In Part 1 of this story, I explore the early events in my life that led my to taking a job at Victoria’s Secret.
In Part 2, we pick up where that one left off. With a girl named Karen.
Step 6: Fall in love with a girl named Karen
There are few moments in my life that I actually characterize as turning points. Casting the love spell was one of them, and the day I chose to climb the student life center rock wall without a harness was another.
I was maybe ten feet off the ground when I heard a voice from behind me shout, “You better be careful!” Looking over my shoulder, I turned to find the front desk girl looking up at me from her seat.
I’d seen her before–at a student life center employee meeting, and then, because I was interested in knowing more, on Facebook. Her name was Karen, and she intimidated me beyond belief.
Now, though, I kind of had an opening. I climbed back down the wall and walked over to her, extending my hand. “I’m sorry I haven’t introduced myself sooner,” I said. “But I’m Chris.”
“Karen,” she said, smiling.
And so it began.
I’d been in relationships before, but had never felt for someone what I felt for her. There was a chemistry between us, an electricity that filled the room like a swarm. It was addicting to be around her, to hear her laugh; and I found myself constantly making excuses to stop down at the front desk to talk to her. I became a kind of helicopter parent, but in the dating sense, always hovering, keeping myself available in case she wanted to hang out. It was like I couldn’t focus on anything until we made some kind of plan–so I’d often spend my days like this:
Monday, 3PM: Text to see if she wants to get Chick-fil-a.
Monday, 4PM: Pick her up and go to Chick-fil-a.
Monday, 5PM: Leave Chick-fil-a and drop her back at her place.
Monday, 6PM: Text to see if she wants to go to a movie at 7PM.
I didn’t understand that this wasn’t normal dating behavior. This was how I’d always gone about my relationships, trying to control schedules so I never felt anxious. Understandably, Karen wasn’t exactly gung-ho to jump into something like this, even if it was obvious there was something more than friendship between us. What it set up instead was a 10-stage pattern that, over the course of two years, I came to both predict and dread.
2. Hang out.
3. Chat more.
4. Hang out more.
5. Chat too much.
6. Hang out too much.
7. KAREN NEEDS SPACE.
8. No conversation for two months
9. Receive random text message from Karen saying, “Meow.”
10. Begin again.
Step 7: Date a girl named Karen
To this day, I’m honestly not sure what changed her mind about me. I have my theories, ranging from the romantic to the cynical, but none of them matter because they’re just that: theories.
What I am certain of, though, is two things:
1. That we ended up together during the spring semester of our senior year. And
2. That, as a couple, our relationship most closely resembled the First World War.
Except for brief moments of peace, like the Christmas Truce of 1914, we mowed each other down endlessly. It wasn’t what I expected out of us. We were best friends; it was supposed to be easy. We were supposed to be perfect for each other. And yet, it was a complete shitshow.
Half of the time I found myself in complete awe that we were actually dating, while the other half was spent wondering if we’d ever figure out how to get along. Nevertheless, I was determined to make it work. Now that she was my girlfriend, I simply couldn’t picture Karen as anything else. In fact, I was terrified of having her in my life as anything else. So I began taking a different tack: Do whatever it takes to keep her happy.
If she didn’t like something about me, I’d correct it. If she didn’t like someone I was hanging out with, I’d forget them. It seemed innocent enough at first. There are always things you can do to improve yourself. But as time drew on, I noticed something odd: My clothes felt like they belonged to someone else. I’d never experienced anything like this before, even when I was wearing the equivalent of something you’d find at a douchey circus. Fashion was something I rallied around, something I felt I had a handle on, and could accurately convey myself through.
But now, looking at the person before me, I wondered if perhaps I’d accidentally stepped into someone else’s closet. These are your clothes, I said to myself. You’ve felt confident in them before. There’s no reason you shouldn’t now.
I didn’t want to admit it, but I felt like the shell of a person. As if the Chris I’d known for years was gone, and in his place was a stranger wearing a patchwork madras shirt and buttercream pants, trying to pretend everything was normal. Trying to pretend he was normal. Whatever that looked like.
Step 8: Get coffee with a girl named Elizabeth
Of course, I have no one to blame for this situation but myself. This was people-pleasing at its finest, a trait that I’d nurtured for years, but now was in full, pathetic bloom. As an outsider, it’s easy to be seduced by this kind of behavior because it’s always saying, “Yes!” It’s always enthusiastically going along with your plans, even if it’d rather be doing something else.
What happens, though, is that a second side forms in people pleasers, kind of like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. While one is saying, “Sure, I’d love to!” the other is holding a knife, waiting for the moment to pounce. That side doesn’t come out too often, but when it does, it’s devastating, and usually makes people question the “person” they’ve known all along.
In my case, my dagger came out over a cup of coffee. After bumping into my friend Elizabeth on campus, I told her we should catch up over a couple of lattes–because I’m basic and I hadn’t seen her in a while. There was nothing going on, here, just a platonic meeting to see how her summer was, but I neglected to tell Karen about it anyways. I knew she’d be against the idea, even though she knew who Elizabeth was–and frankly, I didn’t think that was fair. This girl and I were just friends. There was no reason why I shouldn’t be able to hang out with her.
So I passively swept it under the rug, telling myself that a lie was ok if no one was truly hurt by it.
Of course (of course) one of Karen’s friends saw us in the coffee shop together. And of course, this friend texted Karen to let her know, and then Karen texted me to say (I’m paraphrasing, here), “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!”
This caused me to respond with another lie. “We just bumped into each other and were catching up! That’s all!”
Which then caused her to respond, “Well…I know that’s a lie. I read your text messages while you were napping last week.”
Which brought me to one of the most awkward moments of my life: I’d been caught in not one, but two lies, but I also felt violated as fuck. She read my text messages while I was napping?!
What ensued was a knock-down, drag out fight that involved a telephone call, me being hung up on, another telephone call, me being hung up on again, before a final telephone call in which she told me that she hated me, but she still needed time to decide if the relationship was over.
“I don’t want you to text me. I don’t want you to call me. I don’t want to hear from you at all,” she said. “I’ll call you when I’ve made up my mind.”
And so I waited. Impatiently. Hopefully.
Step 9: Buy lingerie for a girl named Karen
Aside from the fact that I fucked up big time with the coffee thing, I made two more colossal mistakes at this point:
1. I didn’t say, “Let me stop you right there. You hate me? There’s no need to think about this, then. It’s over.” And instead responded, “Take all the time you need. Just know that I love you, ok?”
2. I not only believed I’d be forgiven, I went to Victoria’s Secret to buy her a set of lingerie for her upcoming visit.
Buying lingerie for a significant other during a fight of this magnitude is like saying a game is over before it’s over: You curse yourself. I might as well have called her back at that exact moment and said, “Don’t bother. We’re finished. Sorry.”
But I was strangely overconfident we’d get through it. She’s forgiven you in the past, I told myself. She’ll do it again! This isn’t over. She’s got airline tickets to come see you! She’s not going to cancel those!
And then my phone rang.
It was a Tuesday morning and it was sunny.
I rolled out of bed and took it off the charger, seeing that it was Karen. “Hey,” I said, picking up.
“Hi,” she responded. “How are you?”