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By Liz Labacz
I was absolutely bananas about Matt. We met online and he charmed me thoroughly on our first date. He told me he’d come straight from a “Celebrity Bowling” event, offering me a commemorative T-shirt. I thought it was sweet that he wanted to impress me as a local “celebrity” and I’ll cop to being a little impressed by him being a medium-sized fish in a medium-sized pond.
Matt was the afternoon DJ at a local radio station. He was funny and tall, and he did things like dedicate songs to me during his shift. He had that intoxicating way of making me feel like I was the smartest, prettiest girl he knew, that I was a real life siren, that I had “game.” My roommates liked him, he made me laugh, and he taught me gin rummy.
He talked sometimes about leaving Pittsburgh, to move on to a bigger pond. Eventually, sure, if you must. I decided things would sort themselves out later, determined not to fret about a hypothetical relationship problem in something that hadn’t even codified as a relationship yet.
Yet. I used that word a lot.
Matt made jokes about me dating other people. I took that as a sign that he wasn’t ready for monogamy (yet?) but I could also tell he was fishing for information. His voice always had a tinge of jealousy. Matt made jokes about me sleeping with my guy friends. Any time I mentioned a male name in conjunction with work or my social life, Matt joked that I was sleeping with the guy, joked that I would ditch him for this new beau. “Joked.”
A tangent, on jokes, if you will? Guys (and ladies, though in my anecdotal experience, it’s always dudes), when you say something loaded that you really believe, but you say it in an a lighthearted voice, that isn’t a joke. That is a passive-aggressive, bullshit way of airing your feelings without having to accept the consequences.
At first I tittered in response to his jokes, then I moved on to factual correction, then annoyance. I wasn’t sleeping with anyone else. I could have been. We weren’t exclusive. I was pretty sure I wanted to be, but I also didn’t want to rush it. Let’s be real, I also didn’t want to be perceived as clingy. Heaven forbid. He seemed to think he was complimenting me somehow, but it was just exhausting.
After a few months, Christmas rolled along, and I went to spend the holiday with my family in Philadelphia. I also tend to try and meet up with old friends while I’m in town. I got together for drinks with one such friend, Jack*, a guy I’ve been close with for years, who also happens to be someone I periodically sleep with when we’re both single. I can’t say our friendship has been entirely uncomplicated by sex, but for the most part we’ve managed to have our cake and eat it.
We got a little tipsy, got a little flirty, and that moment came where I could see the path we were on. The sexy, sexy path. Cue inner monologue. I considered putting the brakes on. I was having a good time with someone I trusted. But...Matt. Matt? He was my only reason not to have some fun and, much as I might wish the opposite, Matt was not my boyfriend. I realized I was being monogamous with a guy who wasn’t returning the favor.
When I returned to Pittsburgh, Matt jokingly (ahem) asked if I had hooked up over Christmas, trying to sound casual, like he was catching up with his frat buddy. I actually considered lying. I knew it would make my life easier if I just said no, but I had every right to hook up and no reason to feel guilty about it.
Matt paled. He sputtered a little, but when I asked if he was upset, he said everything was fine, in a voice tighter than a corset.
“Why should I be upset? I’m not upset.”
But he was curt the rest of the evening and left early. We only went out for a couple of weeks after that, and between busy work schedules and a giant snowfall (and in retrospect, his growing distance), we barely saw each other. Everything felt tenser. He was more jealous, less playful, the sex suffered, and he got a little mean.
I tried to talk through it, but he would never admit anything was wrong. If you’re obviously wounded, either own up and deal or take acting lessons. The icy “I’m fine” routine is bullshit.
Finally, he dumped me. Matt’s reasons were pretty vague and he sounded sorry. Even with all of the signs, I was surprised and crushed.
Months later, we decided to give friendship a try, which consisted of us hanging out, Matt trying to sleep with me, and me reminding him that I was too emotionally invested for something casual. He would apologize, professing a dedication to never hurting me, which he promptly forgot 20 minutes later.
The first time we met up during the “friendship” period, he got a serious look on his face.
“I have to tell you something.”
He told me that by the time we’d met, his house was on the market, that he’d planned to move to New York as soon as it sold. He’d hidden that from me, I guess so I wouldn’t know we had no future.
Furthermore, he admitted, he had been pretty upset when I told him about Jack. He had “kept that in,” but he thought I should know now.
I laughed. I told him if he thought he was hiding his feelings then he should never go into espionage. I told him he’d been a dick and that he had no right to be pissed off at me.
“We weren’t exclusive, Matt. I wanted to be and you knew it. You kept me at arm’s length, and you just admitted why.”
He thought for a second.
“You’re right,” he ceded. “You’re right that I kept us from being formally exclusive. I guess I’m just the kind of person who only sleeps with one person at a time. We weren’t exclusive, but I would never sleep with someone else while I was sleeping with you. I mean, it’s fine if you feel differently. I would just never do that.”
It is this moment, in my fantasies, that I time travel back to and dump my beer on his head, soaking those judgemental little emphasized “I’s” in Yuengling. It isn’t simply the judgement implied in his statement that I take umbrage to (although, fuck that shit) but the blatant falsehood. How do I know he’s lying? Because he told me.
No, not that he slept with someone else. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Once, he asked me for advice on writing to girls on OK Cupid, for pointers because the girls he was writing to weren’t writing him back. Other times, he would tell me stories of his Friday night, crawling the bars of Pittsburgh’s Southside, buying hot girls shots.
I have never written that down before. I get embarrassed telling that part of the story to my closest friends, but reading it in black and white is mortifying. I want to shake myself.
“What an idiot,” I would think to myself if another woman told me that story about a guy who she thought might one day commit. So in addition to being a moron, I’m also kind of a jerk. Score!
We still talk, off and on. Or we did, until about a month ago when I snapped at him. He’d seen a photo of me and my oldest friend, assuming, of course that we were sleeping together.
“He’s gay, Matt.”
“Haven’t you ever tried converting one of these gays?”
I mean, that’s offensive on levels that have nothing to do with me, but it was just about the last straw for us. There is something so absurd about thinking I am so wanton that I throw myself at men who aren’t even interested in my gender. Maybe it’s the absurdity that sent me over the edge or just that he sounded especially douchey. He brought up the hook up at Christmas as some kind of “evidence.” His stand-by defense is always “I just view you as constantly in demand.”
Jealousy isn’t a form of flattery.
I got tired of feeling slut-shamed every time we talked. I hated that he thought I was sleeping around so much. I also hated that I cared if he thought I was “promiscuous.” I wish I were actually having as much sex as he thinks I have. At least I’d be having fun while he was judging me.