I consider doing a project called Brief Interviews With Indecisive Men. In it, I’d cull together all the conversations I’ve had lately with men who can’t make up their minds about relationships. Though honestly, that wouldn’t be fair and perhaps, my own fascination with this subject comes from my propensity for bailing on partners just as things get serious. So it isn’t men. It’s people. It’s people who fear commitment or fear acknowledging that their lives need to jump to the “Next Step” whatever that means for them personally. Oh, “The Next Step.” The fabled “Next Step.”
“We got married because we’d been together five years and it was just the next step.”
Where is this next step? How do people get there?
On a normal staircase, I’d look up and be able to see where my feet are going to land. But in life? How do people know? I mean, really know, for sure what the “Next Step” is. Why do people who say that always seem so certain?
The language we use is so dismissive. “She just doesn’t know what she wants.”
Of course. Does anyone?
“It’s like a mountain right? And I’m almost to the top and I could round the top of the mountain and settle up there and be happy or I could backtrack all the way to the bottom and start trekking up other mountains, you know? What’s on this mountain? What’s on this one?”
“So it’s about…”
“Conquest, yeah. Or I guess, being afraid of moving forward.”
So fine. I bail. I get half-way through the marathon or whatever metaphor you want to use, and then, I take off. I deviate from the path. I don’t so much not reach the finish line as I’m completely unaware of what the finish line is or when you get there. I see my friends getting married or living in Brooklyn with their boyfriend or girlfriend and six cats and it’s like watching some weird documentary about what people are like before I, an alien from space, am sent down to mingle with them. I get it, but I don’t get it.
How do you do that every day? How do you just stay with that person and never question and never feel trapped and never want out?
I never know what I want. I’m usually deep in the danger zone before I realize it’s time to go. Something like:
“But Captain, you’re about to land the lunar module on the moon. You’re so close.”
“Yeah, …no. We should probably just pack up and go home. Or you know, see other planets.”
“But you’re about to land!”
“….Hmmm. Nah. Let’s forget the whole thing. Abort.”
Here’s what I’m worried will happen.
I fall in love. I really fall in love. I decide this is it. I am doing this. I am making it work this time. I move forward. I go through all the motions and I am happy because I love this person. We move in together. All the noise in my head becomes a dull throbbing. I close. I shut off the carousel ride of doubt and anxiety clouding my brain. I turn off. I power down.
I get married or make some similar commitment. I try not to think twice. This is what people do. This is what everyone does.
But like clockwork, my body knows what time it is. My body wants to run. “No,” I tell it. “You’re staying. We’ve decided to stay.”
My body runs. My heart runs. I run.
Let’s skip that part. Let’s have a career and friends and a full life without whatever society is telling me I have to do and yeah, let’s just…skip that part.
“Why can’t I just tell him, hey, I’m going through a thing. Sorry if I’m being a crazy butthead right now?”
“You can’t just tell a guy that,” she says.
“Why not? Why am I supposed to just play this game where I act normal when I don’t feel normal? Why can’t I just be honest with him? Why don’t people do that? I feel like we’d all understand each other better if we did that.”
“You can’t just tell a guy you’re crazy.”
“….Fine. I won’t.”
“It’s so doomed,” I tell him about us (the new “us”) over dinner. “But it’s happening anyway.”
“Well.” He laughs. “You kind of just described life,” he says.
I cry a little bit to myself while standing on the subway platform waiting for the L to take me from Brooklyn to Manhattan. My phone doesn’t have service so I type in a bunch of text messages to you that I’ll never hit “send” on.
On the phone with you, I also cry. You don’t know I’m crying. I tell you about another time when I cried and you didn’t know, when we’d ended an email correspondence — an innocuous one — and I’d cried myself to sleep for no reason I can figure out.
Even when I’m happy with you, I want to cry.
My little sister asks how I’ve been doing since being single and I tell her I drunkenly asked a guy if I could touch his hair in a cab the other night.
“Hm,” she replies via text. “Have u tried maybe…not being creepy?”
I’ll think I’m over it and then something will hit me and I won’t be over it. How can I not be over it?
I hadn’t thought about you in weeks. Not like that. And then suddenly, I’m remembering my bare feet on your tile and a staircase in a parents’ home and a baseball cap and the lighting in a bathroom and a bed.
Are you waiting for me? Is that what this is?
Or are we both just waiting for something else because — really, what else are we supposed to do?