Sometimes I regret dating the boys I’ve dated. I imagine that if I could have swung forward into my future and seen myself with Bear, I would have made different choices. I wouldn’t have wasted my time. That’s the thing about the future, of course– It’s always so frustratingly mysterious.
It’s actually really hard to write about the future, because I think like five million people are also writing about it at the same time, and I’d have to think a lot more to come up with an original description.
The future is like that dough that you have to freeze overnight, except you can’t ever finish making the cookies. You just keep adding ingredients, hoping they’ll come out even more delicious. Sorry. That was the best I could do on short notice. Now I’m embarrassed.
One of my biggest regrets about the boys I dated is attraction. I wasn’t that attracted to most of them.
I get the sense that it’s uncool or uninformed or immature to emphasize attraction. You learn to love. You grow together. You are similar people, with similar interests. You both really enjoy badminton (is that really the spelling? Weird).
No. I’m sorry. I want to want to rip his clothes off.
Which is not to say that I don’t want to learn and grow and badminton together (shuttlecock! Haha!!). But if the bit about the ripping off of the clothes isn’t in place, then never mind.
I have a history of dating guys because I wanted to have a boyfriend. Not because I wanted to have that particular boyfriend. I have a long history of allowing people who really, really wanted to be with me to do just that. Because why not?
The why not ended up involving a lot of my time and energy.
When I started grad school, I ran into a guy on 116th street, in front of Columbia’s gates. It felt portentous (or whatever the word is that means that with more positive connotations). We had this great story: I’d met him in undergrad, when I’d taken my first academic class and he’d been the smartest, most interesting person in that class. I was too shy to talk to him. He had a fascinating accent. He got highest honors on his undergrad thesis, the first person in recent departmental history to do that. When I got highest honors on my thesis, I felt like I was following in his footsteps. And also like I was super cool. And then we both ended up in NYC, and he recognized me on the street. Come on. Amazing.
Except that I did not want to date him. I wanted to sit with him for hours in the park and debate gender and Zizek and the concept of epistemic shift. I wanted to hear him tell the incredible story of how his grandfather saved money and taught him English as he was learning to speak, in Puerto Rico, so that he could go to college in the states one day (as though that was his destiny). He was way ahead of his classmates and they made fun of him. Sometimes he had to fight, in the school yard. But he made it– he had published ten papers already. He chaired clubs, he organized events, he invited famous scholars to come have lunch with him.
When he invited me to come have lunch with him, I was flattered. But after we’d had lunch enough times, he asked me, very politely and a little formally, if I’d like to be his girlfriend. And automatically, I said yes. I thought, “Oh no. This means we have to kiss.” That is really what I thought.
We did have to kiss. Except we didn’t. I could have said, “Oh god, I’m so flattered, but I’m not really interested in dating right now.” I don’t know. I don’t know how those speeches are supposed to work. I’m sure I could’ve gotten the point across somehow.
But instead, because I was awkward and because I thought I probably should, anyway, and because I was lonely all by myself in this new city, I said yes, and then I dated him for months and months and months and months. And it was very difficult, because I had to keep trying to convince myself that this was love.
Which is an enormous task sometimes, when it happens to not be love. Except I didn’t really know the difference. And I wanted it to be love, so that life would be simpler. And yet no matter what, I didn’t want him.
My friends and I sit around sometimes and talk about attraction. What is the deal with it? Seriously, What is the deal? It’s like a ninja. It just sneaks around on perfectly silent feet, wearing a full-face mask, able to take you down without any warning, using only its hands. And maybe a foot or two. You want it to come sit on the couch, but it’s hanging from the rafters, taunting you. You don’t have any interest in it and it ambushes you.
I’ve worked really hard at manufacturing attraction, and I’ve always failed. I can keep things going for a while. I can develop plenty of genuine affection. I can get along. And it’s never enough. Because then I either meet someone else, who looks a lot more interesting, or things collapse spectacularly, randomly, while eating breakfast on a Tuesday, just because they were never stable to begin with. My grad school boyfriend hasn’t spoken to me in two years. I think there’s a chance he hates me passionately. I liked being friends with him. It feels like a waste.
I don’t want to regret my past. I want to learn all these powerful, meaningful life lessons from it.
But sometimes, by accident, I imagine myself back then, peaking into the future and thinking, “Oh! That’s what that’s supposed to feel like!” And then getting up, walking out the door, and doing something else. Writing a book instead. Taking another class, just because I want to.
Being in a relationship takes a lot of energy, after all. Energy that may, in the end, be better spent on badminton.
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Un-roast: Today I love standing with my feet firmly planted. I feel oddly strong when I do that, sometimes.