First published, in abbreviated form, in PQMonthly.
This is how it happens, and in retrospect it couldn’t happen any other way. You look at the dating app Scruff one day, having been single for three years, single at 41. All of these faces scrolling by. Some familiar ones occasionally post new photos, where maybe they have a little more grey, or they’ve lost or gained weight. Maybe they look a little more tired from the search, a little more cynical. Maybe they’re almost ready to press “delete” and just leave meeting people to fate and natural circumstances. Their faces say they’re ready to just trash every dating app and get on with living life, spending more time with their friends, creating more art. Maybe their weary faces say they’re a little scared that they’ve already experienced all the love they’re ever going to.
Or maybe that’s just me, you think. You open up a dating app, yeah that one, see a handsome bearded face. He has a boyfriend, because of course he does, and they’re exclusive. You chat a bit, and he won’t even flirt with you because he’s taken. He makes an impression on you but the conversation fades away after a few days.
All of a sudden, months later, he finds you again on the app, and the two of you start chatting. He’s single now, and the connection is fun and flirty, like the maxi-dresses that the department store advertises to you in emails ever since you bought those sunglasses from their “women’s sunwear” section. He’s far away, and much younger than you (it might be possible to use beard length and body fat percentile to carbon-date gay men), and you haven’t exactly had a stellar track record with the combination of those two things. In fact, the opposite: you’ve gotten to the point where you finally heeded your friends’ and family’s advice and sworn off courting guys more than, say, 1,000 miles away, and less than, say, 10,000 days old. But you’re determined to not be a cynic, not let precedent scare you away from something potentially good, so like a dog to its vomit, you return to your pattern.
You ask him on a FaceTime date, and the two of you eat Italian food and talk about your lives, and then watch a movie simultaneously. These are your ideas, because damnit you give good Long Distance. The movie idea is his though, it’s “What’s Up Doc?” with Barbara Streisand, which you haven’t seen before. After the date you talk for hours, almost fall asleep together. You talk about everything: how nobody who says Portland ever means “Portland, Maine”, how you have that recurring nightmare of a Voltron made of your ex-boyfriends.
The next day, you’re happy, optimistic, but there’s also a voice in the back of your head. It’s telling you to wave off, it’s telling you that this is eerily similar to something that happened before, a few years ago. This is the same voice that tells you to give up, this is the same voice that tells you to stop trying. This is even the voice in your head that sometimes raises bigger questions about singledom and predestiny, faith versus science, the sick role of entitlement in being single and lonely and whiney. You’ve known this voice most of your life, known it since childhood. You grew up together. You shake off the voice, you force its silence.
You go on another FaceTime date with him and then another. It’s bizarre and unexpected: suddenly there’s this beautiful, wonderful creature that wasn’t in your life before, who you didn’t know existed. You’re deeply infatuated but that voice keeps muttering dark things in between the folds of your brain. You take a deep breath one evening and invite him to Portland to visit. He says he’ll think about it. After the date ends you just sit there on your couch, let the voice wash over you, drown everything else out. It cackles gleefully and tells you that he’ll say no, it claps its hands and rocks back and says “I told you so”, it sets up a projector and plays a home movie of a particularly bad rejection from that similar situation three years prior. It howls with cruel laughter, this voice.
And then the miracle happens. He says yes, he’ll come and visit for a long weekend. We are surrounded by these little miracles every day, we just can’t recognize them anymore, we have forgotten their faces, we would not know miracles if they came up and bit us on the ass, and they do all the time, our asses are positively covered with the bite marks from miracles, our asses are bleeding, our asses are raw from the precious bites from the chattering smooth white teeth of miracles. The cynical voice murmurs an expletive, but it shuts the fuck up for a while.
Before you go to the airport to pick him up, you look in the mirror at your meticulously groomed hair, your carefully curated outfit, your artificially lowered expectations. “I hate myself!” you smilingly exclaim at the mirror, meaning it to sound funny and self-deprecating, but instead it echoes in your empty apartment. You realize that it maybe hits a little too close to home, sounds a little too similar to that dark voice in the back of your head. As you get your keys off the console you whisper a counter-spell to yourself, “Either way, you’re going to be okay, Mike.”
You spend the weekend getting under each others’ skin, getting to know each others’ loves and fears, holding each others’ hand in the car. When you kiss him it feels like it’s supposed to, it feels how you imagined it would feel when as a kid you made your GI Joe action figures make out with each other. Over the next few months, you celebrate those little victories: when you become exclusive, when the two of you make sure your future plans are aligned, when your ex texts to congratulate you and repeats (maybe one too many times) that you’re so much better in a relationship than single.
You fall deeper and deeper in love, and he does too. It becomes clear to people that you’re smitten. Some have warm reactions, some not so much (“Congratulations! I saw you now had a boyfriend so I cut off all social media ties and will act weird towards you in person”). You love him so much that you want to cut yourself open like a TaunTaun and insert him into you to keep him warm. You finally articulate the fear that after so long of being known for being single and miserable, you’re not sure what you’ll write about now. You say out loud the fear that you’re scared that the best creativity comes from pain, and you’re not in pain anymore. You state the fear that the fact that you never really learned to be completely happy by yourself, before you met him, feels like a failure.
But in the end, it’s fine. You’re fine. It doesn’t work, until suddenly it does. Even the low, doubting voice concedes defeat, raises a white flag.
Let’s see what’s next.
If you liked this, you’re possibly broken forever! Read about my drunken tips for decorating, or listen to the dreadful music I like, or even about my dumb thoughts on monogamy. Let’s be horrible people together!