We want people to be the way we want them to be. We want them, arguably, to be the mirror image of us, but prettier, shinier, smarter, kinder, funnier. Get lost in your head too long and you can create an entire person out of the few bits of information you have in your possession: his brown eyes, the deliberate way he speaks, the fact that he broke up with his long-term girlfriend five months ago. We want different things, she’d said philosophically, as one often does, though the idea that they break up had been his to plant. Suddenly all you care about is finding out what those “different things” are. You decide instantly that all the “things” he wants are the exact “things” that you want. That he is a perfect creature; that he has just been waiting, alone in the world, to be rescued by you, who is not perfect, but will seem so to him.
The romantic seems to enjoy walking off a cliff of her own making, building a mountain out of the normal-sized mound that a man is — that all people are — and then at some point, usually quite early on in the formation of the fictitious mountain, tumbling half a mile off its peak into a rushing river, having realized that nobody can live up to her fantastical, shallow concept of who a person is. Because above all else, it is a shallow vision, grainy and two-dimensional. It does not leave room for the depth of a person, for the contradictions that lie, coexisting peacefully (or not), at those depths. We all have them. You, romantic, have them. But you don’t want anyone else to. You don’t want “the one” to. “The one,” it seems to you, is supposed to defy all the laws that we know to be true about humanity.
The trick, I’m told, is to keep moving after disappointment first appears. Here is an example of disappointment: I listen to his music and I tell him honestly and quite generously what I think about it. He is invited to then check out my work, but does not, despite being provided a hiatus in which to do so. After the hiatus, a discussion ensues about another activity to which I devote some of my time. Instead of being impressed by my accomplishments in said activity, he instead questions several times why I would do the activity at all.
I wait for the praise — the praise that I so readily bestowed his music (which I genuinely like, but for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. Is it because I know and have a crush on the person on the recording, making the music sound “better” through all the birdsong already filling my ears? Is it because the music fits nicely into my fictional account of who this person is? Perhaps both). But the praise does not come. I chalk it up to his nerves. His hands shake every time we talk. Mine stopped shaking a week or so ago. The knowledge that he has still not checked out my work helps to keep my hands still.
Men. The whole situation seems gravely perplexing, despite the fact that the “situation” is hardly substantial enough to be called one. I have given it substance — more substance than it has earned, more substance, arguably, than it deserves — because I have an overactive imagination. I want to say that that qualifies me as a romantic, but the acute annoyance I now feel towards this person makes me wonder whether I am actually capable of romantic feelings at all. If I am, it’s of course only briefly, as if I’ve been injected with a fast-acting drug that wears off within minutes. Then I plummet off my fictitious cliff.
Give me another dose, I say, and move determinedly towards him. He needs encouragement, I say, once I get there and find him desperately trying to shirk the flawless shell I insist he wear in my presence. You were this perfect person last night, I tell him silently, referring to the hour I spent the previous evening sitting in my window writing a song about him, in psychic, secret tribute to his music.
I guess I must be a little romantic if I long to rush ahead to the appropriate moment at which to tell him that the past few months have been agonizing. That when he plays music over speakers of the bar I can’t help but feel he is playing it for me. That when he stands leaning predatorily over the bar, his hands spread wide across it, staring at me as the music plays, he may as well be singing the lyrics aloud. That he is now the subject of my songs. That all the times I left without saying goodbye I felt strangled with regret as I pushed open the door, crossed the street and rounded the corner out of sight and back to my house. That he brightens my days. That I am lonely too. No one cares about me! I want to scream on this purgatorial, rainy spring day, my favorite kind, though I know that isn’t true. But I want him to. I don’t care if anybody else does. This is a dangerous desire.
This is making a hero out of a man. Whether or not he deserves to be called one, the main thing is that he isn’t one. But I am not fluent in the language of reality. I prefer him up there on the pedestal, where I can’t see him so clearly, where I can’t make out all the imperfect things he’s saying as he tries, pathetically thus far, to woo me. We will meet one day at the intersection of our musical wallowing and writerly fantasizing, but when? How to get us there? What is the one perfect thing to say to turn a roiling courtship into love, however fraught? Risk has never been a concern of mine. To invent a man out of a few raw materials, after all, is a risk. To love is to risk. But to sit in this middle ground, staring at each other from twenty feet away, is not a risk. It’s a farce.