A millennial love story
We meet at my favorite wine bar. He’s sitting at the bar when I arrive, but he’s still wearing his camel trench coat, which I am grateful for because he looks devastatingly handsome in it. It’s not long before he mentions that I seem distracted. I tell him it’s been a weird week, but don’t really want to get into it.
He’s always calm. I’ve never seen him nervous or uncomfortable. Even on our first date. At times, this calm demeanor comes off as disinterested. I can’t tell if the composure or disinterest is what makes me actually want him.
I feel like I can’t, or shouldn’t, tell him about my week. Because it’s more than the week. It’s what a mess my life is, worse, what a mess I am. He doesn’t have anxiety. He never alludes to anything sad in his past. At first that felt fine, it was too soon to speak about that. But as we spend more time together, and text endlessly, my messes come up more and more naturally in conversation. He remains mess free. I still can’t bring myself to really tell him what’s going on in my life. It’s one thing that he’s not very vulnerable with me; he might not have scars like I do or he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to share at this point, both are fair. Maybe I would feel more comfortable if he was more affectionate or complimentary. But he hasn’t told me how much he likes me, or how beautiful I am, or made any indication that he wants to take it a step further. I’d like to say that this doesn’t bother me. It mostly doesn’t. I’m confident in who I am and know that he likes me without words of affirmation. But that feeling of apathy inside of me is just a sign that I’m used to be treated like this. I’ve grown accustom to non-adoring men. If anything, his lack of affirmation makes me more aware of how much I need to hide what a mess I am.
He sees the writing on my wrist. The quote that I write on my wrist with a Sharpie every morning: “I was born to do this”. I started writing this a few weeks ago because it was the only thing I could say to myself to keep moving amidst so much uncertainty, familial drama, and low self-efficacy. Joan of Arc reminded me that I wasn’t meant to live a simple life, and it gave me the energy to keep going. It gave me the energy to keep writing. It gave me the energy to start my business. It gave me the energy to keep loving myself. I owe my life to the scribble on my left inner wrist.
Once he sees it, I try to cover it by pulling my sweater over my hands, even though I secretly wanted him to see it. He gently grabs my wrist and asks what it is. I tell him I write it every day and how it motivates me. He seems intrigued or impressed or something, I can’t tell what he thinks. I never can.
Now that he sees the writing on my wrist, he understands why my week was weird. Without telling him I’m not speaking to my father because of a blog post I wrote, without telling him that I don’t know if the credit card I plan to use to pay for my drinks has a 70% chance of being declined, without telling him that every morning I wake up feeling clueless and I have no idea how I’m going to start my business. Without telling him anything specific, I tell him what a mess I am. I tear up and he wipes the tear forming under my right eye with the knuckle of his finger. And I almost feel loved. Because I’m almost seen.
I know that if we continue the conversation as it is now, I will inevitably word vomit everything. I want nothing more than to change the subject. But I know I can’t abruptly change the subject. If I were to change the subject to basketball or a question about him, he would feel obligated to say, “No, no, you can’t do that. Don’t change the subject. We’re talking about you.” And he’d force me to continue to talk about my messy life.
Thankfully, I’ve gotten good at this slight manipulation. I’ve learned how to make him think it’s his idea to redirect the conversation. I tease, “If I tell you why I am such a mess, you won’t fall in love with me, which you’re about to do very soon. You’re so close to falling in love with me and I can’t take the risk.” He laughs and lets me change the subject.
He’s warm now. I know he likes me and the five Manhattans stirring in my brain have made me confident. I grab the collar of his trench coat and pull him in to kiss. He kisses back, holding my face in his hand. The kiss is perfect. He is completely perfect.
He wants to come to my apartment. I protest. My apartment is gross but he insists. I show him around. He says he likes it, calling special attention to my gallery wall. He has great taste. I tell him the tour is over and we’re leaving now to go back to his apartment. He asks me why I am so impenetrable, as he straightens out one of my photos from Cuba.
He stays for awhile, but I don’t let him spend the night. When I drop him off, he tells me to text him when I get home. I don’t. He doesn’t text me the next day. Neither do I. I do not text him because I am nervous that he no longer likes me. I have a sick feeling all day. Everything that felt right the night before, feels weird now. The intimate tear wiping, it now feels wrong. Even though I didn’t share everything, or anything specific, I feel exposed. I’m not exactly nervous that he doesn’t like me at all, but I’m nervous he doesn’t like me enough to know the real me. The messy parts.
When four days have passed, without either of us sending a message, I remind myself that I have told him some things in the past. When we first started seeing each other, I called him one night; we had been texting for hours and I was sick of looking at my phone screen. I also thought that if he couldn’t sustain a 15-minute phone conversation, it was good to know now. But we talk for hours. Two hours and forty-five minutes to be exact. Asking each other questions and sharing stories. I told him about going to a wedding, where I didn’t know anyone by the bride, and I couldn’t find a date to accompany me. Not long after arriving to the reception, I had a panic attack. My tone is almost daring him to be scared. Knowing that this is the first vulnerable thing I’ve told him and it shows how crazy I am, I think this will turn him off. When I’m finished telling the story, he says, “Okay.” Confused, I ask, “That’s it?”. And like a prince, he says, “What? Did you want me to be scared? That doesn’t scare me.” He couldn’t see my smile, but I’m sure he could hear it in my voice the rest of the conversation.
But that was months ago. And I’m right to believe that something changed that night. While he responds to all of my texts, since that night, he has stopped asking me questions, in fact, he’s stopped reaching out first all together. And I can’t help but notice, he never asks to hang out again. His responses are kind but on the shorter side. After a week or two of me keeping the conversation going, I stop texting him all together. Neither of us has to say it, but I know it’s done.
After a month of silence, the dust has settled and because we never had a big blow up or grande finale conversation, we’re still technically on good terms, I send him a text, a photo of a teeshirt that made me think of him. He asks how my Thanksgiving was. We catch up and he tells me how busy he’s been at work. Eventually, I find a place to end the conversation and stop responding. I derive some satisfaction knowing that I can reach out to him for small talk and we’re not on bad terms.
Weeks later, I’m near his place and send him a friendly text telling him where I am and I thought of him. He surprises me by asking to get drinks.
Weeks later, I’m staying at Airbnb that I’ve rented for photo shoot, that’s near his place. I send him a friendly text telling him where I am and I thought of him. He’s nice, but short, like always. When I tell him I have to run, he asks if I want to hang out. This surprises me. And despite the giddy feeling I have reading his response, it was not my intention when reaching out to him. I truly believed that he didn’t have an interest in seeing me again. I was prepared for an hour of pleasant, but boring text messaging. Seeing him was not in my plans for the evening.
I’m thrown off. I have to screenshot the conversation to my friend and ask her what to do. I don’t wait for her response to tell him, “Okay, lets hang out”. Because as rude as it was to leave me hanging like that, I miss him. I don’t think about him all the time, nor am I filled with heartbreak when I think about him. That’s not the type of missing I mean. I mean I miss him like I miss spending time with him, I miss his voice, I miss talking to him about his life in New York, I miss how he’s the only person who teases me in a way that makes me laugh. I go against every self-respect bone in my body. I tell myself were just friends getting a drink and catching up.
When I get to the bar, he’s there, sitting at a table. It’s nice to see him. We exchange small talk, mostly what we’ve been doing at work. Two seats open at the bar, and I suggest we sit there. As we gather our drinks, he says, “This is such a pleasant surprise. Seeing you, today.”
After work talk fizzles, I ask what he’s been up to other than work. He doesn’t have anything to report and poses the question to me. I tell him that I was interviewed on a podcast, which reminds me of an essay I wrote. I tell him that he was the source of inspiration for an essay I wrote. He seems worried and won’t believe me when I say it’s nothing bad. I let him read it.
The essay describes my journey in learning to be okay with guy who are not into me, and not taking it personally. I use my relationship with him as a backdrop for this learning. The essay isn’t really about him, or even us, but it illustrates some of the points I was making – that when he stopped asking me to hang out, I accepted that he wasn’t into me and (mostly) moved on.
He tells me, “That wasn’t the case. I liked you. I thought you didn’t like me. You never called me or asked to hang out again”, which is true, but this seems like a pretty weak excuse. He’s trying to preserve his image of the good guy. I remind him that I don’t mind, he’s just not into me, it doesn’t make him a bad guy. I remind him that the whole point of the essay was coming to terms with the fact that it’s not personal when someone’s not into you.
I point out to him that it wasn’t just that he stopped asking me to hang out, he stopped asking me any questions. He stopped reaching out to ask how my day was. He stopped remembering specific meetings I had in a day, and then texting me after to see how it went. He stopped asking anything about me. It might sound small, but to me it was so obvious that he was no longer interested.
He tells me, “That’s true. I guess, I didn’t know where we were going.”
“That we were getting too serious?”, I ask.
“Yeah, kinda”, he replies.
I tell him I understand. And I do. I tell him that I’m aware of the fact that guys usually have a career goal they want to reach before they get into something too serious. He nods in agreement. I let him know that I’m aware of how focused he is on his career. We’ve talked about it at length in the past; this all adds up. Encouragingly, I tell him there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m not offended. He should focus on his career. He looks nervous when he asks, “Should I?”.
This is the first time I’ve seen him nervous. He was nervous earlier in the conversation; nervous that I made him out to be a bad guy in an essay on my blog. But this is a different type of nervousness. I recognize it in his eyes and his fidgety hands, almost squirming in his seat. In the past, I’ve been the nervous one around him; I’ve never seen him like this before. I realize that I’m the calm and confident one in this conversation. I’ve meant everything I’ve said. I don’t mind that he doesn’t like me. I know he’s focused on his career and understand that it takes precedence. I’m not afraid to look at him in the eye when I say this.
When he comes back from the bathroom, I bring up something else, but he tells me, “No, no, don’t go changing the subject. What were we talking about?” He doesn’t ask this because he forgot, he’s asking because he doesn’t know how to resume this incredibly vulnerable conversation in a way that feels natural. I don’t blame him. I don’t either. Using my manipulation tactic, I tease, “We were talking about how in love you are with me. How you’re scared of how much you love me.” He chuckles and looks away. He’s nervous.
“No”, I say, “I’m just kidding. But I think you like me. I think you like me a lot. and I think that makes you nervous.” This time he doesn’t chuckle but still seems nervous. He says, “I do. I do like you. The depth of how much, I’m still figuring out.” Then his nervous subsides, and he says, “I’ve never met anyone like you before. You scare me. It scares me how well you know me.” And this is when my thoughts start to change. For the past four vodka sodas, I’ve been having drinks with a friend, catching up, and doing a little rehash of our romantic past. But this, this makes my heart hurt, this makes me start to believe him. And my brain starts to explore the possibility that he might actually really like me; he might be telling the truth that he stopped seeing me because he was actually scared of where it could go. He might actually be scared of what a relationship with me would mean for his life, the life that he’s laid out in his head since high school. I start to feel like this basic rom-com plot line could actually be true for me.
I tell him I missed hanging out with him. That I missed his jokes. I tell him I missed all of him. “Awww.”, he teases, “That’s cute.” We laugh. And he waits a moment before telling me, “I missed you too.”
We’re lying in bed, listening to rain sounds on Spotify, his new preferred method of falling asleep. He’s rubbing my back. Something he’s never done before. And it’s not the vodka that makes me confident enough to ask, “Hey, what happens tomorrow? With us?”. I feel comfortable asking this, because this night has been perfect. This night is the best case scenario. I got the guy back and I didn’t have to do anything stupid or desperate. He really just likes me. He tells me that he’s not sure and we both fall asleep.
It’s early in the morning as we’re saying our goodbyes. He starts to pick up where we left off before falling asleep. I cut him off. I tell him, “Hey, let’s not worry about all that right now. What if we just agree to hang out again?” I cut him off partly because its 6:45am and neither of us will say the right thing right now, and partly because there is a chance he will say something I don’t want to hear, and I don’t want to be hurt this early in the morning. He agrees.
I spend the rest of the day oscillating between feeling a giddy excitement and a naive stupidity, both of which remind me of a young secretary in Mad Men failing in love with Don Draper. But most of the day, I’m feeling good. He likes me. That’s all I need to know right now. We can figure out the rest later.
The day after, I’m less sure. I start to consider everything we talked about that night. I remember him telling me that he didn’t think I was into him, which at the time, I thought was bullshit. But now I’m piecing together other things he said throughout the night.
Referring to my essay, “I think of our first date too, a lot. Well not a lot.”, saving face, “But I think of it every so often. And it was pretty great.” He might have even used the word ‘perfect’ to describe it. But the vodka sodas are making it hard to remember exactly the words he used.
Remembering that he said he’d never met anyone like me before, I remember he told me, “You’re a mystery to me”. I don’t remember what the context was. But it makes me think of when we were in my apartment and he asked me why I was so impenetrable.
Maybe he wasn’t lying. Maybe he really did have doubts about how much I liked him. I’m realizing that I didn’t do a great job of letting him know how I felt. I think about the night he saw the writing on my wrist. I have been holding back a lot. I’ve only given him a portion of myself. And he could feel that. It makes sense that he wanted to dip out; he didn’t want to develop deeper feelings for someone who was so clearly guarded.
But I’m still not convinced that I want to get hurt. So, I write a Pros & Cons list.
+ He could not want to be with someone exposes so much of herself on the internet
+ He could not adore me enough
+ He could not want to be with a mess like me
+ He could move
+ He could dip out again
+ He could break my heart
+ I like him and I love the way I feel when I’m with him
That’s it. That’s all I had. I like everything about him and I love the way I feel when I’m with him. I like that he’s calm, while I’m anxious and adventurous. I like his humor. I like how he’s smart and ambitious. I like that he doesn’t know it, but he inspires me to be a better person.
Looking at the cons, I realize they’re all fear based. They all start with “He could…”. The ‘He’ part of the sentence reminds me that I have no control over what someone else does or will do. And the ‘could’ part reminds me that it’s all hypothetical; what might happen. I try not to make decisions based on the possibility of negative implications. I don’t want to live my life that way.
I decide that I’m ready. I’m ready to tell him how I feel. I’m ready to be more open about my life. I’m ready for a deeper connection with him that I know will only come from vulnerability.
I send him a text: “So I had a great time Monday. If you want to hang out, I’d love to see you before the holidays, I’m free Friday.” When he gets back to me 36 hours later, I’m not surprised that his message reads, “Ugh hi I’ve been swamped”.
And that’s it. That’s where our love story ends. Just like I interpreted his communication two months ago and decided he wasn’t into me anymore, I know what he meant. I got the message. He is not interested in taking us any further. That’s all I know.
When I felt his affection drift months ago, it was subtle and gradual. I saw it happening the whole time; which gave me a lot of time to process what was going on and come to terms with it. And when I mentally called it off, I was okay. I wasn’t really sad. Or heartbroken. Like I said, I just missed him.
But this time it’s different. He was different. He told me things I’ve never heard from anyone else before. But mostly, I was different. I chose not to stay guarded.
This time I feel it. I cry a little. I write obsessively to try and process what I’m feeling. I drink, more than I normally do. I think about him, trying to hypothesize what happened in those two days. I throw myself at a guy friend, in such a pathetic and desperate way that I haven’t seen since I was 21; I am hurting and want affection. I open my notepad app every night, with the same words in there, trying to construct something to say to him. Because I want to know what the fuck happened. I want to know why. I want to know how he could do this to me. But I never send it.
I don’t know if he was being honest when he said he liked me.
I don’t know if he meant it when he said that he was just scared of how serious it was getting.
I don’t know if he’s really never really met someone like me.
I will never know if he told me all that because he wanted to have sex or he just wanted to look like a good guy.
I will never know why he told me that I scare him and what he meant by that.
I will never understand why he chose that night to rub my back until I fell asleep for the first time.
I will never know what was real and what was fake about that night.
Of course, I don’t want to believe that he’s a sociopathic sex addict who would say such intimate things to me just to fuck. Of course, I want to believe that this all goes back to his fear of vulnerability and intimacy, and his career ambitions. Given the circumstances, those are nice things to believe. But I don’t really know if any of it is the case. I don’t really need to know any of those questions. Answers won’t heal this gutted feeling. I delete whatever I have drafted in my notepad app. I don’t need to reach out to him. I just need to feel this.
Everyone in our lives teaches us something. Especially the people who break our hearts. And this is no exception. In the past I would have believed that he taught me to stay guarded. Hide my mess. Hide my feelings. Just wait for the perfect guy to pursue me. But that’s that fear-based life I mentioned earlier. I’m not interested in that life anymore.
He was right about one thing, he has never met anyone like me. Because I’m a lot more than a mess. And I don’t need to hide any of me. I don’t want to hide anymore.
Stephanie DeLacy unapologetically shares what it’s like to navigate the world as 20-something white girl, with humor, profanity, and raw vulnerability. Stephanie recounts stories of her travel, mental health, and the journey to loving her body. Her descriptions of dating are bawdy but incredibly relatable. She courageously describes her dysfunctional childhood, healing from trauma, and how she’s evolved as a survivor of sexual assault. At times, heart wrenching, her stories will evoke raw emotion and connect to you on the most guttural level. She hopes to inspire authentic living and human connection. Stephanie lives in Cleveland with her dog and two cats.