroom mirror selfies. Left. Left. Left. Ooh, here’s a cutie. Sunglasses and leather jacket. A bad boy. Swipe right.
My screen then started sparkling. Leather jacket bad boy and I matched! My heart raced a little since I wasn’t used to using this app yet. I thumbed through his pics. He was adorable, with his aviator sunglasses gleaming in the sun and his thin beard. He did look vaguely familiar, though. That didn’t bother me because, in this town, men’s looks often run the same.
That night I dithered around trying to make up my mind whether or not I would send him a message. The app sent me one of its corny encouragements, and I decided what the heck, you only live once. My brain immediately went to Chels, “you only live once?” That’s so 2011.
Without further hesitation, I typed out “Hey” and pressed Send.
Wait…no. Please, God, no. Did I just match with my freakin’ ex? I thumbed through his pictures again. Yep, I’m officially an idiot.
In a state of denial and confusion, I thumbed through his pictures again. Then flipped through my own. Admittedly, my last two were from when we were in a relationship when I was in my early twenties and about forty pounds lighter. Pictures taken during four of my best perky boob years wasted on that scum of an ingrate.
My thumb immediately hovered over the “unmatch” button but stopped midair. My thumb quivered for a moment. I had been so lonely lately. Between trying to fight for tenure at the university and moving from crappy studio apartment to crappy studio apartment, I was tired. I didn’t feel like I had to try to win a man’s affection and this whole online dating scene just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Sup, Chad. It’s Chelsea, btw.
Wait, I messaged him back? What did my humble little digits just do? It all went so fast, and I couldn’t go back on it now.
Whatever. I’m lonely. You wanna meet up?
I desperately wanted to reply, Really, Chad? No small talk? No asking how I’ve been all these confusing years since we broke up rather unceremoniously?
But I didn’t.
My mind then went to the breakup seven years ago. Chad didn’t even bother logging out of his social media on his laptop that he left on my desk. It was too easy to catch him. I saw the whole conversation between them transpire before my eyes.
How u been since high school?
Alright, I guess lol.
Wanna hook up haha
Uh sure when
Tonight. Ur place
That skank from high school immediately agreed to hook up with my boyfriend of four years right before my eyes on his message feed! I was so pissed. I knew the apartment complex where she lived because we would see her walking her shitty little dog in front of it on soft, warm evenings when we walked to get ice cream. There she would be in her little booty shorts and her crop top.
Oh heeey Chad, she would say with googly eyes as we passed.
Who’s that? I would ask.
Just some chick I boned back in high school, he would say, all nonchalant and without a beat as if he didn’t feel like he owed it to me to be any more tactful about it. As if he were talking to one of his “bros.”
Well, I left our apartment and drove down to her building, and lo and behold, Chad’s car was in the parking lot. My head was literally going to explode.
I stayed in the parking lot, waiting in my car for a while.
Sure enough, they come waltzing out of the side door of the apartment, both of them with ruffled up bed hair, and she gives him a peck on the cheek.
I lunged out of the driver’s seat, slammed my car door, and dashed toward them.
Chad? What the Hell?? I shriek.
Oh, what’s up, Kelsey? You remember Tiffany? Hey, we’re about to hit up Hooters and get some wings and a beer. You wanna come with?
Come with you two? To Hooters? What the Hell is wrong with you, Chad? You’re…with Tiffany! You just walked out of her apartment holding hands, and… she kissed you! Am I seeing things? I’m through with you!
At that, Tiffany giggled, and they got into her beat-up little Kia and drove off. That seriously had to be the saddest, most pitiful breakup ever. I vowed to myself that I would do better.
I sure can’t say I had an ounce of common sense for agreeing to reconnect with Chad. But at least I had sense enough to convince him to meet me somewhere public instead of at his place.
“Can we meet at the brewery instead of your place?”
He was such a charmer.
I can’t believe I was falling for his same old game. He never has to try with women. He never has to try at all. Everything has fallen into his entitled lap since he was born. He dropped out of college and became a manager in his dad’s real estate firm despite having zero experience. Looks, money, women. None of it requiring any effort.
I was putting on lipstick, trying to decide which top to wear. Should I go for more professional and put-together or more hoochy and cleavage-revealing? Reluctantly, I went for the second one, but it wasn’t until the drive over to the brewery that I realized this top looked painfully like the one Tiffany was wearing that dreadful night. Should have gone for professional and put-together.
When I arrived, he wasn’t there. Typical. I waited for half an hour before I sent him a text.
I’m here! Where are you?
Twenty minutes later:
Chad, wtf? Are you standing me up?? You are such a piece of sh…
That moment, before I could press “send,” Chad walked in and sat next to me. He got out his phone and started thumbing through the screen.
“Hey, Chad. Finally, you’re here.”
“Yeah, one sec. I got this realtor training module that I got to complete by midnight tonight because my dad won’t stop getting on my case about it. I keep telling him, ‘bro, I know how to do my job.’ Hey, do you know the difference between appraised value and market value?”
“Chad, I’ve never bought a house. Why would I know that? How about you ask how I’m doing and apologize for being nearly an hour late.”
“Am I late? Whatever. I’ve just got this stupid module quiz to do, and then I’ll order a drink. The answer’s B? That’s dumb.”
Chad didn’t look up from his phone or at me at all.
“So if a home valued at $250,000 appreciates at ten percent a year, how much is the home worth after three years? How the Hell am I supposed to know that? This module sucks. My dad is dumb. I know how to do my damn job.”
“Hey, can you help me with this next one?”
“Jesus, what is it? I told you I have to finish this quiz before midnight.”
“Chad, first of all, you were almost an hour late. Second, you came in and sat down and immediately got on your phone instead of acknowledging any facet of my existence. Third, I’ve tried to get your attention three times, and all you can say is ‘Jesus, what is it’ as if me trying to get your attention is bothering you.”
“Okay, relax; I told you I have to finish this quiz first. I feel like these petty outbursts are the reason I left you.”
“Whoa whoa whoa. You left me?”
“Yeah, I just got tired of you freaking out all the time, so I just decided I could do better, or whatever.”
“Chad, have you completely forgotten about me catching you with Tiffany, that girl you knew from high school? I broke up with you because of that. Called it off clear as day. What universe are you living in?”
“Yeah, I don’t remember that because it didn’t happen. Also, I only got with Tiff a time or two while we were together.”
“One time is too many, Chad! That’s not what boyfriends do! Why would you forget how it ended, and why don’t you hold yourself accountable in the least little way?”
“Whatever. I’m going to go order a beer.”
I just sat there, dumbfounded. I couldn’t decide who I was mad at more, Chad or myself. Chad was, well, being Chad. I, on the other hand, had dated this turdsickle for four very formative years during college. I gave up hanging out with friends while he was out partying because he didn’t trust me to go out and socialize without him. I confused my parents because Chad always made an excuse to avoid coming with me to go meet them. I let him borrow my car for six months after he totaled his. And for four years, he never acknowledged my feelings about any of this and would slip and call me by the wrong name.
Chad came back, beer in hand, and sat back down.
“What kind of place is this? They don’t even have Natty Light. They just said that whatever this shit is is their closest thing. It costs five dollars.”
Chad reached for his phone. I pushed his hand back down to his pocket.
“Chad, look at me. Ask me how my day has been. Acknowledge my existence for once.”
“You look hot in that top. You want to go back to my place after this?”
“Chad. You have no soul. You misremember events. You don’t acknowledge any of my feelings. You cheated on me with Tiffany. You treated our relationship like it was a sad joke.”
“It was really just casual dating, if you know what I mean. We really weren’t together that long, Kelsey.”
“We dated for four years, Chad.”
After that night, I deleted Sparkle. I felt numb. I wanted to kick myself for wanting to meet up with Chad. I wanted to scream because I thought I was destined to date losers for the rest of my life. But then it dawned on me that there’s nothing wrong with being alone. Heck, I earned a doctorate without Chad. He couldn’t even pass realtor training. At 30, I still looked and felt pretty damn good. It’s better to be alone than to drown in quicksand with someone you hate.
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Chad is just the worst. Great job making us all despise him. Glad Chelsea finally realized he was no good for her! Side note: I’m super jealous you live in the Blue Ridge mountains. The Asheville area is one of my favorite to visit—just gorgeous.
Chad is the literal worst. Chelsea is everyone's favorite old friend from college we like to catch up with once or twice a year. I really can't complain living in the mountains beauty abounds.
It was like watching a train wreck with a celebrity sticking her head out. The celebrity is one of those people that gives money to animals and you don't want to see her decapitated or malformed from the train wreck.... But it's like all of nature has come together to hate her. I am glad that Chelsea has overcome the human problem of loneliness. Was pretty much hoping that this would be a revenge story when she went to the bar for the final time. Like a train wreck I could not look away. Clear. Good place. Nice human characterization. :::...
Heh :) Funny and infuriating. The opening line is a good hook, and following it up shortly with "My name is Chelsea, for the five billionth time!" -- fantastic! I laughed out loud. We feel for Chelsea, but I think she got it right with "I couldn’t decide who I was mad at more, Chad or myself." Chad is Chad. She was fundamentally mad at him because he wasn't who she wanted him to be. Thus, the conclusion is a fitting way to end the story. Besides that, the writing was well paced and Chelsea had a good voice. Both characters are distinct. H...
Thank you! I'm still refining the art of non-linear storylines and character nuance. We love Chelsea but like most of us millennials, she means well but she's far from perfect! By the way, I enjoyed your shortlisted story "The Student's Struggle." I teach middle school so I can relate all too well! I also like how it had 80's and 90's vibes. Great job and thanks for the feedback!