I sometimes imagine that this life I’m living now is a reincarnation: a compromise to a dying woman (or man, or cow, or bee, or whatever) who was incredibly lucky in love but had an otherwise shitty life.
“I’d gladly give up my love with Frazlarzimog to see my family alive!” my previous self claimed on their deathbed. “Finding a soulmate was truly glorious, but how could I enjoy it with this wretched health and the persecution of my people?!”
My miserable luck with love stands in contrast with the rest of my luck. I have a (sometimes overwhelmingly) loving family. My best friend just moved to New York City and she’s a frickin’ easy hour away on the train now. I have excellent health, to the extent that my body forgives me for nights like tonight when, to self-soothe, I devoured three dinners with half a bottle of wine. I’ve been unreasonably lucky career-wise. People have forwarded me job applications, vouched for me, and opened almost every job door I’ve knocked on. I’ve traveled across the globe, working in four countries, mostly as a response to “hey, why don’t you apply for X?” And I do. And I get it. (I recognize how much privilege is involved in this.)
Oh, there are some failures. There are jobs that I haven’t gotten. I’ve auditioned for shows and programs and gigs that didn’t want me. I’ve experienced personal family tragedy. But overall, looking at my life, I’m stupidly lucky and successful for basically being the kind of person who says “but eh, do I really need to be making money?” until my co-worker Kawai says “Jessica, did you apply for that position yet? I’m going to sit here and watch you do it.”
As most of you reading this know, I date a bunch. OKCupes and Tinder, mostly, through I’ve also tried other apps. I go on one, two, maybe three dates. Over the past few years, I haven’t made it to four. There’s aren’t feelings involved, other than… obligation? Weariness? For me to develop feelings, maaaaany criteria have to be met.
- He’s smart
- He’s funny
- He’s attractive.
- He’s not too conventionally attractive (that is, if I meet someone in person. If I meet someone online, why not?)
- He’s single (fully single)
- He’s liberal. I don’t want to fight and I don’t want to hear that Trump was “also treated unfairly by the media, don’t you think?”
- He’s kind and generous
Actually, that’s not so many criteria. There are more. Again, I had three dinners and a bunch of wine tonight. The thing is, when I’m online dating I just don’t usually get to the point where I even figure out if the dude matches these criteria. We’re having these weirdy-weird interview dates and even if it’s a good time, it’s rare for me to get to see a guy in his element. We’re so guarded and secretive, you know? The comedian didn’t want me to come watch his set. The writer didn’t want me to read anything he wrote. I certainly don’t invite any of these guys to come watch me do musical improv. How can these dudes really know anything about me if they haven’t seen me roll around on the Magnet stage singing some idiotic genre-specific song? That’s my art.
That’s why I was so pumped up to go out with *Hawk. I got to know him over the course of a couple months, as I’d met him through a group of friends. I got to see him display his intelligence and sense of humor in an atmosphere that wasn’t performative to me. I got to flirt a little bit and see how he responded and suss him out. I got to develop a little crush. It was fricking nice. It made me realize, to my sadness, despite all the dating I do, that it’s been about three years since I’ve had a crush on anyone.
I asked Hawk out. We went out. We made out.
We went out again. The date went really long. I spent the night. He made breakfast in the morning, along with a very elaborate coffee ritual.
This is where my stupid fricking brain gets in the way of things. I wish I were a chill person who could just say, “those were two fun dates. Maybe this will lead to something, maybe it won’t.” But I’ve spent eight years doing improv comedy, training my brain to think of every conceivable situation in an instant.
[scene partner walk on the stage and say “your lordship?”]
So many choices! Maybe I respond as a pompous king. Maybe instead I’m a nebbish duke, uncomfortable with my power. Or I’m Satan, Lord of Hell. Or I’m Reggie, manager at Kinko’s, and this damn kid won’t stop kowtowing to me. Of course I could also walk out and be another plaintive soul looking for her lordship, whose been missing long these twelve years. Or I could be an enemy combatant, who has locked up this pathetic knave who is now trying to flatter me into letting them out. X infinitum. Any decent improviser can do this. My mind is like a rolodex, flipping through possible scenarios, landing on the one that feels like the most fun or the most natural or the most necessary in the moment. This is a very useful performance skill.
It’s not so useful in dating. In spite of my efforts to ~be cool~, I found myself fantasizing about the life Hawk and I could have. Oh, we’d start things light. Coney Island, bike trips around Astoria, all those food festivals I never go to that I write about in the events blog I write, hell, all the events I write about in my events blog. Then of course there’d be travel, eventually. There’s so much of the world I still haven’t seen, and Hawk and I speak six languages among ourselves. This wouldn’t be an exercise in vulnerability if I didn’t share that I even imagined how nice it would be to finally not feel the shame of being the only cousin in my family who hadn’t brought a romantic partner to Christmas.
The third date was coming up. I was starting to feel less confident about everything. Hawk deeply sucks at texting, and he didn’t want to ride bikes. “Sounds tiring.” (Did that mean I had to hide all 7,334 references to cycling displayed in my apartment? Jesus Christ.) I tried to downgrade my brain’s fantasy parade to but the thing wouldn’t listen.
He came to Queens. We went out: Astoria Bier and Cheese, Greek food, drinks, show at QED. He spent the night. I made breakfast in the morning, along with truly terrible coffee.
We held hands and he called things off. Siiiiiigh. Oh well. He was right; the vibes weren’t romantic enough. We were attracted to each other and admired each other in various ways, but it wasn’t right. I cried, mostly because rejection always sucks. I had to chuck out those frantic fantasies my brain had been piling on its shelves. Hawk wasn’t going to make me feel like less of a failure at Family Christmas; he wasn’t even going to go to Astoria Pool with me.
I got an email from Hawk, after the whole thing. He wrote that I inspire him, that me asking him out gave him confidence. He wants to be like me, to take risks and initiatives and hopefully find love as he is sure I will. It was hard for me not to respond with something snarky. “Make sure to include me in your list of thanks at your wedding.”
I didn’t respond, but not out of malice. He’s a nice guy. I’ll see him around; we still have friends in common, after all. And I still have my mostly-awesome life, which I wouldn’t trade for a shitty life in love always appeared easily.
Tell my brain to cool it with the fantasies next time, though, huh? I guess you’ll have the opportunity in oooooh, 2020ish.
*if you’re gonna go fake name, go hard