If a hookup hurts you, and he doesn’t know it, does it still count?
“This is it. He’s the last guy. If it doesn’t work out with him, I’m taking a sabbatical from men. I swear. Look, I’ll even renew the vows of celibacy forced upon me by years of Catholic education. Men are trash. I can’t do it anymore,” I pause and look up at the sky. “You know what? He will definitely be the last guy of the year. I don’t even know any other guys I’d be interested in.”
It’s the beginning of a long January. I’m sitting on a slick, stone bench in front of my dorm, delivering this impassioned monologue to my friend Sarah as she scrolls through the messages between me and this boy. Rudy, her dog, sits in front of me slobbering on my Doc Martens and munching on soiled snow. My thighs grow numb. I rub my hands against my gray leggings in half of an attempt to keep them alive. I wait for Sarah’s synopsis.
“Oh my God, Juliette! Yes. I love him! I love this. You’re doing a really good job of flirting with him and that’s a good sign, especially for you. When are you guys going to hang out? If he flakes again, you have to drop him. Do you think he was telling you the truth when he cancelled your plans before? Guys are such trash. Anyway, it’s cold. Come on, Rudy. Let’s go. Juliette, you’ll be great.” Sarah bounces off and I hug myself, tucking my hands into my armpits as I walk back up to my bedroom.
A few days later I’m at a costume party in an obscure “artsy” frat. I’m horribly underdressed in a Beetlejuice shirt and hanging onto my best friend, Matt’s arm. The guy in question, the guy from the flirty messages, walks in. He’s with a girl. I am sweaty in a man’s tee shirt, nondescript baggy jeans, and with “eccentric” unwashed hair.
I did not expect him to be here. Who is the girl he’s with? Is she the reason we’ve had to continuously reschedule our plans? He hugs Matt while I stand with my hands in my pockets, nodding along to a song stuck in my head. I learn the girl’s name is Erika. She’s best friends with the boy.
The boy is very pretty and popular and personable, so I don’t get to spend much time with him during the rest of the night. I steal glances of him now and again, and make the most out of the little moments that mean so much when one is intoxicated and in lust.
His fingers brush my hand softly when he offers me a sip from his vodka soda. He mentions how he gravely miscalculated where my family home is and how he was going to take a three-and-a –half-hour bus ride to come see me, and possibly meet my parents. I laugh at his jokes and he laughs at mine. Before I leave, he wraps me in a tight hug, pulls the back of my neck towards his face, and whispers with his warm, alcohol-infused breath, “I promise I won’t bail on Monday.” He releases me and I stand, frozen.
“That was hot,” Matt says. I am silent.
Monday comes, and despite what he told me at the party, I am convinced he’s going to bail. He sleeps late and when I haven’t heard from him by three, I become nervous.
“What if he doesn’t come?” I ask my roommate, Lena, as I brush my hair.
“He’ll come,” she responds.
“What if he cancels?” I worry as I change out of sweatpants and into something more alluring.
“He won’t,” says my other roommate, Anna, rolling her eyes.
“What if he forgets we have plans?” I ask, dousing perfume between my breasts and under my neck.
“He won’t,” answers Matt.
“Why don’t you just text him?” Lena chimes in from her room.
“I don’t want to annoy him,” I mumble. But too much anxiety has manifested itself in my stomach. I text him, very causally, very-low-key, like the cool girl I am, ‘You better not bail.’
It’s a relief when he tells me he’s running late, but he’ll be there shortly, bearing noodles for the both of us.
We sit on opposite pieces of furniture in the living room of my dorm. I’m not sure what to make of this arrangement. If he’s into me, wouldn’t he want to sit closer? But we talk for hours. My phone sits on my desk, silenced. I miss all six texts from my roommates asking me to be quieter, or at least to get the boy to shut up for a minute. He knows so much, and I worry he’ll think I’m stupid or basic, but it all seems so wonderful and magical. I get lost in conversation topics I know nothing about.
We quiet ourselves down after we split a six-pack of Yards. We spend the rest of the night, and most of the next morning, in my bedroom. He is still in my bed when I leave for class at 1:30.
After that night, I didn’t want to talk to him again. I want to avoid him forever, ghost him, forget about him, something. I don’t understand why, but it’s such a compelling thought. I ignore the impulse and make plans with him for the upcoming Friday.
He comes over at ten that Friday night. We eat leftover Chinese food at 4:30 in the morning and sleep until 4:30 Saturday afternoon. When I wake up, I learn that Lena’s boyfriend of almost one year, her first love, has broken up with her.
“I don’t understand. When did he stop being in love with me? How long was he lying to me? Why are guys like this? I gave him so many opportunities to tell me something was wrong. It’s so stupid. I feel so stupid for not realizing what he was thinking.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You are going to be ok. He cared about you. You know you guys weren’t right for each other. You were going to break up with him anyway. Men are trash. He wasn’t good enough for you and he knows it.”
She is still sad.
I have work in my neighborhood flower shop the following day. I tell my coworkers about the boy and show them his Facebook photos.
“You’re glowing,” they say. I am silent.
“Do you think you’re going to date? Does he like you? It seems like he really likes you.”
“I don’t know. I want him to like me, but I don’t know if he really does. He mentioned some other girl the last time he came over, but he said it was a ‘yikes’ situation and they weren’t really talking anymore.”
“Oh yeah. Don’t worry about that. He definitely likes you. You said he graduated already, right? It’ll be cool if he moves out of the city like for work or something and then you can go visit him.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure if I want that. A boyfriend is a lot of work, and we’re at very different points in our lives.” I pause. “I do really like him, though.”
I don’t see him for two weeks because he catches the flu. (What kind of responsible adult doesn’t get a flu shot?) The next time we hang out is at a birthday BYO I throw with my friends. I’m excited that he comes. He makes an effort to learn the names of my roommates and some key facts about each one. He apologizes for not buying me a present, but promises he’ll take me to get coffee some time and he pays for half of the McDonald’s feast we consume at three in the morning.
Something’s different, though. I notice he’s on his phone more than before. I don’t pick up on his jokes. His sarcasm goes over my head each time he makes a comment. I assume I’m overthinking, and I know he has a lot of things going on in his personal life.
I was wrong, I think.
He doesn’t text me on my birthday. This worries me. I know it’s not a big deal, but I also don’t know if it’s a big deal. It shouldn’t be indicative of anything, but maybe it is. I send him multiple messages like the calm, cool, collected girl I am.
He responds the next day. He apologizes for missing my birthday. He explains he’s been in a funk. Then, he asks me if I’m sure I’m ok with not being monogamous and if it’s fine that we’ll only see each other once a week, or once every two weeks. I begin typing a response about how I’m not sure if I can handle anything serious, especially because I’ve been depressed recently and my grades aren’t great and I use other people’s problems as a distraction from my own. I delete the message because I don’t want to be insensitive to his funk. I ask him if he’s ok and if there’s anything I can do to help him. The very next message he sends surprises me. He doesn’t think we should hook up anymore. He can’t handle any type of commitment.
This makes sense, but I’m still sad. I respond in a way which indicates that I am totally fine with this new arrangement as long as we can remain friends. I will miss our pseudo intellectual conversations about art and fashion and architecture. He agrees.
At first, I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone what happened. Then Lena asks me when he’s coming around again.
“Oh, Juliette. I’m so sorry. Men are trash,” she offers reassuringly. “At least we know he liked you and it’s just a matter of timing. He does need to get his life together.”
“Do you really think he liked me? If he liked me why would he end it?”
“I don’t know. Tim really liked me and then he ended things abruptly. Boys don’t make any sense.” She gives me a hug and I am silent.
I retreat into my bedroom. I burrow underneath my blue comforter, clutching my laptop and stuffed animals, crying lightly. I fall asleep to numb my brain.
I didn’t know I liked him this much. I’m not used to being hurt by boys. I try to reconcile myself with my sadness, to make sense of my emotions. I write about it a bit, overdramatic phrases about how my bones have no room to absorb any calcium because they’re heavy with despair. I am gutted, but with heavy limbs and a swollen heart. It’s absurd. I know that, but I can’t stop. I don’t even have the right to be upset. We didn’t date. He treated me well. He was clear when he ended things and didn’t leave me wondering about what would happen. I didn’t deserve that kindness. He barely knew me. I need to pull myself together. I wasn’t even rejected. It just didn’t work out because of timing. I’m sure of it.
Unfortunately, I am not of the disposition which allows me to get over things and move forward. If I were, I’m sure that not only would my life be better, but so would the lives of my enemies, and boys who end things without warning.
I follow the boy on Instagram and I keep seeing the same girl. If he wasn’t ok with commitment, why was he always with her? He must’ve lied to me. I must not be good enough for him. But that’s ridiculous. I’m great. I’m funny and fun to hang out with. I was nice to him and didn’t expect a whole lot. Was it my face, my body, my awkwardness? Why would he lie to me? That’s so disrespectful.
I text him and we argue. He says he didn’t lie. He explains things a bit more. I’m not satisfied. My opinion of him lessens. Suddenly, he doesn’t seem so great, he just seems weak, lacking of convictions and motivation. Still, we text periodically and maintain a friendly air. He’s a nice guy. But eventually, he stops responding. I feel like I’ve pushed him too far, annoyed him too much, expected too many things from him. I worry that he thinks I’m in love with him or obsessed with him or something; I’m embarrassed and I’m ashamed. I’m neither in love with him or obsessed with him, really. I’m just a little intense and care deeply about people. But there must be something wrong with me if he stopped responding. I know he keeps in touch with other girls he’s hooked up with. What’s wrong with me? Why am I different? Did he even like me? I don’t have any satisfying answers. I don’t even know how to get any satisfying answers.
This “breakup” continues to be hard on me. We have a good amount of mutual friends, so I hear his name a lot. I think about him a lot. I see him on Facebook a lot. It’s impossible to escape him and it’s expected that I’m over him by now. I send non-romantic, but very honest drunk texts to him about how I miss our friendship and hope all is well with him. I receive no response. I feel even worse about myself. Lena wasn’t even this sad when her relationship with Tim ended, and they were even able to remain friendly with one another. They dated for a whole year. My fling lasted a few weeks. It’s unfair of me to mope around and feel lied to and upset and hurt when so many people, especially Lena, have so many better reasons to feel that way. There’s something fundamentally wrong with me. I can’t get over this boy, this boy who gave up thinking about me months ago. Rejection hurts. Nothing can help, and I know I’ve been rejected.
The sadness chokes me at unexpected moments, chokes me so hard I can’t even talk about it. I don’t tell Matt, when he notices and asks. I make up an excuse about bad grades. I hide my tears from my mom when she asks if I’m still talking to the boy. I think I do a good job at hiding this bizarre, unnecessary, never-ending, pain, but I know I don’t.
For a while, I wanted someone to blame. I blamed my friends who convinced me that he was into me and gave me false hope. I blamed him for treating me so well and being so wonderful. I blamed the guys I had dealt with earlier in the year for making this guy seem so great when he probably wasn’t that great, and I blamed myself. I got carried away each time we hung out and overanalyzed all of the positive signals I received from him. But, after many drunken conversations and bottles of wine consumed in the name of self-care, I finally learned, much to my dismay, that there was no one to blame. It’s not his fault I fell for him. He genuinely didn’t know what he was getting himself into. It’s not my friend’s fault I fell for him. They genuinely thought he was into me. It’s not my fault I fell for him. He was genuinely charming and interesting and low stress. He was exactly what I needed, a good distraction from school and depression.
After I realized there was no one to blame for the demise of our “relationship,” I realized how stupid it was to feel embarrassed. I tried to stop judging myself for being upset. This is a lot easier said than done. (I still feel as though my reaction was slightly disproportionate, that’s why I justified all the reasons I liked him in this piece.) However, I had been working on dealing with intense emotions for a long time in my therapy sessions. My therapist practices CBT. The purpose of CBT is to change the way which the person thinks about his or her disorder and the ways which they view their positive and negative emotions. I let myself be sad, and after a while, I got sick of it. I lurched forward into schoolwork, and away from unemployed men who may or may not have commitment issues.
I’m not bitter anymore. I don’t feel anything for the boy who so excited me a few months ago. I learned that heartache is heartache. It always fades, unless the love is real, but it always takes its time doing so. It doesn’t matter who hurt you or how long your relationship was. This person was important to you at some point in your life. They affected you in ways they may not have even know about, and hurt you in ways they weren’t trying to. This does not invalidate your experience. Trust your emotions, and know that they’ll settle eventually. It’s a long, slow, painful process, full of doubt and indecision and worry, but maybe you’ll get to write about it.