I waited outside the hilariously tacky trailer park lounge in my New-York-young-professional outfit. It was a Friday night, and I kind of wished I was dressed in theme for the bar. I longed for bright colors, thin fabrics, and bare skin. Far from tropical, however, the weather enveloped me, mocking my wistful daydreams. I stood in the freezing cold, daring Dan to be a second later.
It had been a while since we’d done the one-on-one catching up thing. Dan is my ex, and we’re one of those miraculous success stories of ex-lover turned current close friend. It was hard at first, and we had a couple periods of hazy grey, but for the most part, we rocked it. We came out the other side, unbroken. We were always better as friends, and that became screamingly clear as we transitioned from boyfriend/girlfriend to friends with benefits to A+ platonic pals.
It had been over a year since we’d been an item and over six months since we’d last hooked up. We were out of the woods. Finally on solid ground, and I felt so far past our romantic phase that I had since fallen – hard – for another person, Ryan. Way harder than I had ever fallen for Dan. I hadn’t even slipped or lost my balance for Dan. But Ryan. Ryan was the one that got away.
Anyway, I waited. When he finally emerged from the nearby subway station, I closed out of Instagram & got my sass ready.
“Well well well. Look who’s late.”
Smiling, he responded, “Hah. Sorry.”
Infinitely more succinct and laid back than me. We never had the banter thing going for us. We made our way into the bar and sat down on sticky seats. The vibe in this place was spot on for the kitschy, hipster crowd. My pick, of course, and Dan’s concession.
We ordered drinks and commenced the catch-up. Covering everything from work to family to friends to creative outlets. We trusted each other completely. No filters, no taboo topics. The words and alcohol and laughter all flowed easily. And what kind of young single people would we be if we didn’t (extensively) cover our love lives? Or lack thereof, I guess.
He began, “I deleted all my dating apps.”
“Bravo. Freeing, isn’t it?”
He told me about how online dating sucked. I told him that he was one of the good ones and how he should trust me because I’m a catch with remarkably great taste in guys. I told him about Ryan. I told him all the reasons we should have had a future together but somehow got lost on our path to build one. He listened and did his friendly duty of not liking him. Of telling me that I would be okay and that it would all work itself out.
Finally, our thirst quenched and brains fried, we grabbed the check and took turns using the restroom. As I started to bundle up for the stubborn cold, he told me how he’s finally been good again about exercising. I laughed and touched his abs, swooning and testing his reaction. We were always like that together. I played the tease and he played along. It was a bit we knew so well. That’s the level of comfort we had reached, after 15 months of just friends.
Out in the cold, I hugged him goodbye. It lingered a bit, and we kissed, just for a second. It wasn’t charged, it wasn’t romantic. It was just two people who have cared about each other for a long time. I turned on my heel to go and told him to get home safely. As I walked away, I heard him call out, “Wait. Come back.”
So I did. “What’s up?”
“I don’t think I’m the guy to be giving you relationship advice right now.”
“What do you mean? Your advice was great.”
“No, it’s not that, it’s me. I’m just not the guy. It’s just hard, and it’s not the right time for me. It’s hard to be friends with you sometimes.”
I honestly can’t remember what else he said. After his vaguely rant-ish monologue, I finally said “okay” and turned again to walk home. I never expected him to even consider wanting me back. Not in that way. First of all, he broke up with me, way back when. Second of all, and much more importantly, we both knew -unequivocally so – that we never fell in love and never would. It made me so sad that this bout of loneliness had convinced him that he deserved anything less than magic, than fireworks, than earth-shattering, reality-shifting true love.
I thought then of New York – this crazy whirlwind of a city in which it’s so easy to feel lonely in all the hustle, bustle, and sensory-overload. There’s a reason for the plethora of dogs and dating apps here. It’s a city that tests you and can try to break you at times.
But go ahead and try, New York. Try. But darling, we’re both unbreakable.