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Archive for July, 2010

Another Interlude

25 Jul

In the morning, I woke to a bitter and weepy voicemail accusing me of deliberate malice by timing. She had just begun her trip. Clearly, I had conspired to ruin it. I thought about calling back to ask her when the optimal dumping window would be, but instead I went home and updated my profile.

Updating your profile makes you think about yourself. Rather, it made me think about myself. And about dating in general. As I may have mentioned before (or maybe not, and I’m too lazy to look), intimacy in internet dating advances according to a standard progression. It goes like this: Email, more email, phone call (optional—some people prefer to skip straight to the next step), coffee date, real date, sex, relationship. Refusal to follow the steps virtually assures failure, and each of these steps presents acute vulnerability to disaster. “Coffee date” represents the crisis point of potential failure. It’s the moment of first impression, visual and otherwise.

So, here’s what I look like.

I claim to be five-eight, and that’s probably what I am. Consensus on this point does not exist. The most vocal dissenters tend to be girls who also claim that particular height. This is not to say that two people can’t be the same height, but a visible difference in height makes reconciliation difficult. Probably we could use a ruler to settle things. That might be a reason I don’t keep one in the house.

My head is big, bearded, and shaped kind of like an angry potato. Steady, cyclical deposits of beer and burgers have slowly, in geologic time, laid down strata over my torso. My body is the sort that used to be thin, probably sometime in the late Paleozoic. The brutal ravages of time have eroded the top of my head down to the wispy bedrock. Despite these deficiencies, I’m not bad to look at. Certainly no one that you would be embarrassed to be seen in public with. I mean, probably not. Like most things, it’s a matter of taste.

So, here are some women who never called me back after a coffee date.

Robin:

She was a pleasantly curvy librarian who’d agreed to meet me at Cup O’ Joe. I showed up early and ordered a mocha from the barista, a woman who turned out to be someone I’d known in college. I recognized her as soon as she opened the door. She wore a tight shirt with a clever graphic which drew attention to the fabric stretched taut over her boobs. She made eye contact, realized who I was, scanned the shop for someone, anyone else who could possibly be the person she was supposed to meet, and crossed her arms over her chest. With deep resignation apparent on her face, she walked over to say hi. I decided not to pay for her coffee and went to the bathroom to set an alarm on my phone for forty minutes.

Lynn:

Lynn showed up for our coffee date (Cup O’ Joe, natch) wearing something teetering on the business casual/business professional cusp. I’d dressed presentably, but more like someone who was going to a coffee shop. She was hot, Korean, nasally pierced, and in school to study something vaguely sciency that started with a P. I forget. She talked about herself for an hour, crossing and uncrossing her long, long legs, occasionally remembering that I was there for long enough to ask me a question. I mentioned my economic uncertainties. This is beyond doubt. The date seemed to go well, and in fact, she called me again later that day. The status of my employment came up again. Perhaps because we were on the phone, she heard me this time, and abruptly decided that we “weren’t right for each other.”

No, probably not.

 
 

Missy, part 5

18 Jul

Probably this is one of those things that make me look bad.

Unwisely, I’d taken her call, and Missy had been talking rapidly and at high volume for seven or eight minutes. Neal wore an expression of profound discomfort. The facial expressions for “I immediately need to find a toilet” and “I immediately need not to be listening to this conversation” bear marked similarities. He stood up.

“I’m getting a beer,” he said. “Do you want one?”

I wanted one. Also another one. And, I suspected, the one after that. We kept all the beer in the refrigerator, two convenient rooms away from me and the flood of recriminatory invective spewing from my phone. Neal fled to the kitchen, returned with a tallboy, and left again, closing the glass door behind him, leaving me alone with my phone. My active participation didn’t seem completely necessary, so I cracked open the tallboy and drank it.

She abruptly interrupted herself. “What’s that noise?”

“Nothing,” I said. “It must be some static.” Slurping sounds like static, sort of, except insofar as it sounds like slurping. She began to chew me out again and then stopped. She hung up. I sighed heavily and drank.

Sometimes, when someone says something terrible to you—like when someone dumps you unexpectedly—you don’t know what to say right away, but then something clever and crushing occurs to you later. Most of us decide that the moment’s over. Some people replay the incident obsessively, splicing in the frame where what they should have said is what they did say until the way they want to remember it is as real as the way they do remember it. Other people save the comeback, wrapping it carefully and storing it somewhere easily accessible, to be used when a similar situation recurs, as it almost certainly will.

Timing was nothing to Missy.

A few minutes later, let’s call it ten minutes, she called back. I answered the phone. She’d made me a nice birthday dinner, so I decided to let her say awful things to me for a few more minutes. I wanted to be sure I’d burned off that karma.

“All my friends said you weren’t good enough for me, and I defended you. I told them you were a writer. You don’t even have a job!”

Her account was accurate, and I told her so. She hung up. Another sigh, and my beer ran out. I crumpled the can and bounced it off the patio door. Neal opened it.

“Is everything all right?” he asked.

“Yeah. Can I have another beer?”

As it turned out, I could have another beer. I sat on the couch between Neal and his roommate. They finished up a grainy VHS of Tango & Cash and then switched to an even grainer copy of Alphaville. I drank more. Missy called back. I considered. The week before, she’d bought me concert tickets. I went back to the porch to answer the phone.

“I’m a catch. I’m hot! I can’t believe you’re dumping me. You’re making a mistake. You’ll never see me in my flight attendant’s uniform. That’s something men dream about!”

Less accurate than last time, but it was still roughly factual. I thought about her lips. I thought about her bookshelf. I thought about how I thought about anything else at all while I was with her. Out loud, I agreed with her again. She hung up.

Back inside, I collapsed bonelessly on the couch. The movie had already started. Whatever was happening on the screen was subtitled and incredibly French, but I had trouble focusing on more than that. Somehow I’d gone from sober to hung over without any interval of drunkenness.

Missy called again, and Neal looked at me. I decided that I didn’t owe her anything else that particular evening. I turned off the ringer.

 
 

Missy, part 4

10 Jul

Neal had a back porch, beer, and air conditioning, so I drove to his house rather than mine. I thought maybe it’d be better to have company while I waited to dump Missy.

Neal was a painter I’d met during one of my blips of employment. We’d been working in a meat grinder for the educated unemployed, grading standardized tests from high schoolers while weeping the bitterest of tears. Dozens, maybe hundreds of us spent eight hours a day in a long room lit with harsh fluorescents, clicking numbly through page after page of abject ignorance. Previously the building had been a grocery store, and my company was renting it. A few weeks later the company would lose the contract I worked on, and it would go out of business so hard that they (well, someone anyway) blasted the building into rubble. Neal noticed me after work one day and asked me to come out for a beer. We became friends.

Sometimes I sat with my computer at his apartment and wrote while he painted. Conveniently, I could piggyback on one of his neighbor’s wireless networks if I scrunched up close enough to his wall. Inconveniently, I couldn’t break into his neighbor’s house and reset the router when my laptop decided to be finicky, but it was better than being alone in my room.

I told Neal about Missy, and then I told him about Polly. I talked about Polly for a long time. He listened, and he laughed, and he drank cheap beer. He put a wire screen into a hollow tube that used to be part of a socket wrench and smoked pot out of it. It relaxed me to be around him. Missy planned to call me at eight. I told him that too. I wanted him to be there so that I wouldn’t chicken out and that I wouldn’t be on the phone too long.

Here is a rule of internet dumping: do not chicken out, and do not be on the phone too long.

Missy called.

I let her talk. Possibly that was a mistake, but there needs to be small talk. Etiquette demands it. She talked about Denver and whatever it was she did in Denver and whoever it was she did things in Denver with. Being a flight attendant sounded glamorous. Again, I wished I had a job. She started to make plans for when she returned. These plans included me.

“Um, yeah, Missy, about that. I’m up for hanging out when you get back, but I don’t think that we should date. I don’t think it’s working out.” Because you have thin lips. Because you kind of bore me. Because I don’t like any of your friends. Reasons for not wanting to date are irrelevant, and it is a mistake to mention them. Reductively, they are the same. Because I don’t want to.

She stopped talking, and a long and stunned silence followed. I cleared my throat.

“So, um. How is Denver otherwise?” Post breakup, etiquette does not demand small talk. I should have hung up the phone. She struggled with a half-answer and then hung up. I thought that was the end of it.

Twelve minutes later, she called back. I answered the phone.

Here is another rule of internet dumping: Do not answer the phone.

 
 

Missy, part 3

03 Jul

If you’ve seen someone shirtless, it’s bad form to break up via text message. Another rule of internet dating is that politeness makes you feel like less of a dick.

Possibly that’s why politeness was invented. So you can say terrible things to people and feel okay about it.

Missy’s flight had just landed somewhere . . . west. Denver, maybe. Already I couldn’t keep track. She’d texted me to tell me she’d landed safely. Of course I was pleased she was safe, although for a selfish reason. If she’d died in a plane crash while I was thinking about breaking up with her, I’d feel enormously guilty. I didn’t text back right away. Driving gave me plausible deniability.

Polly lived with her new husband in a fashionable suburb of Dayton–the one with the good schools, quaint shops and heavily patrolled streets. I’d spent money I didn’t have so I could visit her. Gas cost $4 a gallon, but I’d already decided to swipe food from my roommates that week. I hadn’t seen her since I left for Japan, but she’d invited me over for lunch that afternoon.

She lived in a generically pleasant two-story house. Despite its bedrooms and basement, it gave the impression of being a bungalow. She smiled when she saw me and gave me a tour of the house, airily sashaying through the rooms, bodily communicating intense self-satisfaction. Her daughter was off at school. She wore something new and quietly fashionable. My clothes looked the same way they did the last time I’d seen her. At least I’d lost weight. Economic pressure to ride a bike and buy less food does have limited and horrible advantages.

She introduced me to her husband, a bland and bewildered man with acres of bare scalp beneath a central strip of long, thin hair, sort of an inverted comb-over. I hated him instantly. He was home for lunch. He left again for work, and I hung around for maybe twenty minutes more, nominally talking to Polly but really coveting her legs, her lips, and the life she’d suddenly built without me. She’d pressured her husband to propose after they’d known each other for five months, they’d bought a house together at nine, and they were on their honeymoon just after a year of acquaintanceship. While I was gone, she’d bought the Ikea “suburban bliss” flat pack and assembled it. Unaccountably, I felt abandoned, even though I was the one who’d gone to Asia rather than marry this woman. I believed she was living the life I deserved.

Here is another rule. It’s more of a general rule than a dating one, but I’ll share it with you anyway. Never hope to get what you deserve. Probably, what you think you deserve and what you actually deserve are grotesquely dissimilar.

She made lunch for us. I left soon after. Polly kissed me goodbye. We stood behind her front door, using it to block the neighbors’ view. We kissed a lingering kiss that was thirty seconds and a flick of the tongue too long to be chaste or friendly or nostalgic. She pushed me out onto her front porch and closed the door. Later she’d tell me that her husband refused to sleep with her once they’d bought the house together, and so she went months at a time without sex. Later than that I would learn that, like me, she was unable to let go of things and especially people she’d decided were hers. Even later, I would learn that she used truth creatively, constructing something that no longer resembled itself and instead resembled her. Most people are able to fabricate the truth. It’s called lying, and it’s easy. She was able to fabricate sincerity. I don’t know what that’s called.

I drove to the nearest gas station to fill up. My phone buzzed in my pocket and would continue to do so for the hour drive back to Columbus. The messages themselves were irrelevant. Each time it was Missy, wordlessly reminding me that she wanted to be with me. I didn’t answer. I used the time alone to decide how we were going to break up.