I’m tempted to use the main individual in this story’s actual name (it’s not slander if it’s true), principally due to the fact that this was quite possibly the Gold Cup of dating what-the-fuckdom. However, given that it would really be neither here nor there in achieving any real feat, I’ll give up my petulant tendencies and call him Dave.
[But, for what it’s worth, his real name’s Brandon.]
I met Dave online. He was funny, financially successful, thirty, divorced once (is it weird that I like that?), and shared my inherent sense of self-deprecation and hatred of all things hiking. (“Yes. I get it. That’s a tree, and that’s a lizard. Can we go home now?”) We had a few marathon dates, which basically consisted of getting along fantastically and going on drunk adventures that may or may not have included crashing barbecues and getting kicked out of a concert. Although he had a few characteristics that I could do without, he was supremely into me, which happens to be my most favorite quality in anyone.
Shortly thereafter, he went to Hawaii with his family for a week. What began with incessant texting quickly transformed into nightly phone calls. What was unusual, though, was the extent to which he would mention hypotheticals: “If we ever get the chance, we should totally go to Hawaii.” …Wha? Wow. That’s really all about me. Needless to say, he was emphatic about us getting together immediately after he left the airport and had the whole day planned out, including me staying the night without his bitch roommate there (we’ll get to that).
Eh, fuck it. Let’s do bitch roommate now.
He lived with a twenty-four-year-old girl, and – from what I saw – their relationship was proverbial in that she had a boyfriend that lived out of state, so Dave was her safety-net go-to guy the rest of the time. You know, the fake boyfriend that you don’t actually bang but that successfully distracts you from the daunting responsibility of filling your own emotional voids. As such, she threw an actual temper tantrum one day when she wanted to watch some (I’m sure shitty) TV show, and Dave and I were in his bedroom instead. I had the great, awkward pleasure of getting to hear her slam doors and bitch him out when he went into the kitchen post-coitus, and I wondered how Dave had ever successfully dated anyone with the Sex Ref sharing his 1200 sq. ft. apartment. (I later found out there was a back door.)
Another thing that had struck me about my temporary long-distance pseudo-relationship with Dave was that one evening, when we were getting off the phone, he said, “So, I’ll call you tomorrow around this time?”
“I have plans,” I had responded.
A moment of silence or two went by, and he asked, “You’re going on a date, aren’t you?”
It was true. I hadn’t planned on saying anything out of courtesy. However, when asked pointe blank, I answered honestly. “Yeah,” I said. “I am.”
“I am so jealous right now,” he said. I thought it was cute. (My ex was never jealous. It perturbed me to no end that he apparently had felt so secure that I would never leave him that certain standards need not apply. “That guy’s hitting on you? Go for it!” Fuck me.) “I just don’t like the idea of you seeing other guys,” Dave explained.
[For what it was worth, the date was a total wash. The guy used the word “epic” as a substitute for nearly every adjective imaginable (“This IPA is epic.” “That concert was epic.” “I did my laundry this morning – it was epic.“), and – despite presenting himself to me as Mr. God Damn Colorado (off-roading, camping, something or other involving glaciers) – he didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. Thanks, brah. It’s been fun.]
Dave, relieved it had gone poorly, became all the more persistent about our plans when he got back in town.
So, Airport Day:
We met at a bar, and during the second drink he told me he’d actually have to take off pretty soon: his sister had put him up to watching her dogs for the evening. “Because that’s the first thing I want to do after ten hours of flying,” he commented. “However, I can’t back out of it, and I need to leave at 6:45.” It was 5:45. So, naturally, there was nothing left to do but tab and head straight to his apartment.
And, of course, because she was supposed to be out of town, [Not-Girlfriend] came home mid-, er, activity. Ensue temper tantrum (“I haven’t seen you in a week, and I come in the apartment and see your door’s shut! I can’t believe I haven’t seen you in a week, and you’re fucking some chick!”), first-time back door exit, and a rushed drop-off at my car. Leaning in his open window right before leaving, I said, “You know, I feel like a hooker.”
“Me too,” he said and drove away.
I suppose dog-sitting obligations happen to the best of us. Regardless, though, hanging out at home an hour later, I opted to call a good guy friend from college to ask his advice on having slept with Dave in this particular instance. Should I have? It was a far cry from our original plan for the evening, and I felt a little slutty, and, oh, that chick-ish.
“Eh, fuck it,” he said. “Do you, boo-boo.” I loved him.
Around 9:30 my phone rang: Dave.
“Yeah, screw my sister,” he said, “They came back early. So where were we?” Flooded with validation, I met back up with him half an hour later. I (quietly) spent the night at his place, and everything was back to going as originally planned. Phew.
The next time we spoke he was anxiety-plagued. His boss at his job had quit, and he was up for a pretty serious promotion. The promotion, however, was in Portland or Seattle, involved a pretty hefty hours-per-week increase, and was basically one of those huge life crossroads that just inexplicably and suddenly hits. While my vote obviously would have been that he stay in Denver, I kept my mouth shut (unbelievable, I know) and empathized. Strangely enough, during this conversation, he inquired as to whether or not I had been seeing anyone else, and he again expressed jealousy and dislike at the thought. I mentally noted it, and – although that we were just shy of a month hanging out – I couldn’t help but wonder if my presence actually might be bearing any weight on the whole ordeal, given his zealous approach to us dating.
Over the next week, he remained a bit of a wreck about the employment conundrum. I drove to his apartment after an hour-long, panicked phone conversation to find him out front chain-smoking and pounding Franzia. Buddy, I thought, I have sooooo been there. We hashed out pros and cons with his head on my lap on a bench outside his apartment complex, and it crossed my mind that this occasion had a different weight than our other get-togethers: he was talking about stuff that mattered, and mattered deeply, to him, and he was wanting my opinion on it. It was not exactly the usual “debating pros and cons of nacho cooking methods at a bar” sentiment that had originally marked our dates. In fact, the last few weeks had moved steadily away from that casualness.
That night, in bed, I popped the question:
“So, I know there’s been a lot going on with you,” I began. “But, for what it’s currently worth, how would you feel about me not seeing other people?”
Despite the weird and potentially moot timing, I had asked because I had gone out a few times with someone in whom I was interested, but I held a firm belief in playing fair. Dave had repeatedly, expressly implied that it mattered to him, and – if that were the case – I felt we’d crossed at least some sort of threshold of ethical accountability in which he came first. As such, I deemed it important to clarify the structure of the ordeal, even if that structure were, well, structureless.
His reply was not what I expected.
“I don’t know,” he said. Silence.
“I’m not saying I want to be your girlfriend,” I replied. “It just seems to have mattered to you, so I thought I would ask what you were thinking.”
“No, no – it’s a fair question,” he insisted. “I just don’t know. I’d have to think about it.”
While I understood the potential meaninglessness of my inquiry given the fact that he might be leaving the state, I found him neglecting to mention that in his response more than mildly disquieting. If the move were the issue, his answer seemed fair enough. However, what was with the frequent mentioning of jealousy then? Did he like being jealous?
Immediately wishing I hadn’t said anything, I rolled over and went to sleep.
Over the next week, he was iffy about plans. Granted, he was doing a number of interviews, working ten-hour days, and had a variety of objectively occupying things going on. Given the ambiguity of our last conversation, though, it didn’t feel great. Deciding to knife through the ether of my own paranoia, I sent him a message one day that basically said, “Hey – I know you’re super busy right now. However, if you don’t want to see me again, I’m a big girl and can handle it. Just let me know, so I don’t keep trying.” There. That was that.
Somehow, though, my attempt at directness only densified (yes, it’s a word now) the ether cloud even more.
“No, it’s not you at all,” he responded. “There’s just a lot happening. However, I may in all reality be moving, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to start dating someone right now. I’m not sure where that leaves us.”
Followed immediately by:
“Want to grab a beer tomorrow?”
…Sure? Let’s face it: I hadn’t been this confused since one of my best friends gave Love in the Time of Cholera three stars on Goodreads. (I mean, really? It’s Marquez, Liz. Gabriel Fucking Garcia Marquez. What more do you want!? TOLSTOY? I know, I know – it wasn’t Dubliners … which is why it should have at least gotten three-and-a-half.)
We met up at a beer tasting. About thirty minutes in, he looked at his phone, groaned, and stepped away to take a call.
“Uh oh?” I inquired when he returned.
“It’s [Not-Girlfriend],” he said. “She thinks she got roofied at the bar and wants me to come get her.”
(…For real, bitch? Last I checked, that was the whole point of getting roofied: you don’t know you’re getting roofied. Speaking from personal experience, I have been drugged once, and shit would have gone down a whole lot differently if I’d very cognizantly called my roommate and been like, “Hey, you got a minute? I think something that blanks out all of my senses of balance, time, presence, and memory was slipped in my drink, but I’m right up the street on Classen and 42nd and would like to politely tab out and then wait outside for you, while I coherently contemplate which polo-wearing dude at the bar is the would-be rapist. See you in ten? Love you!”)
“Uh, can she not call a cab?” I asked.
“That’s what I said,” he responded. “I really don’t want to go get her, but she won’t call one.”
I was ready to shoot this chick in the face.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, “She’s not too far away, so I’m gonna go grab her and swing her by the apartment. I should be back by the time you finish your drink. Okay?”
“Want me to just come with you?”
“No, that’d be bad news. She’s kind of a bitch about me dating people.” Really? I hadn’t noticed.
Forty minutes later, I called him. No response. Rather than leaving a voicemail, I texted, “You almost back?”
Text a few minutes later: “So, [Not-Girlfriend] and my friend are fucking liars. She’s fine. They lured to me to the bar for a preemptive promotion celebration. I just took a shot of Fireball, so I’m not gonna make it back.”
And that was the last time I talked to Dave.
Three weeks later, I was on facebook. After the bar incident, I had had a moment’s pause about keeping Dave as a friend on the site. However, I decided that deleting him wasn’t worth the five seconds of effort, and he could just float aimlessly among the other four hundred people with whom I never speak but who are also apparently, inexplicably still “friends.”
I’m sure you never saw this coming, but that was a bad decision.
He was online, and I noticed his main photo had changed. Not quite able to discern what it was through the thumbnail, I went to his profile, wondering what had ended up happening to him in light of the job dilemma. The photo was he and a girl, smiling on a beach. Thinking he’d probably ended up moving northwest (you know, oceans, beach), I scrolled down his page.
He was still in Denver. With this girl. Always. Everywhere. The petting zoo. Some park. Downtown. In the car.
“But what about the beach? That doesn’t make sense in Colorado!” (Yes, that’s you. You’re asking that.)
Well, it turns out that was from their week-long vacation to San Diego!
…I didn’t know what I felt. I pondered and yet didn’t want to ponder. I didn’t know if I was hurt, or angry, or relieved, or – Option D – all of the above. Honestly, his prickishness had originally seemed mildly excusable, or at least human, given the context of him thinking he was moving. But he hadn’t. And, from the looks of things, wasn’t. …Did it matter? Of course it did.
As fast as I could, I unfriended him and deleted his number from my phone. Goodbye, forever.
To top things off, a friend of mine – one who apparently has a knack for asking paranoia-inducing questions – immediately asked once I told her the story, “Do you think he was seeing her the whole time?”
All of a sudden, I saw the whole six weeks through a totally different lens. “Fuuuuuuuuuck,” I groaned. “Probably. At least for part of it.” The iffy plans, the suddenly leaving the bar, the “I don’t know” in response to my question about seeing other people. Here I had been, trying to play fair, trying to be honest, and having absolutely no clue that the weekly forecast was “sunny with a 70% chance of fucking someone else.” Fuck. My. Life.
…It took weeks to get over. Weeks. All of which resulted in a number of fleeting resolutions about what, exactly, I could do to never have this happen again. I resolved to never bring up ‘not seeing other people’ to anyone I dated, ever. Let the guy do it (’cause fuck ’em, that’s why). Then, resolving that that was a bad resolution (uh, hello, self-respect), I resolved to not pursue that route. I then changed my mind again and resolved to not make any resolutions. None of these efforts, though, changed the fact that my sense of trust had been slow-motion bulldozed. Again and again in my mind I thought of different scenarios, different dates, different statements – what the hell had really been going on?
Ultimately, my primary dilemma was this: despite generally priding myself on a pretty well-tuned bullshit meter, I wondered whether I had been naive. Whether there were signs that I chose not to see simply because they weren’t congruent with what I wanted to see. Whether my interest in this guy had been catalyzed by his interest in me. And, being the responsibility-oriented individual that I am, I sought to isolate and identify my shortcomings in the overall scenario. Rampant insecurity and the gaudy specter of personal failure were boxing self-worth, and they were about to TKO the fuck out of it at any moment. Had I somehow subconsciously screwed the pooch on this ordeal? Then, inexplicably and unexpectedly, in the eleventh hour of self-esteem, the puzzle fit together:
No. I hadn’t.
You see, I frequently find in life that those who are able to absolve themselves of any guilt or accountability are usually just overtly narcissistic in turbulent environments. Most of the time there is something we could have said or done a little better. However, this was one of those times where there wasn’t. I mean, lesson learned: be a little careful on blindly trusting people. But, ultimately, I didn’t put myself in any sort of situation that was illogical or ignorant. I was fair. I was forthright. And I had the reasonable expectation that, just like in kindergarten playtime when everyone shares the pattern blocks, someone would treat me with that same sincerity – an expectation that I feel is all the more sane given the fact that it was a dating relationship. …Isn’t that kind of what those things are about? You know, that whole “finding someone you like and trust” bit? This was one of the few, memorable times in my life when I could go, “I did everything just fine. There was nothing I could have done. I have complete absolution.” Or, more colloquially, shit happens when you party naked. Amen.
I remembered Dave a few days ago, when a friend of mine told me a story that wasn’t too dissimilar from this one. Only hers was shorter, more brutish, and exponentially more cruel. And she, like myself, felt victimized after attempting to be an honest, candid person in the dating universe.
So, here’s the deal:
Dating is hard. Everyone loves to say, “When you meet the right person, it will be easy.” (To which I usually mentally respond, “No shit, Sherlock. It’s that whole ‘meeting the right person’ bit that’s the difficult part. No one’s bitching about being in mutual love here.”) But, put simply, it sucks to get hurt. It sucks to be blown off. It sucks to be Girl or Guy #2. Or three, or four, or have no earthly idea. It sucks to wonder what someone liked about you, then – before you know it – wonder what they didn’t like about you that apparently outweighed the former. It eats at you like you’re a buffet line, just waiting to be picked apart and judged (“the Kung Pao chicken was fantastic, but I think the egg rolls made me sick”). And then it comes back for seconds, as if the first go-round weren’t masochistically satiating enough. It can be a god-awful, self-doubt-inducing tribulation, and it fucking sucks.
But you know what sucks more?
Living life bogged with the ever-present expectation of being surrounded by turpitude. Or being scared to ask honestly about something due to a fear of your inquiry affecting the outcome of the question. Or wondering if you did something wrong in being sincere or, well, simply you. (“Do you, boo-boo.”) Even worse is having a relationship that’s a constant masquerade of self-filtration and censorship: “What if so-and-so doesn’t like me if I do this?” I mean, at least Jesus eventually died on the cross. He didn’t hang there and writhe for six months or a year or suffer through two years of impotent, lackluster engagement before succumbing to a lifetime of three-quarter personalities and obligatory Wednesday night dinners. And that’s just it: sometimes, as ludicrous as it seems, when we get upset about something so intimate, so connected to our world view of who and how we should be, not working out, we crucify ourselves. We drive the nails through our own palms, amplifying every neuron signal to the brain: this hurts.
But you know what we forget? That it’s not real. It’s psychosomatic. There are no nails. Your hands are fine. It’s not real, and they’re not there. Get up, kid. You can walk. And you’re at bat.
…It took a while to really resolve, but, in the end, I’ve firmly decided that I refuse to live with an ubiquitous terror of psychological flesh wounds, and I believe fiercely in that resolution. It can be hard to do when you’re so accustomed to fearing them. And, yes, that opens me up to the possibility that something along these lines might happen again. But, let’s face it, shitty stuff happens all the time. And we live. When all pits against all, I’ve decided it would be a greater defeat for me to allow something that was or could be potentially painful to influence my potential for happiness – because, as we all know, that’s how the terrorists win, bro.
And as for Dave? I believe it was the great, actually epic (you see, that’s how you use that word) Odysseus who originally said, upon returning home two decades later to his former comrades, only to find his dog mistreated and his woman pursued, “Fuck ’em. Just – fuck ’em.” And then he kicked ass and took names.