I recently fooled myself into thinking I was going to a party "to catch up with friends," a bad habit that I thought I'd left in my 20s, along with midori sours and tight black pants.
When I was in college, the possibility of haphazardly running into him was easy to gage -- I practically lived with most hims in the area. That's not the case now. I'm 30. The only person I ever really run into is that weird guy who always does his laundry the same time I do.
I thought my "Sure, I'll go... will he be there?" habit was long gone. As it turns out, I haven't quite ditched it, much like those skin-tight black pants I have yet to throw out because some situations call for them... don't they?
I met him at my last assignment several months ago. He was smart and funny, but not the kind of guy many women would go for. He was short. Not in shape. And he had a gap between his side teeth that made him look like he was wearing a costume. But he was funny, which gave him character and made him seem less like a hobbit.
I was smitten.
My co-worker thought I had my work goggles on. She couldn't see it. "I don't understand it," she said.
"I'm smitten," I said.
When she rang me to say, "Everyone's going for drinks tonight -- you in?" I said yes and immediately straightened my hair. I was excited to hang out with her, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking, is he coming? I had no reason to think so; he hadn't initiated contact with me since I'd left. Sure, I emailed him several times, and he responded several times within minutes. But even that's not good enough for my 30-year-old, more mature self. If only he could arrive at this party and give me a chance to not speak to him, I thought. That would make me feel sooo much better.
Midori sour, please.
As I saw it, he and I had a budding relationship. Spotty text messages that almost gave me a sense of security. Occasional lunches I initiated, which led to an uneasiness and wandering into his office to give him the opportunity to initiate -- which he never did. Then I would cave. And then we'd go out again. And have a fantastic time. And then I'd be annoyed all over again.
We just needed more time. After all, love is always a game at first. Isn't it?
And so when he arrived, I did what any confident self-assured woman would do. I greeted him with a big smile and a big hug. And then I watched him walk away. Power.
I waited a bit, then I followed him to the bar -- but I didn't speak first. Power.
"I think I'm going to go," he said to me.
"Oh we should get together soon," I said quickly.
Damn it. Damn him.
I felt like I was back in college -- waiting for him to do what feels like less than nothing. I really needed to snap out of it. After the party, my co-worker and I debriefed over pizza.
"It's not you, it's him," she said. She's 25, open and kind. What did she know?
"Yeah. Blah. Why do I even like him?" I asked. "He's so weird."
"Because when you decide on the guy, that's the guy," she said definitively. "That's it."
My ears perked up. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Don't be so hard on yourself."
In that moment -- dare I say it -- I longed for my twenties. Everything was so simple then. Disastrous, but simple. I remember being so open, so carefree. I was never angry with myself then. Why was I angry now?
"You know," I began, "I was in a relationship with someone where I always felt second. I hate that feeling. And that is what this feels like. Chasing him everywhere."
She looked at me with an unreadable expression on her face. Relationships wear on you, I wanted to tell her. Especially the really bad ones. The ones where you try so hard for something that clearly isn't right, where you spend most of your time and energy on convincing yourself that if you only did, or he only did, that it would be right. It makes it so hard to be that open again.
And when you are open, even a little bit, it's hard to not think,shouldn't this guy be right?
"That's the worst," she said.
Yeah, I said, cringing at my last drop of sour. "It's like I need to be proven wrong. It's sick. I'm sick."
She handed me her cocktail. "But this isn't that," she said. "You already see it."
That night, I rushed home and immediately threw out those tight black pants -- they're really just a waste of space. But when it comes to love, maybe our closets aren't so easy to clean out. Maybe the older we get, the more pressure we put on ourselves to be right, when we know deep down that we are wrong. Because if there was one thing I learned in my twenties, it's that the people who actually want you around, want you around -- and you don't question it.
The next day, my old co-worker im'd me. "Ew he's so weird. Now he's totally all over the new girl."
"Really.." I typed back. "I'm so glad I'm over him."