Boy approaches Girl in a bar. Girl sizes up Boy and thinks "he's not cute." Boy asks Girl about Girl. Girl looks at him a bit more closely, thinks, "well, he's not not cute." Girl asks Boy about Boy. He's definitely not not cute. Twenty minutes pass and in the middle of getting-to-know-you conversation where there is a banter and wit and humor, she begins to notice the way his mouth curves up in a strange way when he smiles and finds herself suddenly, unexpectedly drawn to him.
"Well, my friends are leaving," Boy says.
"Oh, OK." Girl pauses for a minute, wondering if the Boy will ask for her number.
"See you later," says Boy.
"See you later," says Girl.
She heads back to the table where her friends are sitting.
"What happened?" asks Friend. "He was cute."
"I dunno, he left," Girl says.
A minute later, Boy reappears.
"Did you want my number?" he mumbles.
Girl panics inside. Is this how it works now? she wonders. Guys offer their number?
Boy painstakingly spells his name so it's entered in with the number perfectly. Girl quickly dials and says, "Well, now you have my number."
Boy exits stage left. Girl finishes her whiskey soda and heads home in a Lyft, asking her 22-year-old driver what he would do. Would he call? Would he want the girl to text?
"I'd let him text," the Lyft driver says.
"Is that what you would do?" Girl asks.
"I dunno. I'm bisexual."
When I met this particular guy in a bar -- let's call him Javier* -- I wasn't thinking too much of the situation, at first. Because you never do. These things have a way of creeping up on you, like your birthday or discovering your dishsoap is running low or finding new wrinkles next to your eyes. One minute, you're scanning a stranger's face trying to figure out if they're actually attractive and cross-analyzing that with information that will tell you whether or not they're normal (job? education? serial killer?), and the next thing you know, in the middle of all these mental acrobatics, you've found yourself suddenly aware there's a magnetic pull to the person you're talking to.
But then, the clock strikes 2, the interaction ends, and you wake up the next day with a new number in your phone and the sinking realization you'll never hear from this person again.
The thing is, in this particular situation, I wasn't, like, head over heels in love with Javier. It's just that I found myself three days later picking up my phone without a single message from him feeling a sudden sense of déjà vu and realized: I've been here before.
Maybe it's because my 37th birthday is looming and I'm feeling particularly melacholy entering another year single again, but for whatever reason, Javier's lack of contact was like how I can only imagine nearly being hit by a bus causes your entire life to flash before your eyes. Except in this case, it was my love life from the past 15 years replaying itself in warp speed in my mind.
I saw every interaction with every guy I'd ever had flash by. Every night in NYC, Boston, San Francisco, London, Miami, Madrid, Budapest, Buenos Aires and countless other places. Every bar, every house party, every event, every nightclub, every brunch, every dinner, every friend's birthday, every introduction. Every number given out. Every number received. Every date from OKCupid, Tinder, Hinge, eHarmony, Match, even "It's Just Lunch" which a friend had signed me up during a particularly dry and depressing spell in Boston. Every email, every message, every text, every wink, every drink, coffee, dinner, lunch. Every meet up, every flirtation, every hope dashed, as one prospect after the next faded into the recesses of memory and time.
When would it be my time? I sobbed to a friend. I've been proactive, positive, persistent, patient! I go out as much as I can! I say yes to things! I take classes! I try new things! I do the activities I love! I hike! I ski! I go to museums! I travel! I bake! I'm on online dating sites! I spend time with the people I love! I'm laidback and taking initiative! I'm focused on it, but not so focused on it that I'm obsessed! I know that happiness comes from within and I'm the only who can control it and I'm even happy despite these circumstances! But yet another guy has vanished into thin air! What! The! Fuck!
If there's anything I've learned in the last almost-37 years, unlike deciding to start your own company or run a marathon or write a novel, falling in love isn't something you can just set your mind to and cross off your list. Falling in love is based on a set of totally and completely arbitrary set of conditions that we can't control. It's a mystery—perhaps one of the only mysteries left.
We can be open, we can be charming, we can dress well and brush our teeth and keep our eyes peeled and say yes to people, places and things, but the great mystery of falling in love seems to be left, ultimately, to the hands of something or someone greater than ourselves.
I dried my tears and uncurled myself from fetal position and resumed, as best I could, my normal mode of happy existence. I made pumpkin spice cookies and read my book club book and went to swing dancing and work and the gym. I even met up with a Guy I Used To Date for lunch.
Over Filipino food in the Metréon I told the Guy I Used To Date about my encounter.
"He asked me if I wanted his number? Since when did the world implode on itself and this is a thing now? Is this a thing now?" I challenged him.
"He wanted to see if the lines of communication were open," the Guy I Used To Date offered. "Make sure you were interested."
"So was I supposed to text him?"
"I don't want to text him! I want him to want to text me! I want him to pursue me! Just a little. Just for the first date." I started crying into my adobo.
"Oh, no, no, no. I'm sure he's just waiting for the weekend. He'll want to know what you're doing, you'll hear from him," said the Guy I Used To Date. He smiled, and I was pretty sure I detected genuine pity, because he looked down at his meal and shook his head gently, then looked up. "Why wouldn't he?"
The weekend came and went. Nothing from Javier. I began to second guess myself all over again. Was I supposed to call him? Was he waiting to hear from me? Is this the way it worked now? But why wouldn't he just get in touch with me if he wanted to see me again? If he wasn't in touch with me, it could only because he had no interest in seeing me again, right? Or he was too cowardly to pick up his phone and fire off a text? And who wants to date a coward? But maybe he didn't think I'd be interested? What if he had a girlfriend? Or had just ended a relationship? Or had a crush on a girl who wasn't interested? What if he was just so drunk he didn't remember talking to me in the first place? But hello, how else could we see each other in the cold light of day and realize all of each other's insecurities and shortcomings and incompatibilities if we never saw each other again, anyway? How would we know we weren't even suited for each other in the first place?
I was surprised at myself. Usually, I survived all this stuff with a thick skin. I was usually the one coaching a friend with practical advice like "just chill, if he likes you, he'll be in touch. Don't stress it." I'd have some lame first Internet date and weather the disappointment with a shrug. "With the right person, it will be right," I'd cheerlead myself. "You can fall in love anytime, anyplace!"
But then, as I wrote mopey things in my journal expressing my disappointment, my pen got the better of me and I found myself writing — and I don't know where these words came from, because they wrote themselves down so quickly I surprised myself — that maybe I needed to stop being so passive.
I remembered, suddenly, two brief, fleeting connections I'd had in the past.
There was a hot Canadian guy I'd met at a bar on Halloween in NYC many years ago; he'd introduced himself to me and twirled me around the dancefloor. He was tall, Native American, and worked at a big hedge fund company in Connecticut. We left the bar, and he and his friend invited Karen and I back to the friend's apartment for a drink. The friend sat at his piano and played for us and we sang Beatles songs and I made the fundamental error of deciding I was intrigued by the guy playing the piano who had quit his lawyer job and was leaving to travel the world and fell asleep fully clothed on the piano player's bed while the hot Canadian passed out next to Karen on the couch. (Don't worry, nothing happened, Mom.)
The next day, Karen, the Canadian and I all left together, the Canadian bounding down the subway stairs at W4th waving us a friendly goodbye. I suddenly instantly regretted not handling the situation better. Why didn't I just get his number? Why did I decide the piano playing ex-lawyer was the one to be interested in, even though nothing had even happened? Why hadn't I played my cards better? But nothing would have even come of it, even if I had, right?
I remembered a guy I'd met in Amagansett a couple years later when a friend and I had gone to stay at the house my aunt and uncle were renting in East Hampton for the summer. He was a preppy blond guy with curly hair and dark brown eyes, which I found instantly intriguing, the combination of blond and brown. I was living in Boston at the time, and he questioned my living there with such an intense, New Yorker realness that it actually had a direct influence on me deciding to move back to San Francisco a few months later.
Back at his friend's family's beach house, he kissed me in a dark shadow on the patio, and while I wanted to give in to the moment, I knew the friend I was with would be unhappy if we stayed much longer, so we called a taxi and headed home.
When I reflected on the situation, I couldn't remember if we'd ever exchanged numbers. Maybe we did, maybe we dind't — either way, I never heard from him again, and I must have merrily skipped ahead of the disappointment, reminding myself "if it's meant to be, it will be." And he lived in NYC anyway, so what was the point, right?
But perhaps, I found my pen writing, perhaps I could be even more proactive. More flirtatious. Perhaps, I could initiate more -- a conversation, a text, a drink -- without worrying that I'd be tossing the balance of masculine and feminine energy into chaos, usurping the man's inate desire to go after what he wants or sacrificing my desire to be courted, pursued, cherished. Perhaps, I could worry less and risk more. Perhaps I could (should?) go after what I wanted with a little more confidence. Perhaps I could be a little less of a chickenshit.
I thought about what I would say to Javier if I texted him now. "Hey this is crazy, and I'm breaking all the rules and not only am I being the first person to reach out, I'm doing it long after we met and you probably don't even remember who I am, but I enjoyed talking to you, so hi. The world is a confusing place now and no one knows who is supposed to take charge anymore, or if someone not texting them is indication that they don't want to correspond with them, or that they're not texting because they're waiting for the other person to text first. Maybe we're all just waiting in vain for someone else to make a move because we're all too confused by the giant riddle of dating that no one seems to have the answer to. But maybe we could wait together. Drink?"
I decided, for my own sanity, and also because I was pretty sure he put my full name into his phone and didn't want him filing a restraining order against me, to not send that message.
But, I have one for the rest of us. Mostly for me, really.
The elusive thing that draws two people and makes them fall in love is a mystery. But it's a mystery worth knowing, and it's a mystery worth risking ourselves for. We must (and by this I mean, I must), step out of shyness and insecurity and thinking we'll just keep waiting for the next one to come along where the other person will be confident and bold and sort it out. I think we're all scared—of making the wrong move, of being rejected, of being laughed at—and so we continue on the carousel of uninspired Tinder dates, bar conversations that peter out, connections that fade into obscurity, always wondering why love seems to remain out of our grasp.
Yet to find love, we must be so eager to love that the risk is outweighed by the possibility of love waiting on the other side. We must put down our phones and talk to people, not be afraid to make the first move, to engage, to see where a connection can actually lead.
Love is maybe the greatest thing in life we can aspire to have with another human being. And the only way I think I can possibly find it is by no longer being a chickenshit.
Although, let's be fair. That Boy totally should have called me.