Over the past two years—the two years that I was very, very, single—I learned that there is a certain romance in detachment; in walking down the street, your eyes itchy from too much black makeup, caked on your face for too long, with one of your boots untied and a snag in your nylons; in being the lone wolf of a girl with curls turned to tangles and a headache over her left eye like a wound that only she can see.
It was on these mornings—the mornings after girls’ nights gone awry (because they always went awry)—that I felt like a ghost walking back to myself; a crescent moon of a smile waxing at the corners of my mouth because I had a new story to tell…
The Story of 9 Non-Romances + 1 Romance
- Toothpick: I hung out with him when I studied abroad in Turkey. He was a tiny, angry, shaggy-haired, metal-head, with a nose ring and Napoleon-syndrome. At night I’d go to his dorm room and he’d make me watch Drive (yes, the Ryan Gosling movie) trailers and scene clips on YouTube for hours. Eventually I noticed that whenever he wasn’t smoking, he was chewing on a toothpick. I put the pieces together and realized that he wanted to become Ryan Gosling’s character from Drive. He split the cost of an acoustic guitar with a guy who also shared a name with him (a common country club white guy name). On our last night in Turkey, he serenaded the group by playing the same verse from “Play Crack the Sky” by Brand New over and over again while the sun set over the Bosphorus. He paused every so often to scream at the locals for playing music on their phones instead of listening to his broken record rendition of one of my favorite songs. The most interaction we had in America was through an angry Facebook message in which he accused me of EXPECTING TOO MUCH! Because our friendship…relationship?—our whatevership—didn’t exist in America. He looked like James Franco—I’ll give him that—and he wrote me a nice rejection letter. He utilized the age old cliche, stating that I was “too good of a person” for him. I want to take this moment to say: Yes. I was way too good of a person for him.
- Hotdog: I wrote a literary analysis / personal essay hybrid about American Psycho in which I compared him to Ted Bundy and Patrick Bateman—yes, he sucked that bad. He was a clueless rich kid who made me realize that I have a knack for turning Assholes into A papers. When I first met him I hated his guts, mostly because the first two things he said to me were pretentious (if not desperate): “If you like wine cold, then you don’t like wine,” and “My parents have a wine cellar in their basement.” A.) That’s not true, B.) Emphasis on your parent’s wine cellar, but C.) You’re really attractive, and since I’m new to the dating pool and have yet to realize that men will have no problem using me like a rag doll, I’m going to run with this. Our two week fling ended when he posted a picture of himself on Instagram making out with a girl wearing a tiara. She had the word TEETZ written on her arm in black Sharpie. When confronted, he defended his actions with: IT WAS HER BIRTHDAY! And I ferociously texted back with: NEVER TALK TO ME AGAIN! Then, three months later he broke our textual silence with a string of eggplant emojis, to which I responded: WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?! Another three months of silence went by. Then he invited me to a party where he hit me in the face with a hotdog. Never again. Never, ever, ever…
- Sk8er Boi: I sang “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne to him once because I thought it was funny. He didn’t. We were doomed. He was a tall Jack Skellington limbed skateboarding dude with a lot of tattoos. His car looked like it belonged on a neon Hot Wheels track, and he had awesome slicky-back hair. Much to my delight (or dismay, I can’t decide) he was one of those guys who’s so attractive he doesn’t even have to try. His daily routine probably consists of rolling out of bed, wiping the drool from his mouth, slipping into an unintentionally holey white T-shirt, and voilà: Life is a Lana del Rey music video and he’s the guy she’s going to make out with on a car hood. He was so good looking it hurt—like he could get away with saying, “I know, I kill it!” instead of “Thank you.” And, secretly, I hated him for it as much as I liked him for it. (Full disclosure: Being around him never actually made me feel good. It only ever made me feel anxious, and kind of alone…and at the end of the day, I think we were both just too selfish for each other. We were more like a competition of who could withhold / get more attention than a genuine stab at a relationship. But I tell myself he’s just a self-proclaimed “mysterious” asshole who works at the mall because it helps me sleep at night and prevents me from thinking of him whenever “Style” by Taylor Swift plays on the radio—I know, I clearly lost the competition, but I still want to kick him in the ball sack for being so goddam hot.)
- Solid Shirt Guy: Leave it to me to find the only guy wearing a leather jacket and slouchy beanie at a sports bar. We gazed at each other from across the pool table and it was love at first sight…until this guy wearing what Louis C.K. calls the ‘stripy-button-down-going-to-get-laid’ shirt flew out of the woodwork and ruined the moment by interrogating me about who was going to win the pool game: “Stripes or solids? Stripes or solids?” He kept asking. I gazed back over at the object of my affection and saw that he was wearing a solid black shirt: “Definitely solids,” I said. Stripes must have been winning the pool game because Stripy Shirt Guy looked confused and said: “You really don’t get pool, do you?” Still staring at Solid Shirt Guy I said: “You really don’t get metaphors.” Then I bolted for Solid Shirt Guy and introduced myself as if my life depended on having a tedious bar conversation about what we do. He told me he liked my sparkly headband and I told him I liked his slouchy beanie (these two compliments were code for: I have been objectifying you all night). I was chewing a piece of cinnamon gum. He told me he wished he had a piece of gum. A public make out session ensued. He got my piece of gum. (Sharing my ABC gum with a stranger is probably the grossest thing I have ever done, now it’s published for the world to see—you’re welcome.) Immediately following the incident my roommate tapped me on the shoulder—we had to leave ASAP. I ran away to a cab, calling over my shoulder, “It was nice to meet you!” right before me and my sparkly headband disappeared into the night like the manic-pixie-dream-girl I wish I was.
- The Anti-Feminist: I had to entertain this idiot while my friend made out with another idiot in the bathroom. An iPod was playing on shuffle and the song “Help I’m Alive” by Metric came on. Trying to make conversation, I said: “This song is in a famous feminist documentary.” And like a senile old man who had just been jolted awake he exclaimed: “LESBIANS?!” Already annoyed, I bristled at his reaction. “No,” I said, “People need to stop associating feminism with a conception of lesbians that is totally false to begin with. A lot of women are feminists now, and anyone who isn’t is still living, like, two decades ago.” Then the Anti-Feminist put his hand on my leg and we sat like that for a few wildly awkward seconds (me fuming with my arms crossed, staring at the wall, trying to ignore his unwanted hand on my leg with the ambiance of Metric in the background: Help, I’m alive, my heart keeps beating like a hammer / hard to be soft, tough to be tender…) I finally said: “Don’t touch me,” and he eventually got the message.
- AE: It happened. I got an OkCupid account, thinking: Why not? This could be fun. And soon enough I was talking to this guy: A tall blonde-haired blue-eyed boy who worked at American Eagle and wore khakis in his daily life. He seemed extra normal. Perfect! We arranged to go on a date the next weekend, and we texted the whole week leading up to it. We even Snapchatted to confirm that neither of us were being caftished! Things were going great…until our date. He took me to a college frat party. (The kind that’s in someone’s basement and has a Jonestown suicides vibe because everyone is drinking from a vat of jungle juice without question.) I told AE: “I feel kind of old for this.” And he said: “Sorry, I kinda missed out on this part of college—I just study all the time.” Eventually I’d learn that my date was completely socially inept. First he’d tell me that I “overcompensate well” for having small boobs, and then he’d insult where I went to school: “Oh, I thought you went to U.B., like a real school.” At which point, I wanted to dump the vat of jungle juice on his head and say: Listen, we’re the same age and you’re still in COMMUNITY COLLEGE, ok? Meanwhile, I’m going to have two bachelor’s degrees in the time it’s taking you to get one associate’s degree, so pipe the fuck down about “real schools”. Also—YOU LOOKED BETTER ONLINE!” But I didn’t because I’m a nice person, and judging by his khakis, he’d cry.
- The Poet: After an onslaught of horrible OkCupid dates with age appropriate guys, I changed the preferred age range on my profile because I decided it was time for a nice, mature, almost age inappropriate, 30 year old. The online dating gods answered my prayers and matched me with The Poet. On paper he was everything I wanted in a man (*wink, wink*; I hate myself). He had an MFA in poetry and a PhD in English. He had chapbooks published; he was a PROFESSOR! We met up for drinks, and although he was perfect on paper, and even handsomer in person, he also loved playing devil’s advocate and was shamelessly pretentious. “I feel like your advisor,” he said. I tried to change the subject: “What’s it like being published? That must be cool.” I swear, a faint rain cloud formed over his head as he answered: “Not really. It’s more about being part of a literary community than it is about being published.” I thought: Oh get over yourself and admit it—you love being published. But instead of saying this I asked: “What’s your poetry like?” And, I’ll never forget, he said: “I write a lot of grotesque sex poetry.” He went into detail and I stared at him like: Oh my god, you are a serial killer. Then he asked: “So, what exactly do you want to do with your writing?” I said: “Honestly, I don’t like telling people this because I know they assume I’m going to fail, but, I want to get a book deal someday. I want to publish a memoir or a collection of essays.” And he said: “People probably respond that way because it is a really far-fetched goal. No one reads anymore, there’s hardly a market for any writer.” And I said: “I know, but I’d be lying if I pretended like it isn’t something I hope for, and besides, a lot of people don’t realize how good I am.” His eyes widened at the last part, I could tell he was taken aback, like: How could she possibly have the nerve to believe she’s talented?!?! He said: “Wow,” and condescendingly mimicked what I had just said before stating: “You’re bold, because you’re naive.” Then I retaliated: “No. I’m idealistic.” And right before taking a large gulp of beer, like he was this wise old talking willow tree with a bajillion stump rings, he snorted: “Yeah, I used to be idealistic too.” And all I could think was: Are you fucking kidding me? You’re not that old man. Has the limited market for grotesque sex poetry really made you that bitter about life already? I’m sorry, but you’re not me. You don’t know me. We’re not the same. I want other people to be happy and I’m going to be happy—even if I fail—unlike you. He gave me the stiffest hug goodbye, and I bolted down the street, away from him, as fast as I could, because he represented a bitter life of mediocrity that I wanted no part of. He probably thought this exit was childish—to be expected from a 22 year old. I thought: Let him think what he wants.
- The Marine: I found him at a 7-11. I was out with a friend and she stopped for cigarettes. When she got back in the car she said: “Hey, want to go hang out with those guys in the truck next to us?” And being the impulsive person that I am I said: “Yeah! [Let’s go hang out with two potential axe murderers!]” We followed them back to their apartment, and as usual, I wound up having to entertain one guy, while my friend ran off with the other. My guy was a marine recently back from Iraq; a southern boy from Savannah Georgia who spoke as if we were living in the 1950’s and drinking iced tea from a pitcher (“Yes ma’am…No ma’am.”); he loved Ernest Hemingway and, because of this, he assumed we would have everything in common. He seemed to like me. It was nice…until it got weird. After one too many vodka waters he started referring to himself as the “infantile male” and apologizing profusely for the male gender. I kept saying: “It’s alright. Dudes are all right. I like dudes.” Eventually I laid down on the couch and fell asleep. Around 4AM I was awoken by something slimy—Is that a fucking dog? I looked over and…THE MARINE WAS SUCKING ON MY FINGERS! I promptly hit him in the face. Then he dramatically asked: “WHO HURT YOU?” (I think he interpreted my hitting him in the face as a fear of intimacy.) I said (just as dramatically, like a damsel in distress): “HEART BREAK IS IRRELEVANT! DON’T SUCK MY FINGERS AGAINST MY WILL!” Then I fainted. Just kidding. But my friend and I did laugh all the way home like: WHAT IS LIFE?!
- Frenchie: This psycho. All I know is that he grew up in France and then, as soon as he was old enough, his parents shipped him away to America. He would hang out at my roommate’s boyfriend’s apartment, where I’d sit in the corner and quietly observe him, trying to diagnose him with some kind of personality disorder. He was always on a combination of Xanax and somebody else’s vodka. (Hide your bottles, or else he will shove them all down his pants and when he’s confronted about it, like: Frenchie, either you have a tumor the exact size and shape of my Smirnoff bottle, or you’re trying to steal from me. He’ll respond, casually, like: What? No! I was born this way! That’s just my dick.) He’s one of those guys; a likely inspiration for the Scumbag Steve meme. Anyway, one night he took a liking to me by inviting himself to sit on my lap, crushing my lime-a-rita (which was in a Starbucks cup, because I am classy) and getting sticky alcohol all over his ass. “That’s not my fault,” he said. Humoring him, like he was nine, I responded: “Of course not.” Then his friend came flying head first out of the bathroom and into the kitchen window, making himself stagger like a cartoon character seeing stars. Frenchie commented: “What a psycho.” And I openly laughed at the irony. Eventually my roommate tried to help me escape him. We left for the bar, thinking he wouldn’t follow because he never has cab money, but we looked behind us and, sure enough, there he was, following and foaming at the mouth like a drunk zombie. I sat in the front of the cab to avoid him, but he tapped on the window, and the driver rolled it down. He stood there, with his eyes closed, until he finally blubbered: “What the fuck?” And I said: “What? I’m going to the bar.” Then he just kind of kept standing there—with a beer, outside—until the cab driver slowly rolled the window back up. Force field! Frenchie stormed off and we all watched in awe as his beer splattered in the glow of a streetlamp after he angrily chucked it across the lawn. The cab driver was laughing: “Is that your boyfriend or something?” And I said: “No, but I think he thinks he is.” The driver found the whole thing hysterical because he was still laughing when he said: “Take it as a compliment.” And I replied with sarcasm: “Oh, is that what that was?”
- Michael & The Sexist: Michael’s always brooding in a corner somewhere. Skinny and pale with dark Albert Einstein hair that he has to gel down into a good kind of crazy—he’s like a member of the Adams family. He was in a lot of my classes, but we didn’t talk until my final semester of school. However, I can remember the moment I became overtly conscious of him. We had a fiction writing class together and it was the day my classmates were going to workshop my story. The story I wrote to be workshopped was a conversation between two acquaintances that re-connected through Tinder-like circumstances. I wrote the story to emphasize the general disconnect that exists between the men and women navigating modern romance—even when / if a genuine respect and attraction is there. I wrote my male character to be indifferent to his own desires, and the feelings of others as a result. While I wrote the female to be extremely confused about her desires, and ultra-sensitive as a result. The conversation between the two is addled with communication errors, causing the female’s emotions to abruptly spike and then plummet, while the male’s emotions simply stagnate. The two characters don’t wind up together; instead they practically run away from each other and…end scene. The class didn’t discuss the story’s contents; they didn’t even discuss the basic mechanics of the piece. Instead everyone became weirdly fixated on fact that I chose to write the story from the male character’s point of view, and even weirder, all the guys in the class seemed offended by this choice. They criticized my male character for not being masculine enough. One particular guy (The Sexist) even went as far as saying: “I thought this story was actually about lesbianism,” (you read it correctly, not lesbians, but lesbianism) and, while everyone nodded in agreement, he added: “I also thought this guy flicking beer foam off his fingers was kind of effeminate.” How a guy flicking beer foam off his fingers is effeminate, I will never know. Regardless, I was annoyed because my classmates were all demonstrating the exact problem with our society that my story was criticizing: That our ideals of masculinity and femininity are damaging to individuals, and male / female relationships, because they don’t acknowledge the fact that the human mind is androgynous, and ultimately, because they force us to divide the world—unnaturally—into shades of pink and blue. I was about to lose all faith in my male peers when Michael, my glittering voice of reason, said: “You’re all just saying that because you know a girl wrote the story. If a guy had written this, it wouldn’t even be an issue right now.” I perked up at this remark. I remember wondering for the first time in a long time: Who is that?
A semester later, we started talking, and that workshop day was one of the first things we ever talked about: “When did you realize you liked me?” I asked, and he said: “Well, I always kind of noticed you—but the day we workshopped your story and you stood up for yourself, that was the first time I had ever really seen you be serious. I liked it.”
After The Sexist criticized my male character from a misogynistic point of view by saying things like: “No guy would ever pay that much attention to a girl’s face”—seriously! He said that!—I gave the class my two cents: “I don’t think my character’s masculinity is the issue here. It’s not my job to write him in a way that makes you feel comfortable. However, it is my job to make him complicated—which I did.” Then I remember looking at the floor, because I was genuinely disappointed in everyone. I said: “I’m very open to criticism that’s constructive, but I’m not going to change my male character.” The whole room became tense. I felt like a bitch saying it because The Sexist looked kind of ashamed…it was awkward, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t say it.
Michael asked: “Do you think you’re likeable?”
I said: “I don’t think I’m insufferable.”
He said: “I think you’re likeable.”
Of course, when I responded to The Sexist, the last thing on my mind was maintaining likeability. I knew a majority of the guys were crossing their legs to me at that point. Probably thinking that I should lighten up, be nice, take a hint; just accept that I can’t write men—whatever. But the thing is, when someone attacks my writing, and my characters, and my stories in a way that I find unfair and irrelevant and especially sexist, it feels like they’re attacking my baby.
My creative work is my baby.
I don’t give a fuck about being appealing to men when it comes to my writing. I don’t care about sexy, or about being charming, or sweet. I become a mother Bear—like, step the fuck away—because, in these moments, all I care about is survival; about being the fittest. And if you’re challenging my ability to be exactly that—well, I hope my response makes you uncomfortable.
But, here’s the thing about Michael: He decided he liked me in a moment when most guys were deciding that they didn’t like me, or at least that they could never date me.
He liked me the moment I demonstrated passion, dignity, assertion…a number of things that our society deems unfeminine, and instead of being threatened by it, he was interested.
This might be bold, but I think that’s a rarity among modern men. I think it’s rare to find a guy who whole-heartedly wants a complicated individual for a girlfriend; to find someone who allows you to be a whole person in his presence and doesn’t think there’s something wrong with you because of it.
I asked Michael why he liked me and he said: “Because you’re funny.”
To me, that’s the ultimate compliment, and what makes it even better is that Michael likes me even when I’m not being funny. He likes me when I’m being serious too.
And I like him because he gets writing and he gets literature—but in a way that runs deeper than a lot of our idiot classmates.
I like him because he’s a good listener; because he’s humble; because he loves animals so much that he saves turtles from the street despite the fact that they might snap at him.
I like Michael because he is already good, and he still wants to be better…that’s a rarity among both modern men and women, I think.
There is a certain amount of romance in detachment; in being the lone wolf of a girl hunting down stories; experiences. But, there is also romance in the mundane reality that is being in a relationship, especially when the relationship is right.
And with Michael it’s not like: OH MY GOD THIS IS MY SOULMATE MY BETTER HALF MY EVERYTHING MY BAE ALL RELATIONSHIP GOALS ARE MET RAWWWWWWR!