Towards mid-November, I pondered when I would need to commit to this girl I was dating and delete the apps. The always-helpful commenters, of course, weighed in on my rhetorical musing, but two of the top responses struck me as being both poignant and likely prescient. The top comment read: “You know what the answer is. Don’t fuck this up Josh.” The very next comment, in response, said “Spoiler Alert: he’s gonna fuck this up.” Welp, good job, commenters. You’re apparently all wise, clairvoyant, mystics.
For a bit of extra background, Jennie and I had been going strong for two and a half months up until last weekend. She’s a fun, carefree, energetic lady with a vibrant social life and a carefully-crafted aesthetic. Basically, in every measure possible she is my antithesis, which is perhaps the greatest compliment I could levy on her. I said it back in November and I still say it now, Jennie is fantastic. I 100% outkicked my coverage with her. It’s always a blast being with her. There’s nothing causing my trepidation other than the fact that, well, I don’t have that immediate rush I’ve felt with girls in the past.
Which brings me to Sunday morning. After our first drunken fight finally resolved in the wee hours of the morning, I went to sleep believing that I handled everything perfectly. Well, everything except for the casual “I love you” she drunkenly slurred towards the end of the fight. And the fact that I didn’t exactly say that back.
The big reason I didn’t respond that back was that trepidation I mentioned. I don’t believe that those three words should be said unless you’re absolutely sure, and I wasn’t. At the time I was also tired, cranky, and yes, drunk. So I remained silent, hoping she wouldn’t circle around to it. Yet the next morning, as I awoke to a pounding headache and sunlight that seemed way brighter than usual, she was sitting up glaring at me.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “I tell you I love you and you just say nothing? I mean, you met all my friends and co-workers. You wanted to take me to meet your friends. Just last week you were saying you wanted us to be exclusive but now it’s like you’re backtracking.”
Now, anyone who knows me well is acutely aware that, though I can be quite charming and articulate in writing, in person I basically have Tourettes of awkwardness. I’m quite prone to misspeaking or having the words come out sounding very different than the thoughts I was trying to convey. So when I had brought up the idea of exclusivity one week earlier I likely came off as asking her to get more serious, rather than me trying to see where her thoughts and feelings were. I wanted to know how long I had to figure my stupid thoughts out. Now she was going to put me on the spot for my mishandling of the DTR conversation. As the perpetually unclutch, inarticulate, monkey that I am, I proceeded to say the worst thing possible.
“I don’t know how I feel about you.”
I said these words with a tone of shame, but also trying to be honest. In hindsight, I don’t know why I expected her to respond with anything other than anger. Completely justifiable anger at a guy who made it seem like he was very much interested in her, but had pulled a 180 to say, not even that he didn’t like her or had stopped liking her, but didn’t even know if he had ever liked her.
She told me she felt emotionally manipulated, that I betrayed her trust, that I was stringing her along in the cruelest, sociopathic way. Every word stung me, harder than I think she even knows. I’ve been on her side of the conversation having another person yank an emotional connection out from under you. I thought back to the girl who crushed me, and how I would have wanted for her to treat me. How I should proceed to explain this all to Jennie down gently.
After much thought, I stupidly doubled down and stuck a hand grenade into this clusterfuck of a conversation.
“Maybe we shouldn’t see each other any more.”
She started to cry. I have never in my life caused a girl to cry while we were both sober, and goddammit there is nothing in the world that will make you feel like trash more than seeing someone who cares about you cry because of something you did.
“Why don’t you like me? What did I do?” she asked through the sniffles.
I had no answer because I did like her and everything she did was wonderful. I still hadn’t been able to explain to myself a girl that I liked liking me back could cause so much confusion. It took a few minutes of half-hearted attempts to explain before she finally said something that pushed me to the crux of the concern.
“I can’t believe you would be the one to do this to me!? Why are you like this? Why are you acting like such a piece of shit? You’ve always just been so sweet and nice to me. That’s why I like you so much!”
“But is that enough?” I asked her. “Is it enough for you to be going out with just because I’m nice and sweet? Is it enough for us to just go out because we like each other? Aren’t we supposed to feel something…”
I didn’t finish because I didn’t want to sound like some hopeless romantic, sixteen-year-old girl who gets her entire perception on what a meaningful relationship is from One Tree Hill. But that was what it was.
I’ve never been in love, and when you’ve only seen it in its most overly romanticized way it can make you uneasy. Is that an unrealistic expectation? Or do normal people who are in love feel something that magical?
She reached out, fresh tears still on her cheeks, and squeezed my hand. “It doesn’t always have to be like that. Relationships don’t need to be about drama and romantic emotions all the time. You don’t need to try to be anything more than what you are. I just liked being around you.”
Let me tell you it might be the lowest I have ever felt in my life. This is coming from a guy who has made a fool of himself in front of countless women and generally expresses little compassion for others. I’d hurt someone, badly, and her only crime was liking me for me.
Somehow, my stupid little reptile brain hadn’t been able to realize that was enough. It wasn’t until I was sitting at my own home, alone, that I realized how big a mistake that I had made. In my rat-race dating life I had blown up my expectations into something so grandiose based on some fast-burning attractions I’d felt with girls in the past. The drama of the chase had stoked the fire of dating, convincing me that a relationship without that constant fear and passion wasn’t quite as real or meaningful.
But what I had with Jennie was maybe the most meaningful relationship I could ever imagine. It just worked. There wasn’t that trepidation and fear of “will she text me back” because she always had. There wasn’t that anxiousness to impress her because I impressed her by just being myself. But because it was so instantaneously comfortable, I had psyched myself out, convinced myself that something was wrong even though I knew nothing was wrong.
And so I sat there, for what seemed like hours, face in my hands. I had been so worried about how to not fuck it up with girls in the past. Now, I was with a girl so amazing that I could just be with her, with no fear or angst, and enjoy having found someone who just plain liked me. And, sure enough, that caused me to fuck it up. .