I want to start by saying that that I feel very privileged to write a piece for this blog—I really admire Jordan’s writing and the honesty I feel he, and other people who have contributed here, clearly value in their pieces.
I’m in an elevator with two women, and I’m on my way back from buying lunch. I only remember the last snippet of the conversation verbatim, and it’s the important part:
“Oh, well then I’ll definitely stop in and say hi if you don’t think anyone will mind—you guys are at lunch right now, right?” Speaking is this very attractive 30-something woman in mustard-colored overalls, soup and salad in hand.
“Yeah, and I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“Awesome! And what do you do for the show?” She asks this right as we’re hitting the floor.
“I’m the copyist.”
“I’m a copyist, too.” This comes from the other woman—gray sweater, holding a salad, 20-something, very attractive. She says this as I’m stepping out of the elevator.
“Wha—?!?” I whirl around, nearly drop my spicy teriyaki chicken bento box, and miss her in the closing doors. I’m not sure what to do, so, trying to pass if off to mustard overalls, I just say: “Weird.”
And that’s that—well, sort of, because I was looking at her salad earlier in the elevator, wondering where she’d bought it, and couldn’t help but see her name written all over it. And, as copyists are sort of a rare breed, it takes about ten seconds of Googling to figure out her full name, college, high school, etc.
So, I’m scheming now—coming up with an excuse to linger outside the elevator at the end of the day, because—I mean—this is someone I will definitely share interests with, right? The associate conductor is in on the plot, too; he finds a mutual friend on Facebook and texts them for more info.
“Your friend has good taste. She’s great…”
“… She’s dating this British guy, very tall, glasses.”
Fuck. Okay, no elevator lingering. I look up and mustard overalls is talking about her husband, and I’m picking rice grain by grain out of my bento box because, despite my gameness, I am not an adept chopsticks user.
I’m on the bottom step of a stoop near the intersection of Broadway and Broome holding two full grocery bags of blackberries and raspberries. She’s quite a bit shorter than me and at the top of the stoop her arms are just about level around my neck. She’s kissing my forehead, she leans her head down, then snaps it up.
Her grandmother is waving at her, closing fast past the ZARA and, as I’d been previously warned: “my grandparents’ only rule is that I don’t bring boys home.” She shoves me off the bottom step.
“Hi, I’m a friend of your granddaughter—she ummm—she told me you liked blackberries.” This isn’t strictly untrue—that information was in the three text messages that led me to the stoop.
“We do!” She’s confused, but I’m buttoned up in a navy suit that looks respectable enough. “That’s very kind of you to come by! Let’s get them in the fridge, then.” Fortunately, the berries are enough to get us—I mean, really my friend; I’m a non-entity here—out of trouble. We head up the elevator to floor five or six while I explain that I was helping with a charitable function and Driscoll’s had donated a full pallet of berries for a 30 person event—I was in the neighborhood, etc.
“Well, we were actually just headed out…” This is my friend. Meeting family was not a scheduled activity for tonight.
“With all those berries?”
“I—I knew you’d be home soon.” Grandma is pretty sharp, but, again, berries.
I’ve just turned 21, so I buy us a cheap bottle of wine at a restaurant in Little Italy, and we’re a little drunk and making out in a closed playground in Chinatown. She’s sitting on a bench and there’s a sort of Spiderman situation happening. We go back to the stoop, we go up the elevator and past floor five or six to the roof where Spiderman resumes on a picnic table overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. I beg her to let me stay the night, but she says berries will only go so far—I think she’s actually just seen enough of me for the night—and she’ll see me later. We stay in touch, I see her every so often, but now that means I haven’t seen her in a year or so.
“I almost didn’t recognize you—it looks great!”
“Oh—thanks—I ummm—I like it, too.” She’s naturally blond, but now her hair’s been dyed a dark brown, cut to a bob.
“How are you? What’s going on?”
“Oh, no—I’m good—no, you were saying”
“Oh, nothing—I uh—I was just saying I haven’t seen you in a while.” She always stares right into my eyes when she speaks, so I feel obligated to do the same right back. It’s really distracting—her silver-blue eyes stand out even more now against dark hair.
“I know, I was in the other night and you weren’t here.”
“I’ve been working on a project, I’ve been away, but you—you were in Amsterdam, right?”
“Yeah,” and she sort of blushes, because I still remember the details of our conversation from over a month ago. And I’m probably beet-red—not probably; I can see my reflection in the mirrors placed around the barroom.
“You were there with your boyfriend, right?”
“Yeah, his family.” And she tells me all about it while I try to put on the most polite face I can. I have half a dozen other tables I’m supposed to be talking to, and I’m trying to not think about it—I’m trying to see if I can get her to ask me a particular question.
“… But you said you were working on a project?” Bingo. Now I can maybe try to impress her. I’m going to be really casual about it—but she needs to know it’s a big deal, still—at least for me.
“Mhm—I can tell you more in a sec; I have to run a card for a table in the back.”
“Oh, for sure—“
“Did you want anything to start?”
“Yeah,” she smiles—She likes me, but I am not the main attraction here. “Red sangria, croquettes, the lamb skewers, the grilled squid, ummmm—yeah, that’s it.”
“Sounds good.” I don’t really need her to tell me; she orders nearly the same thing every time. She also knows to leave off the tomato bread because I’m going to comp it for her anyway. I make sure to bring it out, too, so she knows it was me who put in the order.
“Thanks!” It’s a funny little ritual now; she expects it, but she knows she’s not supposed to. She seems genuinely grateful each time, though. “Tell me about the project.”
“Sure.” I tell her, and she’s a little impressed, and I feel good because I feel like I was able to do it with a light enough touch. On her way out she tries to give me a hug, and I accidentally back off because I wasn’t expecting it. I try to save it, but the moment’s passed—but she can see I tried and she smiles through the door window.
A few weeks ago, I was catching up with a friend over dinner. He’s a very smart guy, and over the course of a wide-ranging conversation he said something I’ve thought a lot about since. It was something to the effect of:
“The important thing isn’t the skill itself, but the ability to acquire the skill. If you have that ability, time and circumstances allowing, you already have all the skills you’ll need.” In the moment I managed:
“Time and circumstances allowing.” Which I think is how I feel.
Who the fuck was having sex in high school, and can you please help me, I have questions, like how were you not terrified, and what was it like?
Did you understand your body? Did you understand theirs? Or was the only needed understanding that you were young and horny and eager? How did you ask, or did they ask, and how? Did you get condoms at CVS? Did you do it at your place or theirs, or neither, is that how you knew that your parents wouldn’t barge in? Were you nervous?
Did you know they would wanna also, or were you just hoping, and ready to accept the possibility that they would say no and you would feel like a bit of a creep? If they hesitated, how did you know whether it was because they wanted you to make a move or because they didn’t want this? Was it fun for both of you? Who took the lead? Did you talk about class afterwards?
Did you like how you looked? Did you like how they looked? Did you compare yourself to adult bodies you’d seen on the internet and TV, and did you have an adult body yourself already? Did you feel like you were fulfilling your expectations, or proving your worth, or did you want to feel that way but end up just feeling somehow hollow?
Did you love them? Do you love them still, or do you look back on the memory fondly, or not so fondly?
It’s not a big deal.
Seriously. I know it probably seems like I’m being passive aggressive but it’s actually not a big deal.
I mean, to the extent that it wouldn’t be that hard to just respond and say you’re not interested in dating me, yes, you’re kind of a wimp. And given that I already put myself out there by messaging you first, and then asking for your number, and then asking you out on a date, you’re definitely not scoring any points for vulnerability or honesty. But – and I know this is probably surprising to you – I actually didn’t do those things because I needed you to reciprocate. I did them because I want to grow into the kind of person who isn’t afraid of being vulnerable and honest. And besides, I barely know you. So easy come easy go, right?
Why is dating advice always about the worst thing that could happen? “Ask her out! The worst that can happen is that you get rejected.” Actually, rejection is easy to deal with. Demonstrating value, now that’s hard. Seeming interesting, entertaining, trying to figure out if you’ll gel with someone, these things are hard. Even getting ghosted is not that bad, if you think about it. Seriously, I get it. You’re not really that into me, but you figure it’s just your phone number, what’s the big deal, and it’s nice to feel wanted because even though you don’t think you’re ugly you definitely don’t feel like hot shit 100% of the time, and then you figure it’s just coffee, what’s the big deal, and then logistics enter the field and coffee starts to seem awfully committal and what if you just… didn’t confirm, would that be so bad?
And once it’s socially established that this is a thing that can happen when I meet a person on Tinder, it’s easy to deal with. I can live with the constant possibility that you will just stop responding – honestly it’s my default and natural assumption when it comes to dating. The alternative is that you text me “hey it was nice talking to you but I’m not really interested in dating,” and really if I’m gathering that from your lack of responses anyway, it doesn’t really matter how you choose to convey that information. I mean its not like I would want to just be friends anyway.
Except sometimes I do want to be friends anyway. Most of the time, maybe. (Of course I don’t totally understand the difference between friends and loves, but I don’t need you to, like, be exclusive, or text me everyday, or kiss me or whatever.) It would be nice if we could be friends. But your lack of response tells me that you wouldn’t be interested, or you don’t think I would be interested, or you’re too nervous to try and communicate to me this vague desire that you want to be friends, or you don’t think I’m worth it, but again, easy come easy go, and you don’t know how worth it I am. We’ve never met.
You, of course, have no way of really knowing how much it would mean to me to actually get an explicit rejection. And you’re also right when you say it’s not a big deal and I’ll get the point anyway. I’ll just continue to archive text threads as soon as I get the slightest whiff that you’re going to stop responding, and get a head start on grieving over what could have been.