The other night I went to a bar with my friend and we caught up over drinks, three beers on my end and two Proseccos on hers, and when we got up to leave I saw her stumble a little, and so I asked if she was good to drive, and she said yeah, yeah, and then we went walking off the patio and up the sidewalk without a hitch. Totally normal. But when we got to the car she was more playful than usual and she rolled the windows down and blasted her music at peak volume while driving down 8th street—driving a bit casually, I felt, but doing fine, no close calls; and yet, since I’m super high-strung about cars for some reason, she’s still inspiring the sort of clutching, writhing, restless terrified passenger thing I always experience when somebody else is driving; and the fact that she was playing her music so loud, and telling me a story at the same time–it was so anxiety-inducing that I just leaned over and turned the music way down, from level 30 (max) to 5, which made her laugh, and she leaned forward to turn it back up, and so I leaned forward to turn it back down and I said, “Look, it’s Tuesday night, you’re blasting ‘WAP’ like ten minutes before curfew—you’re being a fucking cop magnet right now. And not to shit-talk your driving, but you’re kinda doing a lotta things at once: you’re singing, you’re telling me a story, you’re—”
She rolls her eyes and goes, “Ugh,”
but on I go!, “and you did just have a couple drinks, so if we get pulled over and you get Breathalized—”
“You’re such a fucking square!”
It was a joke (kinda) and she laughed about it, but she also persisted:
“You really are, though. Do you know that?”
And of course she says this lovingly, if not without a bit of venom on her tonguetip, but the thing I hate to confront is that I do know that I’m a square, it’s been driven home by every serious relationship I’ve ever had—and not necessarily because my partner will say it to me outright, that I’m lame or she’s bored, but because I’ll notice the frequency with which my partner’ll suggest doing something outdoorsy, something cultured and different and fun, and I’ll come up with some excuse for not participating; or, worse yet, I’ll go along with her through the adventure but then squirm the whole time, dreading the adventure even as it’s harmlessly unfolding, unsure of what to do with myself in these environments where I’m not just being asked to just sit down and talk with somebody (I have a ridiculous amount to talk about for somebody who doesn’t do anything). I feel awkward at museums, at clubs, on the beach—everywhere. And I kinda shut down and turn clammy.
And it’s something of a sore spot because, apart from my squareness this being an underlying factor in all of my major breakups (first serious girlfriend wanted to experiment, safely and responsibly, with drugs, and I was too puritanical to even abide it from a distance; second serious girlfriend had just gotten out of a serious relationship before our, uh, entanglement, and decided to move to NYC; third serious girlfriend became a cheerleader for a sports team, discovered the club scene, decided she didn’t wanna spend her Friday nights watching movies of the 1940s), I also think it was a factor in my parents’ divorce: mom, early-fifties, gets her masters degree and wants to explore life while dad, early-sixties, is pretty beat, he’s at the top of his professional game, work is constant and intense. Then they separate and mom goes out, sees the world, does a buncha cool shit while dad, anchored with responsibilities, stays put and works, works, works–it looked a lot like the dissolution and aftermath of all of my own relationships.
So ahdunno: I’ve been pretty isolated through quarantine, and the city’s closure has made it so that the few dates I’ve gone on are necessarily just two people sitting some place and talking, but my friend’s remark reminded me, on the drive back to my apartment on Tuesday, that this reality is waiting for me when I finally get back to the real world (along with a million other harsh realities about traffic, work, etcetera): the reality that, if you wanna date somebody, you’re gonna have to meet them halfway.
When I was 23 I was dating my friend Lidia and we had my parents’ house to ourselves on 4th of July and she said, “I wanna do something fun!” and I was like, “I don’t know how to do that,” and so, improvising, I took a blanket and a bottle of Jameson up to the roof of my house, and we ordered a pizza, and we got very drunk and watched fireworks and ate pizza and laughed at everything and then she was like, “Alex, I run so fast!, you need to see how fast I run!,” and so we went around the block and, no shit, she ran up the street like a flame runs up a line of gunpowder, it was remarkable, but all that running churned her stomach up into a storm and so we slept on the bathroom floor that night so she could puke until the sky went from latenight black to navy–and it was genuinely fun! Call me crazy: it was romantic too! That’s the kinda fun I can engineer. But how does one pitch this idea for a date?
I’ve sorta cooled my head about it in the past by telling myself that people are made for different things and that these inclinations are somewhat hardwired. My inclination, I tell myself, is to sit in a room and write things down and record things and then disseminate that shit and hopefully be able to say, at the end of my life, that I was good at it and I gave people some pleasure. But I know I’m missing out on stuff. I tell myself money is the restriction that keeps me so square, or time, and that I’m trying to situate myself in a very forbidding career and so I need to be working all the time, I can’t afford to step away from my desk for whole afternoons at the beach.
And ahdunno, maybe that really is unremittingly true.
It’s tricky ground to negotiate.