You already know I made a little trip to NYC on Labor Day weekend. I haven't been to NYC all that much since living in Philly - a couple of times a year when I need a nice little day trip. Growing up in Buffalo, I was actually kind of bitter about that place, because it seemed to be both the center of the universe and somewhere just too far away. And Philly has been good to me (even if the Phillies are in the toilet, Missy.) But my brother Dean and his family just bought a new place in North Jersey that I wanted to visit, so when I found out some of our Boston contingent would be in the city for the tournament, I figured I would hop across the river and meet some of the people I've only known in e-mails, texts and blog posts.
I was worried I would feel out of place among them. For Rosie and Erin, this whole thing is brand new. Missy and Benjamin are also at a crossroads. I couldn't get a good read on Benny. It's all in the past for me, and you would think I would be sick of talking about it, and some days I am, but I live in such secrecy that I never shy away from a conversation with someone who's been there too.
I would like to report that Jordan/Missy/whomever she'd like to be exaggerated my flirtatiousness, but what can I say? There's an energy amongst people who are on their second or third body, and with all that testosterone flying around with no real outlet, people get caught up in the energy. Even Rosie, wallflower that she/he is, stole a glance at Missy's figure when he could.
A fellow Inn person, who would prefer to remain anonymous, manages a club in Midtown, so I brought the boys there, and the drinks flowed. I got each of them on the dancefloor - Erin was the most willing, Rosie the least, and made it clear that I didn't mean anything by it. Seriously. All I want is for these folks to find out who they really are, you know? I don't mean to impose my worldview on them, but I don't know where I would be today if I hadn't had people pushing my boundaries from the second I started my new life.
Besides, I already alluded to in my last post, there is a new guy in my life. I call him Cute Hipster Mike, and he is indeed a cute hipster. He's actually my first bearded guy. I mean, every guy is stubbly to some degree, but I've always expressed a preference for clean-shaven boys. I considered it this strange taboo of overt masculinity I simply wasn't ever ready to break. Is that weird? I like my guys thin, less than a head taller than me, and smooth. Hipster Mike is a burly lumberjack-looking fellow, and when I saw him at the wedding, something about him struck me. Like, I want that person to hold me. He reminds me of Chris Pratt. And I do like Chris Pratt.
He texted me a few days after the wedding, saying he hoped I didn't mind if we weren't just a "one off." I said no, I would be quite interested in continuing, and we made arrangements to have a coffee someplace nice the following weekend.
By now I'm very practiced at first dates. I'm very sweet, charming, outgoing, personable... accessible. I share almost anything about my life that the other person cares to know, except things I am unable to mention due to magic curse. It took us a bit to click, though. He asked me about music I liked, and we didn't have much common ground. I asked him about movies, and he said he was "starting to feel fatigued by cinema." A bit pretentious and I could feel myself losing interest. Then we started to talk about work. He said he was bartending for a couple of years, and I was ready with my "Oh, it's okay if you haven't found your way yet" speech from numerous past boyfriends, when he continued:
"My real passion is for animals. I volunteer three times a week at a no-kill shelter, walking and feeding dogs and cats, helping them find homes. It's really rewarding. I'll probably do it for the rest of my life."
Couldn't you just melt?
I told him about Scruff, my family's old English Sheepdog who looked like he was on his last legs. His eyes got noticeably misty and he talked about his own childhood pets. Sensitive guy! Yes! From then on I could really feel the chemistry brewing.
He walked me home and complimented my "FORWARD" tattoo, saying that if there was a story behind it, he'd like to hear it. I sighed: "It couldn't be more cliche'd... I got it after a breakup, of sorts." I sighed a bit, thinking over the details of my life, "Some days it feels like I've just been living through one long break-up."
"Well, whoever he was, he's an idiot for letting you get away," he said.
"That's sweet to say, but it's a bit more complicated than that," I said. "And if he had his way, I'd still be with him."
There was a pause, and I made myself apologize for derailing such a nice date.
He attempted to joke his way out of it, saying "Hey, what's a first date without a little melodrama?"
"Uh huh, sure," I said. Then I took a deep breath and said, "Mike, I'm really liking you."
He fell quiet, like I'd just smacked him in the face.
"Tori," he said in a weirdly grace tone, "I think you're really great, but..." Oh, God, here it comes, "...I'm not really looking for anything serious right now. But I was thinking we could be, like..." Don't say it... "Casual."
The word felt like poison in my ears. I felt tricked, honestly. He came across so well, so sweetly, and then this came out of nowhere. And it was such a cliche, too, but at least the other guys had the balls to say it before we ever met, when we were still in the online profile or texting phase, where I could pretend I was OK with it before agreeing to meet, or (more likely,) avoid them altogether. It wasn't fair.
I spent so much of my old life trying to get attention, and now that I had it, it wasn't the right kind. Cosmic joke.
I almost wanted to cry, just as in impulse, but I kept it together. Instead I just groaned and pulled away from him. I got my bearings, and I unloaded.
"What does that even mean? Can you explain that to me? I hear that from so many guys, as if I'm supposed to be okay with it, like I won't end up feeling used. Yes, I want something physical, but I want something emotional, too. I wanted to be romanced. Cared for. Like I'll just go along for the ride hoping you'll change your mind. Fuck, Mike. Someone's got to want the same thing as I do. And I won't settle for less. Not again. So if you don't see this going anywhere... if you want to just string someone along and have a little fling, find someone else. I'm sorry."
I regretted saying sorry as soon as it had left my lips. If I wasn't entitled to my opinions here and now, who was?
I was on the verge of a serious breakdown. He kept his distance. I wanted to storm off but I stayed put to hear his response. It was underwhelming, but promising.
"Can I think about it?"
"Whatever," I sighed. "We'll see."
The next day he texted me. He gave this spiel about how he just had his guard up, how he's been hurt before, yadda yadda. He isn't sure he's in "the right place." I let him go on for a while, then answered minimally a few hours later. "Uh huh. Ok."
A couple of days later he texts again. "Still thinking about what you said. I was being pretty unfair. Some of my female friends pointed out that's a dick move." Not technically an apology, or even admission of wrongdoing. My response: "Yeah, kind of was."
A week passes. I think about him a bit. What a shame, there seemed to be potential. Then I hear from him. Not booty call messages at 2 AM, but mid-afternoon: "So, I really liked talking to you. Would it be weird for me to at least text you sometimes?"
Guys can be so awkward when you've got them under your thumb. I was feeling forgiving - empowered, even - so I answered. "Give it a try and we'll see."
He starts telling me about his days on a regular basis, and I tell him about mine. His charm doesn't quite come across as well over text, but I'm sensing that spark again.
Those texts become more frequent. He makes tentative attempts to get me to come out and see him. I find myself more and more drawn back to him. But I still resist. I keep it light and friendly and as time goes by - days, weeks - I pepper my conversation with more flirtations and come-ons, to let him know what he's missing out on. But I do find myself looking forward to his responses.
"I'm out with some friends," he says on Friday night in August. "Come say hey?"
"I can do that from here ;) See? Hey."
But I do go, and we have a drink and I meet his friends, and they're all as goofy and pretentious as he is, if not moreso to make him seem down to Earth. (They all talk about how they've traveled Europe and Asia and all I've got is this story about a quaint little Inn I once visited in Maine.)
Eventually, we steal a moment together. "Listen," I admit. "I want a boyfriend. I want something solid. And I know you can't force it. I know that isn't instantaneous. But I want someone willing to give it a shot. Someone who won't run as soon as things get serious, who won't throw fits about how they aren't ready to commit. I can't waste my time, I owe that to myself."
He digested this. "You're right. I really think we'd be good together."
"Mike," I smiled at him and put my hands on his cheeks. "We are good together."
He smiled warmly at me. "Let's give it a shot."
We kissed, and I went home that night walking taller than I have in a long time. Sometimes I don't apply myself towards getting what I really want, and bend to the whims of others, and in the past I might have said "Causal, sure, if that's what's best." But today, I'm a new woman. I'm done floating, because this is my life and it isn't a game. I won't settle. I'm worth it. And I deserve someone who sees it.
We've been pretty happy so far...