I LIKED DATING YOU BETTER IN MY HEAD

 


I LIKED DATING YOU BETTER IN MY HEAD

Perfectly able to hold my own hand But I still can’t kiss my own neck.

— WYE OAK, “CIVILIAN”


Shortly after I started writing for The Onion, one of my friends told me he wanted to set me up with someone he thought I’d like who used to write for Saturday Night Live but left to go to law school. I loved this concept so much because it meant he was a combination of a lot of things I loved: someone who was theoretically funny and smart but not in comedy at all. Hel. Lo. But then he showed me a photo. At first glance, Everett Roth was a bro-turd with a hipster mustache who looked like he loved away games and rape jokes. I was out. I said no. I said no as politely as I could, but the no was as loud as if I hadn’t.


A few months passed and a string of turd-garland dates later, I found myself thinking about Everett Roth. So I googled him until I found some of his YouTube videos. He was lovely. He loved romantic quotes, he had great taste in music, and he spoke with a poetic cadence, which was all very much my shit. And then I found a photo of him looking gentle and sweet and wearing a sweater covered in pink hearts that made my heart stop for at least a full day, no less. And I thought in that instant, “I am going to fall in love with him and also, fuck, this one is going to destroy me.” And I did and it did.


I waited patiently for several more months because I was told he didn’t come to many of The Onion’s Whiskey Fridays because of his schedule. In the meantime, I wrote a song about what I imagined our life together would be like before I even met him. It went like this and was called “Not Very Understandable in French,” based on the letter Ingrid Bergman wrote to Roberto Rossellini, thus sparking their courtship.

I’m feeling good today, there’s a lot of things outside I wanna go and see,

Lot of places that we could go, you and me, if you’d hurry up, come find me,

I’m feeling happy, I have a lot of things that I would like to try today,

Things I wanna learn about and demonstrate.

I wanna be with someone, I wanna be with someone like you.

Oh, we could rent a boat, go out in the park for hours,

Or we could walk along the riverside, I hear it’s nice in October.

I wanna be with someone, I wanna be with someone like you.

Oh, you didn’t have to bring me flowers but you did it anyway,

You know I’m cynical, I’m not that type of girl, that’s what the others say.

Oh, but they were wrong. They say I want it all, I want it all.

It’s almost autumn I, it’s almost autumn I

Wanna try being with someone, wanna try being with someone, I wanna try being with someone like you.

So if you have some time and there weren’t any plans that you had in mind

You wanna go to the park, you wanna stare at the stars.

But there’s no one really in town, you haven’t found the person who would run around.

Oh, I would run straight to you. I would find you anywhere.

It’s almost autumn I, it’s almost autumn I

Wanna try being with someone, wanna try being with someone, I wanna try being with someone like you.

In retrospect, in writing that song, I placed an order for him and that is exactly what I got.


    My friend told me that Everett was slated to appear at the upcoming Whiskey Friday, about a week before Thanksgiving. At that point he’d become like the fucking Beatles playing at your local dive bar—a long shot who kept canceling because he probably wasn’t coming. I showed up with bells on, and by bells I mean a black dress and a scarf with autumn leaves on it that I’d just bought on my first-ever “vacation” to Montreal (if your definition of a vacation is going to Montreal in the dead of winter and spending all your time working, crying a lot, and listening to “Someone to Watch over Me” while eating coconut bacon in your hotel room).


Once he showed up, I didn’t wait for us to be introduced. I walked right up to him and immediately started talking to him about music and movies, wanting desperately to finally talk to him about all the things I knew he loved, based on his blog, that I also loved, without seeming like “HI, I RESEARCHED YOU AND I KNOW WE’D GET ALONG, BUT, UH, YOU DON’T KNOW THAT AND WOULD IT SOUND CUTE IF I TOLD YOU I’D WATCHED YOUR VIDEOS? OH GOD, YOU’RE CALLING THE COPS AND THAT’S FAIR.” I’d been talking to him in my head for so long and was trying my best not to let him know that I’d spent months doing this, anticipating our first meeting.


At one point, one of his friends at the party took a photo of Everett and me talking, saying, “Someone has to document this, holy shit,” it was that obvious to everyone around us something magical was happening. And it was. I still have the photo and good luck finding anything cuter.


The only awkward beat in the night was when we exchanged pleasantries about the upcoming holiday and I said I didn’t have any family so I didn’t do anything for the holidays, and we all quickly moved past it like I’d just said, “My family was murdered in front of me, but what do you do for fun?”


After Whiskey Friday, Everett suggested that we go to a wine bar down the street, so we did, and I remember walking behind him and staring at his black pea coat and immediately wanting to hold his hand, like a magnet was requiring me to do so.


At the end of the night, he told me about a new iPhone app that made you look two hundred pounds heavier than you were, and I will never know why people think this is hilarious, other than a combination of boredom and fat-phobia, but he took a photo of me and showed me how I’d look and then asked for my number so he could text it to me—as a souvenir, I guess? IDK. In retrospect, it just allowed him to get my number in the most bizarre, problematic way possible.


The next morning, and I will never forget this, I had a very, very long email from one Everett Roth that went a lot like this, but very abridged. I wish I had all of the originals, but I tend to lean toward the delete button quick as you can wrong me, even if only by mistake. I have a trigger-happy “erase all evidence of happiness now that you’ve caused me pain, real or imagined” finger, and I often wish I didn’t.

Dear Lane,

It was so lovely meeting you last night and I know this is very short notice, but I would love it if you would go on a date with me tomorrow night. I would usually wait a little longer to ask, but my law school schedule being what it is, I currently have more free time than usual and would love it if you’d join me for dinner and a show. I’d love to take you to this restaurant, Chimu, on the West Side. It’s modest but very charming. And then after, if you’d like, I’d love for you to join me for a show at UCB. One of my favorite improv teams is performing and it would be really fun. Until then, I’ve composed this mix for you that will hopefully win your heart in the meantime. I hope you’ll say yes.

Sincerely, Everett.

I was so fucking in. We went to dinner and he was so nervous because they sat us at a communal table with strangers and he hated this so much and was also nervous about how busy the restaurant was because he was nervous we would miss the show (which, as a comedian, I was totally okay with because a random comedy show on a first date is my hell).


I was too nervous because he was too nervous so I didn’t eat anything and asked for my meal to go, which was a horrible idea because by the time we got to UCB, it was just leaking through the bag and I was just carrying around a loose sauce bag on a first date like a weirdo. Then we went to get a drink and I probably got some whiskey nonsense that I ordered to sound cool because I was still pulling that shit back then. The only other things I remember about the date was us in the bar and his asking me, “So, are you dating anyone else right now?” and my looking at him like he was insane. I said, “Um, no, I’m out with you, so.” And he said, “Oh, I know, I just wondered if you were dating anyone else, too.”


I’d been in New York City about a year at that point and he couldn’t have known that my dating philosophy, try as I might to break it in the years since, has always been that if I’m seeing someone, fuck, even if I like someone and nothing has happened yet, we’re on a journey together and I’m going to see where this goes. It had never occurred to me at that time that there was any other way to date.


The other thing I remember is him asking me about my exes, and I mumbled a lot of “Eh, people suck,” my abridged version of “I’ve been through a lot of shit.” And he said, “So you’ve never dated anyone good?” and I reflexively said no, thinking, “Of course I haven’t, if I had dated anyone good (see: my soul mate only) I’d be married. What kind of a question is that?” Years later, after having dated far too many people who had never dated anyone good before me, which only spelled a world of fucking hurt and work and assignments and pain for me, I know why he replied, “Oh, dear.” He knew what was to come and I didn’t.


I always get very nervous at the end of dates and this one was no exception. I never know what I’m supposed to do or they’re supposed to do, or if they want to kiss me or if I want to kiss them, so I usually just stare at my shoes until I can literally run away from the moment. Aka I’m fun, date me. This time I just looked at my shoes and said, “Well, that was really fun, I guess normally this is when we’d do something, I don’t know, but we’re not going to do it because who knows what it is, or if you want to, or if I want to, and we can’t know, right? Like, who knows? Anyway, bye.” And then I ran to the L train.


I got an email from him the next morning asking me if I wanted to have our second date that Thursday, which was Thanksgiving. He told me he was going to see his parents, who lived in Connecticut, where he grew up, and would happily bring over some food for me afterward. We could hang at my apartment, which was always empty on holidays (which I loved), because my roommates all went home. I told him that sounded lovely but not to worry about the food thing because I had a lot of food allergies, don’t worry about it, it’s fine (another reflex from my childhood). He said, “Well I can bring some pie then!” and I said, “Well, I just have a lot of food allergies, it’s fine,” again, terrified he was going to discover I had food allergies and be, like, “Fuuuuck this bitch.” I got an email back that said, “Lane, just tell me your food allergies.” And so I did. And I held my breath all day when I went babysitting, waiting for him to be, like, “LOL, hell no.” He did not.


I readied myself for our second date by listening to, and singing at the top of my lungs and dancing frenetically to, No Doubt’s “New,” the closest approximation of the way I felt for him, amping up my energy more and more with the refrain “Don’t let it go away / This feeling has got to stay.” I drank some ninety cups of tea by the time he came over and surely peed twenty times before he rang my doorbell, and I remember so clearly racing up the stairs for our date to begin. He had multiple tote bags, one blue, several that grimy beige tote-bag color that I both love and think should not exist. We got upstairs and he emptied them onto the counter.


“Okay. So! I didn’t know what you liked so I brought hazelnut coffee, hot chocolate with soy milk, and apple cider.” How was this happening? I had no idea and I swear I dissociated so hard because even now, when I think of it, it makes me nervous. And I know it’s just like normal sweetness, but my life had lacked so much of that, and in the past, so many people’s attempts at kindness turned out to be motivated by predatory intentions, so instead of just enjoying this lovely date, I kept looking around me for the strings.


    He asked me which drink I wanted and I chose the hot chocolate. He took out the second tote bag and said, “There’s a bakery downtown that has vegan and gluten-free desserts and I made sure to ask them if they were both and they assured me they are. I got there just as they closed. I was really worried I wouldn’t make it in time. I also went to this vegan ice cream shop and got several different flavors that are also gluten-free, I believe. They said they were.” He laid out about ten incredible-looking pastries and two pints of ice cream and I want you to know that I’ve burst into tears while writing just about every single line of this, and it has been years since it happened, because the effects of this second date have still not left my body. This man, this handsome man, left his fourteen-hour law-school day to go to multiple locations the day before Thanksgiving and then left his family on Thanksgiving so he could come be with me and make mine great. And it’s the only great Thanksgiving I’ve ever had.


He opened the last tote bag and in it was City Lights, which I’d seen before and loved. We brought the baked goods into my big, bright yellow room full of carefully placed knickknacks and sat on my bed, eating them, each one more incredible than the last, and sipping from the various Thermoses he’d brought over. We watched the movie in the way you do on really innocent, adorable perfect first dates—with your whole body tense, desperate to get to the point when you can just hold hands, or put your head on their shoulder or cuddle, but you don’t know what to do, so tensing every fucking muscle in your body so you don’t accidentally do all three seems like the best move.


The movie was sweet and charming and old-timey and funny, just like he was, just like we were. At some point, we rolled over to face each other and I’m sure I made a series of jokes while looking at my sheets until he kissed me, since that’s usually my move. And it was the sweetest, most intense kiss. And, unlike so many kisses before it, it did not immediately devolve into sudden unwanted fingering. Not even close. We kissed for a bit before he pulled away, kissed my forehead, and pulled me close, and said, “Best second date ever.” And I remember thinking, “Uh, calm down. It’s fine,” but only because I knew he was right and I hated him for it. I hated him for being able to absorb how wonderful this was, like, “Oh, yep, this is just what life is like!” without all the dangers of what this could easily devolve into swirling through his head, wits about him, fists up, unwilling to lower them until he was sure he was safe, which could take months or years for all he knew.


I’d spent years trying to use my anxious attachment to my “advantage” in order to become Unreachable Girl. My thinking was, I’d become super unreachable and closed off and terrified, and suitors (I’m calling them that, I just am) would climb that fence because I was worth it. They would get it. They would be patient. And they would work even harder to prove themselves, like people did in countless romantic comedies. That is not what happened.


Not long after this date, I would write a song called “It’s Like You’re Not Even Trying” with the lyrics “You say, you say there’s a fence around me, I’m not letting you in / But I say it’s a climbable distance / You just don’t wanna put the time in,” which was inspired by my constant push and pull with Everett’s being annoyed with me for not being able to trust him immediately, and my hating him for choosing to love someone who had been through this much, and then yelling at her when she couldn’t shake off a lifetime of trauma and terror she didn’t even fully understand, because it would make his life more convenient.


Everett came from a great family. He went to a very fancy elementary school that cost more to attend for one year than I’d made all year, maybe ever at that point. He had loving parents, who are to this day still super in love, and he seemed to genuinely believe nothing bad ever happened in the world. I both loved this about him and hated it so fucking much because he seemed to have no idea life wasn’t like this for most people. Everett was eternally sunny and wholly unaware of his privilege, which coupled with his unshakable sunniness made him vaguely punchable.


And his friends were not much better in that respect. Not bad people necessarily, but just very much Rich Young People from Rich Parents with Great Jobs Having Pleasant Conversations over Brie. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but I’ve always had a hard time around people who expend a lot of energy projecting perfection. For so much of my childhood, my dad made us fake our way through dinners with his friends, pretending that we were one big happy family. And I wasn’t interested in faking it then and I wasn’t interested in faking it now. I couldn’t get through a dinner without wanting to shout, “I’M SAD. ARE YOU GUYS SAD? CAN WE AT LEAST ACKNOWLEDGE WE’RE ALL KIND OF SAD, AND THEN FINE, SURE, WE CAN TALK ABOUT THE FUCKING BRIE!!!!!!!!!!”


On one such double date, I was seated across from Everett’s friend’s boyfriend, and Everett was seated across from that guy’s girlfriend. The guy and I talked—he was in finance and his girlfriend was in law school, which is how Everett knew her—and he said, “So I hear you’re a comedian?” “Yeah, I write for The Onion!” I said, beaming every time I said it, because I freaking did! He sat across from me, looking like what you’re picturing: a white guy with blond hair and one of those front-zipper sweaters and khakis who wants you to know he also owns one Rolling Stones album and really digs it.


“Oh, cool. I’m in finance, but I also play a little guitar,” he said, in the way that square professional dudes always say to artistic girls. I smiled, still in the phase of being excessively kind to My Boyfriend’s Friends, who weren’t that great, despite the fact that I hate this and why do we have to do this again? Why can’t we just stay home and watch documentaries I don’t want to watch but you do want to watch while I sit through them, bored out of my mind, and ohhhh, I see now that this relationship was bad.


Anyway, I told him, “Oh, cool! I’m also a musician!” a very, very generous comparison to give to a guy who I guarantee knows three bars of “Smoke on the Water” max. “Oh, no way,” he said, and I could see the boner forming underneath the table, but I told myself I didn’t because he had a girlfriend and she was literally right there. I told him I made music and played all sorts of instruments and I called myself It Was Romance and some of it was “kind of online,” since I was still very much afraid to let anyone know I did this—like a body builder afraid to admit he also fucking crushes at ballet. What will the community think, etc.? But also desperate for people to hear my music because I loved it so much and really thought it was great.


Eventually he said something to the effect of “Yeah, me and Shana have been together for five years now, since college. We live together. She wants to get married, but I’m, like, eh, I just don’t care. But she thinks we’re going to. Ha. We’re definitely not, though. But, like, it’s her first real relationship, so it’s a big deal to her or whatever. I’ve been with lots of girls though, so I’m, like, eh, it is what it is,” as he winked at me, like, Just so you know, she means nothing to me. Sup?


And I tried not to stare at him bug-eyed like he’d just told me he planned to later put her body in a trunk and bury her outside this bar.


When Everett and I left them and went to the subway, he held my hand and said, “Gah! They’re so great, right?! Such a cool couple. They’re gonna get married, I just know it. It’s so great!” I hesitated to break his confidence in this, since he seemed so happy and so joyful and unblemished by literally any hardships and I wanted to protect him, but I also blurted out, “Welllllll, I’m not sure they are,” while we walked to the R train. “What? Awh. No, no, they are! They’re so happy. It’ll be great.” I glared at him like he was a bloated corporation bragging about how it was too big to fail before I added, “He kind of . . . he kind of hit on me. And then told me she cared more about the relationship than he did and he didn’t see it going anywhere. And then he literally said he didn’t want to marry her. At all.” But it wouldn’t deter him and he didn’t hear me and nothing I said mattered, “Oh, no no no, dear. I’m sure it was a misunderstanding. They’re getting married!” And we walked wordlessly to the train and kissed and said goodbye.


Every time I saw Everett, and I mean literally every time I saw him, he brought me flowers. Not bodega flowers. Like, “You ordered these and picked out every single one so it was the most stunning bouquet you could’ve possibly given me.” He started doing this on our third date and did it every date after and never faltered, not once. One time he even came all the way down from a meeting in Harlem to my Brooklyn apartment after a fourteen-hour workday when he had a cold, just to give me flowers because he missed me. He sent me cute packages in the mail constantly, a marker of our “weirdly long-distance relationship because you live in the same city, but you work all the time because you’re in the middle of law school, and according to the internet, that’s a very hard time to start a new relationship.”


I was comparatively poor, but I made up for it with romantic gestures and drawings and songs and maps drawn of where he was and where I was connected by hearts and things like that. And every single time he gave me flowers I made it my full-time job to keep them alive until the next time I saw him, which sometimes was a week or two weeks. On the fourth date, he filled his kitchen, and I mean seriously filled every cabinet, with vegan and gluten-free food. Pancake mix, brownie mix, rice bowls, soup, replacement egg mix, almond milk, just literally everything. And I remember when he showed me all this, I wanted to run. My response, based on some prior, super-fucked-up life experiences, was seriously, “Are you going to force me to date you until all of this is gone????” I can laugh at that now, but at the time, I genuinely perceived it as a threat to my safety, like I had to keep dating him now and he was trying to make me by keeping me tied to him via my food allergies!!!


Suffice it to say, I both desperately wanted him to take care of me like this forever and ever, and also wanted to spit in his face for it because I was so scared that if I accepted this care, my freedom would somehow vanish and I’d be trapped here, unable to say no, unable to leave. I also had seriously deep-rooted fears about men, inherited from my mom.


When I was a kid, my mom described her relationship with my dad as “He was so sweet at first. Always so sweet at first. But then . . .” I have spent my entire life terrified of the “but then.” And I spent the entirety of my relationship with Everett worrying that one day, if I got too comfortable, if I accepted the constant compliments about my being the most beautiful girl in the world, the ever-present stunning bouquets, the apartment full of food just for me, and the requests for me to come to lunch with his grandma so she could meet me, a trapdoor would open and inside would be him, ready to beat the shit out of me for falling for it. And so I stayed Fiona Apple “Shadow boxer”-braced, ready for him to fucking try something. And then, when my terror from waiting became too much to bear, I started breaking up with him constantly.


One time I was going to do it over the phone, but I’d left my ice skates at his house like some kind of fucking idiot who feels comfortable with her boyfriend and leaves things at his house and doesn’t at all times keep her things in her home in case she needs to run. And while running an errand (to pick up free partially used soy milk someone in his neighborhood was giving away on Craigslist), I decided to surprise him—not to see him, but to get my skates because I Had to Get Out.


It’s hard for me to know exactly what caused this constant need in me to run. Sure, it could’ve been that any time I’d bring up gender double standards, he would be silent, as though I’d said something stupid, and change the subject. Or how I wrote and published a really cool comic book called Smarty Pants and gave him a copy that he never read. Or how I sent him my It Was Romance songs as I wrote them, all of them about him and how much I loved him but I never told him that, and he barely listened to them, but could speak for hours about how his accountant buddy did some electronic music “on the side” and it was “so dope.” Or how one time he said to me, about some New Yorker writer, “God, can you imagine being that great of a writer?” Which stabbed me in the gut and I bled out on the bed while he went to make us heart-shaped pancakes. Or how he handled my telling him that twelve hours after one of my extended family members finally acknowledged the childhood horrors everyone else had constantly swept under the rug, thus finally validating my memories and experiences, she did a 180 and went back to telling me they never happened. His response was “Oh, dear, I’m sure she loves you. Okay, so what sushi should we order?” And I pulled my hand away like I needed it to read the menu, but that was not why. Or how a guy I’d been playing music with suddenly became violent and I told him about it, in tears, terrified and trying to find the words, and his only reply was “That’s too bad. I know how much you loved playing with him!” As though he’d quit or moved. That was all. The end.


I can see now that his aggressive lack of support for my career was almost assuredly based on the fact that he wished he was a musician but had no musical talent, and had briefly pursued being a comedy writer but had given it up to be a lawyer. When I first found out the latter, before we met, I thought he was perfect for me. To me, that very mature decision meant he was funny and a great writer but wanted to have a proper normal job, and thus was very stable and deep and compassionate and had the capacity for an enduring and committed relationship, which most male comedians and musicians do not have, in my experience. I don’t really know what his motivations for changing careers were, but I truly believe, on some level, he hated dating someone who was going after the dreams he’d given up. And though I tried not to, I hated dating someone who’d had the family, security, and ease I’d always wanted, and acted as though this was something everyone had—who cares, no big deal. I wasn’t resentful of his ignorance of how bad the world could be, I was jealous that I’d never in my life had the luxury of that kind of ignorance—the innocence we all deserve to have as children, and ideally as adults. We’re all supposed to think, as long as we can, that the world is safe and great and wants us to be happy and that we will always be held and everything will be fine. And I never felt that, not even as a child. And he had and still did. And in that way, we both resented the other for having lives we deeply envied.


Still, there was the other side of him, and it was everything I’d ever wanted. I once saw on his computer that he’d meticulously marked his calendar with future dates like “anniversary of our first date” and “three-month anniversary.” He also had a whole bookmark folder on Amazon of things he wanted to buy me, with his search history devoted to things he thought might make me happy. He’d bring a bottle of wine when we’d go to parties and say, “Sweetheart, we’re taking them this wine. It’s really nice, I just wanted you to know.” He would put whole cinnamon sticks in glasses of hot cider. Everett knew how to live comfortably, richly, and well, and he was an adult. And unfortunately I was still a scared little kid who was programmed to merely survive and had no chill.


One time, we got into a fight because we were going to get tea and it was one subway stop away, but, like, five degrees outside. All I could think about was how I couldn’t afford to take the subway for one stop just to get tea, but I didn’t want to admit that to him. He finally picked up as to why we were suffering through the bitter cold when we could just take a cab or something, and offered to just get us a cab, but I was not having any of it. I couldn’t just let him make my life easier; I didn’t know how to. I knew how to survive, and if I could withstand something, if it wouldn’t kill me, that was fine. And it’s heartbreaking to think about.


Everett’s love languages (and I know that term is cringeworthy, but still) were gift-giving and service, a potent combination I was immediately drawn to, but I didn’t feel like he saw me or really loved me. I didn’t learn about love languages until years later, but if I’d known about them then, I would’ve known why we didn’t work. Currently, my love languages are gift-giving, service, and compliments. But at the time, service was definitely not on that list, since I held on so tightly to my I CAN DO IT BY MYSELF I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN BY MYSELF OKAY I HAVE THIS LEAVE ME ALONE beliefs with a freaking death grip.


And because Everett’s love languages didn’t include compliments, and when they did, they were pretty much just about my appearance and nothing else, I felt with him the way I’d felt with various men I knew back home. Many of these men who would also go on to become lawyers and doctors begged me to stop pursuing “this thing.” They each told me I should just move back home and live with them and we could get married and have a good life and I could “write in my spare time,” like it was some bullshit thing I could do when I wasn’t waiting for them to come home for dinner, because Mad Men is very much alive and well.


I was spending so much time surrounded by guys at comedy shows or guys in my band, who saw what I could do, how quickly my brain worked, how quickly I could write incredible songs or entire bits, or dive into characters, or write increasingly spot-on Onion stories and were attracted to me because of that. I was really coming into my own . . . but to Everett, I was seemingly the pretty artist girl who was so ambitious at whatever and stuff.


And it began to change me. I started going to the salon more. (Note: These were stylists I found on Craigslist who were in need of hair models, because I could not afford that shit). I started making sure I always looked perfect, no flaws, no scratches. Looking back, it was like my soul had left my body and I had, without even noticing, morphed into what I, on some level, felt he wanted: a Real Housewife, if Karen O had been a Real Housewife. Me, but watered down so I wasn’t so much trouble.


And every time I’d leave his apartment, I’d cry the whole way home, all while carrying stunning bouquets half the size of my body, thus making me look like I was always on my way to or from a funeral. I see now that I was overwhelmed by the weight of not being able to tell him what I needed, physically, emotionally, sexually, or what I didn’t want, physically, emotionally, and sexually, because I had no idea what was going on inside my head. I didn’t know if this was as good as relationships got or if I just wanted too much. And so I constantly left, but felt so devoted and attached to him that I would always come back and he’d take me back every time. I’m sure it exhausted him, but what he didn’t know was, it was exhausting me too.


If I met him now, I’d be able to better communicate the issues I had, be able to explain why I got terrified when he’d do certain things, be able to ask him to do things differently, to be able to examine his belief systems and the ways he did or didn’t support me. And maybe it would’ve gotten better. But it was too much to unpack and it hadn’t gotten bad enough on paper for me to get gone and stay there.


As Valentine’s Day neared, so did his birthday, and FYI, I had been preparing for that for months. I had a weirdly competitive streak for a long time about being the most romantic, movie-moment-creating person ever, I think partly as a challenge and partly as a chance to show my partners, “Yo, this is the kind of love I want, FYI, but also look how much I love you!!!”


So my idea for his birthday celebration was—you know—that thing where maybe it’s your birthday or just a hard day or something and you’re out somewhere and they play one of your favorite songs and you feel like the whole world exists for you and is rooting for you and you’re held and loved and the day is truly yours? I wanted to make a playlist of songs he loved deeply and then tell the bar where we were going to go to put the CD on and he wouldn’t know I made it, so he would just be endlessly happy and feel like life loved him and believed in him and this night was truly for him and he was special and great.


I did this through a series of strikingly sneaky questions in person, but also by going through his old music blog from college, which had, Jesus, I think four hundred fucking pages of archives, and was done with two of his friends, so I had no way to sort by author; thus I had to read through every page to find the songs he’d written about in order to compile my mix. I also pulled some strings via some adults I knew to get tickets to see one of his favorite bands and made sure to get tickets to a show that took place on a night where he didn’t have finals or a super-hectic week so he could truly enjoy it. And this was just for his party. On the day of his actual birthday he was studying at home and couldn’t meet up so I came to him with his favorite drink and his favorite cake to surprise him while he worked. And we also made out a lot. So, win win win.


Prior to his birthday party, I’d called a bar I thought would be the perfect location for him and all his friends because he told me he didn’t have time to plan anything, so I handled it all, happily. I went into the bar and told them we were going to be having a ton of people there for my friend’s birthday and asked them to play the mix—and they said yes! (I didn’t want to say “my boyfriend” because I’m pretty sure, after several months, I still felt scared to let him call himself that, though he’d wanted to since day one and had been waiting, confused but patient, for permission ever since. Also, I knew being like, “OMG I wanna do something kewt for my boyfriend!!!!” might not foster compassion in a skeezy bar run by misanthropes.)


The day of his actual birthday party, he’d decided everyone would go to his friend’s house (one of the Brie and Small Talk couples) before the party to hang out and drink. I asked him what time we’d move to the bar and he said, “Eh, who knows. I just figure we’ll hang there and go over eventually.” I couldn’t ask for further specifics without him knowing, so I spent the pre-party pacing, surrounded by a ton of people I didn’t know, watching the clock, knowing my friend Sachi was waiting at the bar for me at nine and the CD-playing guy was probably, like, “Where’s this weird girl who is supposed to tell me to play this so I can do it and then jerk off to the idea of being in the band Ratt?”


I didn’t have their number to call them because I didn’t have an iPhone when literally everyone else did because, again, I was an unpaid/underpaid artist at the time, so I called my friend Nik in LA and had him google the number so I could call them. And this was in the 2010s, not the 1980s like it sounds. Poverty is very retro.


I told the bar in a hushed tone, like I was planning a hit-and-run inside the Brie Couple’s bedroom, where I could almost guarantee they’d had sex once this whole year max and yawned throughout it, that I was running a little late and asked if they could just hold off and hopefully we’d be there soon, and then I ran back in to see Everett like I was a waitress juggling too many tables.


“Hey! So my friend Sachi is at the bar and I told her I’d meet her there. Do you know if we’re gonna head over soon?” I said, super casual, suuuuuper casual. “Awh, you know what sweetheart? I might just stay here. Everyone’s having so much fun, and I just feel really great about it and why even leave?” UH, BECAUSE I’M ABOUT TO BE SUPER FUCKING ROMANTIC?!! MAYBE BECAUSE OF THAT??!?! WHAT THE SHIT, DUDE??!?!?! But I did not say that. Instead I said, “Word. But Sachi’s there and I told her to meet me there and I feel bad.”


“Oh. Okay, yeah, we can head over in a few minutes, then. No problem.” THANK FUCKING GOD.


So we start walking the few blocks to the bar and everyone is taking their sweet time and it is fine because I have a plan and it is about to happen and he’s gonna be so fucking happy and he will know I love him and he will realize I am awesome and he will grab my face and kiss me passionately and say, “Jesus, you’re the best girlfriend in the whole world. Holy shit. I can’t even . . .” and then maybe hopefully cry.


We get to the bar and, like someone confirming a hit on someone, I coolly nod to the bartender, who goes to put on the CD. We hung out by the bar with his friends and I’m waiting and it’s not coming on soon enough, come onnnnn. And then it does!!! The first song comes on and he doesn’t notice and I nudge him and say, “Oh my God, dude, do you hear this?” and he says, “Yeah!” and I smile and I love him so much and I am so glad I get to do this for him because I know I’m a tough nut to crack and he’s so patient and handsome and good to me, even though he does have some flaws but like who doesn’t and nothing is perfect and yesss the next song is playing now and I made such a great mix, I really did.


Several songs in, while he was singing me lyrics to the Tribe Called Quest song “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and holding both my hands as it played over the speakers, his preppy guy friend (seriously, is there a clown car full of them at this party somewhere?) came up behind us to tell him, “It sounds like you made this playlist, bro,” and I could not contain myself anymore. I turned to Everett and said, “Hey! Okay, so this playlist. Uh, I made it.” He looked at me confused for a second, and I kept waiting for him to be like, “Wait, WHAT???” and then I’d tell him and he’d movie-kiss me and know I loved him and we’d be together foreeeeever. What actually happened was he waited two seconds, put it together, and said, “Oh, cool,” and hugged me briefly and then went back to talking to his friends about the “sick mix.” Sachi was watching nearby and looked totally stunned, like she’d just watched him punch me in the face. “Wait, what the fuck was that?” and I just said, “I don’t know,” trying to hide the lethal mixture of embarrassment, heartbreak, disappointment, and the rejection of a love I’d finally found the courage to express.


I sat in the corner the rest of the night, which he didn’t notice at all. I can still see myself in that corner, sipping water from a tiny plastic cup, watching him move through his sea of bland popped-collar bros from college like I didn’t exist. His friend Mike started asking me how I knew Everett because I looked that foreign and out of place that even a stranger was, like, “Yeah, this bitch is barely in his life,” which was a very cool feeling after putting the whole party together and working on the mix for months, coupled with him getting angry at me for not letting him in sooner and then the second I did, pushing me aside like a shitty wilted garnish that’s getting in the way of the burger he ordered.


I tried to put it aside and assume he was just not thinking, it was fine, and anyway I still hadn’t told him about the tickets I got to see the band he loved, so before he left, I tried him again, like a fangirl trying to get the attention of a band she liked. “Oh, hey! Uh, so before you go, I got you tickets to see R√∂yksopp. I was going to get you tickets to see Toro y Moi, but I looked at your calendar and that would’ve overlapped with finals, so I didn’t want you to be stressed about that, but the R√∂yksopp show is right after finals, so you can celebrate being done and not even have to worry about it!” His reply was “Hm. I think I can make that.”


And then he left me there while he went back into the city with his friends. He didn’t walk me home, which was literally two blocks away. I don’t even think he kissed me goodbye. I went home and criiiiied and knew I had to end it, and then beat myself up because maybe I was wrong and too sensitive.


When you don’t have a support system, being patient while waiting for a soul mate is fucking impossible. So if you have someone in the ring at all, even one stick of shitty gum that gives you a stomachache, it still feels so much better than nothing. And in so many ways, he was such a great stick of gum. He was always cooking for me, always paying for dinner, always making me feel like someone was finally, finally, taking care of me. Having that kind of consistency and someone taking care of me on any level, even if he was thoughtless at times, was a huge step up, and it felt ungrateful to want more than this, so much more.


The next morning, Everett called me like nothing was wrong because to him, nothing was. I tearfully told him that I was really sad last night because I’d worked for months on this party and he acted like he barely cared. He told me that wasn’t true, that he was “pretty sure” after I told him about the mix that he’d kissed me. I said he had not. He said, “Really? I think I did!” Nope. You didn’t. “Huh. Well it made me feel amazing. I felt like I’d won a thousand lotteries. You’re the best girlfriend anyone could possibly have.” I said, “Yeah, see, this would’ve been cool to hear last night. And why didn’t you come home with me or even kiss me goodbye?” He told me he was just overwhelmed with how many people were there for his birthday and he wanted to make them all happy because they’d come so far to see him and he wished he could’ve gone home with me—again, something that would’ve been nice if he’d said it before leaving with his entourage without even a miming of “I gotta go, but I don’t want to, you’re the best, I love you so much,” with hand signals. Still, in his mind, he’d said his “Oops,” and then asked me where I wanted to go to dinner that night, like, “Case closed. I told you whoops, whoops was admitted, so, sushi?”


He then mentioned that he’d left something at his friend’s house from the night before and asked if I could swing by and pick it up and bring it to him when we went to dinner. I said sure, feeling officially like an unpaid TaskRabbit, instead of a girlfriend doing something for her boyfriend because she loved him and she knew he loved her.


I cried the whole walk over and wiped my tears away just before ringing the doorbell, but in that way where you’re kind of praying they can tell you were crying and ask you about it. She did not. She handed me the extra wine or whatever the fuck it was—honestly, who cares?—and said, “So, are you and Everett doing anything for Valentine’s Day?” which was a few days away. I said, lump in my throat—again “Please please notice I am not okay, I am forbidden from asking for help due to shitty patterns from my childhood, so please let me know it is okay to ask”—“Oh I’m sure we’re not.” She said, light as a feather, “Oh, I’m sure you will!!!!” and I looked past her, to the wall, and said, “We won’t. Trust me. Okay, thanks.” And left.


I called him to tell him I’d picked it up, and he said, “Great! Thank you!” and I gave him a five-star rating on his TaskRabbit account.






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