“Maybe you should just date tall blonde business majors for a while,” I say, with a slight smile.
“That’s not what I’m into.”
“You can’t always date variations of me. We didn’t work. So it doesn’t make sense to keep trying.”
“Rachel’s not you.”
“She looks like me, she studies the same thing as me, she told me about how much she likes wine and TV and the internet. She seems a fucking lot like me.”
“You shouldn’t swear so much.”
“You don’t get to tell me that anymore.”
“Fair. Sorry.” A pause. We’re sitting in the parking lot of a bar, the sound of a drunk man singing “I had a dream” rings through the silence. I giggle. He does too. We look at each other, and the giggle escalates to full blown laughter. It’s so familiar, this sound of our laughter. We’re in his car, laughing. We’ve done this countless times. A memory flashes through my mind: my bare feet on the dashboard, late in our first summer. Laughter.
This should feel like home. And maybe it does. Maybe this is home – this collected, unexceptional dissatisfaction with one another. It strikes me, once again, that settling for him wouldn’t be that hard. We called time on something without an explicit expiration date. We could easily continue being an “us”. We’d continue on our same social circuit, we’d watch the same things, we’d quietly sit and work on our separate laptops. We’d laugh like this. Never quite unhappy.
“I’m going to write this down one day.” I say, when we eventually stop laughing.
“I know.” Another silence. A little heavier this time, despite the chuckles still reverberating in our ears. The karaoke has stopped. For a few moments, the world feels deathly still. I’m too sober for this. Maybe if I was drunk, I would feel more right now. Or maybe I’d just get into one of my moods and have a go at him. Tell him how he hasn’t thought things through, how he isn’t listening to me. Right now, I have no urge to fight.
“So tell me how Rachel’s different.”
“She’s a lot more complicated than you.”
“No, you’re not. You’re simple. I always understood you.”
“You didn’t. Maybe you thought you did. You understood a version of me.”
“No.” He turns to look at me seriously. “I get you. You’re not a challenge.”
“And she is?”
“She is.” His gaze turns away from me, focused on the gloriously underage group of kids milling outside the karaoke bar. A lanky boy holds a short girl’s hand. She’s looking up at him, happy. It strikes me that the two of us were those kids once. Dumb and inexperienced and happy to just try and have an unreserved attempt at life. We hadn’t had any baggage then. We’d been those kids once, kissing in bars much like this.
And now here we are: two adults in a car, politely discussing how he’s interested in someone who isn’t me.
“I don’t think I’m simple.” I say, eventually, looking away from the teenagers.
“I didn’t mean in intelligence,” he quickly clarifies.
“I didn’t think you meant intelligence. Obviously. I’m fucking smart.”
He chuckles, patronizing, “Emotionally, you kind of are simple. You’re definitely not complex.”
I feel the emotions bubble inside and then I smile brightly, “Maybe. Maybe it keeps me happier.”
“You are pretty happy, generally.”
I want to scream out about how untrue that is. About how I go through a torrent of emotions every single day, about the crashes and the anxiety and the waves of tears that wash over me. I never cry in front of him, though, which I guess is why he wouldn’t know about any of that. And he knows about the anxiety in passing, an anecdote about a younger me. An unrelated me. It never feels right to let him in further. He knows everything about me, and nothing.
But then, he doesn’t want the full version of me, he likes Tash. The girlfriend version. The one who tags along to things he wants to do and smiles and laughs at the right parts of the story and drinks her beer just enough to be the “cool girl” but not enough to ever get drunk. The one who lets him get his way. He can brag about me a bit, a girlfriend who’s smart and successful, but I am never supposed to overshadow him. His Tash is a diet version of the real thing. And that’s why I’ve been unhappy, I think. I need someone who gets all of me. Even the parts that don’t go on display. Especially those parts.
I smile again, ever so brightly, “Of course I’m happy.”
“I’m glad we can do this.”
“So am I.”
“You’re a special person.”
He turns to look at me again, and then comments, approving, “I like your cardigan. It’s new.”
“You should’ve bought more stuff like this when we were together.”
I didn’t like my body when we were together, I want to say. I didn’t like you dictating how I dress. That’s why I didn’t. Instead, I shrug, “Well…”
“I knew this would happen. I knew you’d get cool when we broke up.”
“What does that mean?” I ask sharply. If I wasn’t on edge before, I am now.
“You’re friends with Emma Rose now. You’re wearing new clothes. You have your new hair. Why didn’t you do this stuff when we were together?”
I want to feel angrier. But I smile, because what other facial expression is there with him? And I shrug, “I don’t know. You’re the one who claims to understand me so fucking well.”