I had known it would make for a good story even as it was happening, so sitcom-like was its comedic awkwardness. At a party a week later, when a friend asked about my recent date, I was ready.
“Well, it was fine,” I replied. “Until we had a misunderstanding in the bedroom.”
Another girl asked what happened, and as everyone turned to listen, I launched into what by then had become a well-rehearsed monologue, my eyes animated, the story timed with dramatic pauses and emphatic hand gestures.
“Well, last week I was with a guy friend who I used to date and who I have since sometimes hooked up with, and we were — excuse the expression — mid-coital. And as we were mid-coital, I really thought I heard him say, ‘I love you.’
“I wouldn’t imagine that, right? He had to have said it. So I did the obvious thing and replied, ‘Oh! I love you, too!’
“And then he was quiet. And he kind of stopped moving. And I thought, ‘Oh shit, did he not say it?’ Not knowing what else to do I just sort of hugged him tighter — we’re still mid-coital — and he hugged me tighter, and then we laid there, naked-hugging in silence, like a short stack of soggy pancakes, until I realized I had started to cry. In hindsight, it’s obvious that I was crying because I thought he hadn’t said he loved me, and that made me feel not only sad, but also stupid. But at the time, I played it off like I believed he had said he loved me, and, being the sensitive girl I am, I was emotionally moved.
“Cuddling after he’d finished, I asked if he had meant what he said, or at least what I thought he had said. He paused a little too long before answering, ‘Yeah...’"
At this point in telling the story, I laughed, maybe a little too hard. I needed to be sure that everyone knew that I knew this was funny. A girl in a crop top snorted, “Are you kidding me? Did you ever find out what he said?”
“Nope!” I replied. “I asked him, but he never answered.”
And that was almost the truth. When a few days after the I Love You Moment had gone by without a word, I texted him to ask if we could talk. He called just after midnight. I hadn’t known what I would say, but almost immediately I found myself telling him that I wanted a relationship. A real relationship. Not the screwing around we’d been doing for the last year and a half. We had tried such a thing once before, and then blamed its failing on bad timing and being such great friends: two excuses that didn’t feel good enough anymore.
On the phone he replied that he had feelings for me, too — “non-platonic feelings” — but he liked how things were. “Can we just keep doing what we’re doing, Mad?” he asked softly.
I told him that I didn’t think I could. “When I watch a movie, or see a play, or read a funny article, all I can think about is how much I want to tell you about it. I just want to tell you about everything. If that’s not a good enough reason to be together, I don’t know what is.”
He hadn’t known I felt that way. He thanked me for my honesty.
After a beat, I finally said, “You know, we don’t have to talk about the whole weird I Love You Moment.”
Then I paused so we could talk about it. He stayed quiet.
This is where I picked the story back up for the half-drunk hipsters.
“I interpreted his silence as, ‘You’re right we don’t have to talk about it because I didn’t say it, you delusional freak!’ Or, ‘You’re right we don’t have to talk about it because I only said it because you were letting me have sex with you.’ I still have no idea what he actually said, or if I had merely mistaken a moan. I told him I didn’t think we should hang out again, and then we just sort of hung up on each other.”
I can’t quite explain how bizarrely happy I felt telling my story to this group of people, some of whom I hardly knew. I had wanted to entertain them, and I thought I had; I could see it in their comical winces, hear it in their chuckling guffaws. It was as if they had known how important their role was in the telling of this story, too.
When a nice-looking boy in a gray T-shirt and thick glasses earnestly asked if I was alright, I was caught off guard. Didn’t he get it? After a hiccup of hesitation, I brushed him off: “Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” And then in a mock-serious tone added, “I mean, I’m healing every day.”
The thing was, telling the story to this group of people, leaving out the parts I didn’t like, I felt like I was healing something, as if everyone was taking a piece off my shoulders. I had control over the story, and it wasn’t so personal anymore. I imagined that I would continue to feel lighter with each retelling. The I Love You Moment wasn’t the first time I had turned a relationship disaster into a funny story, and it wouldn’t be last. It was just one chapter in a long-running series that I hoped was leading me towards a happy ending, if not with The I Love You Guy, then with someone else who would enter the plot next week, or the next.
After the party, a group of us moved to another bar a few blocks away. I left alone around midnight, and as I was walking to the subway I realized I was on his block -- the I Love You Guy’s. Seconds later I recognized his silhouette in the light of a street lamp shining on the otherwise empty sidewalk. I saw his head tilt to the side as he recognized me, and then we walked towards each other slowly. I tried to think of what to say, but had nothing.
When we reached one another, we both stopped and sort of shrugged at each other, for what felt like hours, before I said I had to get home. He came in for a hug, and I let him put his arms around me. I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t feel the quick pulsing in my chest. Then I turned away and continued walking to the L train.
The question that no one had asked me at the party -- the one I’d also been afraid to ask myself -- was whether I had meant the words “I love you” when I said them. Seeing him on the street, I knew I did. He was one of the very few guys I had ever felt I could be myself with.