Because sometimes he's just not that into you—and that's ok! Except that I can't handle rejection, or really any of my feelings for that matter. By Sean Santiago.
I meet M. at a bar. It’s sort of a meet cute, or as much of a meet cute as I can hope for as I lurch toward 30. He comes up to me, remembers me after meeting me only briefly a year before. At some point in the night I brush his hair out of his face. This will be the thing that I come back to, the thing that I want to be the only person allowed to do. We exchange emails because, I guess, we are incredibly old.
We go on one date. I am stupid and choose a restaurant near neither of our apartments, one that I've heard is good though something conducive to post-meal spooning would have obviously been better. I text him afterwards to see if he’d like to meet up again, but he’s interested only in being friends. Ok. So we strike up a friendship.
We both love eating and sleeping and Paris. I text him to see if he’s busy and he texts back a picture of his TV—he’s watching Gilmore Girls. It satisfies some small part of me that’s still fourteen-years-old and I allow myself to take it as a sign.
We’re out one night, just the two of us. We sink into the sofa at my friend’s place, passing a joint between us. I don’t really smoke but I take the hit and cough, and keep coughing, hopefully flirtatiously, or at least helplessly. Men like that, right? We talk about the guy he’d started dating, or, rather, I bring up the guy he’d been dating. The guy he is no longer dating, it turns out. I am getting intel. He tells me that he came along hoping to meet someone and I realize that we’re there, together, but I am there alone. This intel sucks.
I send him a Snap, a selfie in which I’ve decided I look hot. He opens it but doesn’t comment. I write him, “You suuuuuuuuck,” because despite being incredibly old, I am incredibly young. He writes back, “Whaaaaaaa?” I never bring it up again, but wonder if that constitutes a moment. Would “I liiiiiikke youuuu,” have been the nail in the coffin or the start of something special?
It’s Friday night and we’re at another party, he with his best friend, his best friend whom I’d told the night before about my crush, these feelings that have nowhere to go. It’s a good party and I know plenty of people, but somehow I start to feel like a third wheel, M. and his best friend and me in a stupid hat.
We go to the bar to get drinks and his friend brushes past me, mutters under his breath that I should back off, that I should let it go. I am deflated. I am enraged. We all three meander to the back porch and I ask him, as quietly as I drunkenly can, where he gets off telling me this? How dare he? He tells me that I am barking up the wrong tree and I tell him to fuck himself a hundred times over. M. asks what the hell is going on. I look at him and say “I like you,” and it is the quietest thing a person has ever said. I’m pretty sure I said it twice.
I realize that I hate what I’m wearing and the face I put on, the Chanel lipstick he gave me that makes my lips just a shade or two darker and a touch more purple. I have my father’s lips, my father who’s never worn Chanel lipstick, and when I put them to my coffee cup in the morning I leave behind a purple stain that nods to some sort of intimacy that isn’t really there. My lips used to be one of my favorite features until that night, the night I realized I have no features and am just a sentient stack of cardboard boxes.
I am too much and not enough. It’s amazing how deeply you can feel a failure, something that never was and now won’t come to be. My imagined him subsumes the real him; he becomes flawless and moves in slow motion through my memory, walking toward me in a perpetual haze. I miss his chapped lips and the weird dimple thing at the bridge of his nose and his too-high forehead; his arms that have so pleasingly never seen the inside of a gym. I have to unlearn all of the things I’ve taught myself about him, learn to unlove all of the stupid things I’ve let him get away with making loveable.
I exhaust my friends with updates about the nothingness stretching out around me in all directions. Two months after the fight I email him, an emotionally misguided attempt at God knows what in which I confess that I can’t stop thinking about him, he who’s not thought of me in forever and a day, and that I think he’s “fucking special.” I miss him so much, does he know that? I sound like a Selena Gomez b-side stuck on repeat. He never replies and a few weeks later, when I see him at a bar, he ignores me.
It’s not the lack of reciprocity that leaves me most vulnerable, acutely aware of an unfillableness that suddenly feels clinical, but the way he could walk out of my life so comfortably, so easily, without half a glance back. As if I’d never been there at all. And I guess I really wasn’t. Not for him.
When I text him about that night he says he didn’t realize that I was there, on the dance floor, in the dark. He didn’t see me and I didn’t say anything. I’ve dated and slept around, Grindr-ed and Scruff-ed and Tinder-ed when all I really want is to mean something to this guy, this great shitty guy who doesn't care. To have a fixed value. Something to point to that says I am worth your goddamn time.
I finally confront him, or, depending on how you look at it, ask to be put out of my misery, the amount of time that’s passed a testament to how remarkably emotionally stunted a grown-ass human person can be. I pen a short novel and hit send. (Yes, via text—I told you I was young.) The next morning he effectively replies, “Thanks, but no thanks." He apologizes for not being "more clear"—this from the man who never said anything to me, apparently expecting his silence to communicate anything beyond a lack of empathy. And I put everything into that vacancy, nothingness articulating itself into an oblivious hope that he would “come back” to me for the first time.
Can he be a great guy who just gives zero fucks about you? Can he be a great guy who's just meant for someone else, leaving you alone to fight the Facebook algorithm that knows how often you’ve searched his name, how deeply you’ve felt his stupid fucking perfect selfies? Can he be sweet and smart and still just "flattered" that you like him, but "not interested"? I’m just a boy, standing in front of another boy, asking him to elaborate on “Nah.”