“I’ll be the last to say, don’t follow your heart, but there’s more to what it takes to be a man.”
There were others before her, but she was the first. I found her on MySpace. She liked taking pictures; she was an early adopter of digital photography. Specialized in self-portraits- different angles, tight zoom.
You thought she was beautiful. A carbon copy of every girl-next-door you ever wanted in high school. This was your moment. You spent a year in the gym- miles on the treadmill, throwing around dumbbells- training for this like Rocky Balboa looking for a comeback. You had girlfriends before- but this was your moment; experience, swagger, and fitness- you finally felt like a complete package. If out-of-shape guys date average girls, then fit guys have their pick; it’s a logically valid equation.
She had done her part by having a kid. Something anyone could point to as making her accomplished enough– anything on top of that is a victory lap. No one would fault her for keeping things quiet- drinks on the weekends, maybe a date, vacation time over the summer. This is how she eased into her forties, and there was nothing terribly wrong with it- even if her only wish were to politely color within the lines and walk away with a terrifically neat and tidy picture of a life well lived.
First time I had dated someone so incredibly settled– she even had a house to go along with the kid. Only a few years older than me, but it felt like decades. With my baseball cap turned slightly askew, I still think I’m a twenty-five year-old rock star with a full road ahead of me. This is the fantasy you indulge in when you’ve never chosen a path- you pretend that you still have choices, and that you could be smug about those boring types with their suburban homes and vacation clubs.
“On Marty’s right was dear old Mom, who was once very attractive and bright. Now, at forty-seven, she was overweight, drank more than was good for her and had more food on her plate than anyone else.”
I wasn’t trying to have sex with Christine, but I wasn’t opposed to it. She was in town visiting from some far off country where she had gotten a job teaching English, picked up a relationship, burnt through it, and came back to her hometown to regroup before doing it all again. She’d come back home for gift cards and praise, for being courageous and a free spirit, to have a few parties in her honor- maybe hook up with some old flames- and leave before it starting feeling too familiar. I never left our hometown; I was neither courageous nor a free spirit.
We were the first generation to explore our late twenties as unmarried. As it turns out, this only extends adolescence, creates expectations that life won’t likely meet, and will give you a handful of addictions to grapple with for the next ten years. If you’re lucky, you’ll have your head screwed on by forty, and then spend the rest of your life playing catch-up like you’re running out of time on a level of Super Mario Brothers– the background music obnoxiously fast so you don’t forget.
Like getting a glimpse of a video game’s final bossbefore your own destruction, unless you’re a real stud, you never get much experience having threesomes. Those who romanticize it have either never done it, or done it so many times that listening to them in the first place would be like taking financial advice from a trust fund kid. It’s nice to be rich.
But outside of a resume piece that only comes up in the screening interviews you have with new women you’re trying to fuck, who’ll assume you’re lying anyway, or a sexual bucket list that you only understand as meaningless once it’s all checked off, threesomes are mostly silly.
This is the reality that every internet guru, selling you thousands of dollars of bullshit and filming those ridiculous looking three-way kisses at foam parties in Cancun, will gladly lie about.
Nothing ends well. I hate to be the one to tell you, but if you didn’t already know, romantic endings are for Hollywood. Real life is dull with a shit ending. I’ve never watched someone die, and my hands carry the softness of a man with intellectual savvy- I’ve never known hard labor, and this is something I appreciate. After I scrub diligently for twenty-seconds and dry thoroughly, I enjoy the soft touch of my fingertips on my reasonably ageless face. People are shocked that I’m forty- and with a baseball cap turned just slightly askew, I can still fuck reasonably young women.
But this isn’t going anywhere. The joke is that once you hammer out the formula, in your Henry Frankenstein fuck laboratory, you’re already halfway bored by the results. They say the journey is more satisfying than the destination, but once you slipped into the realm of hindsight, you wonder if that’s just another bit of Hollywood bullshit.
“If you’re gonna scream, scream with me. Moments like these never last.”
I ended up with the plaid button-down because I needed a nice shirt to go on dates– I was single again and recently set up a new OkCupid profile. I had found success on that platform in the past, although it felt like a thousand lifetimes ago when I was dating the daughter of a colleague in my English department while screwing her best friend on the side. All through the magic of online dating, but stay in a lecherous, testosterone sapping relationship long enough and all you’ve learned gets lost to time- too many diet Cokes in BPA laden plastic cups at Friday’s, too much time in front of network television, an unwilling prisoner of your girlfriend’s viewing habits. Why are women obsessed with TV? Modern relationships are inherently toxic.
Women like preppy men, a friends girlfriend had told me. Read their profiles and find something you have in common. “Mutual interests.” Perhaps our values will coalesce. Women in their thirties are different, she told me- you can’t talk to them like everything is just sex. They want a caring, intelligent man. They’re over their asshole phase.
Like buying bitcoin for pennies, the peak time to meet a girl on the internet came and went before you ever knew what you were losing. Before anyone would have thought to use a term like early adopter– a time so raw that it couldn’t have been confined to language. Before they called it the “wild west.” A time without shape or form.
Forget selfies, rewind past digital cameras- when scanners were still exotictechnology, the most pressing question after “ASL” became asking what she looked like. The description of her body would ignite the imagination. You’d never have guessed that this primitive fumbling would yield more honesty than digital pictures, twenty years later.
I knew I was in over my head when I heard Kristen’s voice. She spoke with the easy confidence of beauty. I always came out of left field. The outsider art of trying to get laid. A punchers chance, but give me enough time and I’ll land a clean left hook. There was a crazy charm to this and Kristen picked up on it. She didn’t know what to make of me, but she knew I was unlike anyone she’d ever met. I spoke with the easy confidence of insanity.
“Some wine, some wine, she’ll never decline some wine. She sees her ship is sinking so she’s drinking all the time.”
Thingsjust didn’t go as planned, she told me, her face stained with tears. I knew she was talking about me. She was naked and crying- something that would’ve turned me on, but I wanted to be there for her.
It just wasn’t in your cards, baby. I thought this was comforting. Confront reality like a stoic- always have a love of fate. The stars brought us together, baby. Your life crushed from divorce, my eternal adolescence- if that isn’t a love story, what is?
She swore she didn’t drink at work, but she called this her downward spiral, so I always wondered. She’d get nervous when it was closing time at the liquor store and she was running out of wine. By three in the morning, she’d tell me she loved me.
“We are the end of the world. Goodnight, farewell.”
She told me that she never likes the ones who call her pretty. A mistake made in earnest, a fleeting desire for something real- not playing teenage costume party with another aging woman over cheap drinks. When the fantasy is all that’s left, the impulse is to get lost in it. You want to forget that you’re an arm above the water and your legs are giving out.
You want this to be what it isn’t- it’s been too long, and you’re too far from the shore. You want to pretend that you’ve lucked out and the prom queen agreed to a Saturday night at the drive-in. That isn’t what this is, and you know it, but it’s more satisfying to spend time pretending rather than going through the motions where you say the right words at the right times like you’re punching in a Nintendo code, to skip to the end and pump rockets into Mother Brain.
When you’re gone, here’s a song, I’ll be thinking about you
I’ve never experienced anything more ethereal than when our eyes met before homeroom. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it hung in the air like an eternal sunrise. Nothing I’ve experienced since has matched this feeling- for only a moment, I stood before the face of God. Drug people lament the way it used to be, before things were cut with laxatives. The first semester at college, and you’re popping pills at a party- throbbing waves of intensity.
And you think you’ll take it with you, like you finally won the ring-toss at a carnival. This is your big pink elephant. You think it’s going to feel that way every time, but every time you go back, there are more pieces missing. The fifth time you’ve gone through the haunted house and the foam skeleton doesn’t have the same resonance. You become the old pothead, rolling your eyes at kids and their stoner stories.