Our first date consisted of watching my beloved college football team play, fried pickles (a mandatory component of every good date—take note, gents), and basking in the drunken glory of an old Irish jig band at a dive bar. The way he opened his car door for me and drew out his A’s reminded me of home. His playful sarcasm mirrored my own and his cool, effortless confidence charmed me. After eight hours of fun conversation, boozy giggles, and witty retorts, I rose onto my toes and pressed my hips into his to kiss make out goodnight. The soft fullness of his lips made me melt.
I’m a romantic, but my irrational fear of vulnerability means that I usually flee at the first sign of attachment (that, and everyone is fucking crazy). It had been years since I legitimately developed feelings for a guy I was seeing. All of that changed with him. He was a homeowner and had been in the work force for a decade. I was as a brand-new law school graduate attempting to get the hang of the real world and coping with the feeling of rejection that came with getting kicked off my parents’ health insurance. And although he was seven years older, he carried a youthful exuberance that I find irresistible, yet increasingly transient with age. We shared a similar nomadic past, having lived in at least eight states between us.
We spent Halloween drunkenly interlacing our arms around each other, whether to dance or to ward off the throngs of gay men fawning over him or to keep each other warm in our scantily clad costumes, as we struggled to find a taxi home at 3 a.m. My Christmas gift to him included a carefully curated mix CD and a mason jar of homemade taco seasoning (“You know that shit you use from the packets has silica in it, right?”). There was never a bad kiss or a disappointing meal at our go-to brunch spot. What more could I have asked for?
On an elusively sunny January morning, I listened to him reaffirm his feelings for me and express his reservation about being in a relationship because he anticipated leaving in the coming months. It was his birthday, and the morning after my own; I remained woozy from the previous night’s festivities. “Well, I’m glad we feel the same way about each other, and I appreciate you letting me know.” I warned him that these things have expiration dates for me, and then cracked a joke to defuse the situation.
I decided to keep us going for now, but made a promise to myself that I would end it if nothing changed in six weeks.
Alas, a month later, I pressed play on his voicemail: he’d received the job offer that morning, he was excited, but it meant that he would be leaving in four weeks. I knew that this was coming, but it didn’t sting any less. Like when you’re five and you know how it feels to get a vaccine but the pinch of the doctor’s needle nevertheless startles you every time. The tears I uselessly tried to bite back made it difficult to return his call; I sent him a congratulatory text with lots of exclamation points instead. I spent the remainder of my workday chastising myself for reacting so selfishly to someone else’s good news.
When it was time for him to go, we played it cool as we hugged and kissed goodbye in my living room. I was (and still am) unsure of whether I would see him again. There were so many things I wanted to say, and the monologue stewing in my mind the days and weeks leading up to this moment was completely lost in a shuffle of nonsensical word combinations. “Stay in touch, okay?” was the only thing I could muster past my lips.
“Oh, of course. I gotta keep you on track on all the best new music,” he responded with a smile.
As I continued my day, I would catch whiffs of his cologne in my hair, and my pangs of regret would swell. We should have made more memories. Man, that wall you built up this whole time really did you some good, didn’t it? You shouldn’t have bitten your tongue or moved your hands back to your sides those times you thought your were doing things that “only an actual girlfriend should do.” Also, you should’ve included an Old Crow Medicine Show song on his Goodbye Mix. Fuck. A lack of closure weighed me down for what felt like forever.
Several weeks later, though, my frustration over all this unmaterialized potential has subsided, as I realize that leaving is what I liked about him. Too often, we’re so focused on the end result that it clouds our ability to fully appreciate how wonderful the present feels underneath our fingertips. The turns of our six-month foray reaffirmed the splendor of who we were: imperfect individuals with guarded hearts and streaks of immaturity. He arrived at a transitional period of my life, where 70% of my friends moved away and the ones remaining primarily center their lives on their significant others. He demonstrated that, no matter how many walls I build, there are still guys capable of chipping away at them and I am still capable of feeling those goddamn butterflies. He reminded me that everything is fleeting—good and bad—and that I am not a weirdo to stumble into the latter half of my twenties single, restless, and ridden with a Hannah Horvath complex, while everyone is engaged.
Most importantly, he gave me both a new experience and a feeling of home when I really needed it.
This epiphany has helped me bring my own closure. What if he’d stayed, and we finally consummated that vexing “relationship” technicality? Maybe it would have worked out beautifully. Or maybe we both would have grown resentful of being stuck in the same place, jobs, and group of people. Or maybe his less desirable characteristics—like his tendency toward emotional inhibition—would have pushed me away, as time inevitably chipped at my idealized vision of him.
So, maybe some people are meant to simply make cameo appearances in our lives. And maybe that’s perfectly okay.
I still miss him often. I think of him when I hear “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers, who he inspired me to love (why does my yoga studio insist on playing this song at every class?!). I wonder how he’s doing when I am on yet another date with a guy who fails to ignite that elusive “spark” I’m constantly chasing after. When I’m lying in bed and (tw)itching for a warm body, I sometimes think about the night before his big road trip: the soft pressure of his face resting against mine as he spooned me, the sound of his snoring right above my ear, the way my fingers laced into his. You won’t be feeling this anymore. Drink it all in tonight, hon., I thought to myself as I nestled cozily into his tall, protective frame.
Nevertheless, I am happy with where I am right now.
Right before his job offer and right after he returned from his interview, he’d sent me a text contrasting the winter weather between here and there, followed with, “Lets move south!!! :)”
“Just say the word and I will climb into your suitcase!!” I joked, while thinking, Don’t kid yourself, you know you’re half-serious. I’d never spent more than a few years at a time in one place, and am usually thinking about the next big adventure. I am thankful for my history and will (usually) welcome a good shake-up with open arms. To me, beauty of some sort always exists in the present, but there is no reason to hold on to until it breaks, if you can help it. With so much more waiting for you all the time, you’re only holding on to fear of the unknown.
With him, the dust has more or less settled on where he drove off and the tire marks fade everyday. Yet even with this clarity, the horizon still cuts off the view of where the road leads. I know that one of these days I will have to calm my wandering mind, my legs, and the maps of places I’ve never been (but probably not, because I have a terrible sense of direction).
But at 26—fidgety, flawed, a work in progress—I am absolutely in love with all of the uncertainty ahead of me. And it’s pretty nice to be reminded of that. And to have experiences that encompass it.