What He Said Right Before We Hooked Up

super awesome
super awesome

“I have to be honest, I don’t think we should do anything because I only hook up with girls I have real feelings for.”

There are certain sentences you don’t ever want to hear as you’re straddling someone in an empty hot tub at 3:15 in the morning. Things like,

“It’s funny, I never realized how much you look like my sister.”

“There’s something about the mom in that Honey Boo Boo show that really turns me on.”

“I think that Taco Truck on 24th St. wasn’t the best idea tonight.”

And without a doubt, “I don’t think we should do anything because I only hook up with girls I have real feelings for” is one of them.

His name was Christian, and as his moniker would suggest, he was the quintessential good Christian boy. Blonde locks and blessed holy water blue eyes, with the kind of face you’d see on an Abercrombie and Fitch bag, or maybe in 20 years, on the side of a bus, boasting his perfect real estate agency and perfect track record of finding perfect homes for perfect families. He always looked perfect.

I had my dark locks sloppily tied up in a half bun, with a few enemy strands refusing capture, and a bikini top that could have easily been purchased from the Old Navy kids department. Actually, there are probably ten year olds shopping there right now with larger chests than my own. Does Old Navy even still exist? It was always a business of mystery to me. I saw the commercials, but had never stepped foot inside an actual store. I don’t know why it’s always fascinated me. I always pictured service men stepping inside adorned in crisp white suits and dark blue ascots, like some scene straight out of that musical with Frank Sinatra.

“Ah, Old Navy, just like the talkies described it,” Frank would coo, his comrades cheering behind him. This was the Old Navy I envisioned, a hot bed of sailors searching for the perfect button-up. Ella Fitzgerald would play over the loudspeaker, and penguin looking waiters would circulate with delightfully pink shrimp on skewers, or whatever else hoity-toity establishments could serve as hors d’oeuvres. They wouldn’t be called appetizers, no, not at a place like Old Navy. Only hors d’oeuvres. Only the best at Old Navy.

Christian hadn’t really been on my radar as any serious romantic potential. He was sweet, stable, and as a result, the antithesis of everything I was usually attracted to. I knew we were from different worlds. We had different ideologies, music taste, gym equipment preferences, but I couldn’t stop from thinking about what could happen. Christian the Christian, with his Crusaders for Christ tank top became my secret forbidden fruit.

Like I said, I never intended for anything to happen. He was pretty to look at, and we often found ourselves hanging out with the same people, but I was way too busy being desperately in love with a wiry boy named Dean, who had the quickest tongue for comebacks I’d ever encountered. It was like cerebral ping-pong every time we spoke. He’d rattle off a clever pun about Kendrick Lamar lyrics, or America’s foreign policy, or pugs. That boy had something to say about everything, and while this could be a personality trait that annoyed some, I just fell deeper and deeper in like-lust-love.

We’d send each other underground hip hop artists to check out, or YouTube videos with borderline pretentious, absurd humor. He would text me some T.S. Eliot quote that I would google to double check it was in fact, T.S. Eliot, and respond accordingly. This was a crush that had me reading more classic literature, brushing up on pop culture trivia, and just generally being more informed about everything. Liking Dean had me doing what every parent hopes their child will do, living up to my full potential. I wanted to be the best version of myself, because Dean was perfect. But not in the Christian, billboard poster way perfect, he was my version of perfect.

Somewhere between the jokes and witty back and forth, we’d sip on moments of raw vulnerability. We tiptoed around depression, and soon it became clear this too was a subject we shared in common. I was so convinced that these moments were something to be remembered in the morning, that I let myself forget he had a girlfriend. A girlfriend he very much loved. I was always just his friend. I was Eastman. Or AE, as he would yell to grab my attention down the hall, arm around his girlfriend, waving to me with his free hand. I was nothing more than a passing thought, when he occupied all of my grey matter.

I spent a whole year pining for Dean, but in the midst of wanting to hate his lovely girlfriend (but unable because she was truly lovely) and watching horrible C list romcoms, Christian started making more of an effort to talk to me. I know this is horrible and the kind of lesson I would never want to teach my child, but I started to wonder if Christian could serve as a replacement for the spot I was reserving for Dean. It’s like if you’re craving sushi, but instead, the only restaurant you can find open is Italian. You’re hungry, and you like Italian, so it’s not that bad. Even if you really, really wanted Sushi.

And one night, out of nowhere, Christian kissed me. He claims I kissed him. I’m 98% sure he was the one that made the move, but it was okay because however it happened, it happened. He was the first boy I’d kissed since my nearly 3 year long relationship that had ended 6 months prior. It was one of those moments when you go, “OH YEAH, KISSING. FORGOT THIS IS GREAT!”

And so it went for a bit. It was somewhat secretive, never a thing we openly discussed. We’d get together, make out a little. It was totally working for me. I wasn’t consumed with Dean. I even started to think, “Maybe I could really like this guy.” He was already my friend. Isn’t this what happened in all those horrible C list romcoms? Friendships that lead to make out sessions…and then?

And then bam:
“I have to be honest, I don’t think we should do anything because I only hook up with girls I have real feelings for.”

We’d only ever kissed, with some light petting thrown in. And it’s not that I was planning on jumping his bones that night, but this kind of declaration really took me back. Had we not just been intensely kissing for the past hour? Didn’t he first kiss me? I felt like I was back in Geometry class, really fucking confused. What was he talking about, real feelings??

Still in a hot tub, I inched away from him.
“I don’t mean that to hurt your feelings. But, c’mon, I know you’re into Dean. And frankly, I’ve got unresolved stuff with my ex right now.”

And there it was. Two college kids just trying to navigate being alone. Being lonely. We love to do that, don’t we? Humans need touch, this isn’t some miraculous newfound discovery. But sometimes, we seek comfort wherever we can. We use fillers. We go for second best. We rationalize. This wasn’t what I wanted, but I guess it’ll work?

We ended up staying up all night talking about relationships, the people we had once loved. People we still loved. He told me his first impressions of me. I did the same. I still think about this night a lot, and what it taught me. We’re always so afraid of being honest with each other. It’s this unicorn type creature, we talk about it, but rarely see it. Even when we think we’re being truthful, we present it in prettier ways. We soften blows.

Christian didn’t have real feelings for me. I didn’t have real ones for him. And guess what? We told each other that. And the world didn’t explode. Egos weren’t forever wounded. We moved forward.

I guess I’m trying to remember that lately. I know how to move forward. I’ve done it before. But maybe some things, some people, are just harder to let go of. TC mark

Ari Eastman

✨ real(ly not) chill. poet. writer. mental health activist. mama shark. ✨

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