“We can’t do this to ourselves.”

So here we are at the first, and only, breakup I ever had to endure in my high school days. Luckily, it was mutual. There was that one small mercy—I may have been an awkward virgin through many of my formative years, but at least I was the one that never got dumped.

Clara was a friend of the girl next door, and I’d often see her running the carpool route through the neighborhood as I was driving off to private school. Glances at the stop sign turned to casual smiles, then waves, and then the occasional conversation when she arrived too early to pick up my neighbor. She started showing up early on purpose, and soon we were making out in my bedroom while my mom sat downstairs, no doubt relieved that my failures hitherto were simply due to a complete lack of social skills and not asexuality.

Of course, it couldn’t last. We were going off to school. We couldn’t do that to ourselves. You hear so much about the Turkey Drop, where you change so much so quickly in college (which I took to mean you discover the art of drunken one night stands) that it’s not worth continuing a high school relationship past that first Thanksgiving.

And so began my foray into the time-honored tradition of relationships ended by forthcoming travel. It was relatively easy. You have to learn to walk before you can stumble and fall ass over chin on your face.

“You’re an asshole.”

I spent much of the first half of college as a single man, as anybody fresh into college should. As Sophomore year came to a close, however, I decided that I wanted something more consistent. Something more emotionally gratifying. Something better. Enter: Caroline.

She was great, for a while. We would spend several nights a week together, almost always staying in the house and watching movies, years before Netflix and Chill entered our vernacular. I rarely saw her before 8 PM. But we never had sex. She wanted to wait, and I enjoyed the chase, and so our relationship turned into a staring contest for several months as I waited for her to blink.

But waiting grew tiresome, and I gradually became more and more aware of the fact that I was the same person I was the year before. I wasn’t interested in a relationship. I was interested in sex. I had simply grown tired of working for it and thought I’d discovered an out. This wasn’t a relationship. This was work.

 

 

Caroline must have sensed this growing distance, because it wasn’t long before she blinked. And with that release went all of my emotions. I stopped calling her. I only saw her once more before the semester break. By then, she had taken the hint. The relationship was over, but she would have the final word.

“You’re an asshole.”

And it was true. It frightened me. I found myself suddenly examining every crush, every interaction with a girl I’d ever had, and I started to doubt whether anything I’d said to any of them was genuine. I started to wonder if it was even possible for me to feel real emotional connection with a woman, or if it was all some sick charade where even I was duped into believing I cared until I got what I wanted.

I was an asshole. I hope I’m not anymore. For what it’s worth, I try to be better every day.

“I’m just going to go see a friend, don’t worry.”

I believe in karma. I believe that good does to good, debts are collected, all that jazz. So I think, to an extent, that I deserved Haley.

We met on a dating site I’d signed up for after a particularly drunk and lonely night at the bar, the year after leaving college, though we made up some bullshit story to tell our friends about how we actually found each other. We dated for about seven months. And in that time, I brought her into my life more than any woman before. She met my brother. She met my mother. She actually spent time with my friends, though she didn’t really seem to connect with any of them.

I suppose I should have seen it coming, looking back on it now. We went to Coachella together. By this point, I already knew that I would be moving to the Philippines shortly, and I wanted to have one last hurrah of a weekend with this girl. I bought her a ticket to the music festival. I told her I loved her for the first time that Friday. She replied that I couldn’t say things like that on Ecstasy. I suppose she was right.

That Saturday, she decided to go see an act with some of her friends. I hadn’t met them, but I let her go, making plans to meet up a few hours later. I didn’t see her again that weekend. She admitted on the drive home that she slept with her ex boyfriend while I stood by myself, trying to enjoy Sigur Rós, crying as I wondered where she was.

Cheating hurts worse than the sad part of a romantic comedy leads you to believe.

 

 

It’s not something you shake off, and it’s not something you forget after a grand gesture of romance. Not that I was offered one. Haley disappeared from my life after that, and I have to imagine this was some kind of karmic comeuppance from how I treated Caroline (I have never cheated on anybody, for the record). The problem was that it reinforced my growing emotional nihilism. I was worried that I couldn’t get attached before. When I had, I was burned. To this day, I have issues with jealousy, a pit in my stomach when I so much as see somebody I’m interested in speaking to somebody else.

In the end, we get who we need or we get who we deserve. I got what I deserved. I don’t want to deserve that ever again.

“I hope I see you again.”

My last girlfriend was named Adaline. She was French. Like many of the girls I met overseas, we found each other drunk in a bar. We kissed fiercely through the night while my roommate tried it on with her less-interested sister. In between breaths and drinks, we found out we were both moving to Brisbane in the next week, and decided to stay in touch.

It wasn’t a fiery relationship. We got along well, and spent most of our time together. Occasionally we would have a night full of passion and sensitivity and affection. Occasionally our very conversations would be tinged with a distance that made even simple pleasantries feel vaguely uncomfortable, with neither of us quite knowing what to say to a person we had only recently slept with for what may have been the hundredth time. But that was alright. We weren’t searching for soul mates.

We broke up four months later, as I prepared to leave Australia. We decided to break up a month before I left, so as to practice being friends. It didn’t quite work. That quiet distance in our conversations grew without the added fire of sex, and we both moved on fairly quickly.

But I saw Adaline a few months ago, in France. It had been nearly a year since we ended. I slept in her bed for three nights, with no intimacy involved. We had become friends. We spoke about our love lives in the intermittent time—she had seen somebody briefly. I had too. And by the time I left again, we vowed to stay in touch.

I’m sure I’ll see Adaline again. I’ve seen Caroline in the time since, and I’ve even spoken to Haley without judgment. I’m learning to be better, to trust, to love. I’m not sure what I’ll be like in my next relationship. I’m not sure how it will end. But I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.