Our generation has been drowned in a fairytale of love and romance. We grew up on a healthy diet of Disney princesses and perfect endings where Katherine Heigl always ends up with the man of her dreams.
But what happens when the fairytale becomes a screeching nightmare, complete with a villain in disguise and blood on everyone’s hands?
You should have known that night, the first time he said “I love you.” There were no butterflies, no fireworks, not even a Seamless dinner served with candles. It was screamed like a threat, hanging thick in the air, lingering like a bad smell. The lovers in question standing on opposite sides of the bed, thumping their fists and reaching desperately for whatever words might cut through the fight. But you tell yourself it’s okay, special even, because the words were finally said.
What about the night he took you to dinner to celebrate his new job? A night for celebration between partners. But the words vomited from his mouth aren’t on script, it’s not what you planned. I accepted a new job in San Francisco. I’m moving out of NYC within the month. It’s too late, I’ve already given notice.
The world stops spinning and your hand flies to your cheek, feeling the sting of that verbal slab. But you recover and remember your lines. I’ll come with you, of course. We’ll start our lives over, tackle this together, how exciting it will all be. You’re so caught up in the act that you don’t notice the halfhearted smile on his face, his sudden silence. It’s not until later when you lay in bed and close your eyes that you realize he never said his line — he never asked you to come. Your hand inches across the blanket to find his, but it’s not there. He’s already asleep.
Two months and 3000 miles later, your life in San Francisco appears to be magical. You call your friends and family back home and regale them with stories of adventures, day trips and watching the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. But then you hang up the phone and realize you’re in the apartment alone, again. You flinch at every noise, praying that it’s the sound of his keys in the lock, finally home.
As time goes on the expectations build. Every time he bends to tie his shoe or holds your hand, you think this is it. This is when he’s going to propose. Little did you know that while you were watching him out of the corner of your eye with love in your heart, his mind was somewhere, anywhere else.
It’s an average Tuesday night. You went to the gym and ran side-by-side on the treadmill. He made the salad and poured you a glass of wine while you grilled the burgers outside. But then suddenly he’s standing in your living room, looking down at you on the couch. You see his mouth moving but can’t hear the words. Not happy anymore. Needs space. Isn’t working. It’s like he’s miles away and you’re squinting at him in the distance, trying to understand the smoke signals and desperate, waving arms.
But it’s okay, everyone knows that a real love story has to hit rock bottom before the clouds break. You’re still living together, and of course you are, because how could two people who sold everything to move across the country end it all now? The sex is better than ever and you interpret, misinterpret, every kind word as a hint that he’s going to take you back any moment. He’s going to come home from work with flowers in hand and a lone tear running down his cheek. You’re going to run to him, kiss him and finish your movie.
But then he doesn’t come home. It’s 12, then 3 and finally 5 a.m., and he’s still not home. But you tell yourself he’s out with friends, he’s having one last night out on the town before your romantic reunion. His absence could mean nothing more, of course.
To prove this to yourself, you read his text messages. You look for evidence that he’s “reconsidering,” “changing his mind” or “can’t stand looking at her without his heart breaking.”
But then the script goes off course. You find things you never meant to see, you read words that you can hardly comprehend. Went home with her from the bar. Hooked up. Scroll back farther and there are more names, more dates. Suddenly there’s a hand gripping your heart, your chest. You can’t breathe.
There’s denial, of course. But then the story peels back like the layers of an onion. There was one, no two. Actually three. It was nothing. No I’m sorry, it was sex. You can’t breathe. As recently as last week. The hand grips tighter. As far back as Christmas. The hand won’t let go.
Suddenly, you’re the heroine in your movie and you know exactly what has to be done. You have to pack your bags and buy your ticket back to New York. Each shirt that’s thrown in the suitcase is vindication, a show. You lay in wait for him to come home so this movie can reach its grand finale. You know that when you tell him you’re leaving, that this is the last night he’ll ever see you, he’ll be the Ross to your Rachel. He’ll throw himself at you and tell you he regrets everything, that he’s sorry and can’t imagine his life without you. And because you’re the beautiful heroine and this is your moment, you’ll take him back and be the bigger person, because how else could you achieve your fairytale ending?
And then he’s crying, he’s hugging you and saying how much he misses you. He wishes it didn’t have to be this way. Wait. He’s sad to see you go. No. It’s for the best. This wasn’t the script.
Even these final moments are a desperate, fruitless attempt at a dramatic scene. You announce that you can’t watch him leave because it would hurt too much. It’s the perfect line.
Then the door closes, and you’re sitting alone in the apartment one last time. The final image you have in your mind isn’t of his face or the sorrow in his eyes, because you couldn’t look. All you see now is his naked body tangled in another woman’s bed, the character who was never meant to be cast in this movie. And it’s burned in your mind forever.