John was far away.
Geographically, he lived in New Jersey, a place I told myself I would never travel to for a boy (or anyone, for that matter) until I found myself on the hour-and-a-half train to his hometown one August day.
He was recovering from surgery, and I was visiting him for the afternoon. I met his parents and the three family dogs and we made out on his couch like a couple of teenagers.
But even when his hands were daringly reaching for my jeans in his parents’ living room, he was far away from me.
When we were apart, it was like he never existed. Texting with him felt like pulling teeth, a constant battle that I put up with for far too long. Looking back, I can’t believe I drove myself as mad as I did, analyzing every cryptic word and extended silence and wondering what I did to provoke them.
At one point, I grew so sad and frustrated that one afternoon I turned off my phone, put it away in a drawer, and let it stay there until the next day.
But the distance between John and I went far beyond a difficulty with modern communication. Our conversations, while superficially enjoyable, lacked any emotional depth save for a post-surgery confession that he felt burdened by his family’s overbearingness.
About a month into us dating, I lost my job. It was a complete shock, and it was a job I loved—making it all the more difficult to swallow. I couldn’t blame him for his lack of emotional involvement when it came to the fallout of my layoff; after all, we weren’t officially in a relationship, and at that point, we were still just getting to know each other.
He was sympathetic, of course, but I never really got the sense that he cared all that much about how I was dealing with things. Which was fine—truly. I had friends who were checking in on me daily, forcing me to get out of the house, and encouraging me to get back on the horse.
I barely even noticed the walls he was already putting up.
One night hanging out at a friend’s apartment, I told her that I didn’t understand when people refer to their significant other as their best friend. “I just don’t ever see John becoming my best friend,” I said.
I didn’t see this feeling as a flaw in our relationship, but merely of an indicator of the kind of person I was. In my mind, boyfriends were extraneous—nice to have around but in no way necessary, and certainly not capable of usurping the roles of my best friends.
There were other, more subtle signs of his lack of impression on my life. When he left me I could never exactly remember the lines of his face, the sound of his voice, the feeling of his hands on me.
I remember riding in a cab together uptown, my head resting on his shoulder, my body pressed into his, a chorus ringing through my head: “he’s here, he’s here, he’s here”. I was trying so hard to manufacture a connection with a person who was just existing on a different plane.
Within my sight, but woefully out of reach.
We were kind of like two people standing on opposite sides of a busy street, screaming to each other and hoping the other one could make it out. Once it was over, it became clear that he had been keeping me at arm’s length the entire time, and I had been playing along – mostly because I didn’t know any better.
Maybe he was afraid to get close to someone because of his health issues. Maybe he was emotionally stunted for the thousands of other reasons that men tend to be. Maybe he just didn’t like me that much.
Whatever the reason, the jarring distance between us became too much, and he ended it on 29th Street one November evening.
Earlier that day, he sent me a text: “Are you around tonight?”
My stomach immediately sank. I knew it was over.
I met him outside his improv class and we walked to a bar, where we sat at a corner table and made small talk. I had a pretty strong inkling as to what this meeting was about, but still, I was trying to reach him. I asked him about his class and how things were going, still desperate to hold onto any scrap of intimacy that could possibly exist between us.
But it was only a matter of time until he dropped the bomb, and I could only stall so much. When he suggested we take a walk to escape the noisy bar, I knew it had come.
“I feel like you’re more invested in this than I am,” he admitted.
Unlike my layoff a few months earlier, I knew what this conversation was, but it still felt like a slap in the face. It was shocking to hear these kinds of words falling out of his mouth, not only because it was hard to hear, but because it was the first time we had so much as hinted at how we felt about our relationship.
I had abstained from bringing it up because broaching the subject felt like lighting a candle in a windstorm: delicate and nearly impossible to do with a positive outcome. Better left unattempted.
But in the end, that’s what killed it.
Maybe if I had tried, I would have foreseen our demise a lot sooner. But nevertheless, our first conversation about our feelings turned out to be our last.
After he left, I sat on the window ledge of a nearby shop and cried until I realized what I was feeling wasn’t sadness, but relief.
The ending of my almost-relationship sent me into a bit of a tailspin.
I realized that had John not ended things, I probably would have kept on dating him, even though it was making me miserable. On paper, he seemed to be everything I thought I wanted. So who was I to give that up?
It was obvious at that moment that I had no idea I wanted or needed out of a relationship, or even what a real relationship was about. And that because of this, I was about to settle.
So, I did what every Millennial does after a breakup: I joined Tinder.
Up until that point, I had the same attitude towards Tinder that I did of community college as a high school senior: I was too good for it. It was the easy way out. When in actuality, both are opportunities to climb your way out of uncertainty.
Things shouldn’t be snubbed simply because of their accessibility.
When I met Sam, I was in the midst of my swiping binge with no intention of slowing down. Despite the fact that my friends thought I was having a mental breakdown, I was actually having the time of my life. I had never dated around like this before; it was eye-opening, and it was exactly what I needed.
But Sam stopped me dead in my tracks.
We fell into each other quite quickly, and I found something in him that I had never seen before.
More and more, I am becoming aware of what a tough egg I am to crack. Though I’m a pretty sensitive person, I don’t open up easily (probably the reason why most of my friends thought I was a snob when they first met me and why my acting career didn’t pan out).
I feel a lot of feelings – I’m just not always comfortable showing them to people.
But Sam was the first guy to want to get through to me. He could see that I had a guard up, and was committed to breaking it down. His patience and honesty was something entirely new to me, and it shifted something in me.
When I feel his weight beside me, I’m not trying to drink up every drop of his closeness before it disappears. I’m swimming in a sea of closeness. There’s so much of it. Sometimes I wonder if our bones and skin will crush each other and become one mass, sometimes I want that more than anything.
We are slowly overlapping, and it doesn’t feel scary or weird. It feels familiar even though it’s like nothing I’ve ever had.
In a journal entry from the first month we were together, I wrote: “he is teaching me what sweetness is.” Of course, I had experienced emotional intimacy before—just never in this way. What I should have said was: “he is teaching me a new kind of sweetness.”
He’s not afraid to imprint himself on my life. I remember his face when I leave in the morning. I remember his face all the time.
He’s here, even when he’s not, and that’s a thing I didn’t even know I needed.