When I tell them I like you, they say just follow the rules.
Don’t dress up, they say. Don’t re-adjust the swirl of your hair in your reflection, don’t brood about having exhausted your French cologne, make no attempt to dislocate the poppy seeds of your last bagel from your from teeth but don them with the pride of a man satisfied with his belch. Ensure that the doors you don’t open for her with a gentleman’s bow unwrap no glamour but instead, as arranged, the emetic humid smell of pho noodles in a heated-up broth.
When she speaks, become the dispassionate ghostly accountant or exasperated-but-must-be-polite customer service representative, rolling your drained sanguinary eyes as your latest uhumm pulsates through your throat and nose. Refrain from smiling when you’re genuinely not listening because you’re allocating your entire conscious mind to the one thought that she’s divine.
Split the bill as you huff like you’re doing her a favor. Walk out and abstain from sighing at the pathos of the shy and dim cobblestone streets and the moon reflecting in the little koi pond even if it sizzles in you. In lieu, do crudely draw attention to your below-the-waist agony or do find some other fashion of objectifying her. Without finesse or fondness, yank her to your mouth and jab your tongue between hers and her palate just as she unsticks her lips with the ambition of speaking more and who knows, perhaps to protest. Proceed to whirl aggressively as if coached by an invisible but cheering washing machine.
If she does not recede, prioritize your interim unhealthy appetite at the cost of long-term bliss, and take her to bed if she likes you enough to let you on the first date. If she retreats and expresses her desire to move without hurry, don’t walk her home. Show not your sentimental disappointment but do strive to impersonate, truly empathize with, and become the irritated, irritable, and sexually frustrated caveman.
If undeserved good karma comes your way and when the sun rises she rouses on your pillows and in your arms and you with a mustache of her chestnut locks, leverage her shame in place of assuaging it with a thoughtful kiss or gentle tug deeper into your hug and deeper into the big spoon mold you’re dying to shape for her.
Let her bathe only metaphorically, in the putrid sensation of feeling used and unloved. Offer not even an espresso or madeleine for the road, and certainly do not sit for brunch over mimosas and berry parfaits. Decamp with haste if she does not precede you out the door, and on the matter of calling or texting, forebear. The more you like her, the more you wait. Allow her to grow moonstruck and bewitched, and sobbingly breathless as she waits to hear like Gatsby waited for Daisy. Whether it takes a week, or a lifetime. When it gets too hard and no one has come to shoot her in her pool, she will capitulate and come again in your direction.
When you’ll resume conversations, take thirty if texts bounce back from her in three minutes. Abandon yourself to automatic writing. Use clichés like they belong to you and not Shakespeare, and force her to love and praise your imagination. Look around and learn from the dullness of the other average couples. Mimic their mediocre insights and end-of-dinner-conversation-false-epiphanies, and ape their MTV intonations and profanities for the rest of your lives. Be not too kind, too patient, too open about or aware of your feelings. Keep competing to be the one who cares less.
These are the rules, they tell me.
Of course, I break the rules because I love you.
The rules are smart, and I am not.
But I can’t risk to play a game with the girl I love.
Because if I lose not as myself but as a scripted character, I’ll always wonder, with the sad eyes of the old lonely men on the park benches:
Would she have loved me just for me, without the rules?
And I don’t like that question at all. It is the most painful one I know.
And so I am myself with the girl I love. I am myself, and this is how I lose her.