How could I be back here again? How could I be right back here, smarting from the same wound inflicted over a year ago?
This is how it begins, "You have a boyfriend? Have I met him?"
Gabe thinks he is funny. He is responding to the word that has slipped out of my mouth during our phone discussion about the details of our upcoming weekend.
But it’s not funny. Should I think it is? Should I just laugh and let it go? Or should I feel like an asshole for just calling Gabe my “boyfriend”, for like, the third time this week. At least this time, he stops me. But now I'm totally embarrassed.
And I shouldn’t be. This man adores me completely. He is falling for me more and more each day. What we are doing, what is happening between us, transcends all these stupid words. We are creating something really great. Right?
So, why does this particular benchmark in a relationship cause me so much duress. And why am I so pissed right now that I want to go out and fuck someone else?
Why? Because that is what I did last year when a man said the exact same thing to me. And Gabe knows this.
I hang up and go back to work.
He Texts: You can call me your boyfriend if you want. I don't mind.
Insensitive. Why does this shit piss me off so much? I read the message again and this time it makes me so angry that fucking water comes out of my eyes. I'm so angry that this water starts gushing and spilling onto my freakin’ phone and it won’t stop. And I know it's ridiculous.
I Text: That's a kind offer, but I'm not pushing anyone anywhere they aren't ready to be. I'm cool with "friends".
After I press send, I get that horrid, painful, wrenching itch. And it's in a place I haven't allowed myself to feel for a very long time. And I want toscratch it. The ball of anger, disappointment and resentment begins to churn and burn and pick up intensity as the tempest swirls within.
He texts: I only tease you about it because you make it a big deal. It's just a word and more accurate than friend, I think. But go with whatever is comfortable for you.
I have the urge to throw the phone across the room. I have the urge too implode, to sabotage, to behave immaturely.
He texts again: As for me I haven't been a boyfriend or had a girlfriend in quite awhile and it might be fun. Let me know if you know someone who's looking for a job like that.
And suddenly, it is November 27, 2005. R has met me for a late dinner at Lucky Strike in Soho. My Mother is visiting from Seattle for Thanksgiving and I left her sipping cocktails with my sister at a bar around the corner to come meet R for a late dinner. It's the only time he has to spare. He's been working on the set fourteen hours a day. He took one weekend off in the past month and has just spent it with his family in Jersey. While rested from the three days away from work, he still seems tired. Perhaps from the drive back to the city. He came back to try and get one last late dinner in with me before the torture of his job begins again. But I can't help thinking that he could have made a little more time.
We are finishing dinner when I say it. "What would your girlfriend say about all the time you have been spending with me in dimly lit Manhattan restaurants?"
He looks confused. "Girlfriend? I don't have a girlfriend."
I wink at him and tilt my head to the side.
His confused expression melts away as he realizes what I’m saying. "I mean, I think we are going there, but we aren't there yet."
Oh God. I'm such an ass. I realize how ridiculous I must look, my head tilted at this angle, my eyes gazing up at him with batting eyelashes, my retarded smile of assurance that I am in a committed relationship with a man that is completely crazy about me. It was an accident.
I hadn't meant to confront the question. It was just an innocent turn of the conversation.
I'm an idiot. His response surprises me. For the past month, he has sent me 15 texts daily, each starting with the words 'Honey". And lately, when we stand in my doorway, lips locked, legs intertwined, his hand gripping mine tightly, trying to pry our bodies apart so he can leave for work, I have a hard time letting him go.
And here he is, chomping French Fries off the late night menu in some trendy cafe, telling me that we aren't both thinking the same way about one another. And it hurts.
I let go off his hand under the table. "So, I'm not your girlfriend?"
"Well, not yet."
"So, I'm single than?"
"Well, you aren't married. "
"But, I don't have a boyfriend?"
In my mind, if I don't have a boyfriend then I'm not in a committed relationship. And if I'm not in a committed relationship than I am single. And if I am single than I am dating other people. I'm not dating any other people, and I know he doesn't have time to be dating other people. So, this shit is whack and I should be dating other people. Fuck that.
R excuses himself to the bathroom. I pick up my phone and see that I have a new text.
The Text: Hope you don't mind, but your mother gave me your phone number. I was your waiter tonight and I have to see you again. Sushi on Wednesday?
The Israeli born model that waited on my table an hour ago seems to think I am single. And obviously, my mother, who has been in town for the past five days and not even seen the back of R's head, also thinks I'm single. And clearly, the man I thought was my boyfriend, he thinks I'm single too. So then, what should stop me from going out with a single, gorgeous, man that wants to buy me dinner, listen to me talk, make me feel important and wanted?
R returns to the table, we get the check and leave. On the corner of Grand and West Broadway, he turns me around and grabs my face with both his hands.
"Jane, are we okay?"
I look at the fear in his eyes. He doesn't want to lose me. But he’s willing to allow a word to take that risk.
"I feel stupid R. Like a fool. I just thought we were doing something different."
"We are. I just don't know why we need the titles and the labels."
"Yeah, it's stupid. I know."
He smiles. Because he thinks it's okay. But it isn't. After he puts me in a cab, I can't stop thinking about that simple word and what it means. I finger my cell phone in my pocket. And then I decide. I take out the phone and text the Israeli.
I Text: I could be convinced.
And he must have got more than my phone number from my mother, because the next day, two dozen orange tulips show up at my office.
We meet at Bond Street for sushi. He is charming. He talks me into a walk in Washington Square park in the dead of winter. In the park, he throws me up against a statue in front of six cops cars to stick his tongue down my throat . It feels kinda good. And he wants more. He wants me so badly that I can't resist the comfort of feeling wanted. I take him home and feel wanted all night until the sun comes up. When my apartment door shuts, I pick up the phone. Five missed calls and six text messages are registered on my cell.
His last text reads: Fine. You win. I'm your boyfriend.
But it doesn't feel much like a victory.
And now, here it is. A year since R and I ended our fling. I should have known that morning that things would never work out with R. Why did I care so much about that word? Why do I still?
I stare at the phone and think of an appropriate response to my dear, sweet Gabe.
Proposed text: It's not the word that hurts my feelings Gabe. It's the painful realization that I'm standing somewhere I was a year ago, and I'm still standing there by myself. I hoped I would be with someone that's proud of that. Actions are a better judge, but when you are rarely around each other, sometimes words are all you have.
I don't push send. It’s too f'ing long. Texts are not a place for this discussion. I reread the previous texts and the waterworks begin again. I'm so angry. I'm so done. What an ass. I should run away from any man that isn't proud and honored to call me his girlfriend. I put the phone down. Because while I’m entitled to my feelings, I am responsible for my actions. And I want to pause. I don’t want to react.
But I can’t stop the committee in my head. I can’t stop loading coal into the pity caboose of my own personal pain train headed for unnecessary sufferageville in my head.
Gabe is not the man for me. I'm bored. I miss being single. Sure the sex is mind blowing and it's nice to have the comfort of someone in my life... but let's face it, I haven't really been myself lately. I like being wanted, but do I really like this guy?
He texts: Save all replies for tomorrow. I'm not sure my lightheartedness is coming through the medium of text messaging.
He is right. It's not funny. And I'm not laughing. We are supposed to go away together this weekend to meet some of my friends and I don't want to introduce Gabe to my closest girlfriends as some guy I’m dating. I'd rather enjoy their company on my own. Plus - having him along will fuck up the flirt fest I plan on having after dinner when we all go out to the nearest lounge. I think I might be done. He's a wonderful man, but it's time for me to face the reality that he's not actually going to make the long haul. So what now? How should I break it off.
And just like that, I have taken a simple word and made it the end of me and sweet Gabe. The only man I can ever recall feeling so safe around, so adored and so comfortable with. I’m ready to trash it all, over a word.
And then I realize that while circumstances and other people may not change, I can. Instead of throwing away an entire foundation for a lovely relationship with an undetermined future, I can step back, gain perspective, breathe, and simply say "you hurt me".
"That hurt. That was not nice. That did not make me feel appreciated or valued. It made me feel like we don’t want the same things here. "
And actually, I believe we do want the same things. There is nothing about this man's actions that resemble R. He treats me like he intends to be around for a long while. I'm making this into something it is not. There are many other responses to the problems in my relationships, other than drama and tears and walking out. God, I just want to do one relationship differently.
So I do.
I don’t text back. I call a friend and let it out. She helps me visualize an appropriate response. She helps me sort the facts from the snowballing drama in my mind. Then I try and let it all go. I go back to work. I finish the day, I go to a meeting. I try to throw myself into service. I stack chairs, I volunteer for a new commitment, I go to dinner with a newcomer, I offer to take her to a meeting in the morning. I come home, brush my teeth, climb into bed, and Gabe arrives.
“Ingrid, I’m so sorry.” He says before he has even taken off his coat.
“I shouldn’t have sent those texts. I was trying to be funny”
I pause. “You hurt me.”
“I know. Considering your history, I can see why you would think my teasing insensitive. I want you to know how very proud I am to be with you. I can’t stop telling people how lucky I am to have you in my life. Ingrid, I don’t use it in front of you because I’m afraid it will scare you away. You can be weird about that stuff. ”
He kisses my head and holds onto me tightly. He thinks everything is okay. And it is.
I decide to do something different.