Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Sliver of Romance

I don’t know what I expected to happen. After all, I’d moved to a temporary apartment in Queens in anticipation of possibly leaving New York. But that August day I moved in, by some strange twist of fate, I became the most popular girl in school.

Starting that night, the night of the day I moved into my new apartment, I began collecting new Facebook friends, cell phone numbers, text messages and dinner invitations like every night was my last night on earth.

Had moving to Astoria somehow hit the reset button on my New York City experience, reinvigorating a confidence, attractiveness, and sex appeal that had been dormant for over two years before?

It helped that I had new places to hang out, populated by gregarious guys ten years my junior who mistook me for their age. If they ever found out I wasn’t, it usually didn’t matter (though I did field some strange, backhanded compliments like “Wow, you’re the most gorgeous older woman I’ve ever met,” other observations like “Wow you’re the oldest woman I’ve ever kissed,” and oddball questions like “So what was the world like when I still had a tail?”). Unlike all the guys before who took my number and never used it, they texted me later that night, the next morning, and for weeks later. They left missed calls on my phone, even after failed dates with no love connection. And instead of asking me to go home with them, they declared, “I would love to take you out some time.”

Jackpot.

Inevitably, though, the conversation would turn to my career and my job search, and I’d mention having just returned from LA, or having just booked another trip there. Their faces would fall, and they would ask, “You leavin’ me?”

“Sorry, I need to go where the job is…”

But that didn’t stop me from pursuing them, or more importantly, letting them pursue me. “I’ve earned it…” I would tell my friends, noting my tremendous weight loss, numerous heartbreaks, and years of celibacy. I seized the dates, trying to forget those I’d lost, who never returned my text messages or calls. But no one person really stood out. When one date turned ever so slightly apathetic, I dove back into my pool of candidates, fished back into my cell phone for another number of a suitor whose name had not been programmed in, but whose identity I had to try to memorize based on the context of his message.

Unfortunately, they all read like some Mad Lib for the Gentleman Caller: “Hi, it was great to meet you last night at __________. I would like to take you out for _________ at ____________ sometime this _____________.” And they rarely included their names.

My time in New York seemed to be urgently ticking away, but it was less about the job prospects I’d had out of town and more about the lack of job prospects anywhere. I was convinced I’d have to move back to Syracuse into Mike and Maria’s attic, or pick any small town with a low cost of living and get a job at Old Navy or Target – places that refused to hire me in Queens. And despite knowing that my residency in New York was very much temporary – or maybe because of it – I replied to every message, went on every date, and drank every drink.

I didn’t think anything serious would ever come of it. I mean, it never had before. Why would it start now?

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t or shouldn’t go to dinner. After all, girl’s gotta eat.

In the third week of November, I spotted a tall, serious-looking guy across the room at a party and grabbed my friend Michelle to ask, “Who. Is. That?”

“Oh yeah, that’s my friend’s ex-boyfriend but they’re just friends now. Do you want me to introduce you?”

“Are you sure they’re not dating?”

“Oh no, they’re totally just friends now.”

“Gimme a minute. I’ll let you know.”

I then made a beeline over to him, introducing myself, flirting, joking, and bouncing around a scatter of topics that ranged from bourbon to architecture to pizza. We went out a couple of times over the next month, each date making my heart pound harder and head spin faster. He was busier at work than most of the other guys, and not as effusive, but I was pretty sure he felt the same way about me, even though we only got to see each other every few weeks. And I could live with that, because I didn’t really want to date anybody else. I’d kissed all the frogs a person could possibly withstand.

And then, a month later, right before Christmas, I received a job offer in LA. It made me recall dating my first boyfriend (and pretty much my only one ever), who I met about six weeks before flying to London for a study abroad program, and how we spent nearly every night together to maximize our precious time together. I was anxious to tell my new guy about the offer, and desperate to tell him in person rather than in an abbreviated written message, but he couldn’t fit another date in before I left for Christmas in Syracuse. So while I negotiated and counter-offered, I agonized. I didn’t want to stay in New York for a relationship – and financially I couldn’t afford to – but I didn’t want to cut our time short, either.

Because of the holiday, negotiations took a couple of weeks, but right after New Year’s – a New Year’s Eve spent apart, bafflingly and heartbreakingly to me – I was finally ready to accept the job offer, and I still hadn’t told him what was going on. I fired off a text message, and received a much-anticipated, nearly-immediate reply: “Will I get to see you before you leave?”

“I hope so.”

I don’t know what I expected. We went out again, resulting in more spinning and swooning. I confessed that I wanted to find a way to still see each other even after I left – not exclusively, and only as long as we were both available to do so – and he responded with an answer that surpassed my expectations: “I can’t make any promises, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

I didn’t have any right to ask for anything. But I couldn’t not say anything. I had to tell him. I had no choice.

In the days that followed, the silence was deafening. No morning after text message. No replies to my messages, save for a couple of terse responses like “Thank you” and “Can’t make it.” Two months after meeting a nice, smart, professional, handsome, age-appropriate guy who shared my interests and sent my heart aflutter, and less than two weeks before I was going out of town, I knew I’d lost him.

I waited an ample amount of time to be sure, but my time was running out, and I couldn’t let another guy fade away like that. I confronted him. He gave me reasons of work and time and needing to take care of himself and needing to not worry about making someone else happy. All these reasons I’m sure are true, though I would have loved to try to make him. Yet I cannot understand: what is the point of dumping me for those reasons when I’m moving out of town? With only a week left together, why couldn’t he just say a proper goodbye, leave me with a romantic wave from the train platform, and then let me go? I would think the leaving was enough reason for us to stop seeing each other, and if not a good enough reason, certainly a good enough excuse.

I was really dreading saying goodbye to him. And now it’s broken my heart to not say goodbye to him.

But what else did I expect?

I wanted any sliver of romance I could get, and I’m so grateful for what I did get. I blame my departure for creating a sense of urgency on my part which likely freaked him out and made him run away. But maybe my leaving only accelerated the inevitable departure from him in my life, the leaving I have been on the receiving end of so many times before.

I don’t blame him, but he will remain in my heart as the one that got away…

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