Yesterday something reminded me of a time when I thought Playing It Cool or being A Cool Girl would make the person I was casually dating want to be my boyfriend — by being A Cool Girl, I mean: asking for nothing, accepting disappointment graciously (or quietly), shunning labels, going along with last-minute changes, essentially allowing myself to be walked all over rather than risk seeming ‘crazy’ or ‘demanding.’ Which I realize now is actually the opposite of being A Cool Girl, I realize now that acting like a glorified doormat won’t get you mad honeys, but back then I had no idea.
But this isn’t about me, it’s about a boy. Four or five years ago, I dated someone I was wild about. He was romantically doomed, but it was of his own volition — he never had his heart broken but was reserved and guarded to the extent that, by our fourth date, I was 90% certain he was never going to love me. We were out together that night, drunk and discussing the future of whatever it was we were doing together, and he looked directly into my eyes and said, “I’m not sure if you’re The One. But you might be.” I’d never heard a guy use that expression earnestly, but I think he was so incapable of acknowledging love that ‘The One’ was his own version of those three words, the extent of how far he could go.
We dated for months after that. I met his friends but not his family, he cooked me dinner on occasion, and we spent lots of time wearing bathrobes on his terrace where we’d smoke joints and peep in other people’s windows. When we were together, it felt like a relationship but when we weren’t, we were strangers. Our contact was limited unless we were making plans to see each other, which happened about twice a week. I was falling for him and wanted more but I knew better than to ask for it — I discerned his level of availability from the beginning and I didn’t want to risk scaring him away, didn’t want to risk having less of him than I already did.
On some weeknight in April, I invited him out with my friends to an industry event with an open bar — industry unknown, as I was in college at the time and I’m not really clear on what business I had at this party in the first place. The line was so long that by the time we got in, the open bar was on the verge of ending. We pounded a few drinks and decided to bail because we were both hungry. We said goodbye to my friends and took a cab to the Lower East Side; whatever block we got off on was some sort of homeless resort — about 30 men, 20 or so decked-out cardboard boxes, milk crates, dice, booze, you name it. I hadn’t seen anything like it before or since. As we walked past, one of the men asked us if we were looking for weed — and we were, but neither of us had change and we didn’t think buying a nick with a twenty would end in our favor. We declined.
We walked around in search of food until we came across Freeman Alley. If you’re not familiar with Freeman Alley, it’s this lamp-lit cobblestone street that appears in the last place you’d expect to find it. And if you are familiar, you know that seeing that alley for the first time when you’re drunk and falling in love is one of those cliché “New York moments” you sort of hate yourself for experiencing but also, you can’t believe it’s happening to you.
At the end of the alley there’s a restaurant, where we decided to eat. We’re sitting across from each other in this alley restaurant and the light is gold and soft and there’s a candle between us and everything feels fake and real. We start having this intimate conversation about things we usually avoided talking about, like feelings. We told each other our numbers and talked about our exes and batted our lashes and smiled at each other and I remember thinking that maybe he actually liked me.
After dinner we walked back to the street we’d arrived on, where I stealthily purchased the nick bag that was offered to us earlier. It was lots of seeds and stems, pot neither of us would ever admit to purchasing, let alone smoking. “Don’t ever tell anyone about this,” he told me when I opened my palm to reveal the baggy to him later. Then we rolled up and sat on his terrace in bathrobes, like always.
It would be hours before I got to surprise him with my purchase, because another surprise took precedence — we arrived at his place to find that we were locked out of his apartment. He’d lost his keys at some point during the night. After a half-hearted attempt to break into the building, we walked to a nearby bar to sort things out. We had no idea where to begin — neither of us had a smartphone at the time, and hotel numbers weren’t the kinds of things we had memorized. I called my roommate and asked her to look up some hotels for us to call, but we learned early on that all of the rates were priced in the ‘it’s late at night so it must be an emergency; you’ll be willing to pay anything’ range.
It began to register that we had nowhere to sleep. I started to feel impatient, but I didn’t want to make matters worse by complaining. This wasn’t an ideal situation for either of us, and I knew that acting like a bitch would only be momentarily satisfying. We were quietly sipping our beers when an obvious solution came to me: a locksmith. “Duh! A locksmith! We’re a bunch of idiots. Let’s go back to the apartment and call a locksmith.”
We skipped home, or I did. I was going to sleep in a bed — his bed — tonight if it killed me. Once we arrived, I sat on the fifth step of his brownstone and called the numbers my roommate had gathered for me. He remained on the sidewalk, pacing back and forth. “They’re closed,” I’d report. “They can’t send someone for another two hours.” I’d called four or five locksmiths when one finally bit. “SOMEONE’S COMING!” I announced. And he stopped pacing, and he looked at me, and he said, “You’re The One.”
He walked up to where I was sitting and he kissed me and I didn’t say anything back, didn’t want to ruin it, wanted to be A Cool Girl but more than that: I knew that he knew the way that I felt, at least I thought he did at the time. I thought the months we’d spent together said more than I ever could. So I stayed quiet and he kissed me and it must’ve been difficult, because my mouth was twisted into this huge smile the entire time.
As this was happening, as he was kissing me on his steps, one of his neighbors came home. We gained access to the building and he was able to pick his lock with a credit card. We fell straight into bed, ignoring phone calls from the locksmith, ignoring everything but each other until it was 3 a.m., when I surprised him with the pot, when everything was returning back to normal except much, much better than normal had ever been.
I left for work in the morning and he kissed me goodbye without my having to steal it from him, my mouth still twisted in a smile, one of those mornings where everything could’ve gone wrong and it still would’ve been alright; I texted my roommates the news and I grinned at children and I worked a little bit harder that day, and even the day after that. But the day after that, I started to wonder when I would hear from him again. And the day after that, I took the initiative to contact him, and nothing. And then more nothing for one, two, three weeks. Three weeks of nothing.
Was it the last time we’d ever speak? No. But nothing was the same between us after that; nothing would ever be the same between us again. When we see each other now, it’s by accident, and the time for explanations has elapsed. Now we only have time to talk about ‘what’ve you been up to’ and ‘how’ve you been.’ That night, a lifetime ago, might as well have never happened.
By now, you’re probably wondering what the point of all of this is. The point is that sometimes, there is no point. The point is, something that was all-consuming can actually turn out to be… pointless. The point is that you can reduce someone to unmitigated joy, you can reduce them to tears, and you can reduce them to a ~1500 word blog post, and you can do this all in one decade, or less, even; the point is that when you realize you can do that to a person you loved, turn them into an unimpressive block of words because that’s all that’s left of them, everything begins to feel a little bit pointless.