First you have to break up with him.
You have to break up with him and it’s gross and hurts all the way into your spleen.
Then you have to watch him box up his stuff. And move it out.
Then you have to box up your own stuff. And move yourself out. And across a continent. To a place of new smells, new friends, and new hijinks.
It’s hard. It’s lonely. You need it.
You start to sleep better. Your arm doesn’t search for someone else on the other side of the bed who isn’t there. You start to enjoy an entire day alone without getting itchy. You read those books on your nightstand you’ve been meaning to read. You drink a little. You drink a lot. You make juice. You remember this is how it’s supposed to be.
After a few sweatily fun makeouts in bars and some tentative co-worker flirting, you’re ready. To do it differently this time. For once. So you pass on the emotional rockers, the brooding filmmakers, and the revolving door of guys who know more about hiding than sharing, hurting than helping, taking than giving. Plus, they never clean their beard shavings out of the sink.
It’s time. You sign up and log on. Choose a few photos that accurately represent you in all right ways (adventurous, able to wear a cohesively sexy but not slutty outfit, portray you having fun in multiple settings, and one close up enough to show those lines on your face are from laughing, not crying). Write a profile that is vague enough to not tell all your secrets, but specific enough to give people things to react to. And message you about.
Then, you wait.
After either a few days or a few months of sending and receiving dead end messages, you finally get one that pops. Finally.
A few funny, perfectly composed messages fly back and forth. Then he gives you his number. Says he wants to take you out to see if you’re really as good a skeeball player as you claim. Buy you a grilled cheese.
You switch to texting. It’s instantly a comfortingly, strangely familiar conversation that feels like it’s always been going on. You don’t want it to stop. You wonder if that’s bad. Or good. Or both. Neither? You realize you now check your phone first thing when you get up, to see if there’s a funny text from him. There always is.
Finally, it’s time to meet. You’re nervous. A little sweaty. Glad you’re wearing a black silky tank top and your lucky white Converse. And purple jeans, so he doesn’t forget.
You hop in a cab, all jangled nerves and possibly too much eyeliner and anticipation.
“Text me a picture of you,” you feverishly type while sitting in the back of a gridlocked cab. You’re going nowhere, fast.
“Why?” he writes back, just as quick.
Shit. “So I can see what you’re wearing and find you in the bar.” That sounds semi-plausible, right? Most importantly, it doesn’t betray the real reason for your request: you’re convinced he’s going to be fifty. With pudgy fingers and Cheetos breath. Or…worse.
Surely the big green eyes and carefully cultivated hipster beard and NASA t-shirt that his profile pictures portrayed can’t be a real, hilarious, quick-texting and fun-flirting real person, right?
You hit SEND and hold your breath. The taxi has barely gone two blocks in the last fifteen minutes. You’re going to be so, so late. Rude for regular life, but maybe sort of cool for a first date? Mysterious and makes you appear super busy and important?
No. It’s rude.
DING. A text has come in. A photo text. You squint, scared of what you’re about to see. But instead of multiple chins and a cheek scar, you’re presented with: an elbow. Clad in a green and black plaid shirt. Resting on a polished wooden bar. Tucked under the elbow: an issue of The Economist.
“Did you bring a magazine on our first date?!” you fire back, flushed with indignation and…relief that isn’t wasn’t a sleeve of prison tattoos?
“Well yeah,” zings the response. “In case you’re boring.”
You laugh out loud. His texts have been like this – quick witted, intriguing, and with enough of a good guy undertone to let me know he’s gently ribbing, but knows how to play.
Your cab pulls up to the bar. You take a deep breath, exhale.
You can do this.
Then you do it.
He looks even better than in his pictures. He’s sweeter than his witty texts suggested. Wittier than his profile.
And genuinely happy to be with you.
Your first kiss is next to the skeeball machine. You won.
Two years later, you have countless inside jokes, an ever-growing collection of Lionel Richie records, and plans to keep doing this for the foreseeable future.
And you’ve never had to wipe his beard hairs out of the sink once.