Stephen has been writing recently about the challenges of going 90 days without sex, which frankly, is not a problem that resonates with me at all. As I’ve joked (but seriously) a few times this week, “Three months is not a dry spell. It’s my life.”
For me, the purpose of doing this project was to work on why dating is so deeply unpleasant for me. I thought I made that clear with my concussion analogy, but for the most part, people who I talk to are much more interested in the rules related to sex, kissing, whether eating dinner with someone is a date or not. Blah blah. I’m sticking to the “rules” but it’s not about testing willpower. The rules are designed to help me (to put it bluntly) figure out what the eff is wrong.
To illustrate this point, I will share that I almost broke the rules this week. I got extremely drunk and did the following: 1) Held a guy’s hand 2) Sat very close to him with his arm around me for an extended period of time 3) Told him I thought we could probably sleep in the same bed and cuddle without making out (until thank god I came to my senses and took myself home.)
But more importantly than all this, is that when this person told me - in the middle of a bar – that he had feelings for me, I immediately started crying and told him he was going to break my heart. Yes, folks. Let’s all sit on that for a moment. Someone (who I frankly don’t even know at that well) told me he liked me. I instantaneously began crying. I might even have said, “you’re going to destroy me.”
However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I just completed six weeks of being alcohol-free and one of the things I realized is that the truth does not actually come out in drunk. The crazy, intense, undiluted feelings that come out in drunk are beastly distortions of truth. Even if they’re rooted in something, they were probably buried very deep because they’re not useful or relevant. As I was wiping my eyes in embarrassment and saying, “I can’t believe this is happening” I was actually able to recognize that the very potent pain I felt was too strong to be real.
I know this because in my less completely trashed moments, our our experiment is helping me to normalize this dating nonsense and I’ve actually been covering a lot ground.
Last weekend I went to Treasure Island Music Festival with a good friend of mine from NYC, my roommate and a whole host of other people we encountered along the way. I didn’t want to go at all though, because last year at Treasure Island I fell for my now ex-boyfriend and I literally thought if I had to go back, I would just cry the whole time. (After we ended our very brief and ultimately insignificant “relationship” I cried pretty steadily for about six months.) But I forced myself to buck up, mostly because the idea of telling my friend from NYC not visit me because I was still moping about a guy who never gave half a shit about me seemed ridiculous.
Speaking of him not giving a shit about me…while most of my friends were very supportive during my six-month weeping streak, they did try pretty hard to remind me that I hadn’t been the slightest bit happy while dating this dude. The conclusion we all settled on was, “you just liked the idea of him.” It’s a logical statement, but not a very satisfying one. It feeds into other mortifying rationalizations, such as “you were just disappointed because you’re 30 and you really, really felt like you needed a boyfriend.” Gag.
Unflattering or not, I needed those rationalizations to quell the voice in my head insisting, “If I’d actually had real feelings for him, it would have worked out!” I was battling those very voices on Saturday at the festival when I got a text from a friend saying, “You can meet up with us, but just wanted you to know that [EXBOYF] is here, too.
Mild anxiety ensued. When I tried to break up with this dude, he totally hijacked my breakup and told me it was because I had “too big a personality.” It was not really a happy thing to hear. So, at Treasure Island, I was blathering about how we couldn’t go over to see my friend because I’d be consumed with paranoia about my “too big personality” thus paralyzed and unable to function.
My roommate said, “well, we don’t have to go.” But my friend from NYC, who has known me since I was 12, said, “You can’t worry about that. You do have a big personality. And I love it.”
Plenty of people have said similar things to me when I tell them the story, but for some reason, this time was different. Maybe because I realized that I had this amazing friend who had stuck with me since I was 12 and that my big personality had something to do with it. A sad reality of life is that you can’t win ‘em all, but if you’re lucky like I am, you can win some really awesome people. If you’re even luckier, you won a few of them by being 100% yourself.
So we went over. Since [EXBOYF] and I were not on speaking terms, I didn’t say hello to him and he immediately walked away to the bathroom and never came back. The friend group, who obviously would prefer things were not this way, urged me to send a text message. “Just write, ‘Don’t want things to be awkward’ or ‘things don’t need to be awkward,’” they advised.
It didn’t feel right. Avoiding pronouns is a trick PR people use when writing emails. And it was something I’d done the whole time I was dating [EXBOYF] because I always felt I needed to hide as much of myself as possible.
Instead I wrote, “I’m sorry I was/am awkward. I think we can all hang out together and have fun.” He never wrote back, but two hours later he reunited with the group. He looked at me and said, “Hey, it’s cool.” Then we hugged and had nearly 70 seconds of civilized conversation as we walked towards the stage for the next act.
As we strayed away from each other, I quickly realized two things. 1) Sometimes 70 seconds is a massive achievement. 2) I still had all my very real feelings for him. It was not that I liked the idea of him. It was not that I was sad to turn 30. It was that he, like the handful of others in my life who have really mattered, makes the whole Universe stop, crackle and pop when I see him.
Then, I came to a third, important realization, which was that we should not try to have any more conversations. As the music started I began to jump up and down but almost stopped myself with the thought, “he’s going to see how big your personality is.” Then my friend’s words echoed in my head. “You do have a big personality. And I love it.” As I bounced into the air, it occurred to me, “I kind of love my big personality, too. And even though I clearly care a lot about this guy, I could never get rid of it to be with him.”
I spent the rest of the night dancing quite a bit but also processing how strong my feelings still were. The difference was that unlike during those six months when I processed so hard I completely stopped sleeping, it didn’t hurt. Rather, it was a huge, magnificent relief. With the help of a lot of substances, I ultimately told myself, “It is amazing and special that you can see a person’s face and feel like an earthquake happened. It is amazing and special that you can care that much. But neither of those guarantee or even mildly indicate a happy ending. And I’m ok with both of those things: the feelings and the associated disappointment. It’s not a failure, just a different outcome.”
Fast forward to the next night at Treasure Island when my iPhone, an object I have repeatedly referred to as the love of my life (and not one that I thought would ever disappointment me) got stolen. Nothing on it – phone numbers, pictures, etc was backed up. It’s not even a good use of my time or yours to describe how upset I was. You live in 2013. You get it.
The next morning, when I miraculously woke up thanks to my friend’s alarm clock, I had an email from Find My iPhone telling me that my phone had been found a few blocks from my house. When I googled the address, my heart started to feel a little funny. I clicked to get a Google street view and my suspicions were confirmed. My phone was allegedly at [EXBOYF]’s house. Because I never actually memorized his address, I took a walk hoping it would be the house next to him.
Alas, I arrived at my destination on that gray and foggy Monday morning and I discovered that the address in the email was, indeed, his. Of all the great times I’ve felt that the Universe was mocking me, this one was way up there. I knew that my phone was not actually at his house. I just happened to be there when I downloaded the Find My iPhone app eight months ago and obviously something went wrong. I walked away slowly, feeling unexpectedly lighthearted. Maybe the Universe wasn’t laughing at me. Maybe it was giving me a clear invitation to close a chapter.
In a weird way, the realizations I’d made about [EXBOYF] on Saturday night totally helped me to cope with losing my iPhone. There was no way to deny that I, more so than many people, had been very, very, very, very attached to my phone. There was also no way to get it back.
Now, I hate losing things or breaking things. I cried for over a week in 2009 when I spilled water on my iPod nano (and proceeded to bake and melt it in the oven. Long story.) So of course I started to rant and rage in my head that going to the music festival was not worth the tragic loss of my phone, but it didn’t sound right. So, unlike in 2009, I very quickly snapped myself out of it. This time around, I willing to accept that I was never entitled to have it forever. Not the hardware. Not the case. Not even the pictures. And just because I was profoundly attached to it doesn’t mean I couldn’t live without it.
I had to admit that the things I lost at Treasure Island last year and this year were both worth the experience, no matter how much discomfort ensued. I’m not sure if I would have been able to absorb that truth if a strange little software bug hadn’t geo-located both my heartbreaks at the same house.
And as for my recent little tearful outburst, there’s a reason we opted for three months of not dating instead of 40 days. For an overthinker like me, it’s going to take time to work though just how insane, unpredictable and unavoidable love is. And it’s going to take time to forge a path forward that is fearless but not terror-inducing.
So for now, I’m borrowing someone else’s old, cracked iPhone and thinking carefully about my next step. I’ve been checking out the Verizon website. I’m polling my friends. I’m doing my research and thinking hard about my individual user experience. It seems very possible that there’s an upgrade in my future, but I’m kind of thrilled that I don’t have to order it right away.