When I was twenty, I managed to get “engaged” for a day. This is the story of how that happened.
For the purposes of this account, I’ll call her “Lisa,” not because I fear for her safety, but because it’s way too easy to go on Facebook and look up the name of someone. I imagine, before the internet, it was way simpler to name drop people, because there was no way to have any connection with that person other than with the portrayal in the story. You just flipped the page, hoped your kid didn’t die of Typhus and thought Man, I bet they were terrible, whoever they were. The commies! Something like that.
I met Lisa on Facebook chat. I was drunk and nineteen and I will be the first to let you know that drinking and a nineteen-year-old myself is a terrible combination. I was too loud and too anxious to be accepted. In the year of 2008, if you wished someone at a party would just lower their damn voice already, chances are that it was me, regardless of your location. It was because of this awful concoction of Busch Ice and negative personality traits that I was left spending many early mornings, after the party had ended and after, it seemed, that all the girls had gone home with the cool guys, browsing Facebook chat.
I saw Lisa’s profile, and thought that she, with her height (about six feet), and long brown hair, was, for lack of a better phrase, really hot. I added her, and within minutes of her accepting a friend request from a guy who I think at the time was using the Nintendo character Yoshi as his Profile Picture, I was talking to her about something that I’d found “interesting” on her page. Note that this is always a mark of a relationship that is destined to, in time, go down completely in flames like a plane made of pure desperation. I feel that, with women that I actually like, my curiosity comes naturally. But I was too lonely to let anything happen naturally. Or I was what I perceived to be “lonely.”
You see, for a long time, I, like many, had loneliness mixed up with boredom. They share many of the same traits: isolation, depression and Netflix, but loneliness stems from the inability to create a connection with others and boredom is birthed by the inability to create connection with ones’ self. You don’t know what you’re good at, you don’t have anything to be passionate about, and thus, you feel constricted by the ever-enclosing walls of nothing-to-do’ness that seem to have suddenly surrounded you.
I think that boredom is the laziest thing that you can complain about. Go do something, bored people. If your hobbies are all unreachable things that you can’t do easily, enjoy your disappointment and find better, more fulfilling hobbies. The same goes for happiness that absolutely has to come from being surrounded by others that approve of you. Other people will never make you happy in the long run if you’re not at least somewhat amused with yourself.
I remember that the first chat was an awkward, stumbling affair, full of long pauses as I searched for more things to inquire about. What sports did she play? Where was she born? What is her hometown like? Every question was received with the same, straightforward answer. She replied to everything, but asked nothing. That first conversation spoke little of the concrete things that made up a Daniel, but spoke way too much about where I was at emotionally at the time. I was bored, and because I put too much personal emphasis on the idea that everyone was falling in love at the time, I was also “lonely.”
Lisa lived in Tennessee, while I attended Appalachian State University, in Northern North Carolina. We weren’t very far apart if you looked at it from the perspective of opening up an entire map of the U.S.A. But for two people who had never met, it must have come as a shock to her when I asked her out, after three or four late night game shows, where host Daniel Dockery grilled the only contestant Lisa until she decided to go to bed.
Her reaction to the date was “Why not?” I can assume that there are better answers to this, but when you’re nineteen and your only idea of potential love is this weird, intangible cloud that some of your friends and their girlfriends happen to be lingering on, you take any opening as a definite YES, DANIEL. LEND ME YOUR SEED FOR THIS YEAR’S HARVEST. OUR CHILDREN SHALL BE STRONG, AND OUR ROMANCE SHALL BE OH. SO. TENDER. We made plans as to how we were actually going to meet up, and luckily enough, she was driving to Boone the next week to see a friend from high school. Perfect.
Before I go into the “first date,” let me tell you two things, one infinitely more important than the other. The one that’s way more important is that, for as long as I and Lisa were “together,” I told no one about the relationship. Not a single person. I don’t know why. I obviously liked her, and thought she was stunningly beautiful, but, as you’ll later see, there were circumstances of the relationship that made me ashamed and uncomfortable. That last sentence will fill you in on the foreboding feeling that should start to creep in about now. This shit ends poorly.
The second thing is that I didn’t have anything nice to wear. None of my shirts had buttons on them, except for the polos, all of which seemed like something an unprepared fifteen-year-old would slap on when he was forced to attend an Easter service. I wore a big yellow and black striped one, this terrible blouse that instantly reduced my age by four years and my confidence by all years.
I was blown away by how great Lisa looked. I’ve always been attracted to tall girls, (Sorry, short girls. Enjoy fighting orcs!) and the fact that she was my height was awesome. Most of the first date ended up with me complimenting her on how she looked, which is nice until a certain point. I’m not a lady, but I imagine that after the date reaches the hour mark, the dude better start having more stuff to say than “You look great!” and “How was the drive?” After having dinner with her, we went for a walk, where the conversation continued to fall over its own feet until we got back to her car.
I don’t recall a lot of what was said in the car, but it took a turn for the serious. We sat there for two hours, comparing our lives and our past relationships. She’d broken up with a guy who had gone into the military, and had felt like part of her life was empty. I hadn’t broken up with anyone in a year and I was just sad and pathetic. But she told me that she was lonely, and felt like she was missing something. I said “You’re not the only one,” like James Bond would do, and on our first date, we had our first kiss. It was light on the lips, and slow. Almost mournful.
Long distance relationships usually go one of two ways. The first is an actual relationship where the two people love each other, but are separated by distance. The second is a sort of five step plan which I’ll illustrate for you below:
- See Some Landmarks
The relationship that Lisa and I had leaned heavily towards the second, even as I struggled to make it otherwise. She told me, the day after our first date, that she wanted to take it slow, and be casual about it. If we met other people closer to the towns we lived in that we felt strongly for, we would be free to pursue that with no hard feelings on either side. I didn’t want that at first, but I soon agreed to it. She told me that, until things became more serious, we had sort of an open relationship, something my stupid brain took to mean as “I can hit on other girls, but I’m gonna marry this one? Hmmm. Aces. Let’s do this.”
All the while keeping Lisa a secret from my friends, I would often wonder if she was doing the same. Sure, a dirty little secret, as the All-American Rejects may call it, seems cool on paper, because it implies “dirtiness” and “little.” It definitely doesn’t take into account the factors that were heavily prevalent in my life like “impossibly jealous” and “overly emotional.” I hit on other girls, as I felt that that was a must in order to keep up the status quo of an “open relationship,” but it would’ve been soul-crushing to learn that there was another man in her life. You see, for all the feelings of moral superiority that I had at the time over those partially fantastical cool guys that I mentioned earlier, who just used partially fantastical woman for sex and then left them mascara-stained and shattered, I was still an idiot.
We barely even saw each other, and our contact, as time went on, steadily diminished. I took nothing as a warning sign at first. Every month we’d find a night to see each other (It was mostly always her coming to Boone. I only made the trip to Tennessee once, as I didn’t have a car for most of college.), where we’d go get dinner and have those vague talks about love and life and what she meant to me and how badly she needed to start the drive back to Tennessee. In total, I probably only saw her for a total of about fourteen days. Keep that in mind, readers and nineteen-year-old me.
Every topic ended with some grand gesture about the human spirit that I would shill out, hoping to believe that if I told her that I loved her enough, I would gain some sort of reciprocation. Lisa was nice, polite, and a great listener when it came to my circumlocutory rants about happiness and passion. But she rarely ever told me how she felt about me. I had said “I love you” for the first time the day after our first date, which is the entire definition of poor timing. That would be like Alfred Hitchcock interrupting the opening apartment scene in Psycho to tell you to keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming, kick ass shower murder.
My sophomore year of college went on, and I felt her drifting away. I wasn’t so much introspective as I was a nervous wreck, so I went through every idea that I had about why she wouldn’t answer my calls or seemed to always be busy when I tried to Facebook chat with her. That’s the worst feeling in the world, the feeling you get when someone you feel strongly for seems to be trying to lose you. Remember Facebook Chat? That was our thing! Let’s have another dinner in a week and then make out on your friend’s couch! Huh? Huh? I wish, in retrospect, that I had tried to explain it to others, but I kept it bottled up. Far too often in that era of my life, I would find myself debilitated because I was stuck in my own head. It would lead to the crumbling of a lot of good stuff, stuff that could’ve been fixed had I just asked for a little advice.
But she was leaving. And at the time, the boredom that I had lost myself in would not allow that to happen. I had made her a part of my world, despite the fact that no one else knew about her. I didn’t have writing yet, so I had nothing to fall back into when it eventually ended. I had no safety nets of things that I enjoyed other than drinking, which would just end up making me more depressed. So, I clung onto her, despite her repeatedly telling me that, if I found anyone else closer to me that I enjoyed the company of, that it was more than okay to try and be with them. She would understand. I, unfortunately didn’t understand this, and it reached a head in the summer of 2009, which I spent in ASU’s summer school, because why take notes when you can write rap lyrics in class?
She told me that the guy she had broken up with was returning to the U.S.A., and that she wanted to give it another shot with him. For all of our relationship, I had never heard much about the guy we’ll call “George,” only that he had left her, which instantly made me better than him. It’s a common misconception as a young man to think that all of your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends are awful scum bags, and that, somehow, you’ll be that special one to show her what true love really is. I mean, really. This guy HAD LEFT HER. DUMPED HER. BROKEN UP WITH HER. SHE WAS SO NICE. HOW COULD HE? I WOULD NEVER DO THAT. I’M A BAD KISSER, LISA. LET ME SHOW YOU AND THEN I’LL TALK ABOUT IT SOME MORE.
I panicked, and in my panic, I began to ignore her for a bit, thinking that I would make her miss me simply because I was being a dick about timely call-backs. In what I imagined then was a sign of her own panic, she began to tell me that one day, maybe later, we’d work. But she had to find out about this now. She said that she loved me, and I would always be special to her. I couldn’t take it, and in an effort to make her realize that I, nerdy, emotionally immature, needy I, was better than that old jock who had told her to hit the bricks, thought of the worst plan possible.
I’d seen When Harry Met Sally. I knew that final monologue about making the rest of your life with someone start right now. So, I guess it seemed perfectly logical that I would ask her to fucking marry me.
I bought a ring from a pawn shop, an over-sized, so-very-much-not-an-engagement-ring thing. I didn’t have a job, but I thought that the promise of my upstanding character would lead her to believe that one day, I’d have one of those multi-million dollar careers that all people who’ve been bullied dream of lording over their former tormenters. But I bought the ring, and I told her that we need to talk. Right. Now. That’s exactly how I phrased it too, because nothing is more romantically appealing to a girl than making a date like you’re her impatient mom.
It was the first time that she’d ever been in one of my dorm rooms, one that I hadn’t bothered to clean up for her visit. I heard her knock at the door and when I invited her inside, we had a long-winded talk about my shitty emotions again, and then we had sex. Terrible, obligatory sex. And then, as we sat there, both shirtless with the moon shining through my dumb window blinds, I reached onto my desk and took the ring out from a stack of papers that I’d hidden it under, like I was setting forest floor hole trap in a cartoon. I held the ring out to her like a pizza delivery man and asked “Will you?”
If this was a Wikipedia page about a movie, it would say that the critical response was “Mixed.” She took it from me, and looked at it at first like I’d just dropped a live wasp into her palm. She then smiled at, which I took as a sign that we’d be together forever. She nodded to me and it was all I needed. I was officially engaged.
The next day, during the flood of feelings typically associated with intense fear, regret and misplaced hope, we went to Macado’s, a restaurant in Boone that is pretty good, but a lot of tourists go there, so I guess it sucks. We sat and I ordered my Coney Island sandwich. Lisa didn’t order anything. She told me that she was in a hurry and as soon as I started to eat, she placed the ring I gave her on the center of the table. “It’s not you,” she said. “It’s him.”
Looking back on it, that’s a pretty cool, trope-bending line. At the time though, it ruined me. My response to it was “But I love you.” So we began to talk about all the ways that it wasn’t going to work out, which sounded to me like nonsense. I had put what I considered a lot of myself into this (I hadn’t.) It had to work out. It was only right that it would work out because when you feel like you love someone, it needs to work out. Other-wise, what’s the point of it?
I have to mention that when the spectacular Macado’s date was over, I invited friends back to my dorm to play Dungeons & Dragons. The setting was the Tremors universe, you know, the one with the killer worms, and our characters were all named after Pokemon Professors.
She left that day and I only saw her one more time when I visited her in Tennessee, in a vain, futile effort to make something work. I hadn’t given up hope, because I had no hope to put in other places. If this failed, what else did I have? Lisa understood me, or at least she was a girl that talked to me. I couldn’t let her go without a fight. It was all very huge in my imagination.
On that visit, I met her parents for the first time, and they had never heard of me. Only a few of her friends that I met had, but when I told them that we had been dating, they seemed to shrug it off, as if I was trying to insult them. Lisa and I didn’t touch at all on that trip. At the end of it, after I’d pleaded for another shot, to take it slower and to try and make it something better, and after she had told me that George hadn’t just come home, that he’d been there for a while and that he and Lisa had been seeing each other for four months now, she told me “I’m sure there are a lot of great girls in Boone.”
Lisa and George got married last year, and for a long time before that, I hated her. We only spoke about every six months, with scant emails about how we were doing and the big things that were happening in our lives. The last I heard from her was a congratulatory email about my writing gigs back in October. I thanked her and I wished her well.
It wasn’t until after Lisa that I re-discovered writing, something I first did to help me get through the long, boring nights, and something I now do to make ‘dat paper and because there are few other things that make me happier. When you don’t have anything else, it’s easy to not just fall in love, but fall into someone else without much regard for yourself. I can’t promise that I won’t do that again, but, even when I’m by myself, with nothing in front of me but a computer, I find myself way happier than I was back then.