it’s a silly time to learn to swim when you start to drown (part 3)

(part 1, password carbots)
(part 2, password stobrac)

I think I might have loved you.


I’ve shared this information with two other people since I realized it, and both times it was met with an understandably long pause. But I’ll explain.

At dinner the other night, we were in the middle of a conversation when it was time to order food. “Oh, but what was I talking about?” I said before looking at the menu. “I don’t want to forget!”

“We’re several levels deep at this point,” you said, “but I remember where we were.”

Here is what we talked about at dinner:

  • the rare occurrence of bands who play good music and also have clearly stated, often profound lyrics
  • different types of gendered insults
  • is everyone that seems dead on the inside actually dead on the inside or do they have a rich inner life?
  • whether or not it can be assumed that everyone has at least some semblance of a rich inner life
  • if everyone has a rich inner life, are weird people weird because they keep their inner lives a bit closer to the outside than other people?
  • do non-weird people feel like weird people are braver and more honest than they are, or stupider?
  • what combination of thoughts and actions make a person weird
  • how the quality of one’s thoughts is affected by the presence or absence of music and/or different types of music
  • if a person is going to deliberately spend a quantity of time alone inside their own head, should they have an agenda or goal or a decision to make, or should they just step back and let their thoughts get weird and dark?

This is representative of every conversation we’ve ever had, including the one we had on our very first OkCupid date. Are your conversations with most other people like this? Mine aren’t. I barely need two hands to count the number of people I can talk to like that. I know you’re on OkCupid for the same reasons I am: maybe or maybe not to date, but definitely to go out, meet people and have someone to talk to. But I’d be surprised if your other OkCupid dates go like ours did.

I’ve said before that talking is how I feel close to people, which is true. But the kind of talking we did–the several levels deep, the philosophical, the rambling, weird and dark–is how I fall for people.

I fall sort of easily these days. You’re not the only guy I’ve cried over this year. There was Trey, the guy I met in July who was the first guy from OkCupid I actually liked. We talked for hours on our first date, texted nearly nonstop for an entire week (though we switched to email when we had too much to say), and then when we went out for a second time he said, “I’m not really feeling a connection here, so I’m gonna go,” and he got out of my car, slammed the door and was gone. There was the friend I briefly developed feelings for at the beginning of the year, which I think was just a way to avoid dealing with the end of my six-year relationship and my impending move to St. Louis.

But this wasn’t like that. Well, okay, it was a little like that. I am, as I said, thinking about you in part to avoid thinking about some of the larger issues I’m facing. But it doesn’t make my feelings for you any less real. It can be true that I used you as a distraction at the same time it can be true that I might have loved you. Both things can be true.

At the bar after dinner (we always go to the bar after dinner), we talked about traveling alone. Is it over-romanticized? Is it bad for us during the travel itself but good for us afterward? Does traveling with another person change or limit the way we look at the things we do and see? You told me about a trip you took to Ireland two months ago. Before you left, you thought you would make the trip be a good thing for you; you’d do some thinking and writing and some standing there pensively observing various majestic vistas and Learning Things About Yourself.

But you didn’t do that. You moped around Ireland and got drunk in bars. You were, as you said, the same person you were in St. Louis. You were just somewhere else.

I had finished my cider, you’d finished your beer. I’d had two drinks at dinner and was already sort of tipsy, so I didn’t want to drink anymore, and we couldn’t just sit there. There was nothing else for me to do.

“So, um. I can’t hang out with you anymore, at least not for awhile,” I said. “Do you know why?”

“No,” you said, giving me a blank look. And then I told you why.

I couldn’t look at you. You are so good at eye contact. You are always looking at me when I talk. You look at me when you talk. Sometimes you even look at me when neither of us is saying anything. I haven’t felt so seen by another person in a long time.

But this time I couldn’t meet your eyes. We were sitting in the exact same chairs I’d sat in with a bad OkCupid date from July, a guy who never asked me any questions about myself, took a sip of my drink without asking, and then invited me back to his place. How long ago it felt.

I leaned toward you, elbows on my knees, chin in hand, eyes on the dusty floor next to your chair, and told you that I was falling for you, and it hurt too much to be around you anymore. I told you that I was sorry, that I’d tried so hard to be your friend, that I really wanted to be your friend, but it was hurting my pride and my self-esteem and my heart to continue. I told you that I’d considered just cutting off all contact with you, but that I was too honest, we were too honest, for me to do that. You deserved to know the truth.

A small part of me thought that you’d tell me you were falling for me too. A smaller part thought you’d say you were falling for me too but that didn’t change the fact that you couldn’t date anyone right now. But no part of me knew you would tell me that when you came back from Ireland two months ago, your girlfriend of two years had cut off all contact with you. Her name was Allison.

I didn’t know what to say to that. There wasn’t anything to say, really. We got up and left the bar and got in your car.

You told me you were impressed that I’d been straight with you, and impressed that I’d spent an entire evening with you knowing that I was going to have to say what I’d said.

“I really like hanging out with you,” I said. “Maybe it was selfish of me to do that.”

“I like hanging out with you, too,” he said. “It’s sad because I really thought we had a connection.”

“We do,” I said. “And that’s the problem.” I was starting to cry, and I think you did too. “If some time goes by and I decide I’m okay hanging out with you again, would you welcome hearing from me?”

“Absolutely,” you said.

You pulled up in front of my house. “I’m sorry again,” I said.

“Don’t apologize. You don’t have anything to be sorry for.” You got out of the car and hugged me, and I turned and ran into my house before you could see me starting to sob.

We do have a connection. We’re both kind of fucked up and lonely in the same way right now. But the idea of two fucked-up people comforting and healing each other is a fiction.

When I was arrested for my DWI, my boyfriend Andy who was in the car with me was also arrested for public intoxication. My arresting officer asked me what prescription medications I took on a regular basis, and when I told him, he said, “You and your boyfriend have no business drinking, given all the meds you both take!” I was taking my usual anti-depressants and he was taking Lithium, an anti-anxiety medication and Provigil.

A year or so later, Andy and I had broken up but were in that terrible purgatory of still acting like we were a couple. We were drunk (again) at my apartment one night and got in a huge fight, and he went to sleep on the couch. “You’re sick!” he said to me as I went into the bedroom. “Something’s wrong with you and you need HELP!”

After we finally broke up for the last time, he went off his medication, got kicked out of his band and fathered a child with his South Dakota ex-girlfriend. He called me once, five years after we’d broken up, and I barely understood a word he said. We had been two broken people who came together and made each other so much worse because of it.

Andy wasn’t incorrect about me, though. Something is wrong with me, Brian. When Trey (a person I had only met twice) got out of my car and slammed the door, I was really upset. I felt like he was the only person who was ever going to want me, and now suddenly he didn’t. I had started driving home but I had to pull the car over because I was crying. We’d been at a street festival where I’d bought a book that Trey had said was his favorite, and when I started the car again, I threw the book out the window into the street.

Why do I feel like whichever person I’m into at any given time is the only one for me? Whenever someone rejects me, my brain tells me that TREY WAS THE ONLY ONE FOR YOU BUT YOU ARE UNLOVABLE AND NOW I’LL YOU’LL BE ALONE FOREVER. It says, THERE IS NO ONE ELSE LIKE TREY IN THE UNIVERSE. HE WAS THE PERFECT ONE AND NOW HE IS GONE.

I know this isn’t true. It can’t be true, because now my brain is telling me the exact same things with your name in place of his. But it’s worse this time, because all the time I spent talking with Trey I was at home, staring at my phone, reading what he texted me and then typing back. And then he ditched me, coldly, unceremoniously, in a manner that didn’t match with the amount of time we’d spent talking or the very personal things we’d told each other.

All the time I spent with you was in person, walking with you or sitting across from you at a table. Hearing you laugh. Watching your expressions change as I talked and you listened. Seeing how your face scrunched up a little as you searched for the perfect word to use to describe something.

And when I told you I couldn’t be your friend anymore, you weren’t cold. You weren’t rude. You let me feel my feelings and say what I had to say without making any of it about you. You teared up a bit, but didn’t expect me to console you. You gave me no reason to hate you, or to be even a little angry with you.

The fact that I didn’t know you that well, the fact that two broken people aren’t good for each other, the fact that you aren’t the only person in the universe, the fact that I did the right thing and now I can free myself up to heal and move on and then maybe find someone who truly sees my value–none of these facts are any consolation, and none of them are ridding me of the thought that really, I might have loved you.

Can all those things be true at the same time?

you give your love to get used (part 2)

(Here’s part 2 of this letter that I didn’t know was going to have a second part. I wrote this before last night when I told this guy I couldn’t hang out with him anymore.)

A question I’ve asked myself a few times is this: how can I be so emotionally invested in someone I don’t know all that well?

It’s true, right? I don’t know you very well. I don’t know exactly why your last relationship ended or what she was like. I don’t know anything about your friends. I don’t know what kind of childhood you had. I don’t know what happened when your mom died.

There are more things I want to know about you, things I guess I’ll never learn. Do you take your lunch to work or do you go out to eat? What’s your cat like? What’s your favorite movie? What do you think about when you go running? What makes you happy?

I wonder all these things, and have allowed myself to become so emotionally invested in you, because I don’t want to think about myself, about my own problems. If I spend my mental time on you I can avoid thinking about my father’s illness, my parents’ living situation, the career I don’t really want anymore, my struggle to make friends in a new town.

It’s simpler this way. I can mope and pine and pretend that it all has everything to do with you and nothing to do with an immense dam of feelings having broken somewhere inside me in the past year.

I said I cry every time we hang out, and I do, but it’s not all you. Some of it is depression, loneliness, the not knowing what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s having lost the father I knew and seeing him replaced with someone else who looks exactly like him. It’s going to my parents’ house and finding that their kitchen looks like a Superfund site. It’s cleaning it all up and taking out the trash and shooing away the fruit flies while I cry. It’s having nobody to talk to about it, nobody to lean on.

I tell myself it’d all be easier if you wanted to be with me.

And maybe it would, but I doubt it.

I said that I was a deeply flawed person, and I am, but you’ve got your flaws too. You told me your sister said of you, “You’re not a monster. You’re cold, but you’re not a monster.” You don’t seem overly cold to me, but do you remember that quote I told you I like?

“People tell us who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.”

You telling me what your sister said is you telling me who you are. I don’t think you’re cold now, but that’s because I want to decipher you, solve you like some kind of human puzzle. But would I ever be able to do that? And if I did, would I like the solution?

My last boyfriend talked to me a lot in the beginning. He told me about things that happened to him, how he felt about those things, what he liked about something he’d read, how he felt about political issues, how he felt about the things I said and did.

But eventually he stopped doing that. Eventually our conversations deteriorated into the how-was-your-day-fine-how-was-yours variety, or he’d tell me a joke he heard on a podcast or a fact he’d learned about sharks on Wikipedia. I felt like he was pulling away from me, and after trying to talk to him about the issue a few times with no results, I pulled away too. It was one of the loneliest times I’ve ever spent in my life.

The way people are at the beginning of any kind of relationship isn’t the same way they are in the middle or at the end. They do a lot of emotional work when they’re getting to know someone. But eventually they think, “well, we’re all settled into this relationship!” and they stop doing that work. But that work isn’t the lead-in to a relationship, it is the relationship. When you asked me why my last relationship ended, I gave you this whole spiel and then I hit you with another quote: emotional work is “the backbone of relationships, not the entry fee.”

I’ve told you this before. A person I end up with for the long haul has to talk to me. They have to FUCKING TALK TO ME. Talking is the primary way I feel close to people. It isn’t shared activities or spending lots of time together or even sex. Those things are great but the main thing is the TALKING.

You talk to me now. But you are in some ways a quiet, reserved person. If we were together for awhile, when would you eventually stop talking to me? When would you quit doing the work? When would you go cold?

i give my love to get used

Listen, I have to tell you I can’t be your friend anymore.

That’s a weird thing to say to a person, and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever said it. But it’s true, I can’t.

I know this is the opposite of what I told you. You were there. You told me you didn’t want to date anyone, and I said, “Oh, okay,” and then I went to the restroom.

When I came back, I sat there quietly for a moment, then I said, “The elephant in the room, I guess, is that I wasn’t expecting to, but I really quite like you.” You said you were sorry, and that you really hoped we could still hang out as friends. The lights on the restaurant patio were behind your head, and I couldn’t see your expression. I told you I’d have to think about it.

It was only an hour later when you dropped me off at my car, so of course I hadn’t had time to think about it. But I didn’t want that to be the last time I ever saw you, so I said, “Okay. Let’s hang out.”

Then I went home and cried. I have cried nearly every time I’ve seen you since.

I don’t know why I thought I could spend more time with a person I like and think it would help me like them less. You come across as a serious person, but over the past month I’ve seen you relax a bit as you get to know me. You’ve seemed lighter. You’ve made more jokes. When you helped me pack up my craft fair booth and we decided to see if the two of us could take everything to my car by ourselves in one trip, and a volunteer came by and asked us if we wanted to use an extra hand truck, your eyes lit up as you said, “No! We’re going to do this ourselves!” To see you on a mission, to see you happy to try to do something silly–I loved that.

Sometimes at night when I’m trying to sleep, I make a little list of the things I like about you. I like the way you dress. I like the fact that you read a lot and have things to say about what you’ve read. I like that you always seem to understand what I’m talking about. I like that you’re smarter than I am. I like your politics. I like that the first time we met, I cried a little when talking about something or other, but you didn’t look the least bit uncomfortable or put off. I like that you’re close with your family. I like that when you listen to me talk, you don’t interrupt to try to restate what I’m saying in a different way. I like that we’ve hung out a whole bunch of times but I’ve never, ever seen your phone.

You told me you don’t want to be with anyone, and I heard you, and I understand. But I also know you don’t want to be with me. You respond to my texts days after I’ve sent them. You stand at an appropriate distance from me at all times and are careful never to touch me (though I am careful too). You always say yes when I ask if you want to meet for drinks or dinner, but it’s never your idea.

Sometimes you confuse me. You pay for our drinks. You say nice things about me. After we went to the movies, you dropped me off a ways from my car, and when I told you I had something for you in my glove box and I’d be right back with it, you got out of your car and followed me to mine so I wouldn’t be alone in the parking lot at night. When we walked around at the craft fair, every time I glanced at you you were looking back at me. I said, do you want to look at anything in particular at the fair, and you said, “no, I just came to see you.” You came back at the end of the fair to help me pack and load my booth, which was a thankless chore you didn’t have to do.

But these are all things I’m reading too much into, or else imagining entirely.

This is the problem. I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me, and I especially don’t want to pine for someone who doesn’t want to be with me. I don’t want to spend my time analyzing your words and actions, wondering if maybe this thing means you like me, or maybe this thing, or maybe when you said x you meant y or z. I don’t want to walk with you or sit next to you at the movies or in a car and wish I could take your hand. I’ve spent the last month doing that, and all it does is make me sad.

Actually, that’s not all it does. It makes me question myself. It erodes my self-esteem. It makes me think terrible thoughts, thoughts like maybe he’d like me if I were more sophisticated, or more positive, or if my life weren’t such a mess. Maybe he’d like me if I were thinner, or quieter, or had fewer opinions. Maybe he’d like me if I were prettier.

I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want me, but I also don’t want to water myself down or smooth and polish my rough edges in case that’s what it takes for you to want me.

I’m not smooth. I’m not easy. I’m a complicated, stubborn, loud, opinionated, excitable, intense, deeply flawed person, and I don’t want to change that for anyone. I don’t even want to want to change that for anyone. But that’s what’s happening, and that’s why I can’t be your friend anymore.

If I keep spending time with you, one of two things will happen:

  1. As I get to know you better I’ll keep falling for you, and eventually I won’t be able to take it, and I’ll say something stupid.
  2. Or worse, as I get to know you better I’ll keep falling for you, and then you’ll meet someone you want to be with, and I’ll be crushed.

None of this is your fault. You didn’t ask for it. In fact, you specifically asked for not it. No, this is my problem. I thought I could do something I couldn’t, or more accurately, I knew deep down I couldn’t do it, but I didn’t want to lose you. You are the person I like talking to the most, that I relate to the most, in this whole stupid town.

I tried. I tried so hard to be the Cool Girl, to be laid back, to go with the flow, to be what you wanted me to be. But I can’t do that. And even if I could, what would it get me? This is only going to get worse if I don’t let you go.

I hope you are happy someday. I hope you get to leave St. Louis like you want. I hope you find a better job, one you like. I hope you find someone amazing who sees how great you are.

I hope I do, too.

(title from here)

(here’s part 2)