by Lilly Gelman
I’ve never dated anyone before. Sure I’ve had crushes and infatuations but a real relationship – no. The closest I ever got was a “thing” with a guy in summer camp. I don’t think there is any other way to describe it. He and I didn’t date, we weren’t “together” – we just had a “thing”. He and I talked a lot, stayed out late way past curfew, kept in touch for months after camp and even hung out a few times while we were both on break from school. Describing it now makes it seem like it wasn’t such a big deal. I keep telling myself it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a casual little-more-than-friendship that never amounted to anything. I really should be over it by now. So if it was casual, and so not a big deal, and just a “thing,” why is it the thing I think about almost every day?
Just to give you some perspective, this guy and I no longer speak. Whatever we had became weird over time and ended in a passive-aggressive text exchange that neither one of us have yet to address. This unfortunate end to what was actually a pretty spectacular friendship bothers me and on occasion drives me mad. Not knowing why is unbearable. What we had seemed good one moment and all came crashing down the next.
If I go back and play over the time he and I spent together, I can pinpoint my fatal mistake. It was during a conversation we had late one night in his apartment. That conversation was what turned our thing into a “thing.” It was what squandered any possibility of us dating, or us having a real relationship. It was when he said he wanted this to be casual — when he insinuated that it was better for him to be friends who get together when it’s practical but lead separate lives when it’s not. This conversation was when I began to let him make those decisions and control the depth of the relationship we actually had. It was the moment when I began to deny my feelings and my desires and pretend that I could be satisfied with the “thing” we had because I was so afraid of losing him.
But I wasn’t satisfied. Our quasi-relationship had been a taste of what having a real relationship could be. I wanted it and was holding on to the possibility that maybe one day our casual friendship would turn into a serious commitment – one I could hold onto and rely on. I was ready and willing to be fully invested, to give part of myself to him in a way I hadn’t with anybody else before. The problem was that he wasn’t, so I had to pretend like I wasn’t either. Nobody wants to be the clingy one, the girl who can’t handle a casual hookup and becomes attached way too early.
What baffles me most about the entire situation is how much power he had over me. How much control a guy who explicitly told me we would never be in a serious relationship could have over my actions and emotions. I was completely infatuated with and committed to somebody who would never want to commit to me; and I didn’t care. I didn’t care because he liked me. And I was afraid that, even though by no means was he mine, if I told him what I really wanted, I would lose what little part of him was.
My fear of communicating my true feelings to him kept me from expressing how much I always wanted to talk to him, how fast my heart used to race when I saw his name show up on my text messages. Every time we were together or in contact I would put on an act. “Be cool” I would tell myself. Don’t let him know that you are willing to drop everything whenever he calls. The hiding led to denial, and the denial led to doubt. Doubt that he ever really liked me in the first place, doubt that, if he did like me, it was for me and not for my body, doubt that if he didn’t want all of me – nobody would.
Our “thing” ended in the blink of an eye. I asked to meet up, he said no, I asked why, he wouldn’t tell me. And that was it. The most ironic part of the entire denouement is that I wanted to end things first. It took me a while, but I realized that by prolonging our casual “thing” I wasn’t being fair to myself, dragging myself along on a journey that was causing more heartbreak than happiness. But before I could muster up the courage to tell him all I had been feeling, he shut me out, closing off all communication without any explanation or response to my attempts to gain some closure.
We haven’t spoken since then. It has been months. I find it strange; it was like we broke up when we hadn’t even been together in the first place. It was like he had broken up with me before I had the chance to end things with him. I was hurt. More hurt than I should have been considering the casual nature of our non-existent relationship. As the days went by it got easier. I thought about him less and my desire to speak to him slowly faded, but it never really disappeared. And now I harbor within me two feelings that, unless I am completely preoccupied, eat away at me inside; frustration towards him and the way he handled the end, and anger towards myself that I have not been able to let it go.
I started writing this in the hopes that I could come to some nuanced conclusion about relationships and closure to be published somewhere and make the world a better place. That’s how I normally think. That within my emotions and experiences lies a message to be shared with those around me. Quickly realizing that I was doing nothing more than vomiting my hurt feelings onto a computer screen, I scrapped the idea. But, since the day that we have stopped talking, I keep coming back to this document. Adding to it, tweaking it, desperately trying to find the words within me that I can spill out onto this screen, hoping that as the words leave my mind the memories and the emotions of my whatever-it-was with this guy will finally fade away with nothing but a file on my computer to prove that anything ever happened.
Written in March 2017