“So, what are we doing?” Her heart raced more asking this question than it did from any of their other interactions – whether she was trying to look like she wasn’t watching him from across the room, or they were having sex squished into her twin bed.
She saw him pause. Whether from annoyance or surprise, she didn’t know. She wasn’t one to bring up tricky questions or to show vulnerability. She hated it. More than anything else in the world, she hated that clawing feeling of neediness. Of irrationality. Of knowing one thing in her head, but feeling something completely different in her stomach, her chest, her throat.
Time stretched out in front of them as her heart slowed. Not because she was calming down. It was more like each heartbeat was turned up in intensity, thumping slowly and painfully inside her ribcage, sending waves of anxiety all the way out to her fingertips. She watched him out of the corner of her eye. Eye contact was out of the question, obviously. It was never one of her strengths anyway.
“What do you want to be doing?” was his response, finally. Not helpful to her in the least.
She wanted him to want her. All of her, like he had when they were 17 and totally entwined in each other’s lives, sharing friends, lunch times, extracurriculars, and couches. She wanted to be the one he couldn’t get over, the one he would do anything to be with again. She wanted those to be the emotions he was hiding.
But what did she want for herself? She wanted someone who appreciated her, who challenged her, who had dreams and ambitions but was also willing to see where the world would take him. She wanted someone she could talk to. That sounds simple. Talking shouldn’t be hard. But as her brother once said, she was “ruthlessly pragmatic” in a way that often prevented her from admitting to emotion that wasn’t warranted or explainable.
She couldn’t answer his question. She didn’t really know herself. A part of her believed that he wouldn’t challenge her in the ways she wanted to be challenged. That she would get frustrated with his complacency and his inability to talk about tough issues that really mattered to her. Their schedules didn’t even line up. He liked to sleep in, but she felt best when she was up early. She hated staying up late, and she had only done it recently to see him. But she knew that if he was hers, she wouldn’t make that kind of effort.
So the rational part of her believed this made no sense. Maybe it was OK for them to be having sex, just for fun. Yet, she knew herself, and “just for fun” wasn’t quite in her wheelhouse. She would spend whole Sundays wondering why they hadn’t talked after having sex the night before, why he just got up and left. Was it because she didn’t reach out? Or because he didn’t want to be there anymore? Did it matter?
It had been five and a half years. Five and a half years since she said it wasn’t the same anymore. Five years since he had started seeing someone else. Four years since she deleted his cell phone number (and then realized she had it memorized). Five years of huge developmental importance, where she was genuinely proud of the progress she had made as a person and a member of society. But she couldn’t shake him. Couldn’t shake the idea of him, the memory of him, the possibility of what could have been. Didn’t that mean something?
She hated herself for how immature she had acted throughout those years. Sending texts while he had a girlfriend. Writing Facebook messages with more emotion than she could ever say out loud. Ignoring him in person. Blushing ferociously when they did make eye contact. Drunkenly, finally, having sex. Three times. Obsessing over the fact that they didn’t talk outside of those one-night stands, but feeling powerless to do anything to change that. If she was one of her friends, she would bitch slap them back to reality with a carefully ordered list of reasons she was being irrational. She had tried to give herself the same pep talk, but she couldn’t stop obsessing.
Back to his question: what did she want to be doing? She wanted to be talking. She wanted to talk without feeling like she was going to embarrass herself or say more than she should. She just wanted to say it all and see what happened. And she wanted to believe that he could do the same. That he could lay it out there. Maybe he was just interested in having sex. If she knew that was it, could she continue? Maybe not. Maybe the fear of the moment when he found someone else and the drunken interactions stopped would be too much.
Maybe he would want something more. Maybe he would want to start hanging out sober again. But they both somehow acknowledged that they weren’t good at being nice to each other. Teasing, annoying, poking, sure. But genuinely being nice and meaning it without embarrassment didn’t come easily to her. The sentiment and emotion in real life just made her cringe. She didn’t want it to be that way. It just was.
She silently begged for him to say something first. Anything. Any hint that he was emotionally over it or emotionally curious. She didn’t want to take the first risk, to put herself out there without any knowledge of what he was thinking or feeling. But the silence hung there. Patience on his part. Fear, indecision, confusion and panic on hers.